This article is related to the Audiobook article. If you have already read that, you can skip this copied introduction.
How do you feel about washing the dishes, ironing or cleaning? How do you react to a delayed flight, grounding you for several hours? What do you think of that hour-long commute in the car each morning?
My answers used to be, “Boring but unavoidable.” Used to be, but not anymore! Not since I discovered the joy of podcasts. I no longer mind waiting for anything (expect Christmas) and I don’t mind any house chore (expect scrubbing the toilet) because it is only my poor earthbound body that is engaged with this dullness. My mind is elsewhere, listening to gossip from Lake Wobegon, unravelling the deception behind statistics or laughing at some bitter political satire.
How can one be bored ever again? Welcome to a world of wonder!
What is a podcast?
A podcast is a series of audio files available for download. You can subscribe to a podcast so that whenever a new episode becomes available, it is automatically downloaded to your computer, smart phone or media player, ready for you to enjoy off-line as you e.g. suffer through a 14-hour long bus journey across the Argentinean pampas.
Radio podcasts vs. the rest
The barrier of entry for creating a podcasts is at the level of sewage. Anyone with a microphone can start a podcast, no brains required. Hordes of witless geeks have marked out their territory in the podcasting world and the stench of urine drives people away. “Oh, I’ve tried podcasts,” someone might say, “but it’s just full of self-absorbed people meandering on for hours about their pointless little lives.”
True. There is a lot of garbage out there, but there is a simple trick to finding good podcasts. Look for quality at the source of quality. The ‘cast’ part of the word podcast comes from ‘broadcast’, and the king of the hill of broadcasters is of course the radio. They’ve been in the business since the early 1900s, and they have become really quite good at it. Most radio stations provide most of their shows in a podcast format. The BBC makes exceptionally good programs, all available for free, anytime and anywhere, and so does the Swedish Public Radio. (The latter is so good in fact that I highly recommend learning Swedish just to enjoy those shows!)
Top reasons why radio podcasts are better than normal radio shows.
FM radio signals are high frequency, and thus will penetrate the ionosphere and venture far out into space where they’ll inform evil alien empires where to find a backward little planet to invade. They will not bounce off the ionosphere back down to earth and thus the range of FM radio is line of sight, at best. The range of podcasts, however, is the internet, and once downloaded, you can take it with you wherever you go, including an evacuation pod in the case that you and your descendent must escape the invasion of earth and travel an estimated 5000 years to a nearby habitable planet. (Download something worth repeating!)
This global reach is particularly good for nomads, as we get to enjoy the radio shows of our home countries. I’ve been away from Sweden for ten years, but I’m quite up to speed on things due to my Swedish news podcast.
Your podcast — your schedule
I subscribe to about 20 radio podcasts. There is no way that I could remember the schedules of all those shows. The good thing is that I don’t have to; my computer does it for me. It downloads the shows and I listen to them at my own pace, whenever it suits me. (Me, me, me: the mantra of my generation)
Most radio podcasts have the music, news and other interruptions removed from the original broadcast (usually for copyright reasons). This is my top reason for preferring the podcast format. An hour-long show might have about 20 minutes of good content and 40 minutes padded out with music. Not so with podcasts! It is all the good stuff without the padding. You never again have to suffer that commercial summer plague of a song that the radio plays over and over again as if it had the hiccups!
How to get started
The ‘pod’ part of ‘podcast’ comes from Apple’s famous little media player, the iPod. However, you don’t need an iPod to enjoy podcasts. Any computer, smart phone or media player will do. Because of the bewildering array of platforms and subscription programs available, I will have to refer you to whatever younger geek relative you have in the family who will be happy to help you get started.
Personally, I use iTunes on Windows paired with my iPod 6G nano. It keeps track of where in the radio show I am, even if I listen to parts of the show through the computer and then switch to the iPod. Also, this setup works well with my Audiobooks. However, if I didn’t have an iPod forcing my hand, I would never in a million years infect my computer with iTunes.
Top 7 Podcasts
- Freakonomics: Looks at the world through the alien eyes of the economist. Eye-opening content and humorously delivered.
- More or Less: Picks apart the numbers quoted by the media and politicians, and investigates if they are correct. (Hint: Most often, they are wildly inaccurate.) This is also a case study in dry British wit.
- Mark Kermode and Simon Mayo’s Film Reviews: The banter between Simon and Mark as well as the insanity-pitched rants from Mark when he reviews a bad film makes this the best film review podcast available. The interviews are less interesting, but you can skip past those.
- A Prairie Home Companion’s News from Lake Wobegon: Proof that Americans can have a subtle sense of humour. In fact, the humour here is so subtle that you need to give it some time to grow on you. Features mankind’s most seductive voice.
- Friday Night Comedy from BBC 4: More geared for a British audience, but the quality is good enough to appeal to foreigners too.
- The Infinite Monkey Cage: A comedian (Robin Ince) and scientist’s (Brian Cox) no-bullshit take on science. Refreshing in its uncompromising stance on faith-healers and other maniacs.
- Planet Money: Explains how economics theories translate to real-world experiences for us mortals. Of particular interest is their t-shirt project, following the creation of a t-shirt, explaining globalisation along every step of the process.
Like any seductress of high moral fibre, I feel compelled to warn you that I may be offering you pleasures that you cannot handle. I remember an exchange with a dear friend of mine when, after comparing podcasts, he confided that he was becoming quite unable to do the simplest of tasks without plugging in. I recognized the affliction because I too suffered … suffer … from it. I can barely take out the garbage without first reaching for my iPod.
So remember to enjoy your podcasts responsibly. Occasionally, give them a rest and listed to the birds and the wind. The podcasts will wait patiently for your return.