The year of the podcast

iPod playing a podcast

Not too long ago, some people would have had you believe that podcasts have had their day. But just when it seemed as though they would never break into the mainstream, 2014 seems to be the year podcasts made it.

Serial logo

All the talk has been about Serial, an ongoing story about a real-life murder mystery that reaches its conclusion today. I haven’t yet listened to Serial because I blow hot and cold with This American Life, the podcast Serial spinned out of.

But I do listen to very many other podcasts. I typically spend hours a day listening to radio, and podcasts make up the majority of that.

Here are some of the podcasts that are floating my boat right now, presented in a randomised order.

Chequered Flag

I have raved about BBC Radio 5 Live’s Formula 1 coverage before. The podcast from the same team is the best way to get the race reaction from the drivers themselves, plus expert analysis, in a convenient format.

More or Less

The BBC’s podcast that casts a sceptical eye over the numbers in the news. This podcast ought to be compulsory listening for any journalist, lest they fall into a statistical swamp. While it’s not, I would advise that consumers of the media (that means all of you) make it a priority to listen to More or Less.

F1 Rejects

Ricardo Rosset at 1997 Australian Grand Prix

It is one thing to take part in a sport that you are not competitive in. But when that sport is the high-risk world of Formula 1, it takes a special kind of dedication to participate race in, race out, without a sniff of victory. F1 Rejects knows it.

This glorious celebration of Formula 1’s glorious failures has its tongue only half in its cheek when it salutes the likes of Ricardo Rosset, Jean-Denis Délétraz and of course Zsolt Baumgartner.

Alongside reminisces of rejects past and great moments in F1 punditry, F1 Rejects regularly brings a humorous overview of current events in F1. It is the perfect antidote to the madness of Formula 1.

Stuart Maconie’s Freak Zone

Each week an expert musical guest looks at one of the strangest corners of music in the Freak Zone. This BBC Radio 6 Music programme revels in the bizarre, the esoteric, the freaky.

The major downside of listening to this on the podcast is that the BBC is only able to play short clips of music. Which, let’s face it, is not ideal for a music podcast.

The Media Podcast and The Media Show

The media is one of the most important issues of our age, but some aspects of it are often treated like a niche subject. This pair of podcasts (one independent, one from BBC Radio 4) shine a light on the business side of the topic.

TED Radio Hour

TED2013_0016775_MB1_4847

Do you keep on seeing links to TED talks that look really interesting, but you have no time to watch them all? Then this podcast is for you.

Each week, several TED talks around a topic are “adapted for radio”, summarised and analysed.

Sometimes the talks seem like clap-trap, and the format of the radio programme is rather formulaic, which wears thin. But it is worth it all for those talks that are insightful and educational.

Answer Me This!

This is that most rare of things — banter that isn’t shit. Instead, it is jolly but fruity. Helen Zaltzman and Olly Man tackle the big (and little) issues of the day, answering listeners’ questions with wit and wisdom.

Recent topics to have been tackled include Supermarket Sweep, Mario’s surname and Rock Circus. It covers much more than 1990s pop culture, but that is the only stuff that seems to have stuck with me right now.

UIE Brain Sparks

A series of talks and discussions from some of the leading lights of user experience and user interface engineering.

Unfortunately, a lot of the podcasts are simply the audio from live presentations. Since these are not designed for an audio format, this can make them a difficult listen.

However, there is still lots to learn from this useful podcast.

Gareth Jones on Speed

More laughter comes from Gareth Jones, Zog and Richard Porter of Sniff Petrol. This podcast features a heavy dosage of road cars (and sometimes even more exotic forms of transport right up to space travel). Despite my love of motorsport, I am not much of a (road) cars person, so I have to glaze over at those moments.

But their discussions about Formula 1, sportscars and more are hilarious — just as you would expect from a trio including the author of the tip-top motorsport humour website Sniff Petrol.

Radiolab

As I have written before, I really enjoy listening to North American podcasts. Many of them have a such a different sound to anything you would hear on British radio, which tends to be rather staid and formulaic.

Science podcast Radiolab pushes the boundaries of what factual radio can sound like — and it’s no less informative for it. Fascinating topics covered in an unusual and engaging way.

Freakonomics Radio

This podcast from the authors of the eponymous hit pop economics book promises to teach you the hidden side of everything. Economics is a common focus (and everything touches on economics in one way or another). But true to the spirit of the book, the variety of topics covered is vast. Every show there is something different and surprising.

If you want to know how the world works and you can handle unconventional answers, I would highly recommend this podcast.

Formula 1 Blog.com

It’s all very well to listen to the experts, but it is good to have a fan’s perspective as well. This is where Formula 1 Blog.com comes in.

I have been listening to the podcast for over seven years now. From the very beginning I was struck by how refreshing and different it was to other outlets. They do not just regurgitate the received wisdom du jour. These are fans of the sport who care passionately about it, and form their own opinions and reasoning behind it.

You will not always agree with what they say. That is not the point. As long as it is expressed with decorum and civility, that is OK.

This podcast will always provide food for thought. That is especially vital in these times when Formula 1 appears to be facing an identity crisis.

I have listened to the podcast grow over the years, and I appreciate the race review podcasts with professional driver Paul Charsley and professional Fake Charlie Whiting, Mark McArdle.

But the podcast still comes into its own when it goes old school, with Todd and Grace. Their equal measures of snark and wisdom is the perfect balance for the brilliant but bonkers sport of F1.

Richard Herring’s Leicester Square Theatre Podcast

Richard Herring, As It Occurs To Me, Leicester Square Theatre 20 Jun 2011 crop

If you ever wanted to know what would be better between having a hand made out of ham and an armpit that dispenses suncream, this is the podcast for you.

Each week Richard Herring interviews a fellow comedian in front of an audience. Normally the topic of conversation is anything but the comedian’s work.

The manner of the podcast is slightly shambolic, and Herring’s interview style borders on the disrespectful. Everyone is in on the joke of course, but it can make for variable results.

When it’s awkward it’s awkward – but still strangely captivating.

When it’s working, it will give you the biggest belly laugh of your week.

The all-time highlight of the series was the interview with Stephen Fry, which was equal parts hilarious and poignant. Richard Herring’s disarming and freeform interview style led Stephen Fry to open up in a way he never had before.

Motor Sport Magazine

This is, without a doubt, the essential listen for motorsport fans. A panel of some of the sport’s greatest experts, including Nigel Roebuck and Mark Hughes, chew the fat with some of the sport’s greatest names.

The quality of the guests is high, and you couldn’t ask for a more erudite discussion about the sport.

The end-of-season Formula 1 review podcast was a perfect example. The panelists are highly informed and highly informative. Their knowledge is deep, and they know exactly how to convey it to the listener.

If you are a motorsport fan and you don’t listen to this podcast, amend that straight away. You will not regret it.

Boagworld

The original web design podcast is now one of the leading sources of information and inspiration for anyone involved in digital in organisations.

Institutional digital management is a complicated business. Paul Boag, Marcus Lillington and colleagues from agency Headscape offer useful guidance that can be of use to anyone involved in the web or digital, at any level.

When I first got a proper big job five years ago, a lot of what I learnt about navigating the choppy waters of digital came from listening to Boagworld on my way to work. The format has changed over the years, but it remains one of the best ways to learn about the web and digital.

Best of all is that the podcast is humorous and entertaining, with a friendly and welcoming attitude. Don’t worry if you’re not a geek — you’ll still get it. And if you don’t get it, at least there’s a chance you’ll get the joke at the end.

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