Hello again there (for the second time today), I've been wanting to write this blogpost for a while actually, as more and more people have been asking me what podcasts I listen to. The title of 'Queen of Podcasts' has been conferred to me via my colleague Jason McDermott, who has the pleasure of hearing about my most recent discoveries first thing in the morning, you know, right when he puts his bag down and takes in a long breath to start the day.
So I am very generous with my sharing of information, that must be said. I feel bad for all those who walked, biked or rode the bus/train to work listening to "Kings of Leon" for the eight hundredth time. That's no way to live! Podcasts are a commuting thing to me, it gets my mind going in the morning and helps me switch off in the evening. I learn about incredible things! There are literally no boundaries to the kind of things I would be interested in learning about. If you're anywhere close to this description, I think you would enjoy my top three of podcasts
#1: WNYC's Radiolab, NPR, Jad Abumrad and Robert Krulwich
Hands down. No question about it. I challenge you to challenge me on this one. Jad Abumrad and Robert Krulwich present short and long podcasts on virtually any theme. Past themes have included "Oops", "Stochasticity", "Proof", "Moments". It's all quite abstract and esoteric but they bring the content home by telling incredibly good stories that relate in one way or another to science. The stories of people who have done extraordinary things, or met incredible people, stories of love, courage and persistence on a background of scientific discovery. Half the job is done for these guys once they get the people to accept to share their stories. Once the contributors are invested in telling their story, the rest consists mainly in building the architecture of the story around that through music, sound effects and great producers. Jad is a truly accomplished presenter and editor, and he's Lebanese, which is probably another reason I have a soft spot for this podcast. Don't wait any longer, get this stuff loaded up onto your iPod.
#2: A History of the World in a Hundred Objects, BBC Radio 4, Neill McGregor
I just love the BBC and I love the British Museum even more. So a podcast that binds the two together in a very clever arrangement is bound to make it on my top 3 of podcasts. Both of these are strong pulls back to the UK for me. I romanticise of spending hours and hours at the British Museum whilst absorbing endless amounts of BBC content (live for a change). We do get BBC content through the ABC down here, but it's just not the same.
This podcast is a truly exceptional way of navigating through the vastness of the British Museum's collection. I'd been to the Museum dozens of times before but never was my visit so productive and memorable as when I followed the cues for objects featured in this podcast through the museum. I was there for 5 hours and got through 41 objects. Not bad, eh?
The podcast is narrated by the Director of the British Museum, Neill McGregor, a seriously clever and articulate man. He's got a peculiar way of talking but then again, by some accounts, so do I. I will just put that down to some extra British eccentricity.
Starting in pre-history, McGregor takes us through one hundred objects of the collection and tells us about the story that underpins this object, including how the object got the British Museum in the first place. I always find that I enjoy things a bit more when I know the back story and this is no exception. He runs you through the archeological reasoning that enabled experts to place the object in history, talks of the wider economic and social shifts that made the object possible in the first place. The moral of the story is really that nothing is really as it seems, there is so much more to know about everything. Just love it.
Melvyn Bragg had an advantage with me. I already knew him through his amazing documentary and book about the history of the English Language, The Adventures of English. I had been transfixed by his extensive knowledge of the language and his ability to tell the story of a language in a way that was engaging, not too technical and tied its evolution back to the socio-historical drivers of the British Isles and the Commonwealth.
The podcast is complete intellectual luxury, Melvyn travels from one obscure topic to the next week by week, but always well surrounded by academics from the world's best academic institutions (although UK universities tend to get a lot more airtime that US ones). I've learnt about the most unlikely topics such as Wyclif and the Lollards, the Battle of Stamford Bridge, the Death of Elizabeth I, the Indian Rebellion, you name it, Melvyn's got it covered. It's a great podcast to run to as they last about 45 minutes, a good amount of time for us joggers to get our heads around.
As an extra (I know I am going beyond the promised three), but I would also recommend tuning into Radio National down here in Australia. It's got the range and depth of programming that can interest a wide range of people and also often manage to interview great people from Brett Easton Ellis, to Bill Bryson, Brian Eno, etc...
My friend Imogen Tudor and I revel in the fact that we are Gen Y Radio National listeners. We're equally fulfilled by its eclectic yet reliable programming and find great pleasure in relating the stories to each other (sad, I know, but hey!). The programming is quite extensive but my personal favourites are Background Briefing, The Book Show, AM with Fran Kelly and maybe By Design (I find Alan Saunders a little bit irksome, especially the way he says RRRRRRRRRN).
There we go folks, I will continue to update as I find new treasures of the sound waves!