My Top 10 Favourite Podcasts

I have my HTC Desire wired up to listen to in the car when I’m commuting to and from work each day. I’m often not in the mood for music until later on in the day, so to keep me entertained I subscribed to a selection of podcasts (a podcast is a kind of radio show you can subscribe and listen to whenever you want). I was initially overwhelmed at the sheer volume, variety, and quality of podcasts out there: most bad, some good, and a few essential selections. After checking out many different podcasts over the past few months, I’ve whittled it down to what I think are the very best technology, media, science, comedy and sci-fi podcasts around. Read on for my pick of the Top 10 Best Podcasts!

Here are my Top 10 favourite podcasts, all available for free and with weekly episodes. Note that since I don’t do iTunes, there are several podcasts that I’d like to listen to but can’t (for example, Robin Ince’s Utter Shambles). I use Google Listen on Android to listen to podcasts; new episodes are synced and downloaded automatically during the night, so there’s always a fresh batch of episodes ready and waiting for me when I set off to work each morning.

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Engadget

  • Genre: Gadgets and Technology
  • Updated: Weekly
  • Duration: 1hr30m

Engadget is the biggest and most influencial “gadget” website around and their main podcast (there’s also an Engadget Mobile podcast) maintains the cutting-edge up-to-the-minute high standard. The presenters are hyper-informed, intelligent, opinionated, and above-all professional in how they present and manage the podcast show. It’s a bit US-centric, and assumes a fair amount of knowledge on the part of the listener, but the Engadget podcast is an example to other tech ‘casts on how to get it right.

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Friday Night Comedy

  • Genre: Comedy
  • Updated: Weekly
  • Duration: 30 mins

The BBC offer lots of podcast versions of their radio shows; I particularly like Friday Night Comedy from BBC Radio 4. Hosted by Sandi Toksvig, it’s like a funny version of Have I Got News For You. Panelists rotate but often include the likes of Phill Jupitus, Andy Hamilton, Jeremy Hardy and Miles Jupp. Gyles Brandreth was on it recently: I expected to cringe but he ended up being hilarious. Definitely a podcast to keep you both informed of the week’s news and entertained by some of the best wits at the beeb.

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Geek’s Guide to the Galaxy

  • Genre: Sci-Fi
  • Updated: Weekly
  • Duration: 1hr

Rebranding as the official io9 podcast, the Geek’s Guide to the Galaxy is an excellent podcast for science fiction fans, especially book fans. They’ve recently interviewed some of the most exciting SF writers around today: Charles Yu, Paolo Bacigalupi, George R. R. Martin, and Robert Kirkman (author of The Walking Dead). The show starts with the interview of the week then breaks out into a general discussion of the themes raised.

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Mark Kermode & Simon Mayo’s Film Reviews

  • Genre: Film
  • Updated: Weekly
  • Duration: 1hr30 mins

From BBC Radio Five Live, the “two doctors” discuss and review the week’s film releases. Kermode is of course legendary for his movie knowledge and opinion and he’s a lot less restrained here than when you see him on TV. It took me a few episodes to get used to his rants and put-downs, but it works in this context and makes for a much more entertaining show. Simon Mayo is the perfect straight guy with his voice-of-the-people approach and offers a good balance (and of course radio professionalism) to the proceedings. The show often features chats with the director or stars of the films under discussion, and for my money is much better than the revamped Film 2010. Oh, and hello to Jason Isaacs!

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Media Talk

  • Genre: Media
  • Updated: Weekly
  • Duration: 30 mins

The first 3 picks in my Top 10 from The Guardian, Matt Wells and co. present this excellent “insider” podcast about the media. They discuss the latest media news covering UK television, radio and newspapers. It’s a great podcast to learn about who’s who behind the scenes, and offers the lay person a fascinating insight into the workings of the media. If you like the insider aspect of Charlie Brooker’s Screen Burn, definitely check this one out.

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Science Weekly

  • Genre: Science
  • Updated: Weekly
  • Duration: 30 mins

Another Guardian podcast, this show covers the latest science news in an informed way, although you don’t need a PhD as it’s more of a popular science podcast. That’s not to say it’s dumbed down, just accessible to anyone with an interest in science and technology. They recently had Maggie Philbin on, who had some brilliant anecdotes on what it was like presenting Tomorrow’s World.

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SF Signal

  • Genre: Sci-Fi
  • Updated: Weekly
  • Duration: 1hr20m

My favourite sci-fi podcast, the SF Signal podcast is usually a two-part show. In the first part, the discussion kicks off with a question like “What are the best genre TV shows on the air right now and why should we be watching them?” , “At what point does a genre series go on so long that they really wear out their welcome?” and “Which SF book published within in the last 10 years will be considered a classic?” Patrick Hester then chairs the discussion, with regular experts Karen Burnham, John DeNardo and John Anealio giving their opinions. It’s much like a panel discussion you’d get at a convention like Worldcon. The second part of the show will usually feature an interview with an SF writer. I particularly enjoyed their recent chat with Joseph Mallozzi, executive producer of Stargate: Universe.

