Thu, 14 Dec 2017
I listen to a lot of podcasts, usually while I'm in the car, but also when I'm doing yardwork and similar solitary tasks. These are the podcasts I listen to.
I break my podcasts into several categories and generally listen to the categories in order. (I listen to all of the news podcasts before starting on the politics podcasts, and so on.) My currently-preferred podcast client, BeyondPod, lets me set up a "smart playlist" that puts everything in the appropriate order automatically every time I update my feeds.
BeyondPod also lets me speed up podcasts. I listen to most of my podcasts at 1.5x playback speed. I can still process the information comfortably, but it gets through them faster. Exempted are more highly-produced podcasts and ones that are really short anyway.
First, I listen to my "News" podcasts. These are short and, well, about news. I listen to these in reverse chronological order, so I get the newest news first.
NPR News Now
The NPR News Now podcast is updated every hour and contains a recording of the five-minute news summary they make available to their member stations at the start of every hour. I have BeyondPod update its feeds within an hour of my normal times for leaving home and work, so I always start off my listening with an up-to-date news summary.
- Schedule: Every hour, but you (obviously) only ever need the most recent episode.
- Playback: 1x because it's short.
Up First is NPR's podcast version of a morning show. It's hosted by the same people who host Morning Edition, and it's available every weekday morning. It spends about ten minutes discussing two to four news topics in more depth than the hourly news summary can cover them.
- Schedule: Every weekday, posted by 6am Eastern time.
- Playback: 1x because it's relatively short.
WAMU Local News
WAMU Local News is just what it sounds like; short news items from WAMU in DC. (WYPR is closer to me, but the reasons I instead listen and donate to WAMU are a whole other post.)
- Schedule: Somewhat ad-hoc; it depends on what reporting WAMU has done on a given day. In general, there are three to five short episodes every weekday.
- Playback: 1.5x.
Politics / Topical
The podcasts in this section are ones that cover topical issues, with a focus on politics. I try to stay up to date on all of their episodes. Sometimes I skip individual episodes in the interest of keeping up with all of them.
I'm a bit on the fence about 1A, hosted by Joshua Johnson. I want a podcast that covers a wide range of relevant topics, particularly politics and cultural issues, and I want to come away from discussions with a sense of understanding the perspectives on all sides of an issue, regardless of whether I agree with them. The Diane Rehm Show used to be very good at that; Diane assembeled good panels for discussion, and she was extremely talented at guiding the discussion for the edification of her listeners. 1A took over Diane Rehm's time slot and covers the same sorts of topics, to a first approximation, so I've been listening to it since its inception.
1A is different in a few ways, of course. The focus of the cultural topics is a bit different, but I generally like the topics covered by the show. I don't think Joshua Johnson is as good a host, though. Diane was good, in my opinion, at guiding her guests to present useful information and perspectives to her listeners. Joshua has often come off as condescending or offputting to his guests, in ways that I don't think have contributed to genuine, useful conversations. (In more than one show he's asked a guest a question that basically came off as him saying, "Do you even understand why people think you're wrong?") I'm a little on the fence about what they've done with the podcast format, too. The radio show is two hours long, with a different topic each hour. For the podcast, they pick one of the two topics and edit that show down to a half hour. If you want to listen to the other show, you have to go to the website; it's not available in a podcast.
I still feel like I'm getting useful information and perspectives from the show, but not to the same degree as I got from the show that previously filled my "topical panel discussion" need. If anyone has suggestions for better podcasts, I'm open to them.
- Schedule: One 30-minute episode every weekday, distilled from the two shows that aired that day. There's often a bonus episode on the weekend taken from one of the week's episodes that didn't get put into its day's podcast.
- Playback: 1.5x, on general time principles, but Joshua also speaks a little slowly and speeding him up helps.
Diane Rehm: On My Mind
On My Mind is the podcast that Diane Rehm has been doing since she retired from hosting the on-air Diane Rehm Show. Every week she records and collects conversations with people where she discusses political or cultural topics. Her new format doesn't really cover the sort of broad, multifaceted discussions that I really liked about her old show, but she's still informative and insightful, so I'm still listening.
- Schedule: Weekly. One hour-long episode every Friday.
- Playback: 1.5x. Diane Rehm was the reason I started speeding up podcasts in the first place. She's an excellent host, but she talks extremely slowly. (There are health reasons for some of that, but it still makes it difficult to listen to her show sometimes.) Speeding her up makes it a lot easier to get past the way she sounds and get into the communication of ideas, where she excels.
