1. LE Show With Harry Shearer: Some voices were just born for radio. So it is with the bound-leather tones of Harry Shearer, Spinal Tap’s Derek Smalls and the voice of The Simpsons’ Principal Skinner, who has been presenting this witty mix of liberal political snark, comic observation and weird news from around the world since 1983 – long before the dawn of podcasting.
2. The Pod Dellusion: This cheerfully sceptical “podcast about interesting things” looks at the world from a fiercely rationalist perspective. It’s a partner of the British Humanist Association and the name, of course, is a hat-tip to Richard Dawkins’ atheist bible The God Delusion. Each episode takes a leisurely but eye-opening look at issues as varied as the iffy history of Assassin’s Creed, Greece’s Golden Dawn and the non-human civil rights of captive killer whales. It’ll give you hope that the world isn’t really vanishing down a wormhole of superstition, and make you feel about 50 per cent smarter.
3. The Nerdist: Your average radio interview can end up boringly formulaic, with three predictable questions wrapped up by a plug for the guest’s latest “project”. Being open-ended, podcasts can ramble on for as long as they like and – horror! – develop into actual conversations. Geeky interlocutor Chris Hardwick takes full advantage of this, coming up with entertaining and properly insightful sit-downs with characters as diverse as Harrison Ford, Vince Breaking Bad Gilligan, Dave Grohl and porn star turned actress Sasha Grey.
4. Soda Jerker Songwriter: One thing you learn from podcasts is that, freed from a cramped radio slot and faced with someone who actually knows a bit about their subject, almost everyone has a fascinating story to tell. Scouse songwriting duo Simon Barber and Brian O’Connor set up Sodajerker just as an excuse to talk to their heroes about what it’s like to put songs together. But their natural inquisitiveness brings out the best in legends including Andy Partridge of XTC, Mike Stoller and Johnny Marr, making Sodajerker one of the most unusual and rewarding music podcasts.
5. Radio Lab: Like an audio edition of Horizon remixed by Boards Of Canada and Chris The Day Today Morris, the oblique documentary series Radiolab, from New York’s public station WNYC, riffs on a big, big subject like colour, time or numbers until it become a sound experience in its own right. Hard facts collide with a playful sonic approach and the effect is like a dream where you learn stuff. In the episode on colour they used the harmonics of a choir to illustrate how dogs see the spectrum. Amazing, right?
6. 99% Invisible: It’s hard to complain about NPR’s music podcasts, especially the free, often full-length concerts regularly offered up to listeners. Beyond that, other selections below take you behind the scenes at Pixar, and 99% Invisible should be considered required listening for design fan.
7. You Look Nice Today: A audio program that has been prepared by and for “adults.” As a Journal of Emotional Hygiene, our program tackles many of the painful issues typically encountered by persons of this awkward age. Consequently, an uncontrollable level of candor and seemingly non-stop tsunami of profanity may be encountered by listeners. Please do not present this material to non-adults.
8. No Agenda: New Media pioneer Adam Curry has been bringing his special brand of social commentary, music, humor and geek wizardry to your earbuds since August 13th of 2004. The first to put together syndication and scripting technology with a daily audio show, Adam ushered in a new era of independent media at a time when the corporate media conglomerates were spewing forth an endless stream of boring, robotic content.
9. How Did this Get Made: Have you ever watched a movie so terrible, you couldn’t believe it actually existed? That’s Paul Scheer’s sweet spot. Joined by fellow comedians June Diane Raphael and Jason Mantzoukas (and occasional guest stars such as Patton Oswalt and Nick Kroll), the comedic trio riffs on unbearably bad films such as Sharknado and The Last Airbender.
10. Real Time With Bill Maher: This one, meanwhile, is Have I Got News For You with more swearing plus a little more bite and viciousness than “Gosh, isn’t Ed Miliband’s voice funny?” It’s an audio version of red-meat liberal Bill Maher’s HBO show, giving us a top-of-the-line comic – plus guests from politics, stand-up and the media – tearing into the rotten state of American government and its even worse Republican opposition. British TV and radio keep failing to replicate this format chiefly because we have no-one like Maher, the left-wing PJ O’Rourke.