Fine podcasts for 2016: a mega-list of what I’m listening to

Editing in Audacity, by Laura Blankenship2015 saw a rebirth of interest in podcasts, and 2016 may well see an even larger podcast world.  This is very exciting, and heartening to long-time podcast obsessives like myself.

In that spirit let me share which podcasts I’m listening to, updating my 2013 list.  Now I’m arranging these into headers: current podcasts, archived or dormant shows, followed by a note on my current listening technology and practice.  The first category gets sub-headers, under which are programs in alphabetical order for convenience (yes, maybe my habit is out of control, and this is less a post and more a plea for help).  I note unusual features when they appear, like published transcripts, and I’ll try to note which ones I’ve been on.

What’s not on here: music podcasts, which are different creatures.  Most NPR podcasts, because everyone talks about them.  Old-time radio (OTR), because although I adore it, this post is about current productions.  Podcasts that have no web presence (feh!).

I. Current podcasts

These are programs still going on as I write this post, as far as I can tell.

History, culture, current events:

  • 99% Invisible logoAnalysis (BBC).  Political issues and current events, mostly from a British perspective.
  • Backstory with the American History Guys.  Three major historians explore themes as they move across three centuries of well, American history.
  • Behind the News.  Doug Henwood and guests discuss current events (American and international) from a left perspective.
  • Common Sense.  Dan Carlin‘s historically informed take on current events, which is caustic, funny, focused on civil liberties, and often unpredictable.
  • HardCore History (Dan Carlin). Excellent, thoughtful, detailed explorations of intense historical events, from ancient Persia to WWI.
  • Ideas (CBC Radio).  Deep dives into history, culture, and the history of ideas.
  • In Our Time (BBC Radio 4). Superb, high-speed conversations about history, science, and culture.
  • Long Now Foundation seminars.  Presentations on a variety of topics (history, science, culture) through the lens of very long-term thinking.
  • The Memory Palace.  Short, moving, lyrical glimpses into the past through very curious stories.
  • 99% Invisible.  Meditations on architecture and the built environment, with a Memory Palace-like eye for intriguing stories.
  • On the Media.  Good discussions of media politics.
  • Radio Open Source.  This program isn’t about technology, but a wide range of current events and culture, with a strong Boston flavor.
  • Rationally Speaking.  Julia Galef and interviewees “explore the borderlands between reason and nonsense, likely and unlikely, science and pseudoscience.”
  • Reading Envy.  A librarian and her friends discuss what they’ve been reading.  I’ve been a guest several times, and still Jenny allows me back.
  • Revolutions.  Excellent, manic history of revolutions in Britain, America, France, and now Haiti,
  • Rumble Strip Vermont.  The best podcast about Vermont life.
  • Slate Culture Gabfest.  This and Slate’s politics podcast are on my hate-listen list.  Very high speed, chatter-y discussion, overweeningly clever, burning with an incandescent sense of their own hipness.


  • CAT FooD, a/k/a “Teaching, Learning, and Everything Else.”   Interviews with higher education faculty and staff.
  • Digital Campus.  Conversation about current events in education, libraries, museums, and information technology.  I’ve been an occasional guest.
  • Ed Radio. Stephen Downes‘ list of education audio. This leading commentator and innovator occasionally podcasts his presentations (RSS feed).
  • JISC podcasts. Presentations and interviews on the nexus of technology and education in Britain.
  • Radio Higher Ed.  Interviews and discussions about higher education.
  • Teach Better.  Discussions about pedagogy with an emphasis on higher education.
  • Teaching in Higher Ed.  Very practical show on being an instructor, with an emphasis on self-improvement.

Technology and science:

  • Engines of Our Ingenuity podcast logoEngines of our Ingenuity. Short, well done monologues on technology, inventions, and people.  Every single episode has a transcript and references.  Did I mention they’ve done more than 3,000 shows so far?
  • Future Tense (ABC Radio National).  Looking at present trends for their future impact, with an Australian perspective.
  • Kindle Chronicles.  About Amazon’s ebook ecosystem and related subjects.
  • Radiolab.  Fine storytelling about unusual ideas in science.
  • Star Talk Radio. Neil deGrasse-Tyson instructs and entertains.
  • TechStuff. Very deep dives into new and/or historical technologies and scientific developments.
  • TWiT. Now a series of podcasts and video channels on different aspects of current technology.


