As I mentioned on my recent post introducing the WTF Tech podcast, I’m a massive consumer of podcasts as well as having hosted a few in my time.
My listening habits tend to be whenever I’m alone in the car (or driving my 16-year old geek son around – we tend to trade podcast recommendations), when I’m out walking or running, doing chores, or when there’s mindless work to be done (company accounts, expenses etc.). Across all of those situations, I probably get through 20-30 hours of podcasts a week on average.
Whilst I’ve been a fan of podcasts since the start (2005 or so), there have definitely been phases were I’ve fallen away from listening. In particular, around 2010-12 it seemed as though every podcaster was heading towards video as the medium of choice, rather than straightforward audio MP3s – I personally felt that was a backward step, not that we don’t need informative community-generated video, but that the natural place for news and conversation-led shows is via audio.
There has undoubtedly been a resurgence in podcast production in the past 2-3 years, with a number of focused audio podcast networks growing rapidly – organisations like Relay, 5by5, and The Incomparable are launching new shows on a regular basis. Meanwhile, major broadcast corporations such as the BBC, CNN and NPR are putting an increasing number of their productions out in podcast format to allow replay and listing offline.
If it has been a while since you checked out podcasts as entertainment, I’d wholeheartedly recommend that you take some time to peruse some of those listed below. There’s some real gold to be found!
So to kick us off, a number of sites have aggregated really comprehensive lists of the best podcasts of 2016, with their first picks:
People read highlights from their childhood diaries in front of a crowd of strangers. Wonderfully cringeworthy.
Episode of the year: The Summer Camp Spectacular, largely for the line: “Dear Mum and Dad, I cut my penis when I flunked my canoe test …” Rowan Slaney
Heavyweight explores the tricky business of redemption and estrangement by starting with the premise that to make something right, you have to first get over the idea that someone is at fault. You also have to laugh, to the point of tears, as much as possible. Each episode finds the host Jonathan Goldstein moderating a fraught moment intensified by years of distance: a time when someone broke a promise, or another person’s heart. The hurt is still there—sometimes for everyone, sometimes for just one person who can’t let something go (like the time a man named Gregor lent the then-unknown musician Moby a collection of CDs that were never returned). As Goldstein presides over these thorny divisions, he injects the narrative with a buddy-cop mania, letting the listeners laugh at how flawed his subjects (himself included) are, without ever being demeaning. Goldstein leads special-ops soul-searching missions, seeking common ground between the aggrieved and the blissfully ignorant. With him as the host, Heavyweight can’t help but try to make amends with everyone it seeks out.
Aisha Tyler may be best known for her work on TV—she plays Lana on Archer, hosts The Talk, and has been seen on Criminal Minds, Friends, 24, and CSI—but she also has some serious interview chops that she showcases on her podcast, Girl on Guy. Tyler started out in show business as a stand-up comic and she uses her quick wit and stage-honed reflexes as she interviews the actors, comics, chefs, writers, and Hollywood coworkers who stop by the show to talk about their passions, their lives, and their ideas of fun. Whether she’s hanging in a gaming lounge, kicking it at Comic Con, or throwing back whiskey with her fascinating guests, Tyler is engaging and entertaining.
All three lists offer some really great recommendations, along with terrific descriptions of why you should give them a try. I’ve used them to pick out 5 or 6 new shows to add to my playlists for 2017, including a few that are well and truly outside my comfort zone. The great thing about podcasts is that you can try one episode and simply unsubscribe if you don’t enjoy it.
Next up… my own recommendations.
Now it’s fair to say that I have a heavy tech focus, and within that area I also tend to head towards Apple-biased shows – after all, most of my ‘daily driver’ tech is Apple kit. Definitely not all the shows listed below are that way inclined, but some definitely are. So, with that in mind, and without any further ado, here are my top 10 shows you should try out this year…
CGP Grey and Brady Haran talk about YouTube, life, work, whatever.
No question, my favourite podcast of the past year or so, and I wish I’d found it sooner. CGP Grey and Brady Haran are educational YouTube creators, who get together about once every two weeks to chat over a wide variety of interesting topics, usually in a very funny and informative way. Topics range widely, but have recently covered the New Zealand flag referendum, self-driving cars, the county flags of Liberia, movie reviews, the mighty Black Stump of Australia, and much more. There’s plenty of YouTube and social media conversation as well, plus a heavy dose of personal productivity. There’s a huge and very loyal following growing around HI, and there is a real sense of community spirit that pervades the show. They even produced a recent episode on vinyl. Why? Just for the fun of it… I really can’t sum it up in a paragraph – just give Hello Internet a try.
Three nerds discussing tech, Apple, programming, and loosely related matters.
Hosted by well known Apple bloggers Marco Arment (co-founder of Tumblr, creator of Instapaper and Overcast), John Siracusa (author of those massive Mac OS X reviews) and Casey Liss (an iOS developer), ATP is ‘accidental’ in the sense that it started out as these three hosts getting together to discuss cars in a podcast called Neutral, that was rapidly cast aside as the tech took over. Topics are mostly Apple news related, but there are regular trips into the world of application development (discussions of the relative merits of Go, PHP, Swift etc.), alternative tech solutions, AI and cars (usually in the after-show). The hosts are insightful, well-informed, funny and never short of an opinion. They are definitely not wholly pro-Apple, that’s for sure. A weekly show, that is also streamed live.
