The most wonderful thing I have ever heard …


… and other click-bait.

This article is about Podcasts (and click-bait). I rediscovered them when I became totally frustrated with radio during the Brexit debacle (the result was bad enough, but the coverage leading to it was deplorable, from all sides including the media.) I gave up listening to live radio.


Douglas Adams in one of his books described a video recorder as a machine that watches television for you. Because that’s what it did so well. We would set the video recorder to tape something for us (younger readers might want to Google, “video recorder” and “tape” as a noun and a verb). Usually it was a TV programme we would have liked to have seen, but not so much that we could be bothered re-arranging our busy schedules. Of course most of the time, we still couldn’t be bothered re-arranging our schedules to watch the recording. But at least the video recorder had watched it for us. Douglas was the great explainer.

The modern day digital version for me is the Podcast. I subscribe to then, but usually don’t get round to listening to many – so much Radio 4 to get through, don’cha know. So I had a clean out once every few months dumping all the un-listened to podcasts.

Until recently my early morning dog walk and breakfast were accompanied by the Today programme on Radio 4. Sometimes Good Morning Ulster. But in recent weeks, in order to manage my blood pressure and tendency towards depression, I have been listening to those accumulated podcasts.

I have been missing so much good listening!

Trying to navigate through the available podcasts is pretty challenging. There is an American dominance as you might expect. And that’s fine, but I was looking for something from this side of the Atlantic, something that was not downloadable broadcast radio. Trying to find something that inspired imagination or curiosity reminded me of the early days of the Web when search engines were better as roots and branches links rather than “Search”, when Yahoo was king and google was spelt googol (a big number) and a googly was something to do with cricket.

In reality wasn’t much of an effort to find excellent replacements for Radio 4. Here are a few I have been eating up in recent days.

94First – and straight in at Number 1 as my favourite is Page 94. If you have ever read the satirical news magazine Private Eye you will know everything is continued on Page 94. Like so much Private Eye the in jokes are very “in”. To my surprise it is already into the third series. One of the most interesting editions I have heard was this on The Eye’s and other publishers’ digital strategies. Not only is there lots of common sense (albeit with the use of the retrospectroscope), but consideration of the future of journalism in the digital era including churnalism and click-bait (hence the title of this piece – just an experiment you understand)

fishSecond – Is this the first time a podcast format and production team – as distinct from a radio programme – have been taken up by TV? A few weeks ago No Such Thing as News  started on BBC 2. It is a spin off of No Such Thing as a Fish podcast which was launched in 2014. The makers of the podcast are the research team for the TV show QI.  Nice – from TV show, to Podcast where it I transformed into a different TV show.

Third – There are a lot of downloadable radio programmes, and I listen to a lot of them too, but I am particularly looking for unique self-standing podcasts. So next stop is The Dubland Podcast with Dublin radio 4FM’s Suzanne dubKane and stand-up PJ Gallagher. The first time I heard this podcast I thought – “no, not for me, too noisy, shouty, I’m not in the target demographic.” I’m not. But stuck on the bus home from Dublin one day with no radio, no other podcasts and no book, I listened to a whole hour of this podcast. While I can’t say I loved it, I can appreciate it is a really entertaining listen, very silly at times and very witty, too. I would recommend it to you if you are in the demographic – which is at least one generation younger than me.

Back to “Serious Stuff”, and the realisation that this is not a top Ten in order of preference. But let’s say for consistency …

the-economist-radioFourth and fifth – The Economist podcast and Freakonomics. The Economist has a range of podcasts on their expert subjects and uses them to extend articles in the newspaper (the Economist I a news paper not magazine) and promote the Economist more generally. It has started its own radio unit led by Anne McElvoy who is a very highly regarded print journalist and appears a lot on BBC radio. The podcasts are straight forward interviews and discussions. Informed, intelligent and consistently interesting.

The fifth is also about economics. But is very different in content and style “exploring the hidden side of everything”. Intriguing subjects: an hour on the sudden rise in America of the mattress store, why people hate flying and what the pilot knows. These Freakonomics people understand radio and the use of sound better than any that I have mentioned so far.

the-foreign-desk-Back to this side of the Atlantic and the Monocle Podcasts. Now, there is one I do not like – it is messy and unfocused and a great example of how to exclude your listener. The other is tight, direct and opens new areas for exploration. I will avoid The Monocle Weekly in the future but listen to The Foreign Desk. Again, are these truly unique self standing podcasts? I’m not sure. Monocle – apart from being a painfully hip magazine also runs an online radio station. The Foreign Desk is close enough for me to be considered more than downloadable self scheduling radio. Monocle has quite a number of downloadable radio programmes and podcasts. So more to explore.

braveThat’s six and seven dealt with. So back to the USA for The Home of the Brave. How do I encapsulate that into a simple one liner? “Stories of Americans and people from other places”, perhaps? The podcast by Peabody award winning radio producer Scott Carrier and such sloganeering and branding is ignored. This podcast is simplicity itself. Scott – the man who makes it sound so easy –  is a contributor to This American Life and other radio programmes and podcasts. I’ve listened to about half a dozen of his podcasts that tend to feature American people telling stories of their lives “What happened in your life to bring you to this point?” Powerful question, particularly when asked of people who aren’t listened to, too often. Start with the three parter Trump and Sanders in Southbend  if you are reading this around the time I publish (mid-June 2016). It is the only report I have listened to that has helped me understand and even be sympathetic to Trump supporters.

Refreshingly, Scott doesn’t criticise or challenge (strongly), but helps people tell their stories and helps the listener understand. And it’s not only American lives. He has visited Palestine and followed the Balkan refugee route, too.

Numberl=r nine: Love + Radio.  Wonderful and extraordinary. These people know how to tell stories and use sound. Like a magician I will invite you to choose one, any one, and you will be amazed by what you will find. And, no that’s not more clickbate.

That’s not 10. There is no 10. But there is plenty to explore. With new platforms and podcast networks like Stitcher and Acast and the move to SoundCloud by podcasters, you will find duplication, but there is some great unique audio.

Soon to come is Radio Public – again from America … we in this part of the world need to be looking at doing the same for UK, Irish and mainland European podcasts.

In a world dominated by Facebook, you will enjoy and be frustrated by how difficult it is to find things and how easy it is to come across something wonderful and unexpected.

Just like the internet used to be.

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