According to my go-to podcast app, Pocketcast, since Dec 2018 I’ve listened to 90 days of podcasts. Writing this in Jul 2021, this means I’ve listened to podcasts for nearly 10% of my time in the last 2.5 years ✯.
Clearly I have time to find some new hobbies and perhaps have some suppressed issues, and whilst some may consider the level of my aural appetite too much for their sensitive ear balls, and the manner of my consumption unpalatable, I’ve been enjoying a wide spectrum of voices in my head for a while now, and felt like it was time to invite even more people to the podcast party.
Throughout the numerous lockdowns in 2020 and 2021 I’d been sending recommendations to friends here and there, so I decided to create a list of some of my go-tos. Apparently more than just a few of my pals listen to podacsts, too, with an estimated 15.6 million listeners in the UK in 2020 alone. Blimey. And at the last count (April 2021), some poor person at Apple (so probs not too poor actually) suggested there are over 2 million podcasts on Apple Podcasts alone, totalling nearly 50 million episodes – quadrupling since 2018.
Given this exponential explosion which has seen almost every celebrity and white guy sub-45 you know having a pod of their own (this white guy under 45 included), it’s helpful to have a list of recommendations every so often. Hopefully you’ll find some new gems in here, rather than scrolling endlessly through your feed of next suggested listens… Although I warn you now, there’s no true crime series to be found.
/ Fact finding for your inner-nerd /
This soon became my go-to science podcast, with their pun-fuelled factually-cited debunking-rampages taking on some of the biggest, and smallest myths & mysteries science has to offer. The hosting is impeccable, with Wendy Zuckerman effortlessly floating you through complicated contents whilst curating convos down to exactly what you needed to know, and what you didn’t know you want to know. Their Covid-coverage was so well balanced and felt like a breathe of fresh air in comparison to some ‘news’ that floated around at the time. Weirdly, they produced a special fiction-based episode titled ‘PANDEMIC’ which aired in Oct 2019. I mean… well done production team?!
Gimlet – https://gimletmedia.com/shows/science-vs
Roman Mars’ now iconic, soothing voice takes us on deep dives into all things design-architecture, graphic, culture etc. Don’t think you need to know anything about design, or feel you need to be especially creative to enjoy their episodes. Their human-centered stories about often inanimate objects or design concepts are endlessly fascinating and give you a real appreciation for the world and structures around us. They’ve also produced a beautiful book which I delve into every now and then (thanks MARO studio 😉).
No Such Thing As A Fish
It’s a Funny one, which is impressive as on paper what they discuss would endlessly dull if delivered by almost anyone else. This trivia show is created and presented by the team of elves/researchers behind the now legendarily nerdy TV show, QI, now in its ABCDEFGHIJKLMNOPQR’th series. Their ability to find the funniest, most obscure facts and their natural quick-witted, quick-fire facts makes this one of my go-to weekend or long drive listens, and an ongoing lesson in the art of callbacks. The source of most of my dinner party “Did you know?”s. Unfortunately I don’t get invited to dinner parties so my Mum has to listen to my fave facts chopped up and retold to her on the phone once a week.
Youtube’s tech icon, MKBHD presents Waveform, his first foray into podcasts. Everyone knows he’s the very best tech reviewer around, hands down. Marques brings his calm, insightful takes on the latest happenings tech world over to audio (although there’s now a video version of the pod, naturally). Waveform affords Marques and his great team the time to chat about the latest moves across a wide range of subjects, and their seemingly effortless high production values (across all their content) just reiterates what makes their studio stand out from some of the other needlessly high-octane, click-bait crazed tech producers out there. Video podcasts have been a thing on Youtube, and whilst MKBHD’s Studio’s video version of the pod is great, you lose very little if enjoying it through your podcast app.
MKBHD – https://twitter.com/WVFRM
IGN UK Podcast
One of my longest running subs brings all the classic nerd-noms with chats on games, films and tv, as well as some enjoyably madcap or IMDB keyword or Metacritic score based quizzes every week. Whilst the generations of hosts have changed many times since the beginning, it’s a credit to the IGN team that they’ve always found a way of subtly adopting the pod to show off the strengths of the rotating team. If you’re into games and broader geek-culture and some absolute mad mail-ins featuring the world’s best sandwiches, stories of drowning and more recently, onsen experiences, this one’s for you.
