With travel comes downtime. Brussels and Amsterdam may look close on a map, but a 5 hour bus ride says otherwise. While much of that time we spend reading, researching, and blogging, sometimes you just want to close your eyes, put headphones in and relax. Music is sometimes all you need, but podcasts offer a unique ability to learn and grow just through listening. These 10 podcasts offer a way for me to stay connected to the world, whether it be politics, pop culture, sports, gaming and more.
Radiolab is the ultimate knowledge sharing podcast. Jad Abrumrad and Robert Krulwich can explain complex topics in a way that people of any background or skill level can understand. I highly recommend browsing through their library of episodes, finding topics that are of interest to you and giving it a listen. My only real beef with the show is that in the early days of Radiolab they were much more focused on science and fact with small chunks of human interest sprinkled in, but in recent years that has flipped. Even still, the stories are always fascinating and I come away from each episode with more knowledge and an interesting conversation starter if I am ever in need of one.
In The 1099, host Josiah Renaudin sits down each week with a figure from the gaming industry, whether it be a games journalist, developer or media personality. It is the perfect show for the hardcore gaming industry fan, and offers a deep dive into gaming criticism and development that I find incredibly fascinating. I have always been a sucker for “behind the scenes” commentaries because they give you a glimpse into how aspects of the real world actually work. The 1099 can give you insight on topics such as: how critics review games, how freelancers manage their time and schedule, how developers construct a level, how writers build a world from scratch, and how various types of business gets done behind closed doors. Josiah also has a knack for keeping things conversational and entertaining, while still very informative.
It wouldn’t be a good list without the inclusion of the Podfather, someone who I’ve been listening to for almost my entire adult life. Bill Simmons is an opinionated Boston sports fanboy, unapologetic for his bias and blunt attitude on all things. I can acknowledge his style is certainly not for everybody (who wants to hear about the Patriots or Celtics every episode…), but there is something that has kept me listening for this long. Bill has a great skill in drawing parallels between sports and pop culture, a unique talent you cannot find anywhere else. His guests, both regular and one-time, are always excellent and manage to bring both humor and insight to the table. I think he is at his best talking basketball, so if you are at all a fan of the NBA you should be listening to this podcast (although most big-time fans probably are already).
Giantbomb.com owns two spots on this list, with this West Coast pod a bit below its fantastic East Coast counterpart “The Giant Beastcast”. Giantbomb is a video games journalism outlet, but instead of focusing on clicks and review scores, the site is driven by the personalities of the staff and relies on a subscriber model which gives access to premium content. The podcasts are free for everyone, however, and the Giant Bombcast has long served as the gold standard for video game podcasts. Jeff Gerstmann in particular might be the most knowledgeable video games journalist there is, and the insight and discussion he facilitates is on another level. I have the Bombcast a bit lower on my list than I might have put it a year ago, mainly because of the departure of Drew Scanlon (left to create Clothmap) and Dan Ryckert (joined the East Coast crew). It is difficult to replace members of such a personality driven show, but I am hopeful that their most recent addition, Ben Pack, will continue to mature as a radio host. Unlike the Giant Beascast, I would not recommend checking this one out if you are not interested in video games, there is probably not enough other stuff there to keep you listening.
Stephen Dubner and Steve Levitt have long had an influence on my life and have made me think critically about the world around me. Their tagline is “have fun discovering the hidden side of everything” and has served as a powerful tool to help me learn more about human behavior and see things from a new perspective. The hosts consistently support their viewpoints using hard data and statistics, which I find quite refreshing in the world of punditry we live in today. I have been disappointed with the podcast recently, especially the interview with Charles Koch in which Dubner refused to ask any of the tough questions his audience has come to expect. You cannot ignore the six year history of fantastic podcasts that have come before that, though, and that is why Freakonomics Radio holds the 6th spot on this list, definitely check it out.
