Jump Into the “Podcasting Renaissance” with These Intelligent Shows (and Tell Us Your Favorites)

Serial-2

You may have heard that podcasting has a renaissance going on. As a podcaster since the beginning stages of the medium — and one slightly surprised to find that the medium has now reached ten years of age — I can only welcome the news, though I never knew podcasting had gone into a dark age. New York Magazine‘s Kevin Roose tells the story of the appearance of Apple’s iPod, followed by a flowering of “podcasts about politics, sports, literature, comedy,” “podcasts that sounded like NPR, and ones that sounded like Rush Limbaugh,” some that “lacked polish,” but most possessed of “a kind of energy to them that suited their audiences well.” But then, “sometime around 2009 or 2010, the podcast scene seemed to wither. The stalwarts (This American LifeRadiolab) stayed around at the top of the iTunes charts, but there wasn’t much else happening. Download numbers fell. Interest waned.” But ah, in this year of our Pod 2014, things have changed: “Today, a very different problem exists: There are too many great podcasts to keep up with.”

Roose, and hundreds upon hundreds of other people on the internet, recommends first and foremost Serial (iTunesRSSSoundcloud), “the true-crime drama hosted by This American Life producer Sarah Koenig,” a show sometimes credited with reviving podcasting itself. The New Yorker‘s Sarah Larson calls it “the podcast we’ve been waiting for” in a piece giving a look into the reasons behind its success. Roos also gives special mention to another new show involving a name you might recognize from the This American Life orbit: Alex Blumberg’s StartUp (iTunesRSS), a running document of the creator’s attempt to launch a podcasting business, the kind of venture that sounds less quixotic all the time. And Roose also names a personal favorite of mine, the well-known podcast about architecture and design — but Really, About Life Itself — 99% Invisible (iTunesRSS).

If you feel like getting into this podcast renaissance, or if you’ve spent years as a podcast listener and just need some new material in your rotation, you could do much worse than starting with the three shows above. To add to that list, I can suggest no podcast more suited to the interests of Open Culture readers than In Our Time (iTunesRSS), the long-running BBC Radio 4 program about the history of ideas wherein veteran broadcaster Melvyn Bragg interviews groups of Oxbridge experts on subjects like nuclear fusion, the Haitian revolution, Rudyard Kipling, the Battle of Talas, and the female pharaoh Hatshepsut — just in the past month. Personally, I so enjoy In Our Time that I went to interview Melvyn Bragg on my own podcast Notebook on Cities and Culture earlier this year.

Interviews and comedy have proven two of the most durable forms of content in podcasting, and anyone who hasn’t dipped into comedian Marc Maron’s in-depth and introspective interview show WTF (iTunesRSS) — not that many haven’t at this point — has missed out on a sterling example of the kind of listening experiences podcasting, and only podcasting, has made possible. (You might consider also listening to my interview with Maron on The Los Angeles Review of Books podcast.) And while not necessarily comedy, I can’t imagine Open Culture readers not getting a laugh, and all other kinds of intellectual stimulation besides, out of the podcasting of Benjamen Walker. Walker, formerly the host of Too Much Information on the beloved independent radio station WFMU, recently launched a new show called Benjamen Walker’s Theory of Everything (iTunesSoundcloud), a show of personal stories that explores all things to which those stories connect.

True, one complaint about podcasting in its early years held that the shows podcasters made went too personal — the old charge of “two or three guys sitting in basement talking about nothing” — but now that this decade-old medium has found more mature forms, the personal has become its art and its craft. I never hesitate to promote XO (iTunesRSS), a show by Keith McNally, a podcast auteur whom I believe has done more to master the creative personal-story podcast than almost anybody, and he began doing it earlier. (As with Bragg, I went to his hometown of Toronto to interview him too.) But enough about my favorite podcasts; which ones do you tirelessly champion? Make your recommendations, and we’ll round them up in a post soon.