CGP Grey and Myke Hurley are both independent content creators. Each episode, they discuss the methods and tools they employ to be productive and creative. Hosted by CGP Grey and Myke Hurley.
Another show featuring Hello Internet host, CGP Grey. This time he joins Relay co-founder and serial-podcaster Myke Hurley, to discuss their respective creative tools and approaches, the challenges of running small businesses, how they use technology and apps to help them stay efficient and profitable, and their somewhat unusual methods of staying focused on the task in hand (spoiler: one of the hosts uses two Apple watches and as many as 5 iPads in their daily routines!). Published every two weeks.
A weekly challenge show hosted by Merlin Mann, Alex Cox, and Max Temkin.
A new show from the very funny Merlin Mann, framed by the three hosts attempting to accomplish a named task by the end of the week (this week’s was ‘take a nap’, last week’s ‘watch an episode of Star Trek: Voyager’ and then to discuss the experience on the show. However, this is really just the start of a very entertaining romp around their lives, the internet and our relationships with one another. Unlike many shows on this list, Do By Friday is relatively new, being only 10 episodes old, so there’s no time like the present to jump in, and then catch up on the back-catalog!
A show about news, politics and pop culture. Every episode, your hosts talk about their favorite stories of the week … and probably at least one random current event that has nothing to do with anything. Hosted by Gillian Parker and Quinn Rose.
Many of the shows listed here are a) tech-related and b) hosted by men. Mixed Feelings is delightfully different. Two US-based students, Gillian Parker and Quinn Rose discuss current affairs, including a heavy focus on the lead up to the US elections and the fall out since. Entertaining, informative and educational, I find this show to be a real breath of fresh air…
Hosted by Federico Viticci and Fraser Speirs, Canvas is a podcast all about mobile productivity. Armed with iOS, Federico and Fraser will be walking through workflows, exploring the best apps for the iPad and iPhone and helping users solve problems.
Despite being an iPad user since the first device was released in 2010, it was only when I switched (almost) full-time to the iPad Pro as my work environment of choice back in the summer that I began to realise the true abilities of the iOS platform from a productivity and creativity perspective – before then, the succession of iPhones, iPads and iPad Minis had primarily enabled consumption and communication triage, anything serious waited for my Mac to be available. This podcast, and the other work of host Federico Viticci, were a significant driver for my switch to making the iPad my workhorse rather than an accessory.
Canvas focuses on how iOS can enable true mobile productivity, whether on the iPad or iPhone, and each week the hosts zone in on a specific area where iOS and third-party apps are delivering benefits. Their recent series on using the incredible Workflow app is a must-listen for anyone interested in improving their efficiency on the iOS platform. The
Community Signal is a weekly podcast for community professionals. Social media is set of tools. Community is a strategy you apply to those tools. Marketing brings new customers. Community helps you keep them.
Hosted by Patrick O’Keefe, this show zones in on the art and science of community management – whether on the social web, inside organisations, or in other kinds of online community platforms. Recent shows have discussed the career prospects for community managers, why some associations struggle with online communities, and how to manage interactions with law enforcement if or when they are required. The host is clearly very experienced in the field, and produces and engaging and educational show. If you come at enterprise social networks and collaboration platforms primarily from the technology aspect, then this show may really widen your perspective as to the methodologies and challenges involved in deploying and managing the communities they enable.
The director’s commentary track for Daring Fireball.
For those that aren’t familiar with John Gruber, he is one of the best known Apple commentators, having been around the industry for the best part of two decades – he developed one of the most-respected editors for macOS, BB Edit, invented the Markdown syntax, and writes prolifically on his blog, Daring Fireball. John has hosted podcasts for a number of years, and the latest self-published incarnation is typically a 2-3 hour (yes really!) conversation with a guest co-host from around the Apple community. Perhaps the highlight of The Talk Show back-catalog are annual live shows with Apple executives at WWDC, though my personal favourite is this election-results-night ‘holiday party’ special with Merlin Mann, when neither of the hosts could really bring themselves to discuss the results, instead consoling each other on-air and talking about stuff that makes them happy. A 2 hour+ show may seem like an extravagance, but it is always entertaining and seems like a much shorter show. If I have a long drive to a customer, it’s very often The Talk Show that I turn to.
A pop culture show about the sometimes strange things we love, that other people… don’t. Each episode, comics and games writer Antony Johnston asks a new guest to explain why that thing you hate is actually really great.
There are plenty of pop culture shows out there, and in essence, thats what The Incomparable network is all about. However, this one takes a different tack, instead of the show being about pop culture fandom, it asks the guest to justify their decision to like their favourite publication, movie or series. The format means that you are guaranteed a great conversation, and in most cases, a new entry on your play- or wish-list… 😏
John Hodgman’s Today in the Past podcast is now The Judge John Hodgman Podcast. Have your pressing issues decided by Famous Minor Television Personality John Hodgman, Certified Judge.
So here’s your slightly random pick of the bunch! I love John Hodgman – his work on the Apple ads, and many TV chat shows was topped off by his appearance at a tech conference I attended a few years back, where I was hugely happy to get the chance to have a brief conversation with him. Incredibly funny guy. This podcast has a simple setup – a listener emails their issue to John, he hears the evidence and rules on the appropriate decision. Straightforward, huh? Always good fun, and great to have a break from the news and tech of the day!
So there’s ten of my favourite podcasts for you to try out in 2017. I hope you enjoy the shows!
Do you have any podcast recommendations to share? I’d love to have you add them as comments on this post – that way we can all give them a try…