As the parent of six year old, I was reminded recently that I’m not sure I’d know a Top 40 song if it hit me in the face these days. I don’t think I’ve regularly listened to the radio in over six years - instead I listen to podcasts.

Why Podcasts

I can’t remember exactly when I got into podcasts, but I regularly started subscribing in 2010 when I had a one-hour commute to and from work each day. I was tired of the radio, tired of listening through what felt like hours of ads to get back to the music or content, and tired of pledge drives that seemed to consume my entire commute.

Enter podcasts.

Podcasts give me the power to find content that I am interested in. Being recorded, they’re also able to be skipped ahead like a TiVo if I’m not interested in a topic or if I’ve heard the same ad 100 times 1. I also like how democratic they are. Anyone with a microphone and a computer can host a podcast, although there is a definite range of quality.

How I Listen

I use Overcast for my podcast listening, primarily on my daily commute. I love Overcast for a couple of reasons. First, the developer, Marco Arment, puts a tremendous amount of thought and care into his apps and strives to make them be sustainable for the long-term. I would much rather pay for a high-quality app than download a free one where I’m probably the product. 2

overcast

Overcast also has a feature that I can’t live without called Smart Speed, which strips out extra moments of silence in a podcast to shorten it without taking away any of the content. According to my app, it’s working pretty well.

smart speed

Because of the number of podcasts I listen to, I tend to play them back at 1.5x speed in the car where, for some reason, I can follow along with every conversation. When I’m doing any other activity, that speed is way too fast for me to listen to. In those cases, I tend to drop back to 1x or maybe 1.2x if I’m feeling crazy. 3

Current Favorites

I don’t know how many podcasts I’ve subscribed to over the years; right now I have about 45 in my queue, but I can rattle off another dozen or so that I know I’ve tried at one time or another.

Before you think I’m crazy, I don’t listen to every episode of every podcast. Some shows post a few times a year, some post monthly or bi-weekly. For topical shows, say about the news of the week, I usually only keep the most recent episode.

Here are some of my current favorites in alphabetical order:

  • 99% Invisible As they describe it, “99% Invisible is about all the thought that goes into the things we don’t think about — the unnoticed architecture and design that shape our world.” I love this show and am constantly learning new things about our world.
  • Accidental Tech Podcast (ATP): Hosted by Casey Liss, Marco Arment, and John Siracusa, this is a much more technical podcast than others that I listen to. All three hosts bring a wealth of knowledge and their chemistry and friendship makes for an entertaining show. (Be aware the show keeps going after the theme song at the end.)
  • Analog(ue): Co-hosts Myke Hurley and Casey Liss didn’t want to host just another technology podcast so they formed this show around the intersection of technology and feelings. Both of them bring a lot of honesty to the show and it has evolved over the last couple of years. If you’re looking for a standout episode to test out, I’d suggest giving episode five a try.
  • Cortex: Myke Hurley and CGP Grey host a show ostensibly about work productivity. This is certainly a niche recommendation, but one that I really enjoy.
  • Hello From The Magic Tavern: I hesitate recommending this podcast for a couple of reasons. First off, it can be very vulgar which may be off-putting to many. I also feel the show is best appreciated from the beginning; unfortunately I found out about it about six months after it aired, and I’ve found my interest waning the further I fall behind. That being said, I often find myself laughing out loud on the highway listening to improvised stories from Foon when I do listen. [Explicit]
  • Hello Internet: CGP Grey and Brady Haran have a delightful chemistry and they talk about all sorts of things, from flags to plane crashes.
  • The Incomparable: A podcast about all things geeky and nerdy. Similar to 99% Invisible, this podcast doesn’t have much in the way of continuity so you can jump around through the archive, picking and choosing topics of interest. I currently have six episodes saved about movies I still haven’t gotten around to seeing.
  • Serial: The investigative journalism show that got many people into podcasts. The first season investigated the 1999 murder of Hae Min Lee. Season two told the story of Bowe Bergdahl who was captured by the Taliban after walking off his base in Afghanistan.
  • S-Town: The sequel podcast to Serial, S-Town starts with the hosts of This American Life being contacted about someone possibly getting away with murder and ends up taking a completely different turn. Seven binge-able episodes that are definitely worth listening to. [Explicit]
  • Slate’s Working: This is a surprisingly interesting podcast about what people do for a living. The host, Jacob Brogan, does a terrific job of getting people to open up about their work and crafts a very compelling story.
  • The Talk Show With John Gruber: The Talk Show is referred to as “the director’s commentary track for Daring Fireball.” The shows are technology focused with a strong focus on Apple.
  • Top Four: Marco Arment of the above-mentioned ATP podcast and his wife, Tiffany, rank their top four (or five or six) favorite somethings. Topics have included Starbucks coffee, Christmas movies, vegetables, and board games. These episodes are relatively short and always incredibly fun.
  • Upgrade: Jason Snell and Myke Hurley host a weekly technology show focused primarily on Apple. This has become my go-to technology podcast every week.

Prospect Research Podcasts

You may have gotten through the above list and thought, “With all the great podcasts out there, does he not listen to any focused on his own industry?”

The short answer is not really, but there are two exceptions:

  • ChatBytes is an interview podcast from the Prospect Research Institute with leading prospect research professionals and others. This show lets me hear from wonderful people in our industry who I might only know from Twitter or by reputation.
  • The Intelligent Edge is a podcast from The Helen Brown Group that offers some wonderful lessons on interesting topics. I’ve frequently referred people to their episode on family offices.

How Do I Get Started?

If you’ve never tried podcasts and don’t know how to start, you’re not alone! Unfortunately, podcasts aren’t ubiquitous in the way radio and television are. If I suggest watching NBC Nightly News, chances are you’d know where to look to watch.

I came across an older article from Recode on how to listen to podcasts that does a pretty thorough job getting you started. The Sweet Setup also has a good roundup of podcast apps. Their pick is also Overcast and they walk you through many of the app’s features.

Any app you try will have a directory of popular podcasts that you can try out. Subscribing to a show is no more of a commitment than setting up your favorite show to record on the DVR. If you don’t like it, just delete it and try another.

  1. I’ll say this for podcast ads - they’re effective. Although I may have heard the same ad 100 times, guess what? I bought this domain from Hover, our bed from Casper, our razor subscription from Harry’s, and the list continues. Sometimes the hardest thing for me is deciding which podcast should get the direct response credit because I hear ads for the same companies on different shows. 

  2. Overcast was a paid app when it first appeared on the App Store. Over time, Marco has experimented with different ways of creating sustainable income from the app. 

  3. My wife hates both Smart Speed as well as the increased play speed. She says it makes them sounds like chipmunks!