Intro: I’m quite certain you have heard these. I’m just merely giving credit where’s due.
5. Sound Opinions — A weekly podcast which features Jim DeRogatis and Greg Kot (as well as a guest) discussing all things music. These two are living the dream; basically they have managed to make careers out of having the types of arguments that you have with your buddies after a few beers about which The Smiths record is “objectively” the best. They review new releases, and sometimes discuss groundbreaking moments or records in music history. If you’re a music nerd, you’ll love it.
- General topic — music; music history
- Positives — weekly scheduled release; polished and professional sound mixing and production; conversational and easy-to-listen-to format; free
- Negatives — not many to speak of
4. Radiolab — A research and interview format podcast, which finds Jad Abumrad and Robert Krulwich discussing any number of topics, usually related to humanity’s subjective experiences in interacting with the world. It often asks a central question, such as, How does language affect the way we think?, or Is there a psychological difference between animals and humans?, and then attempts to arrive at some sort of conclusion. Informative and produced professionally. Main shows run for an hour, with special “shorts” editions released sporadically (they usually consist of 10-20 minute single topic issues).
- General topic — Hard science; humanities; social science
- Positives — Informative (you will learn basic info on some cutting edge scientific and humanistic theories by listening); professionally produced; weekly scheduled release with added bonus of ‘shorts’ episodes; free
- Negatives — Insist on using the KJV bible translation any time they quote from it (a personal pet peeve); Krulwich’s insufferable idiosyncrasies such as snort-laughing, and always saying “really?” whenever a guest asserts anything
3. Economist’s Editor’s Highlights — A good source to get brief world news with a bit of analysis, though I often take their solutions to the world with a grain of salt, as they are quite the free-market apologists (indeed, Economist was established in 1843 to oppose corn tariffs in England) and seem to think open trade policies will eradicate all social ills. The format is Economist editor John Micklethwait picking certain stories from each week’s print release to be read aloud wonderfully by sultry British voices. Usually runs between 30-60 minutes.
- General topic — global politics; world news; economics
- Positives — weekly scheduled release; informative; covers a lot of different topics; free (even without subscription)
- Negatives — ideological; quite shallow in its analysis (though broad in it’s scope)
2. 99% Invisible — A no-format show started by “solo-practitioner” Roman Mars, who—thanks to a blockbuster Kickstarter campaign and great quality programming—has managed to not only stay afloat, but succeed. Obviously the brain child of a complete radio geek, 99% Invisible covers one topic with each release, often centered around a specific structure, concept, or historical shift that either caused, or was caused by, design. Releases usually run between 15-30 minutes.
- General topic — design; architecture; acoustics
- Positives — Privately produced and self-created by a guy who manages to tiptoe through topics mired in obscurity and pretentiousness without sounding pompous himself (I’m rooting for him), meticulously mixed and produced, introduced me to Hel Audio (to which I have become addicted); free
- Negatives — Sporadic releases; sporadic format
1. This American Life — I mean, please, who’s going to argue with the mac daddy of them all? They are pros, really. Though you will learn things by listening to it, This American Life is not an educational podcast in the sense that Radiolab is. Ira Glass & Co.’s purpose is not to inform its listeners. Rather, it exists to tell stories—in all forms—in interesting and evocative ways. It is sometimes sad, sometimes happy, sometimes maddening, but always interesting. It really does not need this little explanation; you know what it is because you’ve probably listened to it. The format consists of a weekly hour-long show, usually broken into 2-5 “acts.”
- General format — storytelling, usually centered around a general “theme”
- Positives: production quality is fantastic; always interesting; relatively large budget, weekly scheduled releases; free; masterfully done
- Negatives: anything I write here would just be being too picky for a free podcast