My Podcast List

A couple of months ago, Lifehacker had a post about finding good podcasts. Ever since, I’ve been thinking about writing about the podcasts I listen to. Thinking about it, but not doing it. Yesterday, during a long plane ride to Seattle after a long day at work (yes, through the magic of time zones, you too can put in an 18-hour day!), I scratched out some thoughts on what I listen to. Here is my best translation into English.

Le Show—Harry Shearer’s long-running radio show, shorn of most of its music (because of broadcast rights, I suppose). The set pieces (Apologies of the Week, I Read the Trades for You, News from Outside the Bubble) are more amusing than laugh-out-loud funny, but worth listening to if you like arch commentary. A recent addition to the show is News of the Warm, a selection of global warming stories backed by Rod McKuen’s horrid “Listen to the Warm.” (I guess you have to be of a certain age to “appreciate” McKuen. In the 60s and early 70s, he was poetry’s version of Thomas Kinkade. According to Woody Allen’s Sleeper McKuen will be known in the future as a great poet—just as fat and cholesterol will be known as health foods.) My favorite among the recurring bits is the telephone call between the two George Bushes with the younger Bush is always trying to show up his dad and the elder making snide comments that fly over the head of his son.

Penn Jillette—Another radio show turned into a podcast, this one not so long-running. Although he’s a few years older than me, Penn always strikes me as being a clever, rather immature young man, having the passions and stupid ideals of a smart young man and alternating between hilarious and annoying. In Penn’s case, his great stupid passion is libertarianism and when he goes off on a predictable “the government can’t do anything right” rant, I have to shut him off. (That he is often basing his rant on something he read on the [government-created] internet—let alone that much of his audience is listening to him via that same [government-created] internet—is an irony lost on him. You may have read the quote “The man who is not a socialist at twenty has no heart, but if he is still a socialist at forty he has no head.” I think the same applies to libertarianism. I mean, I really liked The Moon is a Harsh Mistress, but it is fiction.) But Monkey Tuesday keeps me coming back.

Coverville—Finally, a true podcast! Brian Ibbott plays 6-8 cover songs per show, with a little self-conscious-guy-in-his-basement patter in between. His tastes run a little too strongly toward Tori Amos-style earnest chick singers, but I like the show anyway. My favorite shows are the theme shows, which are usually based on a particular artist or band, but are sometimes based on a subject or style of music (which reminds me: his tastes also run too strongly toward a cappella). Every few shows he has a trivia contest, which are also great fun.

In Our Time—Another radio show recorded and distributed as a podcast. This is a BBC Radio 4 chat show hosted by Melvyn Bragg. The format is simple: a topic from science, history, or the arts is discussed by three erudite guests from (mainly) British universities, prodded along by questions from Bragg. In the first couple of shows I listened to, I thought Bragg was intruding too much, but I’ve come to appreciate how he keeps the show moving and on topic. The show is currently on hiatus, to return at the end of this month. But dozens of old shows are available in the archives.

Alternative Sixties and Saturday Show—These are not actually podcasts, as there is no RSS feed to subscribe to, but I treat them as podcasts, downloading and listening to them on my iPod. They’re music shows from BBC Radio 2, and as with many BBC Radio shows, they are streamed live on the internet and are available for time-shifted streaming for a week after the shows air. I use Audio Hijack Pro to record the streams as MP3s, which I then import into iTunes. Both shows are hosted by Mark Lamarr, who’s very funny and has great taste in garage, proto-punk, reggae, and soul music. I suspect his lower-class accent is affected, but I enjoy it anyway.

One of the delights—for an Anglophile American, anyway—of listening to the BBC streams is that you often get to hear news breaks and promos for other shows. My favorite among these serendipitous recordings was at the beginning of a “This Sceptred Isle: Empire” episode which I recorded earlier this year. It was the tail end of a show called (I swear) “Veg Talk” with a very enthusiastic host talking about growing and cooking vegetables. Listening to it was like falling into a Wallace and Gromit film.

Most of these shows run 45-60 minutes, which makes them perfect for my bike rides to and from work. The exception, Saturday Show, runs 3 hours; I usually listen to it on long airplane rides or, like now, when I’m out of town on business, sitting in a hotel room.