As I wrote when discussing my foray into audiobooks, I love podcasts. Podcasts are superior to traditional radio because they are on-demand, anyone can make them, and they generally contain only a few tasteful advertisements. In short, podcasts are about the content.
I shared my list of favorite podcasts when I first started listening in 2012. That list has changed significantly, so I present here the current podcasts that I most admire.
The Talk Show is hosted by John Gruber, who has described his podcast as the director’s commentary for his website, Daring Fireball. The Talk Show is Apple-centric, but Gruber often discusses broader topics in technology and pop culture, such as baseball and movies.
I probably listen to more than 20 technology podcasts, but doing so is becoming difficult. Many technology podcasts are part of incestuous networks. Hosts on these networks are on multiple shows and they all just talk about the same topics. Even worse, a good portion of them spend so much time navel-gazing about their own podcasting careers that I want to barf.
While I was drawn to Gruber’s podcast because of my Apple fandom, I find his independent voice most appealing. He is smart, has strong viewpoints, and welcomes interesting guests. In fact, The Talk Show has featured three Apple executives (Phil Schiller, Craig Federighi, and Eddy Cue) over the past year. I respect his opinions, whether or not I agree with them. I highly recommend The Talk Show.
Exponent is a hybrid podcast. Ben Thompson and James Allworth competently cover technology topics with a savvy business slant. My preamble is short, but the list of reasons for why I love Exponent is long. Simply put, I always feel smarter for having listened.
As described on its website, Serial “tells one story — a true story — over the course of a season.” The first season was a sensation. It covered the case of Adnan Syed, who was charged with the murder of his ex-girlfriend Hae Min Lee. The second season, currently in production, covers the case of Bowe Bergdahl, a U.S. soldier who was held hostage by the Taliban for nearly five years. Bergdahl is now facing court-martial for the circumstances surrounding his disappearance. Host Sarah Koenig is charming and I admire her narration style. Serial is really good and I think you will agree.
I happened upon Lore by chance one morning during a desperate search for new podcasts after having exhausted all of mine. Lore had only one episode at the time, but the description caught my attention. As it turns out, that means I got in on the ground floor of an award-winning podcast.
Lore is produced by author Aaron Mahnke and explores the historical origins of scary stories. I am a big fan of the horror/supernatural genre and love Lore because, as the show’s tagline says, sometimes the truth is more frightening than fiction. If you love a good story, I think you will love Lore.
Society and Culture
I am not sure how to describe ROTL beyond its own definition - “a frank and candid weekly phone call between John Roderick and Merlin Mann.” Roderick is the lead singer of The Long Winters, while Mann is widely known as a productivity guru. These conversations are often hilarious and I love the banter. But do not confuse the show as total nonsense. Many episodes touch on real topics that are discussed with a rare and vulnerable honesty, including mental illness, drugs, relationships, parenting, and fear. The show is remarkably evergreen, so you can feel free to listen to the entire catalog of episodes.
WTF will show up in various podcasting lists under Comedy. Marc Maron is a stand-up comic and he often interviews comics. But I do not think his podcast is a comedy show. Maron interviews guests in his garage. One such guest was President Obama. Maron covers the generalities of each person’s career and industry, but by the end of each show has extracted their deeply personal stories. For instance, Robin Williams appeared on WTF a few years before his suicide and discussed his inner demons - alcohol, drugs, and mental illness. I think Maron is a gifted interviewer and an astute observer who uses comedy and a garage to put people at ease.
Sports and Entertainment
Bill Simmons contentiously parted ways with ESPN last year. I cannot stand ESPN’s repurposed radio-as-podcast formats, so Simmons’ show is a welcome respite. This podcast is the latest incarnation of his witty take on sports and culture. Simmons is knowledgable, smart, abrasive, and controversial. I am not as obsessed about sports as when I was younger, but I often listen to Simmons when I want to catch up.
I do not have anything too fancy to say here. This podcast features roundtable conversations about books, movies, television, comedy, and music. The hosts are pretty engaging and I enjoy the show.
News and Politics
As my followers and friends know, I am a political junkie. However, I long ago tired of traditional political coverage. Most shows generally feature partisan dolts who do nothing other than speak to make their respective echo chambers just a little louder. The “analysis” presented in mainstream political media is largely just a bunch of unconvincing anecdotes and obvious attempts to steer a preferred narrative.
The 538 group, led by Nate Silver, approaches politics from an analytics perspective. Nate Silver made a name for himself in politics by correctly predicting results in 99 of 100 states during the 2008 and 2012 U.S. Presidential elections. Silver uses polling and modeling to arrive at his predictions, which has long frustrated traditional political talking-heads. The hosts try to apply the same evidence-based logic to their discussions.
The Huffington Posts’s Sam Stein and Jason Cherkis talk to people who have run for public office and lost. The show is surprisingly fun and does a great job of humanizing politicians. I consider myself to be left-of-middle politically, but the episodes featuring Tim Pawlenty and Michael Steele had me wanting to go have a beer with two people whose policies I strongly dislike. Every little thing that can help us maintain our humanity in the face of increased polarization is a good thing.