  • EconTalk. Interviews with major economists conducted by a puckish, provocative MC.  Every single episode has an annotated, hyperlinked transcript completed with time markers, references, and suggested readings: bravo!
  • Harvard Business Review Ideacast. Interviews with economic thinkers and business leaders.
  • Peter Day’s World of Business. Very energetic, accessible, and useful explorations of present-day economic life from around the world.


  • The Brainy Gamer. Excellent but infrequent interpretations of gaming.  I hope the latest show’s title is not an omen for this podcast’s future.
  • Gamers with Jobs. On a wide range of current games, from casual and mobile to the biggest AAA games.

Storytelling and mainstream fiction:

  • Criminal.  Each episode explores one true crime story, often with surprising narratives.
  • Librivox – a huge library of public domain literature.
  • Lore.  Meditations on the spookier side of folklore, crime, and history.
  • Risk.   Personal stories about, well, risky stuff: sex, drugs, violence, madness, fun, and horror.  It’s as if the Moth showed up at your door at 3 am, drunk and waving a stick of dynamite, shouting.
  • Selected Shorts. Great readings of excellent short stories.
  • The Story Collider.  Fine personal stories about science, performed Moth-style.
  • StoryCorps. Everyday people sharing stories about their lives.
  • The Moth.  I prefer to hear this live, but still.
  • Transom – on audio theater.

Genre fiction:

  • The Outer Dark logoThe Black Tapes.  A mockumentary about supernatural horror, with loving homages to the X-Files and This American Life.   Charming, creepy, funny, and complex. A very exciting first season makes us long for the second.  More thoughts here and here.
  • Clarkesworld Magazine podcasts – beautifully read fantasy and science fiction short stories.  Women.
  • The Drabblecast.  Like it says on the box, “Strange Stories, By Strange Authors, for Strange Listeners”.  Always has each story’s full text, too.
  • Escape Pod (Escape Artists).  Science fiction short stories.
  • The Leviathan Chronicles.  A gleeful tribute to 1930s serials and the glory days of pulp fiction, it’s the story of a young researcher falling into a web of competing secret societies, super-science, and global intrigue.  Terrific production values and nonstop action.
  • Limetown.  Maybe my favorite discovery of 2015, this podcast is about an alternate recent history where/when the population of a town dedicated to science suddenly vanishes, and the reporter trying to figure out the truth.  Each episode is long, superbly voiced, grounded in excellent sound design, and emotionally powerful.  The narrative twists and twists again.  More thoughts here.
  • 19 Nocturne Boulevard – audio theater of science fiction, fantasy, horror, westerns, comedy, and anything else emitted by Julie Holverson’s mind.
  • No Sleep.  Scary short stories, initially told as campfire tales, and now as something like anthology horror.  Excellent MC-ing.
  • The Outer Dark.  Interviews with up and coming horror writers.
  • Pseudopod (Escape Artists).– horror tales.
  • SFF Audio.  The indefatigable Jesse Willis hosts readings of and discussions about classic and little-known science fiction and fantasy stories.  I’ve been a guest several times now.
  • Starship Sofa (District of Wonders).  Science fiction stories short and long, plus poetry, science, discussion, and the awesome MC-ing of Tony C. Smith.  The first science fiction podcast to win a Hugo award, and the first denizen of the District of Wonders.
  • Tales to Terrify (District of Wonders).  Horror stories long and short, plus some commentary and bouts of ghost hunting.  Its founded and first MC,
  • Tanis.    Hard to classify this, beyond the header “very addictive”.  Tanis is about a reporter’s quest for the truth behind a(n urban) legend, which leads him to the occult, new and media, secret societies, pulp fiction, hacking, fantasy…  Listen, and you might want to be a runner.  More thoughts here.
  • Welcome to Night Vale. A community radio station for a very surreal, twisted town, Night Vale is the real start of the second podcast wave (downloads here).
  • We’re Alive.  Life during a zombie outbreak.  Very gritty, personal, practical, small-scale stories.

II. Archived or dormant podcasts

These are podcasts that ran for a time, then stopped, either with a public acknowledgement or for some hidden reason.  But they are still available for your aural delectation, and they’re very good.

