The first podcast I remember downloading and listening from a podcast app was Brain Science with Ginger Campbell, MD. This podcast is very nerdy in the best sense. Dr Campbell finds a book on neuroscience, soaks it up, then brings the author of that book on her show for an in-depth discussion. It’s very predictably structured and rarely veers off script, but when I first listened to it I thought what a great way for someone to explore a topic. This seemed much more intensive than just reading the book itself. I still have it in my Castbox app though I don’t listen to it as much. However, I think Brain Science set up a foundation for what I like to listen to, partially, and I even appreciated the low production. Just good old Dr Campbell sitting in her home office cranking out these interviews and making book recommendations. I think she gets help now, and she has a following. Nonetheless, I like the individual enthusiast and lifelong learning champion who wants to take a deep dive on a topic. More lately, something like David McRaney’s You Are Not So Smart meets that need or Strong Songs with Kirk Hamilton. McRaney is a lot like Campbell’s podcast only livelier and with more outward enthusiasm for the ideas and the interviewees. He gushes, like he’s having the best time of his life, and that seems to pull me in as a listener. Kirk Hamilton doesn’t do interviews but instead geeks out on individual pieces of music (e.g. mostly songs from pop, classic rock, indy genres) through thorough analysis. Like McRaney his enthusiasm is palpable and infectious. All these ones mentioned work off a clear structure, with a couple key components, like a monologue introduction, summary of the topic/song/book, followed by interview/analysis and then a recap. For me that feels like a set up I could follow.
With some other podcasts, I like the way Phoebe Judge weaves narration and first-hand accounts and interview snippets in Criminal. She builds up a kind of mystery and then works to reach some kind of reveal. Jonathan Goldstein has much the same arc with Heavyweight (which I stopped listening to after it switched to Spotify and doesn’t show up in my Castbox app any more!), only his work is less suspenseful and more emotionally charged. Another enthusiastic podcaster I listen to is Douglas Rushkoff from Team Human. He always begins with an extended monologue and then cuts to a conversation, which is not always directly connected to the monologue itself. I sometimes just listen to his monologues, which are mini essays on a contemporary topic. They come across a lot like an editorial. But Rushkoff is a good writer and he’s got a very personable style. With all of these examples, I have come to like the podcaster as much as the podcast.
I listen to a lot of other examples as well, on commutes, dog walks, bike rides. I listened to Serial when it came out, and remember comparing impressions and speculating with coworkers after each episode dropped. I like the slick productions like This American Life, The Daily, The Argument and The New Yorker Radio Hour but I still think of those more as radio shows than podcasts. They have teams behind them. For fiction, I like The Voice and I got hooked on Homecoming.
For a while I listened to How Sound, which I think is called Sound School Podcast. I was interested to know more about the craft of podcasting and audio-based journalism and storytelling. I guess that’s my angle. I really like the stuff that sounds great, with professional quality production behind it, though I applaud those who just sit down with their mic and their software and go for it. So I am hoping I can find a place on that continuum somewhere.