Fun fact; I once lost a tie-breaker for the ‘worst team’ at a live podcast event for IGN, crowning me the worst team of the worst teams in front of 200 drunk people and losing out on the booby prize. I vowed never to use “Destiny’s Child” as a nerdy team name again.
IGN – http://feeds.ign.com/ignfeeds/podcasts/uk
Every Little Thing
Life’s most basic questions, answered one by one. In a beautifully simple and satisfying premise, callers call the show’s, leave a message on the answering machine asking one of life’s most basic questions, and then host then takes the called through the answer in the following 20minutes with trustworthy sounding experts giving the listener the answers they need to hear. Perfection. And the source of most of my dinner party “did you know?”s.
Gimlet – https://gimletmedia.com/shows/every-little-thing
/ Cultural /
From comedy to football, tech to food and aliens. Everything is culture, so here’s a list that covers all sorts, away form more most nerdy topics detailed above.
/ Stadio /
The best football podcast around recently got one of the best hosts around; with Ian Wright bringing Wrighty’s House to the Stadio feed.
This podcast has changed how I consume football, football culture and the media circus that surrounds it, but also affirmed my love for in-depth football analysis, narrative, statement victories and angry goals. Musa Okwonga and Ryan Hunn discuss the latest from across Europe, considering the ever-changing, ever-problematic culture that surrounds football. With the addition of Wright, we get a pro’s perspective, and most importantly, Wright gets the space his analysis deserves, away from TV-required short sound bites TV culture currently requires.
I find Stadio’s most enjoyable episodes are their “What If’s” – where they debate what might happen if critical moments in football history went differently, with buttefly-effect impacts. A format since copied by marvel.
The very best football culture podcast, by the very best and most insightful, interesting hosts around.
The Ringer – https://www.theringer.com/stadio
Reply All’s fortnightly take on internet culture/stories/tech related explorations and mysteries is unparalleled in being fun, irreverent, insightful and cutting. Whilst the show has gone through some changes in 2020 as a result of well-documented issues at Gimlet, the back catalogue has some absolute gems and their frequent YES YES NO episodes, where one of the hosts takes the episode to explain a tweet, post or meme to the others is some of the best breakdowns of what makes the internet so special (in every sense).
Gimlet – https://gimletmedia.com/shows/reply-all/episodes
/ Home Cooking /
A short and very sweet journey through food in lockdown, delivered by Samin Nosrat of Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat fame, and Hrishikesh Hirway, of Song Explored fame (see below). A beautiful show which helps callers deal with their panic buys of kilos of kippers and tonnes of toms. I listened to this almost exclusively whilst cooking, during lockdowns and it felt like I was having dinner with Samin and Hrishikesh each episode. Which would, I’m sure, be a beautiful thing. It’s full of life and joy and food and I’m hungry.
The boys from Finding Drago (see below) review different rebooted and remade films and film series in their usual quippy patter, with lolable moments intertwined with legit film nerdery. It’s indulgent and blasphemously funny. Don’t listen with kids.
SansPants Radio – https://www.sanspantsradio.com/podcasts/total-reboot/
This Paranormal Life
Two mad dudes take us through stories that require zero prior knowledge of anything, but introduce us to an alternative way of questioning whether EVERYTHING IS REAL, PARANORMAL OR JUST PLAIN ALIENS. Rory Powers, who I used to listen to bringing energy to the IGN UK podcast, teams up with fellow Paranormal investigator (and housemate), Kit Grier and together they explore well-known incidents, fables and cover-ups, as well as stories from mad comment boards written back when geocities was how we spouted off about our cousin’s hairdresser’s poltergeist’s past-preacher’s first experience with a crop-circle.
