In the pop cultural hierarchy, podcasts—those not-quite-radio shows meant to be downloaded from iTunes—fall somewhere between public radio and theatre. People listen to them, just not as many as it sometimes seems. The reason is that these listeners tend to be the educated, tote-bag carrying sorts who write our blogs and produce our newscasts. Something like the audience of Mad Men.
But podcasts are gaining ground. When This American Life recently released its first ever spin off show, Serial, it was a big deal; it immediately climbed the iTunes charts, and became a topic of conversation among cultural tastemakers. It was the podcasting equivalent to a new show by David Simon: by virtue of its pedigree, it generated its own buzz.
Unlike its father-cast, This American Life, which explores one theme each week through stories, investigative journalism, what have you, Serial takes one story—beginning with a 15-year-old homicide investigation that might have led to the wrong person being convicted—and explores a new aspect of it each week. It’s as addictive as House of Cards, only—like an old timey cable show—it makes you wait a week before listening to the next installment. (Unless you’re just starting now, in which case, have fun.)
The beautiful—and, yes, frustrating—thing about this relatively new medium, is its universality. There are a lot of podcasts out there, but they aren’t all worth your time. Some however, like a great novel, an edifying speech, or a deep cut from a favourite record, can help make you into a better man. Like these.
Yes, if you’re a financial wizard, Planet Money’s casual, narrative driven, completely digestible way of breaking down economic issues (especially American ones), might be too basic. But, you’re not a financial wizard, are you?
Part of the relentlessly positive Maximum Fun network (controlled by indie-business tycoon, and future world-controller Jesse Thorn), home to one of the best interview podcasts ever, Bullseye, Sawbones is a look at medical history, and the silly things old-timey—and not so old timey—people did to ward off death and hysteria.
Journalist David McRaney explores all the ways our brains make us look like idiots: logical fallacies, biases and heuretics. It’s a pop psychology paradise that makes you feel dumb and ever so intelligent at the same time, since now you’ll be able to call someone’s delusional bullshit before they call out yours.
Like listening to current events on ESPN, edited by a poet. Or something like that. The important thing is, there is perhaps not a quicker, more intelligent, more accessible pundit on any medium than Mike Pesca.
Your Funny Bone
Based on the idea of a town hall, comedian Moshe Kasher brings one expert and two comedians to a table to make jokes while ostensibly learning. There are a lot of comedy podcasts out there, the problem with them is it’s easy to come away feeling like you’ve wasted your time—diversion is okay, but there’s that nagging feeling that you could be putting your time to better use. This, at least, teaches you something while riffing.