My favorite podcasts

| Senior Cadenza Editor

On this day of music reviews and star ratings, I am here to bring some sense to our humble section. Because, honestly, I do not listen to music anymore. In fact, music brings me no joy, no happiness. I used to walk to school with Radiohead, Ben Folds and Rivers Cuomo at my side, whispering sweet melodies into my ears as I crossed Forsyth and walked through Mallinckrodt. Those days are long gone.

I walk through the DUC now.

I found podcasts.

And my life changed.

Podcasts sneak onto my computer in the dead of night, so they’re ready for me when I wake up. They’re like radio shows on the go, with a nerdy twist at the end. With podcasts, I can stay informed while doing other things, like boiling pasta or writing an article. OK, so they can be distracting every now and then—that’s how zoos work? Thanks, Chuck and Josh!—but I love them so much.

And now that Cadenza is basically in the podcast game (yet another shameless plug for “The Cadenza Show”!), I thought it’d be a good idea to show some love for the other podcasts on the market. To be clear, none of them is as good as “The Cadenza Show,” clearly, but they’re alright, I guess. Here are my favorite programs, primed and ready for download.

10. “The Sports Game Guy’s Sports Anomaly”
Todd Zuniga is the Sports Game Guy—if you want to know the origins of that name, skip ahead to the “B.S. Report”—and he leads this podcast at 1UP.com with a fiery enthusiasm for sports games. His endless energy sometimes gets the best of him; he jumps around from topic to topic like a maniac cab driver, while the listener sits back and thinks, “Oh, that’s OK, he’s a professional.” His panel reciprocates his energy with a stream of chants, creating a frat-boy atmosphere that is hilariously paired with geeky discussions of button presses and online Madden leagues.

9. “Freakonomics Radio”
This is a newer podcast, but it shows promise. Journalist Stephen J. Dubner and Freakonomist Steve Levitt promise to show the hidden side of…everything! Their handful of episodes have already discussed the economics of obesity, illegal drugs and lies, so I’d say the two are well on their way to reaching their goal.

If you’ve read their books, you know what to expect. Anything.

8. “Stuff You Should Know”
Each and every show begins with, “Welcome to ‘Stuff You Should Know,’ from Howstuffworks.com,” straight from a female voice with an indescribable accent, followed by the podcast’s trademark detective music, Josh Clark’s dopey introduction and Chuck Bryant’s chuckle. Josh and Chuck ask all of the tough questions: How do castles work? What’s the deal with carbon trading? Who were the Vikings? Their topics are always interesting, but more importantly, they have good chemistry and a flair for storytelling. I even find it enthralling when they complain about their recording “studio” (which is currently a horrible room because it has windows. I know. Windows.) The podcasts comes out twice a week; listen to this show for a month, and you’ll have enough ice breakers for a thousand cocktail parties.

7. “The Transmission”
From the island, “Lost” fans, here’s Jen and Ryan, a married couple of geeks who love “Lost” an unhealthy amount. Ryan’s nasally cadence charms and contrasts with Jen’s soft, thoughtful voice. With stellar music and crisp segments, “The Transmission” has incredible production values; they take podcasting very seriously. Unlike some other podcasts on “Lost,” you can tell that Ryan and Jen put a great deal of thought into everything they do and say. They are not impulsive fans; they are reflective adults, and they treat the show right. And since they live in Hawaii, they are able to scoop stories from the set, if you’re into spoilers.

6. “APM: The Story”
Compared to the other podcasts on this list, the execution of “The Story” is fairly bare bones. There isn’t a lot of production value or any bells and whistles. Subscribers get to listen to Dick Gordon interview a couple of people for 50 minutes every day, and that’s about it. And it is completely worth it. First of all, Gordon has the most soothing voice on the Internet. Second, he is an excellent interviewer, arguably the best on this list. He asks questions that get to the heart of the matter, and he is always trying to pinpoint the issue’s personal angle. He treats his guests with civility, and judging from how easy it is for them to respond to his queries, I’m guessing he is an incredibly personable guy, too. “The Story” is a joy to listen to.

