My latest obsession is…podcasts!
It’s my second attempt at getting into podcasts. About 10 years ago, I tried to find podcasts I would like, and only came up with two: Ethics Bites and Grammar Girl. Ethics Bites (2008) turned out to be a short-lived philosophy series made by Open University. It gave an introduction to topics such as animal rights and censorship. Grammar Girl started in 2006 and it’s still going. It covers things like word usage (when to use critique vs criticize) and trending topics such as The Singular They. Both shows were scripted and concise; under 15 minutes per episode. They had authoritative speakers who shared their expertise.
Before that, my only similar experience was listening to radio shows. I’ve never been drawn to talk radio, news radio or sportscasts. However, I love Saturday afternoon CBC Radio shows like Quirks and Quarks (popular science), The Debaters (comedy) and Definitely Not the Opera (1994-2016) with Sook-Yin Lee. When I lived in the US, I listened to Car Talk on NPR!
Lately I have listened to Melvyn Bragg on BBC’s In Our Time with Rom occasionally. I like the topics and the guests but I do find Mr. Bragg mumbles excessively!
So, I wanted to start over and see what was new in podcasts. Using my new iPhone, I searched a few titles and topics using the built-in Podcast app. I subscribed to a few that sounded promising and gave them a try.
As a podcast newbie, Gretchen Rubin’s Happier seemed like a good starting point. I had recently read her book Better than Before which was about developing and keeping good habits. She does the podcast with her sister, Elizabeth Craft. The podcast has a theme each time and some regular segments such as “Demerits and Gold Stars” in which they talk about their personal highs and lows of the past week. As a rather gender-resistant person, I would say this is the girliest of the podcasts I listen to, since it is geared to women, and would appeal more to married women and mothers like the hosts. But Gretchen is exacting, and Elizabeth is sassy, and their show is two smart women talking about domestic life. I appreciate that it is scripted and professionally produced (more on that later). I listen to this because it’s cheerful and comforting.
Then I subscribed to By the Book, in which two women read a self-help book, live by its precepts and do a podcast about it. This concept was treated before by Gretchen Rubin and AJ Jacobs, but it’s fun to carry on the premise. Jolenta Greenberg is a comedian and storyteller, the show is scripted and well-produced with on-location clips to break up the flow, and it’s very irreverent (I love that they hate some of the books!)
So far my favourite “women’s” podcast is The Guilty Feminist in which comedian Deborah Frances-White hosts programs on women’s issues such as ageing, periods, dealing with men, bodies, sexuality and activism. Every episode starts with a comedy routine riffing on the line, “I’m a feminist but…” (followed by embarrassing revelations about being a bad feminist). The guests include comedians, storytellers and activists, and include many women of colour and queer folks. I tried listening to this at the gym and couldn’t stop laughing out loud…I love it!
I have listened to two more serious podcasts: Vegan Warrior Princesses Attack! and Feminist Killjoys PhD. VWPA is run by Callie and Nichole; FKJ by Raechel and Melody. All four are intelligent people who have the right experience and have done research on their topics, which include privilege, race, gender, queerness, body size, ability, and wellness. I should love them! But I don’t! The shows are unscripted and very lengthy. I find they ramble a lot. It’s a bit unfair to dislike podcasts for not being professional radio shows, but I so wish both of them would edit every episode by 50%. Also, to be honest, I think I am experiencing a generational divide with the much-younger-than-me hosts. The very slow I’ll-check-in-with-you and you’ll-check-in-with-me style is glacial for me. It has the feeling of a safe space, but sharing information “as an expert” is discouraged and everyone’s experience is valued. I want the redacted version. Someone else will read this and think they sound perfect. If I were 25, the four hosts might be my imaginary best friends.
Two more podcasts I’ve tried are Skeptic’s Guide to the Universe (science) which is good but loooong, Slate’s Culture Gabfest, which has a pop culture focus and entices me to listen to features on movies I haven’t even seen.
As a music fan, Desert Island Discs was an obvious choice. It is another BBC Radio show and it’s been going since 1942! The host interviews a celebrity and asks the same question of each guest: if you were stranded on a desert island, which 8 recordings, one book and one luxury item would you want to have with you? Recent guests include Christine McVie, Naomi Klein, Sheryl Sandberg and Stella McCartney. I also like Vinyl Me Please which is music reviews and round-ups for record snobs 🙂
I really like Hot Mic with Dan Savage which is stand-up storytelling on sexual themes. It is raw, honest, funny and real.
