Every day, I walk. I walk to keep fit. I walk because I have two dogs. I walk because I love to walk. I walk because I have a #FitBit, and I must reach my 10,000 steps a day — I just must. That’s all. But I also walk because I love listening to podcasts. Podcasts of books. Podcasts of news shows. Podcasts of comedy. Podcasts of drama. Podcasts of documentaries. I’ve been listening to podcasts for years and years. Over the past few years, the choices are so much greater. It’s so much easier to subscribe. And the quality is so excellent.
Here’s my top 10 list. As you can see, they skew heavily in favor of the BBC, because, well, I’m still a Brit. And the podcasts they produce are that good.
- Serial. If there’s any podcast that speaks to the ‘addictiveness’ of the habit, it’s the Serial podcast from the makers of This American Life. I really recommend it. There’s even an entire Reddit discussion about it.
- The Archers. I don’t know that anyone can just pick this up, but you can try. This is a radio drama that started in 1951. Yes, 1951. It comes out 6 days a week, and follows the lives of families in the fictional village of Ambridge, and brings in all kinds of current topics like fox hunting, badger culls, GM crops, rural drug addiction. But it’s not all worthy and gloomy. It’s fun and sweet. This week’s episode, where Tony’s 90-year old Mum cried at his bedside, actually had me choking up just a little bit.
- Radio 4 Documentary of the Week. A series that picks the best of documentaries from the BBC. I try to just click without looking at what the topic is, because I might look and decide I’m not interested. And I usually find I always am.
- Drama of the Week. If I’m honest, this can be a mixed bag. Sometimes it’s absolutely brilliant. Sometimes it’s boring rubbish. But it’s worth a go. Dramas are 45 minutes long — perfect for my standard evening walk.
- In Our Time with Melvyn Bragg. How can I count the ways that I love IOT? This is another podcast where I try to click without looking, because I might not have decided to have a go at listening to an hour all about Nuclear Fusion, Hatshepsut, or Foxe’s Book of Martyrs. I find I’m rarely disappointed. Melvyn brings together three boffins from universities in the UK to discuss a historical, religious, scientific, cultural, or philosophical topic. Recently, they’ve decided to add to the podcast some matey banter that didn’t make it into the 45 minutes of broadcast time. Listening to the group discussing “we didn’t get to this bit,” or “I wish I’d mentioned that bit,” is delightful and often throws up the most interesting nuggets of the whole show, and I’m always sorry when the producer comes in with tea and biscuits (yes they do) and it all has to end. This past month, their program about Rudyard Kipling was so fascinating, I added Andrew Lycett Audible version of a biography of Kipling to my collection. Recorded in 1999, it’s creaky and cringing and desperately needs updating, but what a fascinating character. It’s the kind of new discovery I don’t know that I’d have any other way.
- Friday Night Comedy/The News Quiz. Now here’s a show to help you “get” the British sense of humor/humour. I am not a fan of The Now Show, which replaces The News Quiz for half a year. So pay attention to that. But when The News Quiz it’s on, it can be pure gold.
- Start the Week. STW is a once a week show that looks at cultural events, and interviews high profile guests in art, literature, film, science, history, society and politics. It used to be led by the wonderful Andrew Marr. But Mr. Marr was recently struck down with an unexpected stroke while out running. Devastating. He is recovering, but is not seen so much any more on STW, and I miss him very much.
- Front Row Daily. Like STW, Front Row Daily is also a cultural show, but comes out every day and interviews all sorts of novelists, musicians, film directors and artists. I’ve bought so many books based on this show, and I’ve rarely been disappointed.
- 99% Invisible. 99% Invisible calls itself “A Tiny Radio Show About Design.” It started as as project put out by an architect firm in San Francisco, and gathered enough money from a kickstarter fund to get organized. It’s quirky and fun. The first episode I ever listened to was about how designers would go about designing signage to put outside a nuclear waste dump in the middle of the New Mexico Desert. A waste site that’s supposed to house all our nuclear waste. Effectively forever. So the signage had to last 10,000 years. Would people still use English in 10,000 years? What sign wouldn’t be misinterpreted? How can we warn future generations to “keep out”? Listen to it. It’s truly absorbing. And it got me hooked.
- Coast and Country, another quirky addition, where the absolutely delightful Claire Balding rambles over the British countryside discovering wildlife, country crafts and ridiculously interesting people. All of whom I want to meet.
There are others, but to be honest, I’m a bit embarrassed at how the list looks so ‘worthy.’ I love, love, love this stuff. I suppose I shouldn’t care if it makes me look worthy. Other regular podcast include: The World Service Global World News (every day as I get ready for the day, I get an half hour of real, global news).
A special most honorable mention
I recently introduced my 13-year old son to a serialized show called Cabin Pressure — you can get all four series on Audible.com. It’s ridiculously silly and funny. My son has listened to it multiple times. And hey, it has Benedict Cumberbatch in it — being very funny — back pre Cumber-bitches time. So that’s worth it, right? Enjoy. I’m pretty sure you’ll thank me.