The Economist Radio
The Economist has multiple podcasts; I listen to all of them through their "all audio" feed, available at the top of that page. I do skip their "Tasting Menu" episodes; I find the format they use for them jarring. (It consists of one person reading excerpts from an article they've written for the magazine intercut with the host's commentary on the article. It feels like a conversation format where the two people aren't actually talking to each other and I don't like it.)
The Economist has the nice additional benefit of giving coverage of the US from an outside perspective. I appreciate that because pretty much all of the other podcasts I listen to are based on the US.
- Schedule: There are currently five podcasts; each one is published weekly on a different day of the week, so the all audio feed gets a new episode every weekday.
- Playback: 1.5x
The FiveThirtyEight Politics Podcast doesn't have its own page, but you can find it on the FiveThirtyEight Podcasts page. This weekly podcast features concrete, numbers-based discussions about political developments. I really like their approach to trying to understand the population's political opinions by asking them (generally through polls) and trying to fairly listen to the answers.
- Schedule: Weekly. Episodes are recorded around noon on Mondays and posted that afternoon. Sometimes they do "emergency podcasts" on other days to discuss particularly interesting political news developments.
- Playback: 1.5x
On the Media
On the Media is a weekly show that discusses how the US--and sometimes global--media is covering (or miscovering or failing to cover) the news, particularly political news. They also tend to discuss free speech and various other things that fall within a similar penumbra
- Schedule: Weekly plus. The hour-long radio show airs on Fridays, so they post new shows to the podcast feed on Fridays, too. The podcast also gets "podcast extras" every Wednesday.
- Playback: 1x. Although it might not sound like it at first, the show is very highly produced and edited. Each episode packs a lot more content into each time period than most of the other podcasts I listen to, so I leave this one at 1x playback.
These podcasts are excellent places to learn new things. They're not necessarily as time-sensitive as the ones in my "Politics / Topical" section, so I get to these only when I've caught up on all the topical stuff. I am currently about five months behind on this section.
99% Invisible discusses the design of things made by humans, with a focus on architecture. I've learned a lot about all sorts of things that people have made from this show.
- Schedule: Weekly. One half-hour episode every Tuesday.
- Playback: 1x. This show has high production values and it's worth listening at regular playback speed.
Radiolab tells stories about science. I've learned a lot from this podcast about new developments in science, obscure but interesting scientific discoveries, and science history. They also do a lot to try to express concepts and atmosphere through audio cues. At least one person I know finds their "bleeps and bloops" offputting and can't listen to them.
- Schedule: They don't seem to have a hard and fast schedule these days. They usually put out two to three episodes a month.
- Playback: 1x. A lot of work goes into the show's production, and it doesn't sound the same when sped up.
Ted Talks (audio)
The TED Talks audio feed is just that: an audio-only podcast of TED talks. I'm a little on the fence about this one. I've listened to some really great talks through this feed, but a lot are just okay or worse. The ratio is not really in the feed's favor. I haven't fully given up on it yet, though.
- Schedule: Every weekday. Most talks are 18 minutes or less.
- Playback: 1x. A lot of the talks could probably be sped up without issue, but the good ones usually have a rhythm and performace aspect to them that is better appreciated at 1x, so that's where I leave the entire feed.
What's the Point
What's the Point was a podcast from FiveThirtyEight that discussed uses of data in various aspects of our world. One of the early episodes I distinctly remember was a discussion of analyzing traffic data in New York City to optimize traffic flows in Manhattan (including closing a street to improve the traffic). The podcast has ended, but I haven't yet listened to all of the episodes in the feed.
- Schedule: Ended. When it was active, it was weekly, with a new episode every Friday.
- Playback: 1.5x.
If I ever get caught up on my "Education" category, I have the "Catching Up" category to work on. When I find a podcast that I like and want to listen to every episode of it, I put it in this category. Once I'm caught up on the podcast, it gets moved into an appropriate other category (usually "Education"). 99% Invisible, TED Talks, and Radiolab all started out here.
Intelligence Squared US
Intelligence Squared US holds one or two debates every month on interesting topics, often political ones. Each debate begins with a motion, e.g. "Video games make us smarter." There are two teams in the debate; one argues for the motion and the other argues against. Each team has two members. The debate has three phases: opening statements, answering questions from the moderator and audience, and closing statements. The audience is polled about their opinion on the statement before and after the debate; the side that had the greatest increase in supporters is said to have won the debate. I don't care so much about who wins or loses, but the debates are generally good platforms for understanding opposing perspectives on contentious topics.
- Schedule: One to two hour-long episodes every month.
- Playback: 1x. I think the performace aspects of the debate are better expressed at normal playback speed.