Related Content:

The Podcast History of Our World Will Take You From Creation Myths to (Eventually) the Present Day

Shakespeare’s Restless World: A Portrait of the Bard’s Era in 20 Podcasts

Philosophize This!: The Popular, Entertaining Philosophy Podcast from an Unconventional Teacher

Colin Marshall hosts and produces Notebook on Cities and Culture and writes essays on cities, language, Asia, and men’s style. He’s at work on a book about Los Angeles, A Los Angeles Primer. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.


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  • scottmacs says:

    My absolute favorite and top recommendation is The Geologic Podcast ( http://geologicpodcast.com/ ). (Don’t let the title fool you, this podcast has nothing to do with rocks.) George Hrab, a.k.a Geo, produces a weekly show with segments such as Interesting Fauna, Rupert McClannahan’s Indestructible Bastards, and Horror-Scopes as well as stories from Geo’s life as a drummer for the Philadelphia Funk Authority and independent musician.

    International Waters ( http://www.maximumfun.org/shows/international-waters ) is a panel game hosted by Dave Holmes featuring team’s of two comedians (one each from the US and UK). Holmes quizzes the teams and as he says the point of the show is more to be funny than right.

    Talking Headways: A Streetsblog Podcast features Tanya Snyder and Jeff Wood discussing stories of sustainable transportation, urban planning, economic development and how they intersect.

    The Sprocket Podcast is a Portland, OR based show on “simplifying the good life.” Hosts Brock Dittus and Aaron Flores interview Portlanders and others passing through who live their lives and/or make their living with an eye toward sustainability and simplicity.

    The Unofficial, Unsanctioned Women’s UCI Cycling Show chronicles the races, riders, and teams at the UCI’s top level. Primarily focusing on the women’s road race season, hosts Sarah and Dan also discuss women’s mountain biking, women’s track cycling, and para-cycling.

    Reasonable Doubts, a.k.a Doubtcast, is “Your skeptical guide to religion” ( http://freethoughtblogs.com/reasonabledoubts/ ). The panel of hosts take a skeptical look at both current religious news stories as well as ancient myths. Rather than being outright dismissive of religious claims, the hosts critically analyze news stories and published research.

    An American Atheist ( http://anamericanatheist.org/ )features a panel of atheists discussing news stories and occasionally an interview with a writer or film maker. Although the hosts are non-believers, they present unique perspectives on each topic of discussion.

    Judge John Hodgman ( http://www.maximumfun.org/shows/judge-john-hodgman/ ) takes the unusual and humorous cases submitted to him and his bailiff Jesse Thorn and hands down justice.

  • Daniel B. says:

    Great list, thank you. As for my own favourite podcast: Now that one of their founders is an international celebrity, new episodes come out more sporadically, but The Bugle podcast still is the finest, weirdest, most heartfelt political satire on the (digital) air. John Oliver is the Brit who made it big in the States, a master of knowledge, words (with neologisms coined on the show like the infamous “Fuckeulogy”) and especially song; Andy Zaltzman is the Brit stayed home and didn’t hit it big, but is an undervalued comic juggernaut of puns and absurdist rants, the Id to Oliver’s Super-Ego. Together they have the charisma, charme and dynamic of genuine friends, and even when the newest episode is late or cancelled – their back catalogue is a treasue trove of political satire. May the Bugle live on forever.

  • scottmacs says:

    (Note to moderator: I tried submitting this comment before, so if the original does appear feel free to delete this one)

    My absolute favorite and top recommendation is The Geologic Podcast ( http://geologicpodcast.com/ ). (Don’t let the title fool you, this podcast has nothing to do with rocks.) George Hrab, a.k.a Geo, produces a weekly show with segments such as Interesting Fauna, Rupert McClannahan’s Indestructible Bastards, and Horror-Scopes as well as stories from Geo’s life as a drummer for the Philadelphia Funk Authority and independent musician.

    International Waters ( http://www.maximumfun.org/shows/international-waters ) is a panel game hosted by Dave Holmes featuring team’s of two comedians (one each from the US and UK). Holmes quizzes the teams and as he says the point of the show is more to be funny than right.

