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.

Up First

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.

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.)

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.

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.

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.

FiveThirtyEight Politics

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.

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


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

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.


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.

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.

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.

Catching Up

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.

Phil! Gold