Sunday, 15 May 2011

Podcast round up

I do like a good podcast. I subscribe to several that are a mix of UK radio shows I can't listen to live, US public radio that's been recommended to me, and podcasts that aren't made by traditional broadcasters. I usually listen to these in the car during my 40ish minute trip to work.

First up is Answer Me This which is having a spring break while Helen and Martin the sound man get married. Answer Me This is a simple idea, done well. Sometimes a bit smugly, but well. Listeners send in questions, asking Helen Zaltzman and Ollie Man to "Answer me this..." Helen and Ollie use all the knowledge available on Wikipedia to provide answers and gently mock the questioner. I've been subscribing for about a year and it's the podcast that makes me shout at the radio the most. Which is probably not the interaction they're aiming for with their audience, but it makes me happy. When the podcast comes back Helen and Ollie are going to be smugger than ever as they've just won a Gold for Best Internet Programme at the Sony Awards.

Desert Island Discs is brilliant as a podcast. With shorter musical inserts (for contractual reasons) the castaway's story suffers from less interruption. Kirsty Young is very, very good interviewer able to move easily between chapters in the castaway's life and clearly enjoying every minute of it. The castaways themselves aren't always well known public figures, but are always interesting. Recent favourites have been Johnny Vegas, Lawrence Dallaglio and Alice Cooper.

I'm sure that Steve Martin won't mind me describing the Earshot Creative Review as being a podcast for radio anoraks only. It's a review of creative content made for radio: jingles, promos and adverts. Steve knows his stuff and brings in a range of contributors each month from commercial radio and the BBC to play stuff they've made and been inspired by and talk about why it works. It's often recorded on location somewhere, is always well made and is much more fun than it sounds.

Radio 4's Friday Night Comedy Podcast allows you to catch up with the Now Show or The News Quiz, depending on which show is having a current run. The News Quiz is the radio precursor to Have I Got News For You, presented by Sandi Toksvig and The Now Show is a Steve Punt and Hugh Dennis vehicle with an eclectic roster of extras and guests. Whichever show is running you'll get half an hour of satire based on the previous week's news. It should be essential listening for news junkies and comedy fans alike.

I'm going to bundle the next two together. Media Talk and Tech Weekly both come from The Guardian's impressive stable of podcasts. They take advantage of The Guardian's expert journalists in these fields so Media Talk's regular presenter Matt Wells will be joined by the likes of Maggie Brown and John Plunkett as they round up what's going on in the media. Tech Weekly sees Jemima Kiss, Charles Arthur and other Guardian tech heads in the studio with Aleks Krotoski.

Karl at work suggested I try WNYC's Radiolab. It's a fantastic, but sometimes frustrating listen. Jad Abumrad and Robert Krulwich present each hour long episode which will feature three stories loosely linked by the edition's theme. It's sort of science based - because it's a Radio Lab - but the storytelling is more important than the science. The programme has a distinctive style which is where I sometimes fall out with it. It's higly edited, and sometimes the presenters will talk over a contributor to precis what they've said and move the story along. To me this is an example of form triumphing over content and it causes more shouting at the radio. That said it is something different to anything I've heard on radio in the UK and does feature some brilliant stories. The fortnightly episodes are an hour long, but the podcast feed also includes "Radiolab Shorts" which are bitesized extras where you can hear material that didn't make the cut, pieces inspired by the longer episode and sometimes responses to earlier programmes.

99% Invisible is another programme from US public radio. It's presented and produced by Roman Mars, the man with the best name ever. It describes itself as "a tiny radio show about design"and recent editions have included Soviet design classics, concrete furniture and Nikko the Concrete Commando who scratched his name across a city. Roman is a droll host and each five minute episode is made with as much love and care as each hour of Radiolab.

So that's what's in my Podcast library in iTunes. What do you think of my selections, and what do you regularly download. Let me know in the comments.


  1. Absolutely agree - all of these are stunning. I was dubious at first about whether podcasts would catch on: now I'm hooked. Thanks for the comprehensive list. I also enjoy the Guardian's weekly political podcast and Ryan on the Radio who does some fascinating interviews with voice-over guys and imaging directors

  2. Thanks Bob - I've added your podcast to my feed now as well. Cheers.