    Talking Headways: A Streetsblog Podcast features Tanya Snyder and Jeff Wood discussing stories of sustainable transportation, urban planning, economic development and how they intersect.

    The Sprocket Podcast is a Portland, OR based show on “simplifying the good life.” Hosts Brock Dittus and Aaron Flores interview Portlanders and others passing through who live their lives and/or make their living with an eye toward sustainability and simplicity.

    The Unofficial, Unsanctioned Women’s UCI Cycling Show chronicles the races, riders, and teams at the UCI’s top level. Primarily focusing on the women’s road race season, hosts Sarah and Dan also discuss women’s mountain biking, women’s track cycling, and para-cycling.

    Reasonable Doubts, a.k.a Doubtcast, is “Your skeptical guide to religion” ( http://freethoughtblogs.com/reasonabledoubts/ ). The panel of hosts take a skeptical look at both current religious news stories as well as ancient myths. Rather than being outright dismissive of religious claims, the hosts critically analyze news stories and published research.

    An American Atheist ( http://anamericanatheist.org/ )features a panel of atheists discussing news stories and occasionally an interview with a writer or film maker. Although the hosts are non-believers, they present unique perspectives on each topic of discussion.

    Judge John Hodgman ( http://www.maximumfun.org/shows/judge-john-hodgman/ ) takes the unusual and humorous cases submitted to him and his bailiff Jesse Thorn and hands down justice.

  • Leishalynn says:

    EconTalk, Nature, Frank Delaney’s Re:Joyce, The Philosopher’s Zone, Podcastle, Poetry Off the Shelf, and (still, when they do it) Mugglecast. Also, aside from those you mentioned, SpanishPodcast, Podrunner, A State of Trance, The Next Reel (very best one for films), New Yorker: Fiction, Alan Watts, Science Friday, All In The Mind, The Partially Examined Life (best philosophy podcast), Citizen Radio, and Poem Talk.

  • Peter Saumur says:

    Dan Carlin’s “Hardcore History”.

  • Janelle says:

    I love that this podcast doesn’t just have one topic – it’s different every week. ConversationAccessories.com

  • MJ says:

    May I be self-serving and suggest my own fledgling history podcast ‘Tempus’ https://itunes.apple.com/podcast/tempus/id928932250

  • Brad says:

    Second that on Carlin’s Hardcore History. Medium-defining. Rigorously researched. Special stuff.

  • Gina Swifte says:

    My favourite podcasts are: British History by Jamie Jeffers; China History by Lazlo Montgomery; History of Hannibal by Jamie Redfern; History of England by David Crowther; History of English by Kevin Stroud; History of Alexander the Great by Jamie Redfern; Renaissance English History by Heather Teysko; Revolutions by Mike Duncan; History of Rome by Mike Duncan; The Ancient World by Scott Christian; History of the Papacy by Stephen Guerra; Podcast History of Our World by Paul Vincent; Norman Centuries by Lars Brownworth; 12 Byzantine Rulers by Lars Brownworth; Russian Rulers by Mark Schauss; Ancient Rome Refocused by Rob Cain; Brief History of Mathematics; …
    Then there’s Witness; Arab Spring; Last Word; Legends of King Arthur; Myths of Greece and Rome; Life Scientific; Listen to Lucy; More or Less: Behind the Stats; and a good few more, not forgetting the various French based podcasts I use in a vain attempt to improve my understanding of the language!

  • zack says:

    i second Partially Examined Life (http://www.partiallyexaminedlife.com/) as a casual podcast about philosophy (in the broadest sense) and what it means to us (in the broadest sense). Although centered around philosophical texts, they aim to emulate “the discussion in the bar after class” as opposed to class discussion itself. episodes can be a bit long, but they’re absolutely worthwhile as the content is often incredibly dense and requires some time to parse out.

    my second second is EconTalk (http://www.econtalk.org/). self described as “Economics podcast for daily life” the topics extend far beyond economics. many guests are nobel laureates and/or at the top of their respective fields. host Russ Roberts does a good job of providing context, as well as playing devil’s advocate to really push the conversation in constructive ways

  • Dan Colman says:

    I noticed today that Metafilter highlighted what looks like an interesting podcast.

