Podcasts are a funny technology: they’re incredibly simple, but for some reason no one really understands what they are, what they do, how to use them, or why you’d want to be in a pod or a cast in the first place. So what’s a podcast? The best way to explain is AP test-style: TiVo is to television as podcasts are to radio and Internet video. That is to say it’s a way to get it on demand, consumable whenever you want. Fast forward and rewind to your heart’s content, and keep as much content as you want – until your hard drive gets full.
You can listen to podcasts on your mp3 player, on your computer, or anywhere else you so desire. They get downloaded over the Internet, and are just simple RSS feeds, so anywhere you’ve got the Internet, you can get podcasts. iTunes is becoming the gold standard, though, and provides a great store for finding podcasts (“store” here is used loosely, because they’re mostly free). Many radio stations are syndicating their stuff to podcasts, and there are a huge number of podcast-only “stations” out there now. Unlike producing a TV show, creating a radio show of sorts, whether it’s video or audio, is relatively cheap and simple to do.
There are more podcasts out there than you can listen to, even if you’re a speed-listener or something. I’ve gotten into podcasts recently, and have gotten a few requests to share what I listen to, so to get you started with podcasts or to get you more into them, I’ll share a few of my favorites. 19, to be exact.
This American Life
A weekly radio show syndicated to a podcast, This American Life collects stories of all sorts based around one particular theme every week. Ira Glass, the host, is a dang genius, and it’s a great way to learn the most interesting things about something new every single week. The last two, to give you a taste, were about “Inside Jobs” and about parasites living in your body—both equally fascinating.
This Week in Tech
TWiT TV, run by Leo LaPorte, is one of the most impressive success stories of the podcasting era. This Week in Tech is the flagship podcast, and is a panel of incredibly intelligent people talking about the week’s most important stories in technology. For a look into the best and brightest of tech, and the important issues, this is a great listen/watch
Every week on The Pipeline, Dan Benjamin interviews someone fascinating. It’s always got a tech bent – Gina Trapani from Lifehacker and Jason Snell from Macworld were two of my favorites – and is just about interesting people. I love the idea that people are more interesting than topics, and this podcast is a great example of that.
The B.S. Report
Rumor has it this is the most popular podcast on the planet—I can’t confirm this, but I can confirm that it rules. The B.S. Report is when ESPN columnist Bill Simmons gets on the phone a few times a week and just talks sports with his friends. He knows ‘em, he loves ‘em, he might have a gambling problem, and he talks with some great people. Always a fun and funny listen.
The Moth is a collection of people telling their own, interesting stories. The Moth is usually a live show of people telling their stories without notes, and it’s been recorded and put into podcast form so we can listen to interesting people telling their favorite personal stories.
The Nerdist podcast is the funniest podcast in existence, and you’ll never convince me otherwise. Chris Hardwick is the geekiest comedian on the planet, and he sits around a table with his friends and a guest and talks about technology, comedy, and life. Always, always, always hilarious.
Whenever I want to get excited about humanity, I listen to a TEDTalk. The podcast is a filtered list of the talks that people give at the various TED conferences, which are where the brightest and coolest people in the universe get 18 minutes to talk about anything they darn well please. The results are fun, interesting, and easily digestible a few minutes at a time.
Another TWiT property, Macbreak Weekly is devoted to all things Apple and Mac. The show’s interesting, but my favorite part is that during every episode, they recommend a few books and a few pieces of hardware and software. It’s where I get most of my reading material nowadays, as well as hear about tons of great apps and accessories.
Wait Wait…Don’t Tell Me
Wait Wait is a current events quiz and discussion on NPR every week that is just incredibly funny. It’s frequently enlightening, but I find it most useful as my go-to mood lightener in the middle of the long, boring car trips I find myself in altogether too frequently.
You Look Nice Today
Very rarely updated, but always worth it when it is, You Look Nice Today is essentially impossible to describe. It’s Merlin Mann, one of my favorite people on Earth, and a couple of his friends. They’re usually drinking, always full of funny stories, and a lot of fun to listen to.
I like Fresh Air for a lot of the same reasons I like the Pipeline. It’s a series of interviews with interesting people, with no thread other than interestingness running through the episodes. It makes any topic interesting and palatable, and is a perfect thing to put on when you’re ready for your thinking cap.
The Marketplace of Ideas
Again, basically ditto Fresh Air and the Pipeline. The more I consume information, the more I realize that what’s interesting are not theories or events; what’s really interesting are the people behind those things. The Marketplace of Ideas features conversations with smartly-chosen, universally interesting people—the interview with Merlin Mann is a personal favorite.
Urban Coffee gives you the sense that you’re just hanging out with a couple of friends, talking about what’s going on in the world. Except you’re not talking. The hosts of Urban Coffee talk about what’s happening, what’s new, and what’s interesting, and make you feel right at home all along the way.
The Scott Van Pelt Show
My second-favorite sports podcast. Scott Van Pelt is the professional to the uberfandom of Bill Simmons, and is always interviewing someone or dissecting some sports story. He’s a fountain of information, and has great guests on the show constantly.
The Adam Carolla Podcast
Adam Carolla is another of the unlikely success stories of the podcasting world, having started his whole empire after the success of the Adam Carolla Podcast. Since he’s got some clout in the industry, he’s always talking with interesting guest. Since he’s a bit of a jerk, he’s always angry at someone. Both make for great listening.
I’ve got my list, but what’s yours? The world needs more podcast listeners, so share your favorites!