So, I was listening to a podcast

According to my wife about 30% of my conversations start with, “So, I was listening to a podcast”. It’s true, I listen to a lot of podcasts. I’ve been a huge fan of talk radio since I got my license. As soon as I started driving to high school it was Howard Stern in the morning, NPR on the way home — my yin and yang.

So, every once in a while some one will ask me to suggest a podcast to them. Which then requires me to ask a battery of questions. It’s a very personal experience — like suggesting a wine or whiskey, as John Gruber and Matthew Panzarino discussed on The Talk Show.

Harder than you’d think

How do you listen? Where do you get them? How do you know what’s good?

There’s an inherent barrier to listening to a podcast. Namely, a lot of people don’t know how or where to start. If you use an iOS device, you’re in luck, Apple’s Podcast app is pretty good and comes preinstalled. My preference, however is Marco Arment’s Overcast. I’m a fan of the thoughtful way he develops and designs apps. For me, it’s just simple enough, but has features that I use all the time.

I don’t use any Android devices for listening to podcasts, but The Verge likes this one. Honestly, I’m so invested in my playlist set up that I don’t even want to start trying something else at this time.

One you get over the hurdle of how to listen, then you can start looking for something to listen to. This isn’t a complete list the podcasts I subscribe to, but I hope I’ve picked ones that are off the beaten path and not the usual suspects you’d find on every other best of list.

Beginner

If you like NPR style, story based narratives, these will feel familiar and may even be heard on the radio. The have typical radio show production aesthetic.

99% Invisible

Hosted by the exceedingly sincere Roman Mars, 99% is about “unnoticed architecture and design that shape our world”. Mars’s voice is almost hypnotic in its pace and tone, I often listen to these while falling asleep. That’s not to diminish the content. The shows are always surprisingly engaging even when I’m not initially interested in the subject.

Running time: usually under a half an hour

Network: Radiotopia

The Dinner Party Download

“How to win your next dinner party”. From ice breakers to etiquette, it’s a variety show with eclectic guests and interesting ideas.

Running time: about an hour

Network: American Public Media

Planet Money

I’m not usually interested in financial shows, but they make it fun and very approachable. The explore the odd edges of why economics work the way they do and how they got that way.

Running time: around 20 minutes

Network: National Public Radio

Stuff You Should Know

From How Stuff Works, a super diverse range of topics presented with by two friends in a causal conversation. I find the banter charming and they always seem enthusiastic about whatever topic they are covering.

Running time: varies on topic, but not longer than a hour

Network: How Stuff Works


Intermediate

Now we’re getting into some niche topics of interest. Typically, the topics I enjoy are comedy, design, and technology.

The Big Web Show

From the godfather of the web, and the bellwether of the Web Standards Project, Jeffery Zeldman. Released semi-regularly, Jeffery interviews the people who have shaped and are shaping the web. Occasionally, the show gets a little too “back in my day” but the good parts are so very good that it’s totally forgivable.

Running time: about an hour

Network: 5by5

Clockwise

Four people, four topics, 30 minutes. A rapid-fire discussion about current technology topics. You’ll get a fun and fast conversation from the regular hosts and two guests pulled from a nice cross-section of internet-type people.

Running time: never longer than 30 minutes

Network: Relay FM

Design Matters

In depth and thoughtful interviews with an impressive roster of significant contemporary thinkers.

Running time: about an hour

Network: Design Observer

The Flop House

Three very funny friends, talking about bad movies, talking over each other, making some great points about movie making.

Running time: usually longer than the movie they’re talking about

Network: Maximum Fun

International Waters

The At Midnight of podcasts, comedians from the US and Uk compete in an arbitrary battle of wits for comedy supremacy. It’s a little more freeform and at times raunchier than its television cousin, plus it’s hosted by the hilarious Dave Holmes!

Running time: a little less than an hour

Network: Maximum Fun

Judge John Hodgman

Bailiff Jesse Thorn and Judge John Hodgman hold internet court and solve your dumb problems. Inspired by Hodgman’s self-similar column in the New York Time Magazine.

Running time: around about an hour

Network: Maximum Fun

On No Ross and Carrie

Investigation of spirituality, fringe science and the paranormal — “We show up, so you don’t have to.” They approach their subjects with open minds and a scientific method.

Running time: around an hour

Network: Maximum Fun

Sawbones

Dr. Sydnee McElroy teaches her husband and us about dumb ways we’ve tried to fix ourselves thoughout history. Some times historical, some times contemporary, often kind of gross.

Running time: a half of an hour(ish)

Network: Maximum Fun

Shoptalk Show

The internet’s premiere mouth blogging platform and home of the Web Standards Southern Gentleman. The format has varied over the show’s run but always covers issues of front end design and coding. Always upbeat, always encouraging, and inspires everyone listening to “just build websites”.

Running time: an hour

Network: Self hosted

The Talk Show

The audio companion to Daring Fireball, hosted by John Gruber, with a rotating panel of guests. Usually a sprawling, yet pointed discussion about technology, and culture.

Running time: 2 to 3 hours, or until John needs a refill

Network: Self hosted

Under the Radar

Two independent app developers take on a single aspect of making apps for a living. Topics are addressed from the hosts’ personal experiences and explained in a tone that non-developers (like me) can understand.

Running time: One half of an hour

Network: Relay FM


Advanced

These shows dive in deep and cover fringier topics. Expect a high probability of self-referential topics and/or arcane references.

Accidental Tech Podcast

The unintended spin off from a long-defunct show about cars, ATP is an in-depth discussion of tech, games, cars, and life. The long-form show allows the hosts to dive into the nuances of the topic and challenge each other and their own assumptions.

Running time: 1 to 2 hours, including the post show show

Network: Self hosted

Back to Work

A conversation covering all manner of topics, known for having all the great shows, plus Buddhism, productivity, and business advice, but not really.

Running time: An hour?

Network: 5by5

The Incomparable

The flagship (or flagzeplin) of the Incomparable Network. A round table discussion with rotating guests, talking about all thing geek and nerd.

Running time: Less than two hours, unless they’re talking about Star Wars

Network: The Incomparable

Jordan, Jesse Go!

College friends, At Midnight’s Jordan Morris and NPR’s Jesse Thorn, and a guest talk about every day life and momentous occasions.

Running time: just over an hour

Network: Maximum Fun

Roderick on the line

A weekly call between The Long Winters Johnathan Roderick and Merlin Mann. It’s kind of like listening to someone’s therapy session with side trips into what it means collect things, WWII planes, and Wolf Brand Chili.

Running time: between an 1 and 1.5 hours

Network: Self Hosted

My Brother, My Brother And Me

The podcast that started the family business. The McElroy Brothers plumb the depths of Yahoo Answers and listeners mail and give advice that should never be followed. What’s up you cool babies?

Running time: one glorious hour

Network: Maximum Fun

On the Grid

Did you go to art school? These guys did. The hosts dissect the meaning of design and its effect on society, while arguing over things you didn’t know anyone cared about.

Running time: One grueling hour, but in a good way

Network: Maximum Fun

Reconcilable Differences

John Siracusa and Merlin Mann try to figure each other out and how they got this way.

Running time: usually hits the 2 hour mark

Network: Relay FM

Top Scallops

It’s about Top Chef, but it’s really about humanity.

Running time: clocks in around an hour and a half

Network: Self Hosted


This is a selection of some of the shows I subscribe to — I hope this get you started. Let me know if you have any suggestions, as long as your suggestion doesn’t include Serial.