Recommended Podcasts of 2016
Preamble (You can skip this)
I’ve been consuming podcasts a lot this year. PocketCasts says 38 days worth, or nearly 900 hours.
Ok so, some of that I have slept through, as I like to listen to a podcast whilst going to bed. Hey, there’s even a podcast just for that, Sleep With Me, which in actuality is the complete opposite of how excitable that sounds (seemingly why it’s an ASMRer favourite). And some of it wasn’t really listened to, as I would lower the volume/take an earpiece out to talk to a friend (or indeed—by extension of disturbing my happy place and engage with me s-socially — an enemy). But I must listen to 3–5 hours a day now, which is ridiculous, and probably unhealthy.
It’s great you know, the pods tend to make mundane, everyday activities like commuting somewhere and washing up a welcome break, and seemingly more-than-ever there are seriously talented people who are picking up this audio format to make educating and interesting shows.
TV is a silly expensive world, and online video of “intellectual discourse” is lambasted and ignored when low-quality, and dissected to the point of personal intrusion with good production. Blogging is great, but oft your work is awkward for a possible audience to appreciate. Podcasts meanwhile can be a relatively quick job in the ways of expressing yourself or educating an audience, and just listening—and that’s really only being able to hear—makes consumers much more empathetic and understanding of controversial ideas or simple mistakes, providing a level comfort other media cannot afford.
Podcasting will never compare with the volume and quality of hot-takes with the newspaper/magazine/online writing tradition, but I take that as a welcome break from a world where anything notable has highly concentrated and connected communities who tend to rehash the same things all the time.
So, you should try podcasting out if you haven’t already. Apple’s iTunes already has a podcast feed, and for Android I recommend spending the few quid to buy the excellent PocketCasts app. Without further ado, here are my recommended listens for you all going into 2017.
Reply All advertises as “a show about the internet,” but really they’re missing culture at the end. I initially thought it was about some nothing about how we’re all connected or some new age rubbish, and was surprised to regularly hear on my feed a lot of human interest stories which just have tech as a basis for a more meaty story.
Like, it can seriously get quite emotional at times, just as it can be exhilarating to learn about how a crazy circumstance crashed into someone’s life. The guys PJ Vogt and Alex Goldman, as well as other folk connected to Gimlet Media who have led stories in one-off shows, are excellent hosts who have an experience-base of, well, the world, which they bring into an open-minded adventurous story. Every episode has the thrills, the heart-warmth and the crazy, to make for an always-exciting Android downloading notification.
Another great Gimlet show is Science Vs, which brings scientific rigour at odds with issues in the zeitgeist of today. The host, Wendy Zukerman, always has an engaging prose and is always excited (probably a bit too much), happy to delve into the guts of a topic and make grounded conclusions after detailing scientific data which is sweetened by interviewing real people in the weeds of the issue.
More or Less — The BBC has been putting pretty much all of their radio offerings online for a while now, and Tim Harford’s More or Less has been my favourite, which involves himself and his team taking a deep dive into the facts and figures which revolve the issues of toady. There’s also much of that public-broadcasting humour with personable quips and sometimes BBC-esque segments like going out clubbing to test a theoretical algorithm on the quickest way to find a lost friend.
What’s The Point — As you can tell from the above, I love data journalism, and so I have to mention 538’s What’s The Point. This feed incorporates a variety of formats, and one particular favourite of mine is the recently introduced Sparks, a monthly show that looks into scientific literature by people who clearly love their work (and hardcore cooking).
99% Invisible —Roman “I’m Roman Mars” Mars shows us the invisible world around us in architecture and beyond. If you are not instantly allured by his lovely voice, then you can subscribe to the feed for more DEEP DIVES into RANDOM COOL THINGS, always interesting, always fun. Ok maybe my lazy writing here doesn’t do the show justice, but trust me that 99pi is an eye-opening view into never-thought-about-but-surprisingly-impactful aspects of our lives.
I should be hardcore on technology news more than anything seeing as I’m a Comp Sci student, but I leave it all to the Verge with their Vergecast (which you’ll be constantly reminded as the flagship podcast) offering a general takedown on the weeks events on tech by their excellent staff, and their Ctrl, Walt, Delete is a great in-depth take on current tech happenings.