Growing Up With Gal-dem
Gal-dem’s first podcast has a great hook; interviewees bring a piece of writing (diary, text, email, etc) from their past, often their teenage years or childhood, and discuss where they were when this was written, in every sense. Episodes often get stuck into growing up as a person of colour, predominantly in the UK, often from a female-identifying perspective, and span a gamut of topics including creativity, relationships, careers, self-care, structurally racist obstacles and people as well as some handy how-to-make-it-through-life tips. They get some top class guests and the hosts carefully unpick life experiences with often poignant discussions.
Gal-dem – https://gal-dem.com/growing-up-with-gal-dem-podcast/
Hrishikesh Hirway’s music podcast sees musicians talk through the background, composition and context of one of their most iconic songs. With access to original recordings and stems, often to the surprise of the some the artists, Hirway cleverly edits himself out as the host, leaving just the artists to breka things down for us. Hirway’s Song Exploder is now a great Netflix series, which is also well worth spending time with. I can’t wait for a possible future Jacob Collier episode…
Hrishikesh Hirway – https://songexploder.net/episodes
/ Long Form Journalism & Storytelling /
Serial is widely credited as being one of the breakthrough moments for podcasts, but there’s so much more incredible storytelling, journalism and world-building to be enjoyed away from the true-crime rotation.
/ Finding Drago /
A milestone fauxvestigation into the bizzare world of Rocky Fanfic. This is as funny as it is bizarre, and made me fall in love with aussie funny-men, Alexi Toliopolis and Cameron James.
Talking about the story of the show would ruin its unexpected magic. Don’t read about it, just go listen if you like smiling whilst listening to stuff and laughing out loud on public transport.
I’d like to be their best friends, and maybe even their producer (just so I could hang out with them every day and make mad stuff like this). I’d like to make this happen. I also happened to start listening to this in Boca del Drago in Panama, which basically makes me canon in this story.
If you’ve never really understood why the USA faced off with USSR in a seemingly madcap race to the moon, and then we just bounced up and down in shuttles and to the ISS in the decades since, then this series will help you get to gripes with the complexity in post WWII politics, policy and technology that caused humanity to go from one of its darkest times, to one of the most unbelievable feats humanity will ever achieve. It doesn’t shy away from the problematic nature of the race, the people who feature in it, but are rarely discussed and gives itself time to assess key events which shaped the last century, with the benefit of hindsight.
Washington Post –
An audible big brother, this series explores being isolation with a group of ‘normal’ people who have chosen to be locked into a small space months on end all in the name of science, and Mars. It’s a fascinating insight into what humans do to mentally survive, both physically and socially. If you’ve experienced 2020/21 lockdowns in a shared house, listening this should probably come with a trigger warning.
Gimlet – https://gimletmedia.com/shows/the-habitat
/ How to Save a Planet /
Stories, findings and practical guidance on how we can hopefully avoid the worst of the coming climate catastrophe.
It’s US-centric, but no less of an important listen. They cover the intersectionality as broadly as is possible in 45-60 minute episodes, and have started to return to some topics as and where policy, and recent events suggest it’s worth revisiting.
I’ve tried similar UK-based climate pods, such as BBC’s Costing the Earth & What Planet Are We On, as well as XR‘s podcast, but I haven’t found them to be as engaging, and never seem to stick to my playlist as Gimlet’s show does. And when I grow up I basically want to be Dr. Ayana Elizabeth Johnson and basically everyone they interview. They highlight so many positive projects, people and real-world solutions it’s impossible to not feel more hopeful as a result of many of the inspiring people the episodes feature. Doing real work whilst I bounce about on the internet, asking people nicely to please make a website 😅|
Have You Heard George’s Podcast?
Blurring the lines between fiction, poetry, music, soundscape and performance, George the Poet’s beautifully crafted pod, now in its third chapter, is a poetic journey through a performer’s psyche. One to focus on and enjoy.
BBC – https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p07915kd/episodes/downloads
Drawn, The Story of Animation
An easy listening, but no less fascinating, history of animation with actors, illustrators and creators of shows, from the perspective of the new golden age of animation.
iHeart Radio – https://podcasts.apple.com/us/podcast/drawn-the-story-of-animation/id1376092824
/ Special mentions /
Shows that drop in and out of my up next playlist…
- Mystery Show: Sadly cut down in its prime, this series took on everyday mysteries, solved by someone who’s never solved a mystery. Cute and fun.
