Podcasts worth listening to

I've moved away from live radio almost completely now.

A surprising thing for me, given that the spoken word has long been my favourite medium for news and politics by far. My earliest personal relationship with media was listening to Radio Caroline and later John Peel chronicling the arrival of punk in the mid seventies. From those early days radio was a constant companion as my interest in current affairs deepened. This was a medium that has always felt personal to me. Over the years I've listened to RTE Radio 1, the BBC World Service, Radio 4, Today FM and latterly NPR/PRI , in particular WNYC.

What's different now? Changes at RTE lost me. RTE's Radio 1 was the mainstay of talk radio here. When you're a talk radio listener, turning on the radio was one of the first things you did upon getting up, letting it witter away in the corner of the kitchen or office. You tuned in and out as needed. As life and work progressed, you'd keep current, ignoring the odd show which irritated. The dumbing-down of RTE Radio 1 over the last year or two left me with little reason to turn it on, so much of it was sheer rubbish.

So I turned to iTunes and a set of smart playlists that brings me a good mix of news and current affairs, interesting stories from around the world including Ireland. RTE have finally gotten their act together on podcasts, though for a while they were on the wrong track there. I pleaded with them via email not to embrace Real back when they started to go online to no avail. Sadly RealPlayer and Windows Audio still form their principal offerings for live listening, so it doesn't matter if you're online or using an old fashioned transistor radio, RTE Live sucks either way...

The shows I list below form my listening now. I have a playlist which automatically keeps things current. I just set it off in the morning, picking either News and Stories or Technology, and let it run. I list my News and Stories podcasts here, I may do the Tech ones later. Looking at this list, I'm aware of how much I tend to like people with strong personalities, shows with clear voices. The News and Stories are from existing media outlets and the Technology podcasts from newer providers, it will be interesting to see how things progress, to see if new voices on current affairs emerge from the independent sector.

News and Stories

WNYC - Radio Lab - Add to iTunes
Inventive and experimental, a show which researches and explores a single theme, from Time to the Wright Brothers, by weaving interviews with key figures, sounds and conversations between the two hosts.

PRI - This American Life - Add to iTunes
Ira Glass, Philip's son, has developed an iconic (or whatever the audio equivalent of iconic is..) show. Wonderfully produced, it brings together several stories around a single idea, humorous and intelligent, and with a great set of writers.

WNYC - The Brian Lehrer Show - Add to iTunes
I keep up to date with New York and US politics via Brian's show. Perhaps a tad parochial for a global audience, you'd have to know and love NYC to care about some of the stories. That said, it also covers national and presidential politics in a lively and accessible fashion.

RTE - Tonight with Vincent Browne - Add to iTunes
Ireland's best politics show bar none. At times rather odd and like something from another era, it's at the centre of political reporting in Ireland. It's also an excellent guide to major figures from history. Essential listening, who is going to be this man's successor?

RTE - Conversations with Eamonn Dunphy - Add to iTunes
I liked The Last Word when Eamonn was at the helm over on Today FM. With his departure it's now just another drive-time show. At times erratic and irritating, but at his best...he's unique. He certainly engages with his subjects in a very real and personal way, providing compelling listening.

BBC - In Our Time with Melvyn Bragg - Add to iTunes
Wonderful radio, a lecture in a podcast, covering topics as diverse as the Fibonacci Sequence to Avicenna. (Okay... a set of numbers which turn up everywhere in nature and an ancient Iranian philosopher.) Bragg is brilliant here, you get a real sense of how television limited him.

BBC - File on Four - Add to iTunes
Investigative journalism as it should be done. I wish there was more shows like this.

BBC - From Our Own Correspondent - Add to iTunes
The Beeb at it's best, covering news and current affairs from all over the world. It might still have the whiff of colonialism... but it's excellent stuff.

PRI - Selected Shorts - Add to iTunes
Leading actors read leading authors short stores to a live audience. I believe the word is 'delightful'. I particularly like this driving home late at night.

The New Yorker - Fiction - Add to iTunes
Sadly only out once a month. The New Yorker's enviable list of writers and stories read by other writers. Theroux reads Borges, Jhumpa Lahiri reads William Trevor.

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