I also quite enjoy Bad Voltage, but it’s probably only good for FOSS/Linux world enthusiasts like myself.
I’ve been fairly disinterested in games journalism this year, with organising The Jolties being enough exposure to weird sh*t for my brain to handle, but here’s some of the pods I’ve kept on with in 2016.
VICE Gaming & VICE Gaming UK & Vice Gaming New Podcast & Waypoint & Waypoint UK & Yes it’s all a bit confusing
VICE has been growing a video games section for a while now, and started a UK podcast headed by the excellent Mike Diver at the end of 2015, and it’s been cameo’d by other great journos such as Kate “urban adventurer” Gray and Steve “W” Burns to provide meaningful, interesting game design and industry discussion, with a healthy dose of British latte-sipping class banter.
And because VICE Gaming sounds a mouthful + some hipster-liberal-hoodwink which was admittedly beautifully explain, the team launched Waypoint late October to become fully fledged media entity thingy for games journalism.
With that comes the Waypoint podcast from the US team, which was actually started a bit earlier in the run-off for the big launch. Austin Walker and Patrick Klepek are the mainstays of this pod, who are industry veterans and searing writers who can talk about both games and the culture around it with a passion for the craft and vivid frankness of their own responses to specific games. They talk good too, being very personable and sincere hosts who bring their experience to voice. Danielle Riendeau has also been on it a lot, who’s another great Waypoint-er.
Oh and don’t forget Mike, the VICE Gaming UK podcast was renamed Waypoint UK but it’s just the same thing so yeah.
VideoGamer UK — These folk are a strange lot. VideoGamer has always had a focus on being a mainstream gaming news site where I imagine clicks and views are oft-discussed internally, but the people who have moved in and out over the years have managed to make enjoyable and savvy written and video content which doesn’t degrade their work, and their podcast shows that caring-for-quality side, being generally a laugh and informative on the side.
Kotaku Splitscreen — Kirk Hamilton’s a smooth player, but Jason Schreier’s ever-infatuating hums and ways has made Splitscreen a getting-to-bed favourite. Whilst I may be half-asleep when they’re playing, I know they say smart things about vidya and sometimes other media, so maybe check them out for that.
Daft Souls — This has been on an indefinite hiatus more recently, but Matt Lee’s and Quinton Smith’s offering otherwise for 2016 has been, you guessed it, funny/informative/interesting. They’re great guys and I’d definitely keep my eye on both for more to come.
Current Affairs & Politics
To note, I’m from the UK, but I have had a great interest in US politics this year because of Vladamir Putin’s run for the presidency so I’ll just be talking about what’s over there. There is also a (limited) amount of UK offerings too, which is something that I’m definitely interested in exploring as I maybe care less about the US (and that’ll be when I just haven’t thought about Donald J. Trump one day).
The Gist is a weekday-daily offering which mixes up interviews and monologues about stuff happening n’ all that, with recent months being focused dedicated to the US election.
The episodes tends to begin with a witty introduction before an interview from experts of whatever fields or veterans of a certain news area, with the conversational style which host Mike Pesca has perfected, allows us to be invested and in-tune with the issues.
And then a “spiel” follows, a monologue on Mike’s thoughts. I’m not sure how he does it, probably with some carefully considered loose scripting beforehand which would attest to his care for the show, but time and time again he’s managed to provide a new and thought-provoking perspective to his audience — without being edgy, purposely contrarian like I find with other highly-praised pundits — with his spiels to an audience who, as mostly Slate fans, are in-the-loop and are always-worried-liberal-types, have probably already read the 101 hot-takes of the day.
It’s not just The Gist, you also have Slate’s Political Gabfest (commentary by two people you don’t know about and that gently-gentleman-y Face The Nation anchor who’s actually a crazy intelligent guy) and Trumpcast (the guess-what-it’s-about podcast, which has now a guaranteed 4 more years!) for great additions to your collection.
