Today, I will confess: I’m not doing anything really List-related. I meant to; I said to myself, “Today, we’re going to practice our French, and maybe even read something politics-related!” (because I do, in fact, talk to myself in the first person plural). But the thing is, it’s kind of hard to be useful when it’s 11 AM and you still haven’t bothered to put on a bra. So instead of feigning productivity, today we’re going to talk about podcasts!
I love podcasts because they let me feel like I’m expanding my base of knowledge without necessarily having to do anything. Sure, sometimes I listen to Freakonomics Radio while I’m unloading the dishwasher, but more often than not it’s just how I justify spending 45 minutes on my hair and makeup—also made a little easier by trying things like this. (Green and gold eyeshadow deserves to happen more often, I think).
But as for the podcasts I listen to, here are a few of my favorites:
- Freakonomics Radio is one I already mentioned earlier, but it is really great. Episodes are either in the 30 minute range (great if you want to time a walk, or get ready in the morning) or else shorter, 5-minute segments that answer a much more specific question (like, “Why are so many NBA stars wearing Urkel glasses?” Seriously, they answer that one). I like Freakonomics because it has a great blend of pop culture, current events, and legitimate scholarly research that’s clearly explained without being “dumbed down”.
- This American Life is seriously addictive. Now, I’ll admit that Ira Glass doesn’t exactly have what most people would consider a “radio voice”, but it is just so distinctive that one grows accustomed to the sound. Episodes are generally around an hour in length (which is great if you have a longer commute, or a bunch of errands to run), and cover a given topic in depth: the most recent episodes have dealt with blackjack and crime scenes (not in the same episode). It’s smart and engaging, so that even if you spend that hour trying (and failing) at nail art, it’s still not a wasted hour.
- BBC Friday Night Comedy is also smart and engaging, but in rather a different way. Each approximately half-hour segment contains one of the two main programs from BBC Radio 4’s Friday night lineup: The Now Show (a satirical review of the week’s news), or the Friday Night News Quiz (which does something similar, only in game show format). Now, because it is the BBC, not all of the news and jokes will necessarily land with an American audience, but I would strongly encourage you to give it a listen anyway. The things you do get are still quite funny, and it doesn’t take long to develop a basic enough understanding of British politics for everything else to make sense.
There are, of course, other podcasts that I love, like Answer Me This!, The Bugle (starring The Daily Show’s John Oliver—not kid-friendly), and Slate’s Lexicon Valley*, but this post is getting into the 500-word range and after a while it will all just be me saying “No, seriously, it’s great! You should give it a try!” like I’m Defensive Nickelback Fan or something, so I’ll just say: you can find them all on iTunes, and they’re really great.
*Really, all of those last three are labeled “explicit” in the iTunes store, but Lexicon Valley only swears in an academic context. Answer Me This! and The Bugle should probably wait until your kids aren’t in the car (if you have kids. If not, maybe give them a listen and also know that that’s one less tiny human eating all of the delicious sugary cereal).