As readers of this blog might have noticed, I’m addicted to podcasts. I find it an unbeatable way to take in information while multitasking something else. (I’m for example listening to the Politico podcast while writing this). Therefore, whenever I see a list of “The Best Podcasts”, I inevitably click on it. These pop up from time to time on all the listicle websites such as Business Insider, PolicyMic or Buzzfeed. This one was on PolicyMic, Biz Insider had this one a while back, and you could find this one on BuzzFeed.
However, there is one big problem with all these lists, they all favor the “storytelling” podcasts. Examples of these kinds of podcasts are This American Life, or Radiolab, or the TED Radio Hour. Don’t get me wrong, these are all great pieces of radio. Especially Radiolab is very innovative. However, they can sometimes feel a bit narrow in their focus on people’s stories or personalities.
Another type of podcast that is often favored in “best of”-lists, are the ones that stretch the medium in new directions. Examples are Welcome to Night Vale, or Love + Radio. Again, it’s great to see people playing with the medium, but those kinds of podcasts are not for everyone.
I’m convinced that there are other people like me who listen to podcasts primarily as an information source, the way that you have Bloomberg on the TV on in the background. This list, therefore, is for you: The Top Podcasts for Infovores. In no particular order.
Definition: A good podcast for an infovore is one that packs the largest amount of information and analysis into the shortest time possible. E.g. a podcast that doesn’t stray too much into unnecessary chatter.
- 60-Second Science – from Scientific American. Does what it says on the bottle – delivers a quick, one-minute take on a recent scientific discovery. Has established cousins such as 60-second Tech and 60-second Mind. Published daily.
- CFR’s The World Next Week – A fantastic, 30-minute podcast from the Council on Foreign Relations giving the audience a great heads up on what will happen in the coming week in terms of geopolitical and political economy events.
- The Economist’s The Week Ahead – The Economist also has a great podcast looking forward to what key events to look out for in the coming week. Theirs is shorter, just 10 minutes, and tends to focus on a few key events, rather than CFR’s broader approach.
- APM Marketplace Tech – APM (American Public Media) has their Marketplace business podcast, which is a great daily business podcast, one of the few American ones to take a global perspective. The podcast that is truly essential for the infovore, however is the Marketplace Tech podcast, which is a 5-minute daily take on the most interesting developments in the world of tech and digital business
- BBC Business Daily – BBC’s business show is the best business podcast. It takes a very broad view of business, taking in everything from the economics of unknown elements of the periodic table, to a specific industry’s development in a little-known African country. The only business podcast that is truly essential listening. Not to be confused with their new podcast Business Matters, which is good, but not essential. Also runs for an hour, while Business Daily clocks in at a nice, info-packed 15 minutes.
- Slate’s The Gist with Mike Pesca – Mike Pesca clearly packs in a lot of information in his daily, 15-minute podcast. It is arguable whether all the information is relevant for everyone, Pesca for example has an unhealthy obsession with vexillology (the study of flags), but he has the most interesting mind of any radio presenter alive and goes of on the most fascinating tangents every single day.
- Philosophy Bites – Short, thought-provoking philosophy podcasts from Nigel Warburton and David Edmonds. Each episode contains a succinct interview with a philosopher about a specific concept.
- Tech News 2Night – From TWiT comes this great, short (10 minutes) tech news podcast with Sarah Lane. Its daily companion, Tech News Today, with Mike Elgan, is also great, but it doesn’t make this list purely because of its length (50 minutes).
- The Weekly Wonk – From The New America Foundation comes this great, newish podcast looking at the week’s wonky news, in terms of foreign and US domestic policy. Great guests join Anne-Marie Slaughter in the discussion.
- O’Reilly Radar – Some of the most intelligent tech discussion takes place on this podcast from O’Reilly Media. Always impressed with the quality of the participants. Around half an hour.
- More or Less: Behind the Stats – The Financial Times’ columnist Tim Harford has his BBC show debunking inane or questionable numbers and statistics that are thrown around in the media. Essential companion to news reading. Less than half an hour.
- Babbage – The Economist’s weekly tech and science discussion. Only covers 2-3 news stories, but covers these well, and clocks in under 10 minutes.
- Pop Tech Jam – The two presenters from the old New York Times Bits podcast (the blog lives on, but the podcast doesn’t) ventured out on their own, and have a fun and idiosyncratic take on the week’s tech and geek events. 30 minutes, and not a dull moment.
- The Writer’s Almanac – From APM, Garrison Keillor does his daily take on what happened that day in the history of literature and world events. Ends with a reading of a daily poem. 5 minutes long.
Special mentions: These are really too long to be considered in this list, but are also among my favorite podcasts, so felt the need to mention them:
- On Being – Technically a show on spirituality, Krista Tippett talks to a wide-ranging group of people on all matters that make us human. Some of the best interviews on the intersection of science, spirituality, and art.
- The Tim Ferriss Show – Jack-of-all-trades Tim Ferriss sits down to drink wine with everyone from Kevin Kelly to Stephen Dubner.