Comment: Podcast confessions

Headphones are a blessing of modern life, particularly for those us of who prefer to cultivate our human interactions with a specificity unsuited to living in a highly populated urban space.


They are one of the most effective ways to enact the role of being a stranger in public – of putting up a wall between you and the seething mass of humanity around you.  But there comes a point when you have exhausted the music available to your tastes and require something more intellectually stimulating.

I’ve long looked forward to the day that information can be beamed directly into my head, and with the rising popularity of audiobooks and podcasts, that day is here. The problem is, where to start?

Systems of crowdsourced valorisation for podcasts are impractical because of the way podcasts are made for and consumed by niche audiences. Consumers are moving away from broadcast television and radio, and are cultivating their cultural consumption in narrowcast channels. We watch television when and how we choose, thanks to the wonder of time-shifted viewing. Podcasts can be seen as a variation of time-shifting for broadcast audio.

The problem shifts from value to discovery. Recommendation from both loose and close ties in your social orbit are still the most popular and effective way to find your next favourite book, tv show, movie and yes, podcast. Despite Amazon’s algorithmic prowess and iTunes list rankings, we still hold our human interactions in more esteem than our machinic ones. So read on for this human’s recommendations from the world of podcasts.

For the aspiring science nerd – Aeon Magazine

Aeon magazine features experts writing about interests ranging in  diversity from astronomy – the night sky as a necropolis of alien civilisations – to vegan carnivores. They record an audio version of some of the essays from the site, often offering fascinating insight into the chosen topic.

For the recreational history user – Dan Carlin’s Hardcore History

American political commentator Dan Carlin has two podcasts. Common Sense focuses on his world of almost anarchist suspicions about mainstream US politics. The more popular Hardcore History podcast is the place to start, as he discusses historical events by framing them in terms of current and relatable concepts. They’re a major commitment – recent episodes have clocked in at  over 4 hours – but that’s the beauty of podcasts. Pause at will.

For some 90s pop culture nostalgia – Bring a Plate with Peter and Bec

You might be familiar with Bec as @brocklesnitch on twitter, and if you enjoy her 140 character musings you are going to adore the extended audio version. Peter and Bec discuss recent newsworthy events, and then watch and recap a movie from the 90s. It’s both hilarious and enlightening for those of us who grew up in the 90s, and useful trivia for those who didn’t.

For the pop-economics buff – Econ Talk

Russ Roberts is a professor of economics at George Mason University, and hosts a one-on-one discussion with a guest every week. The guest often has recently written a topical book or is knowledgeable regarding a recent newsworthy event, making this podcast one of the most useful for learning about economic ideas and theories with real world examples.

For the media-savvy – On The Media

A behind the scenes look at the issues concerned in reporting the news and current events. Warm and often humorous, it takes a reflective and cerebral approach to examining how the media “sausage” is made. Highly recommended for those inside news reporting as well as outsiders with more than a passing interest.

For the genre-fiction fan – Podmentum

Full disclosure, this “official podcast of Momentum books” used to be my baby. I have now handed the solemn duty of discussing sci-fi, urban fantasy and romance fiction over to my former colleagues and fellow book nerds, and their last episode about political erotic fiction did not disappoint.

Okay, excited about listening to podcasts? Chosen which one you want to hear? Don’t have a clue how to access them? Here’s a handy guide I prepared earlier. And if you’re looking for more recommendations, come find me on twitter @annetreasure.

Anne Treasure is a recent survivor of the book industry.