I love podcasts

I really do love podcasts. Since discovering them, I now hardly ever listen to the radio (at least live: many of my podcasts are radio shows) and have pretty much completely stopped listening to music. You may see these as negative consequences but personally, I feel so much more positive about time spent travelling now I have a convenient form of audio entertainment which keeps my attention.

So, inspired by Caitlin Clock on twitter, I thought I’d publish my current list of favourites. They err very much towards the informational side of things, representing how much I love learning, but there are a few pure entertainment ones in there too. I’ll answer Caitlin’s questions for each one:

More or Less is BBC Radio 4’s program which investigates numbers in the news and everyday life. This is my go-to easy listening and it keeps me well informed: so many things which feature in this come up in day to day conversation. I am planning to use some episodes as part of my teaching next year.

Episodes to try: Women, the Oscars and the Bechdel Test, Trump tells the Truth, Grammar Schools. But probably the most recent episodes are most interesting because they’re topical.

In Revisionist History, Malcolm Gladwell ‘goes back and reinterprets something from the past: an event, a person, an idea. Something overlooked. Something misunderstood.’ I’m not hooked by every episode, perhaps because my lack of knowledge of history means that I never misunderstood in the first place, but when it works it can make you think about things in a completely different way. Above all, I find Gladwell to be a great story teller so even when I’m not completely sold on his point, I enjoy it nonetheless.

Episodes to try: The Lady Vanishes, Blame Game, The Satire Paradox, Mcdonalds Broke My Heart, Free Brian Williams, Malcom Gladwell’s 12 Rules for living.

The Life Scientific, also by Radio 4 (yes, a theme is developing here) features Jim Al-Khalili interviewing famous scientists to ‘find out what inspires and motivates them and ask what their discoveries might do for mankind.’ A bit of a mixed bag (not all top academics are good at explaining their work to lay-people!), but I really enjoy most of these and feel that I learn something along the way.

Episodes to try: Tim Birkhead, Eugenia Cheng, Daniel Dennet, Sadaf Farooqi, Nick Davies, Peter Piot, Carol Black.

50 Things That Made the Modern Economy is created by Tim Harford, the regular presenter of More or Less, so I was bound to like it, but I even ended up preferring it. Again (a bit of a theme) it takes simple ideas but tells you something quite surprising about them. In one of my favourite episodes, Tim starts the show calling up a bookmakers to try to place a bet on his own death. “William Hill won’t gamble on life and death. A life insurance company does little else. Legally and culturally, there’s a clear distinction between gambling and insurance. Economically, the difference is not so easy to see.”

Episodes to try: All of them. I’ve listened to them all 3 times.

Coffee Break French and Spanish. Seasons 3 and 4 are great for intermediate level speakers: there is a lovely interaction between the hosts (the regular presenter Mark, and a native speaker) as they discuss a “text” which is read out at the start of the episode. My wife and I make this even more valuable by listening through the text a couple of times and asking each other questions about any parts we don’t understand, before listening to the discussion. I’m not so sure about the earlier seasons for beginners.

Episodes to try: Spanish Season 3 with Alba, French Season 4 with Pierre-Benoit.

Desert Island Discs is a classic Radio 4 program, attracting high-level celebrities to discuss their life and work, whilst choosing the 8 tracks they would take to them on a desert island. I think that Kirsty Young is such a great presenter, she’s very kind and her warmth encourages the guests to open up about their lives, but she’s also not afraid to delve into sensitive issues if they’re being cagey.

Episodes to try: Tom Hanks, Nigel Owens, Sir Anthony Seldon (crucial listening for teachers), Sir David Attenborough. Really, just whoever interests you most.

A History of the World in 100 Objects (and, if you like that Germany: Memories of a Nation) is presented by Neil MacGregor, the former director of the British Museum. It has got me interested in a subject which school lessons completely failed to; I particularly like the chronological approach, there are some nice themes running through several episodes and an attempt to cover the whole world.

Episodes to try: All of them. This time, just because the chronological approach is important. My wife hates the music: don’t let that put you off.

I feel that there is almost no point in mentioning Mr Barton Maths Podcast as anyone who reads this blog will probably already be an avid listening. I absolutely love these two-hour+ episodes in which he interviews interesting people from the world of education. This pretty much takes up all my teacher-focussed listening, but I sometimes find time for The Education Research Reading Room by Ollie Lovell, which follows a similar (usually not quite so epic!) format.

Episodes to try: Jo Morgan, Dan Meyer, Jamie Frost, Greg Ashman part 1, Daisy Christodoulou,, Dylan Wiliam part 2, Harry Fletch-Wood and of course the Slice of Advice (because I feature for a couple of minutes!) From the ERRR: Adrian Simpson and John Hattie.


Special mentions go to…

I suspect that Freakonomics Radio will make the main list in a month or two but I’ve only just started listening.

Friday Night Comedy from Radio 4 (of course) interchanges between Dead Ringers (a classic impersonation show), The News Quiz and The Now Show, all of which are solid political-focussed comedy panel shows. Think of it as the podcast version of Have I Got News For You.

Serial which I remember reading was the most popular podcast ever, and for good reason. Season 1 is a gripping murder mystery with a twist: it’s a real life story.

In Our Time which is often a bit too intellectual for me, but I still enjoy it. I know that some people find Melvin Brag annoying.

No Such Thing As A Fish which is basically QI in radio format, minus Stephen Fry.

Reply All and  This American Life can sometimes be great, and I like the way they give me a bit of insight into the US, but I find them inconsistent.

I feel that I should love The Infinite Monkey Cage but I’m not sure the mix of comedy and science is actually that great. Brian Cox should stick to ‘Wonders of the…’ but it’s still worth a try.


So… what am I missing? Let me know what you listen to and why I should join you!

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