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Tech Weekly

  • Genre: Technology
  • Updated: Weekly
  • Duration: 30 mins

Presented by the legend and geek heartthrob Aleks Krotoski (from Bits!), Tech Weekly is probably my favourite podcast in this Top 10. It’s more accessable than Engadget and has a UK-angle on technology news, with guest spots and interviews with “names” like Stephen Fry, Robert Llewellyn and Kieron Gillen. Topics range from the internet, social media, and technology law and politics through to smartphones, computer animation and gaming. The Guardian’s technology editor Charles Arthur co-presents along with Jemima Kiss. If you’re interested in technology in any way, this is one podcast to subscribe to.

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The Collins and Herring Podcasts

  • Genre: Comedy
  • Updated: Weekly
  • Duration: 1hr

Avoid if you’re offended by words like “fuck,” “cunt,” and “wank into my anus“, but Andrew Collins and Richard Herring present the most popular comedy podcast in the UK (except for any Ricky Gervais ones). Loosely formatted around current news events, Collins & Herring use this to launch into rants, moans, and debate (I use that term loosely) which fortunately is frequently hilarious and often very rude. Some weeks the podcast is recorded live in front of an audience (I was at one of the shows during this year’s Edinburgh Festival). I tried the BBC version of the show, but there are so many restrictions on presenters these days that I much prefer to hear them raw and uncensored.

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The Wired.co.uk Podcast

  • Genre: Technology & Society
  • Updated: Weekly
  • Duration: 30mins

With a newly refurbished website and a brand new podcast, Wired UK is fast becoming the one essential source for technology and related news and views in the UK. Presented by Wired UK editor Nate Lanxon along with Duncan Geere and Olivia Solon, this podcast hit the ground running after only a couple of episodes. They recently discussed Spotify (“Spotify or SPOTIFAIL?“), giving a great introduction for newbies then going on to discuss its pros and cons. Many podcasts ramble on for too long, but the Wired.co.uk podcast seems to squeeze in a whole range of topics into its 30 minutes, and still leave time for a “kitten story of the week” spot at the end.

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Podcasts I Tried But Unsubscribed From

For the areas I’m interested in, I think the ten podcasts above and the best around at the moment. I did try a heap of others but ended up unsubscribing for various reasons. I have about 2 hours a day to listen to podcasts, so need to maintain a pruned list of favourites. Here are some the others I gave up and why:

  • BBC Focus Magazine – Infrequent updates and content that’s a bit too basic for me. Great for a high-school age audience though.
  • StarShipSofa - I used to listen to this Hugo-award winning podcast a few years ago when they chose one particular sci-fi writer to talk about for each podcast. I learnt a lot of SF history from that and it led me to read many books I wouldn’t have read otherwise. But the current version of the show has too much audiobook-style content for my liking (with someone reading out a short story for 30mins). I’d definitely re-subscribe if they did a “StarShipSofa Lite” with just the interviews and reviews.
  • Stuff.tv – I only listened to one show, but it seemed like the presenters hated each other and spent too much time taking the piss and interrupting whoever’s speakking with a sarcastic comment. I read the Stuff website but the podcast wasn’t for me: sometimes this approach works (as in The Collins and Herring Podcasts), but here I found it irritating and a bit depressing.
  • The Two Doctors – Another SF podcast, specialising in SF TV. I enjoyed this one, but unfortunately the audio quality was terrible and there were often too many unannounced spoilers for episodes that hadn’t aired in the UK yet.
  • iPad Chat Show – I tuned in the other day to this as they were reviewing the Samsung Galaxy Tab and had promised that “iPad” in the title now covered all tablets. But despite the presenter trying his best to offer a balanced review, his guest presenters were Appleteens clearly locked into the Jobsian garden. One of them hadn’t even used a Galaxy Tab, but was still dissing it because it was obviously just a big phone and hence not as good as an iPad. But if you like or use Apple products, this podcast is definitely one for you. I’ll listen again as they do still promise to cover a range of tablets.
  • PC Pro – I listened to this based on a recommendation, but found that I was way ahead of the presenters on many topics. Too often someone would say something like “I don’t know about such-and-such, but” which didn’t really inspire much confidence. Maybe it was just a bad week to tune in, and the target audience perhaps isn’t as tech-savvy as I (think I) am, so give it a try if you’re new to computers and the internet.
  • TpSUK (The Playstation Show UK) – I’m still looking for the right gaming podcast. I game on PS3 pretty much exclusively these days, so The Playstation Show UK should be ideal. But there was something about this that didn’t click for me: the episode I listened to sounded a bit amateurish. I prefer IGN.com’s Podcast Beyond, although that one does ramble on a bit too much sometimes.

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Suggestions?

So those are the podcasts I’ve discovered. Do you have any favourites or recommendations? Let us know in the comments! 

  © 2014 Jer White / Pansentient League.
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