My nine favourite podcasts (and two more I tolerate)

BBC Broadcasting House, Portland Place at the ...
BBC Broadcasting House, Portland Place at the head of Regent Street, London (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In an ideal world, I’d just listen to the radio when I was on holiday in France, but unfortunately we only have occasional access to wifi, and the 3G I get through Orange France (using a French SIM) is not that fast on top of our hill and relatively expensive.

Which leaves me downloading podcasts whenever I visit my brother-in-law’s (aka the internet café), and working through them over a couple of days. Here are my favourites, and some I sometimes use but enjoy a lot less. I admit there’s a preponderance of BBC output, but wading through everything else in search of something I’d enjoy seems like too much hard work. I generally dislike the American broadcasting style, and find interruptions for sponsor messages irritating. The BBC provides high quality output and, after all, I paid for it.

Podcasts are not just for holidays, of course. They’re perfect for Richard Bacon avoidance, or Radio 4 Sunday morning output avoidance. My new kitchen radio has Bluetooth, so I’ll be able to broadcast podcasts from my phone whenever something shit is on.

In Our Time

The Big Daddy of podcasts, In Our Time is by now a vast resource of interesting discussions on a high variety of topics. Sure, you have to put up with Melvin Bragg, and you’re never going to get any depth, but you’ll learn enough to catch an interest, and might be prompted to further reading and research. You have to love the concept: get three experts in the field together in a studio to discuss a topic. The only real problem is the 45 minute running time, which is never long enough. I tend to pick and choose and prefer the science topics, but I’m not averse to a bit of history. This week, I listened to one about the Medicis. The great thing about In Our Time is that it’s a good listen while you’re rustling something up in the kitchen, or you can put it on as background and have a nice sleep. It can be very soporific. There are so many of them that you’ll never run out. Probably.

More or Less

One of my favourite Radio 4 shows is this brilliant half-hour about statistics in the news. Never fails to leave you better informed, and is key to taking all figures and statistics in the media with a pinch of salt. The show often asks the question, is it a big number? A classic example of this was when Osborne was railing about waste in the CPS and complaining about the amount of printing they do every day. Turns out not to have been a big number at all. When not on R4, there’s a 10-minute version on the World Service.

Friday Night Comedy

It’s either going to be the News Quiz or the Now Show. Neither are top drawer, but both are enjoyable enough for a bath time, or can be listened to during a meal. The kids enjoy them. We’d all rather have I’m Sorry I Haven’t a Clue – what’s up with that not being a podcast.

The History Hour

One of my favourites, this, collecting the World Service Witness strand into one hour of podcast joy. A variety of historical topics, mini packages, complete with interviews. Always interesting, and even if not, there’s be an interesting topic along in a minute.

From Our Own Correspondent

Could be considered worthy-but-dull, and is not always the most cheerful experience, but this is a great listen for soft news, background, and colour, and far more interesting than the hard news and breaking news that obsesses the media. It offers a wide variety of content, and the best of 2013 supercut was a great listen.

The Talk Show

I rarely listen to an entire episode of John Gruber’s The Talk Show, but when I’m in the mood for a completely obsessive discussion of Apple/tech minutiae, this is where I turn. I might survive an hour of the typical 90-100 minute running time. There are usually three sponsor messages, which can be irritating.

Thinking Allowed/The Media Show/Feedback

These afternoon half-hour shows are usually worth a listen. I’ll happily stick with these if they’re on when I happen to be in the car or kitchen, and they’re worth downloading as podcasts. Laurie Taylor is a fine broadcaster, and his sociological strand is generally interesting. The Media Show, along with More or Less, should be essential listening to all students of Media. Feedback is also a useful resource for Media students, as you often hear BBC News bods squirming when confronted with criticism of their preposterous overspending and ridiculous reporting. All three programmes are presented by people who are more independent voices – not necessarily spouting the standard BBC line.


In the absence of Eddie Mair’s PM, which would be a joy to download the day after it’s broadcast (please, BBC), I usually enjoy this, the weekend show that “starts with its listeners”. One of PM’s reporters puts together a package following contact from a listener. It often appears as if this might be an unpromising listen, but I’ve yet to actually be bored by an episode of this. The PM production team know how to put a package together.

What the Papers Say

Presented by different journalists each week, this 15-minute slot used to be a staple of late night TV. I don’t think it’s quite as good as it used to be in its television heyday, and some of the journos can be objectionable, but it’s still worth a download, and is perfect for shower time.

Kermode/Mayo Film Reviews aka Wittertainment

Hmm. I’ve gone through stages on this. At the moment, I can’t stand listening to Kermode, having fixated on his habit of not finishing sentences. If he’s got a cold, he can be a bit of a drone, too, not interrupted often enough by Mayo. On the other hand, it’s far more entertaining as a podcast than it is when broadcast live, interrupted as it is by news, sport, travel, trailers, stingers, etc. Best experienced when some of the substitute reviewers are in town during one of Kermode’s frequent holidays.

Best of Today

I generally hate this, but in the absence of regular news from home, I’ll download it in a pinch. It’s just a selection of packages and/or discussions, but rarely offers anything intelligent or properly interesting, and is frequently infuriating in the way of most of Today’s output. In desperation only, because the truth is, there is no “best” of Today. It’s all “worst”.

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