    Meet the Composer is a new podcast that dives into the minds of some of today’s top composers. Produced by WQXR and Q2 Music, and hosted by New York area violist Nadia Sirota, Meet the Composer “takes listeners into the minds and creative processes of the composers making some of the most innovative, compelling and breathtakingly beautiful music today.”

    http://www.wqxr.org/#!/programs/meet-composer/

    https://itunes.apple.com/us/podcast/meet-the-composer/id891942714?mt=2

  • Nate says:

    One of my favorites is David McRaney’s “You Are Not So Smart” podcast.

    http://youarenotsosmart.com/

  • Drew says:

    CanWeStillBeFriends?

  • Jesse says:

    Star Talk Radio is my favorite.

  • Dylan Edwards says:

    The best new podcast this year is You Must Remember This, seriously intelligent and stunningly well-researched weekly essays about twentieth-century film culture’s forgotten or just little-known curious stories; all delivered in an assertively gossipy tone, and tending to deal with gender politics in really fascinating and refreshing ways. Best episodes so far have been about the myths around Frances Farmer’s late life and death, Raquel Welch’s life and career in the shadow of ‘that image’, and a wonderful ongoing ‘Follies of 1938’ series presenting that much-forgotten year as an integral one in Hollywood’s history. The episodes finish and you want to listen to hours more. So good.

    The best review podcast out there (by miles) is the Voice Film Club, best film podcast in general is the Cinephiliacs. My other vital ones are the memory palace (which is like This American Life if it was actually consistently interesting), Longform, the New Yorker’s short story, poetry, comment and political scene podcasts, and the Monocle Weekly.

  • ohradiogirl says:

    This is a good topic and good suggestions from everyone.

    State of the Re:Union for good storytelling. I’m a bit of a techie so Pop Tech Jam (http://www.poptechjam.com/) is a fav for being conversational and sharing insights on technology. Oh, and How To Do Everything (http://howtodoeverything.org/) is engaging and just the right length – 15-20 minutes. On The Media (http://www.onthemedia.org/) has been a good one for years – consistent review of the media as well as tech and legislation that impact media. Curious City (https://curiouscity.wbez.org/) is a newer podcast based in Chicago that is getting attention for its inclusion of the community. Love + Radio (http://loveandradio.org/) is … just different, but in a good way. It’s not for everyone in terms of topics and language. Enjoy.

  • gjackson says:

    my faves are mainly comedic (but not necessarily with famous comedians), though i do love the history podcasts mentioned earlier. some of my comedy favorites are “Uhh Yeah Dude”, “Pappy’s Flatshare Slamdown”, “Stack of Dimes”, “Cocktails and Cream Puffs”, “LOTSL”, “How Did This Get Made”, “Flip The Table”, “Doug Loves Movies”, “Game Night Guys”, “The Smellcast”, “TADPOG”, “Professor Blastoff”, and “Welcome To Night Vale”. I also like “Mysterious Universe”, “In Our Time With Melvyn BRagg”, and “BBC History Extra Podcast”.

  • Cmm says:

    Good Job Brain – trivia quizzes and fun facts

    Filmspotting – in depth discussions and reviews of current movies plus topical Top 5 lists. Tends to the art house end of the film continuum.

    Film Sack – 4 guys watch or rewatch movies, most currently streaming on Netflix, and have often very humorous discussions.

    Mark Kermode’s movie show from BBC radio, reviews, interviews and frequently hilarious debates between Kermode and his cohost, with lots of reader participation.

    Stuff You Missed in History Class – 2 women go in depth into forgotten corners of history — events, people, and stuff of everyday life like a recent episode on the history of cosmet

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