  • Byzantine Rulers. A fine series about the late classical and medieval eastern Mediterranean.
  • Crime City Central (District of Wonder). – mystery, crime, noir.
  • Does College Matter?  Interviews and presentations about the value of higher education.
  • The First World War in 261 Weeks.  An insanely ambitious series that represented WWI through biographies of fascinating people: civilians, soldiers, bankers, spies, journalists, and more.  A rich trove.  I think they only managed to translate the first 56 episodes from Dutch before running out of time.  That’s still a fine work.

People photos from The First World War in 261 Weeks

  • Norman Centuries. A fascinating examination of a usually marginal strand of medieval history.
  • The Message.  A blazingly fast science fiction story about cryptographers working on an alien message, and things go wrong around 10 minutes in.  More thoughts here.
  • Out of the Past: Investigating  Film Noir.  Dozens of episodes plumbed one of my favorite genres, past and present.
  • Outriders. This show explored cutting-edge developments in technology, art, and society. Its insights, interviewees, and subjects are still important, and the show was very well done.
  • Spider on the Web.  Sf writer Spider Robinson shares music, his fiction, stories by other authors, and ruminations.
  • Tech Therapy. Technology and higher education from a wide range of academics, from the Chronicle of Higher Education.  More than 100 episodes, ending in 2013.  I don’t know why they stopped, and wish it would restart.

III. How I listen

Currently the majority of podcasts reach my ear through an Android phone (Galaxy phablet) running Stitcher (why this?).  Some shows are not available through Stitcher, so they appear in Digg’s RSS Reader and I manually download them to a directory.  Over time I play them on my laptop or an old, old mp3 player. Some I play from a laptop straight from their site, if I’m in a hurry.

Despite moving back to the Mac universe with a new Air, I refuse to use iTunes, because it is an awful thing.

I’m not satisfied with this setup for various reasons, and will continue to experiment.

Many thanks to readers of this blog and correspondents elsewhere who contributed suggestions.

(all images grabbed from podcast sources, except Laura Blankenship’s Audacity screenshot .  Thanks to Jenny Colvin for discussion after this post went up.) 

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20 Responses to Fine podcasts for 2016: a mega-list of what I’m listening to

  1. Paul McConaugghy says:

    That’s a lot of podcasts. You must listen in your sleep or you don’t sleep.

    • I don’t sleep much, but my work and home life offer many opportunities for podcast listening.
      For instance, I travel a great deal. 3-8 hour drives are terrific for podcasts, as are long flights, marches across airports, train rides, etc.
      I also homestead. Podcasts go well with splitting and stacking wood, building stone walls, weeding plots, etc.

  2. VanessaVaile says:

    Reblogged this on Vanessa's Blogueria and commented:
    What a treat! I’ve caught the podcast habit and have been bookmarking online radio and podcast link bundles. This is a most welcome addition to the collection.

  3. anamfores says:

    I have a feeling you might like this one too: I notice you don’t have it 🙂
    podcast by Sherman Alexie, “A Tiny Sense Of Accomplishment”:

  4. jennycolvin says:

    Thanks Bryan! Hope I will see you as a guest again in 2016. You’re one of my favorites!

  5. Isn’t Dan Carlin here in Eugene? I have started to listen to photography and blogging podcasts on long drives, but I used iTunes to find them. Now I find out iTunes is an awful thing–how was I supposed to figure that out! Good to know…why is that again?

    • I don’t know where Carlin is now. I know he used to work in LA.

      Why I hate iTunes… because it’s bloated and slow, a saggy mass that soaks up time and memory. I dislike wading through it to find podcasts, and abhor the way it encourages people to take stuff off the web.

      It might be less painful in the Mac ecosystem. I’m only partially there.

  6. dearbalak says:

    Reblogged this on Punkonomics (@DearBalak) and commented:
    very good (if, of course, not complete) list of excellent podcasts by Bryan Alexander

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  9. Pelli says:

    I want to add two for Genre Fiction:

    Pleasure Town: A western themed podcast set in early the fictional 1900s Oklahoma town called Pleasure Town. The community writes episodes for this show, and the best are chosen and performed. The atmosphere is fantastic and the characters are likable but complex.

    Campfire Radio Theater: A horror podcast similar to No Sleep, but weirder, campier and a lot more fun. It’s essentially Goosebumps for adults.

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