25 Sep 2011

Podcasts of Choice

Apparently, this is "a podcast"...
I have to endure a long drive to and from work each day (it takes about 70-80 mins, one way!), but there's one thing that makes this ass-suck of a journey a little more bearable: podcasts.
For the uninitiated, there are many definitions of what a podcast is, but I prefer this one from the small business encyclopedia: A podcast is a pre-recorded audio program that's made available for download so people can listen to it on personal computers or mobile devices.

While not exactly a recent phenomenon, the number of podcasts available, and their popularity, seems to have increased exponentially with each passing year. Now you can find podcasts (of varying quality) about every conceivable subject...from the obvious: sports, film, science, news, etc., to the ridiculous: Suze Orman's.

All of which is to say that the following represent my listening material of choice on that painful drive along the A34 (Britain's worst road, ever) to and from work:

NPR's This American Life

Probably the best podcast of all time, this series from National Public Radio's Chicago station, WBEZ, is a weekly podcast around an hour long featuring four different stories on a particular theme...ANY theme. The "American" part is a bit of a misnomer in that the themes aren't uniquely American (though some are, others are pretty universal) and the stories can sometimes have nothing to do with America, such as one of the stories around infidelity revolving around a trio of people from Kent in England. This podcast is just hugely informative, entertaining and can only enrich your life.

NPR's Pop Culture Happy Hour
If, like me, you're very much into popular culture, this really is the podcast for you. Four reviewers from NPR discuss pop culture in a weekly half-hour show. What makes this head and shoulders above other pop culture/movie/TV podcasts are the following: 1) the hosts are highly knowledgeable on their subjects. I used to listen to the /filmcast but grew increasingly annoyed at the youthful hosts' lack of knowledge about almost anything pre-1995. 2) The hosts are extremely witty. It may sound snobbish to say so, but I genuinely like sophisticated, educated humor. 3) The  segment entitled "What's making us happy this week" is a great way to find out about hidden gems (such as Julie Klausner's excellent "How Was Your Week" podcast listed below) or a chance to reappraise forgotten classics.

The Guardian Football Weekly

My two favorite sports in the entire world are football and (American) football. I've yet to find a really good (American) football podcast, though I've tried many. For (European) football, though, by far the best is The Guardian newspaper's Football Weekly. Hosted by the brilliantly funny and knowledgeable James Richardson (he of Channel 4's gone-but-not-forgotten Gazzetta Football Italia) and featuring a rotating cast of writers from The Guardian, this twice-weekly podcast in the main recaps the previous weekend's matches (but also previews the coming week's games) in the EPL, as well as reporting form Europe's main leagues (Serie A in Italy, La Liga in Spain and the Bundesliga in Germany). What sets it apart, though, is the banter between the writers. It's a joy to listen to people both deeply knowledgeable about the beautiful game but also extremely funny and witty.

The Rachel Maddow Show

From one of my intellectual heroes and possibly the smartest political commentator in the media, this podcast is literally the audio from Rachel Maddow's nightly cable news show. Yes, I'm a total liberal. I really do recommend Maddow's show, though, for everyone across the political spectrum. Unlike Olbermann and Maher (who I also love) Maddow is far less combative and doesn't indulge in name-calling of any kind. She's brilliant, well-researched, funny, cares deeply for her both her country and for the people and is a reasoned voice from the left. I wouldn't recommend any of my Republican friends listen to Olbermann, but I would Maddow. To those of us on the Left, there is no better voice in the media. For those in the Center/on the Right, if you haven't watched/listened to her, give her show a try. She may be able to sway you. At the very least, you'll get reasonable and logical arguments for why we believe what we believe.

BBC Radio 4's News Quiz

The "Wait, Wait...Don't Tell Me" for the UK, or the podcast/radio version of TV's "Have I Got News For You". A weekly quiz chaired by the incomparable national treasure that is Sandi Toksvig and featuring the righteous-but-funny regular panellist Jeremy Hardy, the news quiz is first and foremost a comedy program with different guests/comedians each week, discussing the news stories from the past seven days with an emphasis on politics. I would say the satire and humor exceeds even that on the brillant HIGNFY but, like HIGNFY, the standard of the verbal interplay never drops for a single episode.

NPR's Wait, Wait...Don't Tell Me

The "BBC Radio 4's News Quiz" for the USA. While ostensibly being a quiz, WWDTM is really, like its UK counterpart, a chance for some comedians to make jokes about news stories from the previous week. This show doesn't quite attain the heights of the "...News Quiz", but that's more because of format rather than the talent of the guests and less focus on the ridiculousness of US politics and politicians. Also, is there a better prize in radio than Carl Kasell's voice doing your answering-machine message (even if the very concept of answering machines is a little outdated!)

The Guardian Film Weekly

Coming, as they both do, from The Guardian, Film Weekly couldn't be more different from Football Weekly. There's not much humor here, with regular host Jason Solomons and regular guest critic Xan Brooks both being resolutely high-brow in their criticism and in their choosing of subjects/films to discuss. As a movie nerd, I listen to many movie-centric podcasts. When I'm in the mood, though, to hear an interview with Danish auteur and cinematic bad-boy Lars Von Trier or what Lynne Ramsay has been up to since Ratcatcher, I put on Film Weekly.


Heard about this on PCHH. This podcast bridges the gap nicely between the populist "/filmcast" and "...Film Weekly". Regular hosts Adam Kempenaar and Matty Robinson typically review the week's major release. What sets this apart, though, is the Top 5 segment wherein they discuss the Top 5 "something" movies. In recent weeks there's been the Top 5 Assassin movies, Top 5 Soderbergh scenes and Top 5 Slasher films. If "...Film Weekly" is Cahiers du Cinema and the "/filmcast" is Entertainment Weekly, this is more like Empire Magazine. Kempenaar and Robinson, though (unlike the /filmcast triumvirate of Hardawar, Chen and Quigley), have both seen movies from before 1995 and their viewing is not limited to mainstream American movies and Asian cinema.

How Was Your Week

Comedienne Julie Klasuner (one of the funniest people on twitter, btw) hosts a weekly show from her apartment in NYC where she just talks about stuff (again, usually centred around pop culture) with an eclectic lineup of guests that in recent weeks has included Jackie Collins, Laraine Newman and Patton Oswalt. I think the next episode features Sandra Bernhard discussing her obsession with Jerry Langford (if you didn't get that reference, you're no movie fan!). Klausner's humor is very much aligned with what I find funny - social commentary that, while bitchy, is never just mean.

WTF with Marc Maron

Marc Maron is a stand-up comedian and former radio host for Air America. This show is done from his garage and is a brilliant combination of rants about stuff he both loves and hates and interviews with some of the funniest people in America. Maron has a real appreciation for the art of stand-up and his discussions about the craft with his special guests are at once informative and hilarious. Standout episodes so far are the Andrew 'Dice' Clay and Doug Stanhope ones.

NPR's Jazz Profiles

Another NPR gem, "Jazz Profiles" is de rigueur if you're a jazz buff or even if you're just interested in music. Taking a jazz great as the subject of each episode, the show is a combination of interviews, clips of other jazz artists talking about the subject and, of course, samples from the particular subject's oeuvre. Just when I thought I couldn't learn any more about the greatest jazz pianist of all time, Oscar Peterson, JP proved me wrong.

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