I ignored The Joe Rogan Experience for its first several years, mainly because I associated Rogan with conspiracy theories, meathead comedy, and MMA, things I had absolutely no interest in. One week on my Thursday flight home from work I decided to give an episode with Dominic Monaghan a shot and was instantly hooked. Rogan has this uncanny ability to connect with people from any background or viewpoint, resulting in deeply intriguing conversations that can make hours feel like minutes. I know just from listening I have become a more open minded and accepting person. I think there are times when Rogan parrots what past guests have told him and goes on psedo-intelluctual rants, and sometimes you get tired of him bringing up the same topic repeatedly with different guests, but by and large he puts out quality content week after week. I would recommend avoiding pods with hunting enthusiasts and MMA fighters unless you are interested in those specifically, everything else is worth a listen.
Bald Move is one of the best deep dive podcasts around for the television fanatic, offering episode by episode podcasts on great shows like Game of Thrones, The Leftovers, Westworld, Mr. Robot, Fargo and so much more. Sometimes after watching a mind-blowing episode of your favorite show you just want to hear people analyze every little detail for 2 hours, and these guys excel at that. I think I got hooked on TV show theory crafting back in the days of Lost, and I am so happy that shows like Westworld and Mr. Robot have carried the torch so that entire podcasts can be dedicated to it. While some can satisfy their theory crafting itch through Reddit and the rest of the internet, there is something to just listening to two guys hash it out together. Look to see if they cover any of your favorite shows and see if it’s up your alley!
Crooked Media has quickly dominated the political podcast world, with shows like Pod Save America, Pod Save the World, Lovett or Leave It, and With Friends Like These rising to the top of the iTunes charts. I think all of them are incredibly informative and entertaining, albeit extremely left-wing, but Pod Save America is my personal favorite and is a must listen for me every time it airs. The Tuesday show with Jon Favreau, Jon Lovett, and Tommy Vietor is a bit more rant-y and humorous, while the Thursday show (my preferred) with Jon Favreau and Dan Pfeiffer is more grounded and provides a comprehensive overview of the week’s political news and its impact on the world. All of the hosts were once a part of the Obama administration and offer biased, but well-informed opinions on the chaos of our current political landscape. Pod Save America offers some laughs in a time of dark political turmoil, while keeping its eyes on political activism and improving the future of our country.
This podcast is the only podcast about video games that I can wholeheartedly recommend to people who don’t actually play video games. I would say the content is usually around 30% video games, 20% technology, and 50% hysterical nonsense that I guarantee will crack you up. Vinny Caravella is the perfect host, mixing his unique blend of humor with his ability to sidetrack discussions just the right amount. Jeff Bakalar is the straight man, able to riff off anyone but keep the audience informed. Alex Navarro is the cynic, able to reign in the rest of the crew with his dry humor and bluntness. Dan Ryckert, is… well he got married at a Taco Bell, I think that speaks for itself. And Abby Russell, the latest addition to the staff, brings in a millennial voice and an improv background to balance everything out. The Beastcast is always a pleasure to listen to and will be mandatory Friday morning listening for I hope many years to come.
Andy Greenwald and Chris Ryan are the two best entertainment critics in the game, full stop. I started listening to them when they ran The Hollywood Prospectus and Watch the Thrones podcasts on Grantland, and I think they have only gotten better over time. Their pods cover anything from the latest Kendrick or Radiohead album release, television and film reviews, a monthly book club, interviews or even recap shows with actual show runners like Damon Lindelof or Sam Esmail. I find that I even though I disagree with their opinions on so many things, their discussions never fail to interest me or keep me laughing. Without The Watch I never would have given The Knick a chance, listened to Chance the Rapper’s Coloring Book, thought critically about Marvel and Star Wars movies, or laughed my ass off at jokes about Jeremy Renner flipping houses. If there is one podcast I can recommend to anyone it would be The Watch, there will be a little something there for everyone. Great job Baranski!