Podcasts are no doubt claiming an important place in today's media. It's a case of old technology boosting new technology, as podcasts are nothing more than downloadable radio broadcasts, so cheap to produce that virtually anyone can do it. The result has been an explosion of free speech such as never before seen in all human history. Fortunately, with this medium, the bad cannot drive out the good, because there's enough room for everybody. Listeners are king, free to make their selections without interference. Corporate sponsorship or superstar personalities are not driving factors. Yet despite the emergence of podcasts as a major player in the media world, it's still largely under the radar, in part because big media doesn't like to acknowledge its being upstaged. It's the unusual arena in which the amateur can compete with superstar and win. In short, the best podcasts are produced by small groups, often a host and a producer, while podcasts produced by big staffs simply lack the authenticity and candor that audiences are looking for in a podcast.
I've been following podcasts for about four years, ever since I got my first smartphone in 2015, an iPhone 6, which came with a Podcast app. I've since moved on to the Overcast app, which seems to be a better podcast manager. I'm not going to pretend to be comprehensive in my analysis of podcasts. There may be a better podcast app, and plenty of other good podcasts. I'm only trying to relate what has been true for me. Please feel free to suggest new podcasts to me, as I'm always open to new ones.
In the world of Twitter I learned early on not to simply follow people who share my ideas. I wanted to be exposed to a wide spectrum of ideas, either to learn something new, or to keep an eye on what the rascals of the world are up to. My interest in podcasting is somewhat similar, but in podcasts there is nowhere near the pressure to sling mud at other people, as often occurs in social media. If you're not putting someone down, chances are you won't get many likes and followers on Twitter, Facebook, or Youtube. A good podcast host, on the other hand, will take the time to establish trust, then let the truth bubble up naturally.
In fact, this is one of the best things about podcasts: Its capacity to cut through our respective bubbles by bringing everything down to the level of personal conversation. Manipulators and demagogues know how to get under your skin by singling out certain individuals who are not present to defend themselves. Podcasts are great because they often do the exact opposite: Get people talking face to face about their core believes and personal lives. Ideology and ad hominem attacks take a back seat to the world of personal truths. Demagogues and manipulators tend to not do very well in this environment.
In the world of podcasts, we learn what drives people, how they view the world. And these are not just ordinary people. They could be a billionaire tech founder, an investigative journalist, a cutting-edge scientist, doctor, movie star, author, inventor or activist. They're usually people you'd virtually never have a chance to meet. You get to meet the "cool" people in the podcast world.
Podcast also seem to have 'all the time in the world' to explore a subject, lasting up to three hours. They'e a great backdrop for a daily commute, a long trip, or an extended bike ride using bluetooth headphones.
In the list below, I've tried to include some of the most popular podcasts as well as some obscure ones. I excluded some very good podcasts that just simply stopped producing. (Malcolm Gladwell's for example.)
Dan Carlin's Hardcore History with Dan Carlin. This is one of the all-time great podcasts. A must on everyone's podcast list, IMO.
Ben Franklin's World: A Podcast About Early American History with Liz Covart. Guaranteed to please early American history buffs. Covering topics of interest to the modern world, such as slavery, LGBT, American Indians, and culinary topics.
General Interview Format
Big Questions with Cal Fussman. Cal made his name as an interviewer with major media. He is very humble and is known for getting his guests to open up about their intimate lives. He avoids political topics, focussing on personal interest, which makes his show a real treat.
The Ezra Klein Show with Ezra Klein. Ezra made his name as a Washington Post reporter. Whip smart, he often attracts guests that seem to appear nowhere else, such as Bill and Melinda Gates. Not to be missed.
The James Altucher Show with James Altucher. James is a known as financial expert and entrepreneur but has had many roles in life: web developer, media producer at HBO, hedge fund founder, and former bitcoin enthusiast. He has special insight into the worlds of tech and finance. He also has a stellar guest list not to be missed.
The Jimmy Dore Show with Jimmy Dore. Jimmy is a comedian who dabbles in political commentary on the left. Usually interviews authors and activists such as Tommy Frank (Listen Liberal), and Ralph Nader.
The Joe Rogan Experience with Joe Rogan. Joe is sometimes considered the gold standard of podcasting, in part because of his ability to bring dynamic guests on his show. Topics range from martial arts, science, health, adventure, and occasionally activism, though politics is not his thing. His open minded approach appeals to guests of vastly different persuasions. (Not everyone's cup of tea, as he can be crude.)
The Jordan Harbinger Show with Jordan Harbinger. Jordan as a huge following, though I've not listened to him much.
Making Sense with Sam Harris Sam is a Stanford neuroscience grad who is an intellectual in his own right. He promotes mindfulness and meditation as well as a science-based view of the world. One of the better intellectual podcasts I've found, though he can be a bit nerdy and "white privilege" at times.
Sean Carroll's Mindscape with Sean Carroll. Sean is a cutting edge physicist who explores a full range of topics. One of the most civil and polite podcasts you'll find, he's sure to impress you with his intelligence and common sense.
The Tim Ferriss Show with Tim Ferriss. Tim became famous from his book, "The Four Hour Workweek." He's a bit of a hustler but I like to see what he's up to sometimes, as his is one of the most popular podcasts out there.
Unregistered with Thaddeus Russell Thaddeus is a professor who wrote "The Renegade History of the United States." He takes an outsider rebel point of view. IMO, he can fetish a bit too much on deviance and contrarian thinking. However, he's the child of left-wing San Francisco hippies who were terrible at parenting. His backlash against them seems to inform his current identity.
Intelligence Squared A British debate show with a new topic and panel of experts each show. The audience gets to weigh in on the topic before and after the debate, to measure who was the more effective debater.
Shoptalk with Chris Coyer and Dave Rupert. These guys are sure to have interesting discussions on the latest in front-end web technology.
BBC Discovery Unusual topics of interest, covered tastefully. What more can I say.
Financial Times of London The Financial Times is the rare case of a big media company being able to produce an assortment of top-notch podcasts. Considering FT doesn't like to give away its product to nonsubscribers, these podcasts are a real treasure. You will not be disappointed. Below are just some of the FT podcasts.
- FT Alphabet
- FT Big Read
- FT Life of a Song
- FT News in Focus
- FT Tech Tonic
- FT Work and Careers
- FT World Tech Founders
Media Roots Radio with Abbie, Robbie Martin. For a very left-wing perspective, Media Roots is one of a kind. Very much in the style of Robert Parry / Consortium News, who was their mentor.
The Peter Schiff Show with Peter Schiff. Peter is fairly famous as a right-wing financial contrarian. He would like to return to the gold standard but otherwise has an uncanny ability to see through the hype we are fed about the economy being on sound footing. His ranting can get a bit much, I'll warn you.