5. “The B.S. Report with Bill Simmons”
Now that ESPN has expanded to cover every sport in existence, the network’s personalities are inevitably losing their, well, personalities. (I swear I saw Dog Jumping the other day. That’s right—ESPN televised a sport in which the competitors didn’t even realize they were competing with each other.) Thankfully, “The B.S. Report” is here to infuse the worldwide leader in sports with a little character. Bill Simmons flaunts his homerism and admits his biases. In short, he is like every sports fan out there—he’s hopelessly devoted to his teams, but at least he’s trying to broaden his scope. I’m still waiting for him to mention the Cardinals in a podcast this year. The Sports Guy brings a lighthearted and unique perspective to everything he touches.

4. “Weekend Confirmed”
Gamers all over the Internet weeped the day that Garnett Lee announced he was leaving 1UP.com for Shacknews’ greener pastures, because his departure spelled the end of 1UP’s flagship podcast, “Listen UP.” However, gamers then performed little celebratory dances when Lee announced he planned to keep podcasting at Shacknews. Six months later, the hip-shaking and feet-shuffling public had begun to grow weary, when Lee finally unhatched his new podcast: “Weekend Confirmed.” If you like video games, you’ll like this podcast. Lee, with Brian Leahy and Jeff Cannata, treats games seriously. Whereas other outlets criticize games for their graphics, Lee and co. are more interested in how games make them feel when they play them. It’s the perfect podcast for the gamer who doesn’t care about pixels.

3. “The Moth”
The Moth is a not-for-profit storytelling organization, with programs held in theaters all over the nation. The podcast plucks its very best stories from the stage and plops them down in front of everyone who subscribes. Most of the stories are funny, but they can be sad on occasion. The podcast is about making connections—finding overlapping areas between the storyteller and the listener. Therefore, “The Moth” is like a great experiment, both pushing us together and reminding us of our differences. Every show is easy to listen to, perhaps too easy—the podcast only releases one story per week, and they always leave me wanting more.

2. “Radiolab”
If “This American Life” (for reference, read to the right) is the old stalwart, then “Radiolab” is the young apprentice, brimming with energy and unwilling to play by the rules, dude! The hosts, a duo of Jad Abumrad and Robert Krulwich, prioritize the theoretical over the concrete, thought experiments over physics. “Radiolab”’s unmistakable style always fits the mood of the segment. The hour-long program is filled with tics, walls of sound and abrupt stops, leading to an experience that is equal-parts ethereal and earthly. It’d be my favorite podcast, if not for…

1. “This American Life”
“Hi. It’s ‘This American Life;’ I’m Ira Glass.” If you’ve listened to the show, you know how that’s said. Ira Glass and his crack team of investigators begin every week by picking a theme and giving pitch-perfect stories on that theme. This week’s is babysitting, and this episode illustrated just how good “This American Life” is at depicting the personal story. But “This American Life” is capable of tackling larger issues. Last week, the theme was cheating on Wall Street, and a year ago, the show explained the entire recession to me. It’s telling that I think nearly every podcast on this list has good storytellers—the medium requires it—and “This American Life” has the very best bards. The news never sounds like news when Ira Glass tells it. Often touching and always enlightening, “This American Life” is my favorite podcast.

  • Sylva J

    I just adore This American Life. This week on Babysitting was a disappointment to me, because I’d heard it before: It originally aired back in 2001, but it’s so good they sometimes repeat it. But generally, I find walking home from campus or biking around Forest Park to be the most luxurious treat when TAL is at hand.

    I approve your recommendations of Radiolab, and The Moth (which sometimes has some overlap with This American life. )

    Thanks, Percy & Craig, for other great options for weeks like this, when I need more than This American Life can offer.

  • http://twitter.com/scribl Craig Ostrin

    A few videogame podcasts you missed:

    1. Idle Thumbs – http://idlethumbs.net
    Smart conversation and ridiculous humor make this PC-focused ‘cast my absolute favorite. They took a three-month sabbatical at the end of 2009 but have since returned with a slightly less regular show. Go back and listen to the archives. They’re fantastic.

    2. A Life Well Wasted – http://alifewellwasted.com/
    “An Internet radio show about videogames and the people who love them.” Like games? Like This American Life? Robert Ashley mashes them together perfectly. The high-quality production takes oodles of time, so episodes are infrequent, but each one is a treasure.

    3. Irrational Behavior – http://irrationalgames.com/insider/irrational-podcast/
    Shawn Elliott’s new show isn’t your typical game-developer PR-fest. Another highly produced riff on This American Life, Elliott explores the personalities behind Irrational Games, creators of the original BioShock. The latest episode is titled “Our Nerdiest Secrets.” And boy does it get nerdy.