The Weeds & The Ezra Klein Show — Vox.com’s idea of “explain the news” is an interesting project which has made a fair few misses in the past on certain take-aways, but for the most part the staff have provided solid in-depth dives into headline stories. On a side, it’s funny that seeing all the effort put into representing right-wing views, things end up taking a liberal perspective (which is prob fair as mainstream “““conservatism””” in the US right now is, you know, not based in reality), though this ain’t no Daily Kos and conclusions are quite grounded in provided evidence and logic.
The Weeds by Sarah “socialized healthcare isn’t so bad guys” Kliff, Matt “I wish I didn’t tweet that” Yglesias, and Ezra “I read the New Yorker” Klein takes Vox’s philosophy to a peak, looking at government policy through historical context, statistics and white papers in a way quite palatable for an uninitiated audience. The presidential election was quite depressing see as how uninterested popular media outlets were with policy discussions, so The Weeds’ polcy wonk-ing is a more-than-welcome break.
And The Ezra Klein Show is just everybody’s favourite white boy somehow scoring interviews with big names like Bill Gates and Trevor Noah, as well as generally experienced folk from many different fields which has exposed his audience to a well of interesting perspectives. Ezra ain’t no Jeremy Paxman which critics would like him to be like in his accused-softball interview with Hillary Clinton, but I find that misconstrued because there’s a successful focus in extracting detailed and concise viewpoints rather than being some hero voicing the oft-uninteresting concerns of the plebeian masses (can I be a coastal elite now).
Five Thirty Eight Elections — Okay so the election’s over now and this is going to fizzle out for a while, but 538’s politics team had provided fascinating insights into their chosen methodologies for their 2016 election model, which turned out by all accounts to be the best. They’re still doing periodic shows and I’m sure worth a listen for future elections.
Keepin’ it 1600 — Headed up by former advisers to the current US president, if you’re a Democrat partisan then you’ll love all the snarky takes and humour (Jon Lovett being the ultimate political meme-ing machine), and everyone can enjoy hearing the Obama bros experience in government and on campaigns (ironically being the ones who helped deny a Clinton 2008 run). Seemingly no one’s quite sure about the future for dems, but I imagine these folk who have obviously been energised by Trump’s win (after months of over-confidence in their chances, the despair on their 9th November episode is a delight to pepe-avatared-twitter-users everywhere) will be some of the bridge builders between the progressive left-wing and “liberals aren’t real leftist”/not-so-left Third Way wing of the party.
RadioFreeGOP — A relatively popular right-wing podcast which isn’t appealing to white nationalists! Hosted by longtime Republican operative Mike Murphy, RadioFreeGOP offers a fascinating insight into US “reform conservatism” (think smiley-man Ronald Reagan and creepy-Supergirl-fan Jeb Bush) and how they view Trump and co., which for someone like me who you can guess from my offerings above is not a fan of the GOP, is probably quite helpful in learning how to work together with certain otherwise-opposing factions to make meaningful change. Also, hearing campaign trail stories from Mike and some guests can give you a big smile.
Reveal — Reveal does brilliant US-based investigative journalism into institutional failings, but the magic of this podcast is the stories formed through careful editing to capture the effectual impact of Reveal’s findings, with much of their focus on local communities and how policy affects real people.
I would also like to mention Politics, Politics, Politics by Justin Robert Young. Personally the political wonk fervour which Justin provides in his exciting non-partisan analysis of the recent events in the world of politics isn’t for me as someone who already follows too many smartarses on twitter, but I can definitely see people who aren’t as in-tune really taking something from his wealth of political knowledge, and it’s definitely a fun listen all round.
I have a lot more podcasts I listen to on a fairly consistent basis, but the ones above always pop-up into my head when talking about the pods. Because I of-course forgot about that one thing, please let me know if you have any podcast to recommend for a listen.
Regarding podcasts (and nothing else), I’m pretty excited for next year, like seeing activist and wife to former UK PM Sarah Brown work on her Better Angels, and seeing The Bugle reshape as a topical-comedy show now that John Oliver is dead, as well as going through Gimlet’s new line-up which I haven’t quite caught up with yet.
With that, have a good’un!