Podcasts are a vexing artform. Like many artforms delivered serially they tend to start ragged, peak, then become boring parodies of themselves. Presumably this is because it takes a while to build up an audience, and then target and profile that audience, so there is an incentive to produce never-ending content torrents, because that is the easiest format to financialise. As a result, they overflow the banks of their concept, or at least dilute it until the flavour is weak.
Even at the peak of any given show podcasts have highly variable killer-to-filler ratios. Accordingly I rate podcasts by how frequently they seem to me to be killer, as a hint as to how many episodes you might wish to audition before giving up and deciding my recommendation is not for you. The more a podcast apes the radio and commits to a regular schedule, or commits to advertisers and needs to make up volume, the more likely that it is that any given episode is unexciting filler. Alternative, some of them are not laser focussed on my interests alone, which is allowed I suppose.
Podcasts set the bar for for shallow engagement with science, history and current affairs. “I heard in a podcast that…” denotes that I hear something interesting but failed to treat it as important enough to follow up. This is probably what I should expect from an artfrom which is designed to keep me exactly engaged enough to do the dishes without breaking the dishes or getting bored.
On the plus side, podcasts for now open the door to some odd and interesting voices who entertain and occasionally inform me cheaply, and in a way that seems somehow less pathological and/or sleep disrupting than prestige TV shows.
So, recommendations. Having mention that recommending some of them is fraught because the unschooled might start on a waste-of-time or off-message episode, let us do it. These concerns aside, there is entertaining stuff being produced, and educational stuff, and titillating stuff, and stuff that gives a strong but baseless sense that it is educational by making you sound erudite at parties without requiring substantive effort or transformative understanding. It is hard to search for that last quality, but here, try a podcast search engine, Listen notes. Open Culture’s podcast list also has some excellent recommendations. It skews a little virtuous and improving for my smutty lowbrow tastes, but I got some good ideas from there.
For now I am dumping some names which I will link to and expound at some hypothetical time in the future when I have leisure, but for now I can at least remember that I need to reference them.
- Switched on Pop lovingly breaks down pop songs and phenomena and reads deep into the zeitgeist through them. 70% killer.
- Twenty Thousand Hertz. 90% killer.
- Ways of Hearing. “Each episode looks at a different way that the switch from analog to digital audio is influencing our perceptions, changing our ideas of Time, Space, Love, Money, Power and Noise.” 110% killer. This short form podcast was exquisite and perfect and did not continue until it became tedious.
- Talking machines, by Neil Lawrence and Katherine Gorman, which has a mix of high-grade science journalism about machine learning, useful insights for practitioners and social and philosophical concerns. 90% killer.
- Data skeptic founded by Kyle Polich but now with a large crew, does socratic-method introductions to useful concepts in machine learning. 80% killer.
There are some other podcasts that I have auditioned, but none with so high an ROI for my own purposes as those two. All the others I have tried so far fail to make my own list because
- they skew shop talk and industry trends rather than research, or
- they lack the tightness of editing, or production values to stand out in the competitive world of tightly-edited podcast.
This is not to say that those other ones will not appeal to you dear reader, just that they did not appeal to me so much that I diverted work time into linking to them.
a.k.a. snob gossip.
- Decoder Ring. 100% killer
- Caliphate. 100% killer.
- Reply All. 75% killer.
- Sean Carroll’s Mindscape. 50% killer. Although no-one seems to agree about which 50%, which I suppose is a recommendation.
- Endless Thread. 50% Killer. Reddit-supported podcast about things that happen on Reddit, which is genuinely interesting because Reddit is interesting, in parts, just in a 1% filler-99%-killer kind of way. As such, this is a weapons-grade content enrichment program.
- The Dream. 80% killer.
- Decrypted. 60% killer.
- Das geheime Kabinett.
- Tides of History is a great economic history podcast. Presenter Patrick Wyman also has an entertaining CV with a rare cocktail of working proficiency in dead languages and MMA. 90% killer on the normal episodes, 50% killer on the interview episodes.
- Stephen Fry’s Great Leap Years. 100% Killer. A fan’s history of telecommunication, which sounds terrible but is exquisite, unless you are the kind of person who likes to imagine that the current miracles of modern information technology are unremarkable, in which case what are you even doing on this corner of the internet?
- History of China
- History of Byzantium
- Cautionary Tales
- Chinese History Podcast
- Nice Try!
- Damn Interesting
Smut and dick jokes and fiction
- The bubble
- Answer Me This
- Dying for Sex
- Sexing history
- Be the Serpent
- Escape pod is an auditory science fiction magazine. (Which means podcast.)
When I lived in South east Asia the podcast scene was not massive. But now it is.
I would like some more podcasts from Indonesia and about Indonesia.
- Indonesia dll
Podcasts everyone I know likes but I didn’t get into
Benjamin Walker’s theory of everything Unable to listen without contemplating how much more fun this should would be for me to record than to listen to.
Night vale. Enjoy the merch but did not enjoy the listening required to earn the moral claim to the merch.
Joe Rogan experience. I like the idea, but I do not have the time for this kind of marathon entertainment, for the same reason I do not have time for Netflix binges. I think that part of the attraction is supposed to be entering a fugue state of interviewness. I would possibly listen to Joe Rogan edited highlights?
Make your own podcast why not
Some tools I have seen about the place.