Gimlet – https://gimletmedia.com/shows/mystery-show
- Code Switch: Focused on the experiences of people of colour with stories on race and culture from across the US. NPR gonna NPR, and continue to create great, timely and engaging work.
NPR – https://www.npr.org/podcasts/510312/codeswitch
- The Documentary: Stories from around the world, predominantly told first hand by local journalists and locals themselves.
BBC World Service – https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p02nq0lx/episodes/downloads
- Plumbing The Death Star: One of my oldest subscriptions featuring some of the silliest nonsense you’ll ever hear. Unapologetically nerdy and funny, with some of the best-worst roleplaying improv you’ll hear.
Sanspants Radio – https://www.sanspantsradio.com/podcasts/plumbing-the-death-star/
- Big Picture Science: This one fell off the subs a few years back but I kinda miss the accessible deep dives it did into incredible findings, and stories from across science. And I could listen to Seth Shostak for hours. I want to write scripts for him.
SETI – https://radio.seti.org/
- Off Book: I’m obviously going to include my own baby, right? The pod features conversations with a wide range of artists who the YV were working with at the time, from Moonlight and Brother’s Size writer Tarell Alvin McCraney, Fun Home’s writer Alison Bechdel to Artistic Director Kwame-Kwei Armah and previous AD David Lan. I had the very best time producing it and the conversations with these creatives are endlessly fascinating.
Young Vic – https://podcasts.apple.com/gb/podcast/off-book-a-podcast-by-the-young-vic/id1112201266?mt=2
/ Production Houses /
Shout out to Gimlet for creating 6 of 25 out of this list. They are a huge producer of quality content, although many shows moving to be Spotify exclusives since Spotify’s purchase of Gimlet. They have arguably helped shape the podcastification of everything and everyone.
Founder, Alex Blumberg, even documented their difficult first few years as a startup, and it’s a fascinating, surprisingly transparent insight into starting an internet business in the 2010s; listen to Startup: https://gimletmedia.com/shows/startup
Would love to hear another series of this from the last 18 months or so…
Also, shout out to Radiotopia‘s network; which a number of the above shows are part of. Take a look at their bevvy of shows: https://www.radiotopia.fm/
/ Finding Support /
It’s the obvious way to grow a hobby, grow an audience and turn it into something that covers the costs, turning it into a career. From This Paranomral Life, to Big Picture Science podcasts use Patreon to support them and engage directly with their fans. There’s a whole host of others (pun intended, naturally), and looking into Ko-Fi, Buy Me a Coffee or simply setting up a newsletter and popping a crypto public address on your site is probably a good place to start.
Once you’ve arrived at the tip top of mount pod, you can get out on tour, release a book, or start producing merch. As well as supporting a couple of podcasts through Patreon, I’ve enjoyed of all of these other revenue streams, most recently getting Stadio’s beaut Pride tee. I see it as a great way of saying thanks to them for providing so many hours of free content to enjoy, and supporting the future life of a show and hopefully helping its creators make careers out of their hobbies 🙏
/ In Production /
You can do a lot on your own with a usb mic and a duvet over your head, but if you want to find out how you can utilise these two contraptions to create a podcast yourself you’ll be looking for excellent sound engineering, clever editing and podcast support in general, you’ll be wanting to get in touch with Chaz over at Airglow Audio – https://airglowaudio.com/
✯ Listening Habits ✯
90 days of listening = 2160 hours.
973 days since 1 Dec 2018 = 23,352 hours.
2160/23352 = 0.09
0.09 = 9% of total time since 1 Dec/
Pocketcast has removed 20+ hours of silence (which would likely horrify some editors and producers), I’ve saved 7 days of listening time by having the other half of my subscriptions; unlisted day to day news and other football shows listened to like radio whilst working, and I’ve skipped 16 hours of content, like adverts. Which I feel bad about. But please, let’s try to not have longer ad breaks then we experience on TV 🤪