Unfortunately, my favourite podcast of all has ended! It was called Smash Everything and each episode focused on one thing to get rid of: Smash Patriarchy! Smash Capitalism! Smash Monogamy! It was so cool and topical and to the point. The host, Molly Woodstock, is my favourite person in media right now. They are not able to pay for web hosting the archives forever, so I will be binge-listening before it goes away. Meanwhile, Molly has started a new podcast called Gender Reveal which is only on its second episode, but sounds very promising. All gender all the time!
I realized the reason I am getting back into podcasts is that I finally have time for uninterrupted listening. I can listen on headphones as I walk to and from work, or at the gym. I can listen at home while I make dinner. At those times I can listen with complete attention and no one is talking to me or expecting anything of me. It has only been in recent years I’ve had that time, and now my new spoken-word friends are keeping me company!
Do you listen to podcasts or radio shows? What would you recommend to me or other readers?
PS – Rom accidentally named his podcasts “podcats” and I think I would like them even better!
I didn’t realize that Savage had another podcast… Now I have another podcast to listen to.
Oh yeah, it’s really good!
Bookmarking this post for future must listen podcasts when I have a little more time.
I am loving The West Wing Weekly. I have been a big fan of the show for some years now and this is like a great deep dive into the episodes I know and love. And I do know them very well, so well that on my first listen through this podcast I did not need to watch the episodes first.
Once I caught up to where they were, I went back and did watch an episode, listen to the podcast. Just to catch some of the little moments they had spotted. They are up to the halfway point now and just took a months break in which I missed the hosts quite a bit. They are both great fun.
I have a cordless headset which I can wear all over the house, and so I can do chores and listen along, it is great multi-tasking.
Before that I loved the Breaking Bad Insider Podcast, and if you were a fan of that show but did not listen to the podcast it is well worth doing the same thing – a rewatch and relisten. Vince Gilligan who is the show runner appears on almost every podcast and he was so incredibly generous with his thoughts about everything.
They also have one for Better Call Saul which I enjoy, and I am looking forward to the new season of that show.
Hi S, I don’t watch any TV shows, but Slate Culture Gabfest did a one-hour special on the new Star Wars movie which I had just seen, and I loved it! Rom listens to one that breaks down every episode of Game of Thrones and he’s all caught up. I have wireless headphones too and love them.
I love, love, love podcasts!! my current favourites are How to be Awesome at Your Job, where they do interviews with different people that are really great at what they do, Jeremy Vine’s Being Human and Nutrition Facts with Dr. Greger.. his delivery is just really enjoyable. I think I like podcasts even better than audio books for morning walks and the work commute.
I will have to check out ‘Happier’ it seems like a really good one.
Hi PK! I am not familiar with any of those and will definitely check them out! I find my attention wanders when I watch videos like Ted Talks (although some are excellent) so I am liking podcasts more.
Thanks so much for these referrals, Dar! I love podcasts but am stuck listening to language acquisition type things about French and Spanish. I know I would love the themes and topics you’ve mentioned! Will definitely set myself up with some broader listening. Part of my goals for this year are trying to stop work bleeding into home time…which means giving myself permission to listen to things I want to hear, not just work related language topics!
Meanwhile I am bemoaning the fading away of my French. My vocabulary, grammar and reading are not bad but I speak it so seldom, I have to plan out every phrase I say in my head first. Maybe while Rom works on his data science online courses, I could be improving my French!
Some of my favorite podcasts are The Moth, The Stoop, and Dear Sugars. The first two are ordinary people telling their own stories, and the third is a thoughtful, smart advice “column” with author Sheryl Strayed and Steve Almond. Thanks for your favorites.
I would love to try those out – thank you!
I really enjoy 99 percent invisible. It’s a podcast about design- which turns out to be a very very broad space. The early seasons have quite short episodes, the more recent ones are longer. They also feature episodes of other podcasts, so a chance to find other interesting ones.
Thanks for reading – that one sounds great! I will check it out.
Thanks for this, I am on the lookout for some new podcasts, plenty to try here. I really enjoy “By The Book” probably because I am so suspicious of some of these self help books!
I should really look at more BBC podcasts, I listen to Radio 4 and World Service throughout the day and night but rarely take time to listen to podcasts too.