I’ve abandoned traditional radio (too many ads and repetitive playlists) and am in the process of abandoning Sirius XM radio (repetitive playlists, poor sound quality, and insufferable disc jockeys on the alt. country (Outlaw Radio) channel). As a result, when I’m on the road I rely largely on Spotify for my music, and podcasts for other content. Here is a list of the podcasts I currently subscribe to (I use Downcast as my podcast app; there are plenty of good options), and a brief description of why.
Mac Geek Gab. This is part of my holy trinity of tech podcasts, and I listen to it without fail every week. Along with Mac Power Users and select episodes of This American Life, it is a workout staple. To use a book analogy, it’s hard sci-fi, as opposed to space opera, and I’ve probably learned more under the hood tech-related stuff from hosts Dave Hamilton and John F. Braun than anyone else.
Mac Power Users. Another part of my holy trinity of tech podcasts. Hosts David Sparks and Katie Floyd have captured lightning in a bottle with this format, and everyone benefits. It’s not “hard sci-fi” like Mac Geek Gab, but it’s great “space opera,” which has broader appeal. I feel like I’m discussing tech with friends every episode. It is the number one resource for Mac and iOS users, from beginner to expert, seeking to increase their knowledge and skill set.
Clockwise. The third part of my holy trinity of tech podcasts. Jason Snell, Dan Moren and two guests discuss four tech topics each episode, in 30 minutes or less. I find the topical matter to the pretty consistent with the things I am reading or thinking about, I like the fact that I can listen to an entire episode in 30 minutes, and I love the roundtable format.
Invisibilia. It’s between seasons at the moment (I really wish podcasts wouldn’t have seasons), but when it was releasing new episodes, a new episode of this podcast about “the invisible forces that shape human behavior” was a moment of celebration. It’s hard to succinctly describe, but this podcast is simply wonderful. Hosts Lulu Miller and Alix Spiegel are delightful. There was a moment in the How to Become Batman episode, after they talked about some amazing things done by some amazing people who happen to be blind, when Alix Spiegel said this:
They should do an episode about why that line affected me so much. I was in the middle of my workout, walking down a country road near the farm. Without hesitation, I stopped, caught between the competing desires to dance and sob, and danced for a moment. It was pure joy, and to this day I’m not sure why.
This American Life. No discussion of podcasting and no subscription list can be complete without including the grandfather of all podcasts, hosted by Ira Glass. If I were to compile a list of my 10 favorite podcast episodes ever, I’m reasonably certain 9 would be from This American Life (the 10th being the Batman episode of Invisibilia). I listen to most, but not all, of the new episodes and I separately use the This American Life app to find and listen to older shows. If you want an introduction to the wonder of podcasts, start with House on Loon Lake.
Mystery Show. This is another fantastic new podcast. The concept (finding random but interesting mini-mysteries and solving them in an online Scooby Doo fashion) is perfect, as is host Starlee Kine. It has the best theme music ever, and every episode uses a mystery as a launching pad for all sorts of discovery. The episode about Jake Gyllenhaal’s height should win whatever the Emmy-equivalent is for podcasting.
Criminal. Criminal is another “shorter” podcast, hosted by the aptly named Phoebe Judge, with episodes running in the 20 or so minute range. It’s not a typical crime show; it’s more about people who have done something wrong, had something wrong done to them, or been caught up in between the two. For example, a recent story about the Petrified Forest National Park in Arizona was great, but not just for the obvious reasons. I listened to the new episode on my morning workout today, about murder ballads.
Serial. Like everyone else, I was blown away by this podcast and followed its unraveling of a 1999 murder with a cyber-microscope. It was compelling stuff and Sarah Koenig, who also works on This American Life, is a great host. If you haven’t heard it, you should start binge-listening right now and cancel all your plans for the next few days. I hope season 2 will be as good, but it’s got some big shoes to fill. For those wondering, I think Adnan probably did it, but there seem to be a lot of questions about exactly what happened and when.
Reply All. Self-described as “a show about the internet,” this shortish (20 to 30 minutes) podcast, hosted by Alex Goldman and P.J. Vogt, can be about almost anything. Recent shows about a swindler turned good citizen and the battle over a boring Facebook group were both excellent. I’m very interested in the new tech support stories feature they have started.
StoryCorps. StoryCorps “travels the country collecting stories of everyday people.” I don’t listen to every episode, but I listen to many of them, and some of them are excellent. For example, a recent episode on the Americans with Disabilities Act was wonderful (the Grove Norwood/Ricky Boone story will make your day).
Note: Once my Sirius XM radio subscription expires (and it will not be renewed), I’ll add subscriptions to some of the NPR shows I still listen to via satellite radio (Diane Rehm, Marketplace, On Point, Radio Times, and others).