The podcast is arguably one of the most underrated media formats for learning. Even though there are thousands of podcasts available for free online, only a surprisingly few students seem to make use of them. Podcasts are a particularly useful way to broaden your general knowledge within different areas of interest, and they can help you feed your curiosity about the world and the society around you. The podcast is steadily gaining popularity as a means of distributing information, and so most major web journals, magazines and blogs have additional podcasts that you can subscribe to nowadays.
So what exactly is a podcast? According to the Merriam-Webster online dictionary, a podcast is a “program (as of music or talk) made available in digital format for automatic download over the Internet”. A few years back, most podcasts were airing radio shows that were made available for download. Now, however, most podcasts are self-supported and recorded for the sole purpose of being distributed online, as the radio seems to have passed its golden age. So a podcast is an audio clip, usually but not always between 10 minutes and 3 hours, made available for online download. In most cases, you subscribe to a podcast and receive regular episodes.
Podcasts are not a waste of time. Listening to podcasts is a productive way of spending otherwise unproductive ‘dead time’. Think about this — every day while walking, driving or taking public transport, you can actually learn stuff, and at the same time really enjoy the commute! This is what I do: walking to or from lectures, or taking a stroll into town, I always listen to a podcast (as long as I’m by myself, of course). I often find myself taking a detour to wherever I’m going, just so I have a reason to finish the episode…
Podcasts that will make your life better
Here are some great, free podcasts you can subscribe to, that will give you a reason to skip the shortcut on your way home from a lecture:
This American Life is one of the ‘pioneering’ podcasts, and one of my personal favourites. Each episode is an hour long and features a specific theme, presenting different stories and essays. In many ways it’s an experimental podcast, bringing up themes that are present in everyday life, but that we don’t really take the time to think through. In this regard it’s also a very sociologically interesting show, andit’s also currently the most downloaded podcast in the world.
(More info: http://thisamericanlife.org)
Serial is a newcomer which, like This American Life, is produced by WBEZ. This is a special one — it’s essentially a real-life crime novel. Week by week, each episode unfolds another piece of the puzzle of a non-fiction crime story, including real interviews, phone calls and other audio recordings from the investigations. In the first season, which is currently airing, we follow the journalist and host Sarah Koenig in her quest solving a murder case from 1999, in which a girl was killed by her boyfriend. Remember to start from the beginning!
(More info: http://serialpodcast.org)
Freakonomics Radio is another thought provoking podcast drawing on themes from everyday life which explore “the hidden side of everything”, primarily from an economist’s perspective. It’s an addition to the Freakonomics book series, and is hosted by the journalist and author Steve Dubner with economist Steve Levitt as returning guest. Always interesting and entertaining!
(More info: http://freakonomics.com/radio/)
The Tim Ferriss Show is a podcast hosted by author Tim Ferriss, in which he interviews a broad range of successful entrepreneurs and business people, exploring their habits, life views and general way of going about things; it’s a holistic approach to the art of becoming successful. Subjects brought up include everything from morning rituals and work schedules to sleep, diet and exercise.
Music That Matters is a weekly music podcast by the independent Seattle based radio station KEXP-FM. Every episode features at least an hour of alternative and indie rock style music, usually from lesser known bands (mostly stemming from the Seattle area), but also from the rest of the US and the world (they actually play a lot of Icelandic music). This is one of my absolute favourites, and a loyal workout partner!
(More info: http://feeds.kexp.org/kexp/musicthatmatters)
Other honourable mentions:
The Moth: Stories told by everyday people in front of a live audience
The Joe Rogan Experience: 3 hours of banter and discussion with interesting people
Stuff You Missed in History Class: History podcast covering what you probably didn’t learn at school
Seneca — Letters From A Stoic: Seneca’s letters; an audiobook disguised as a podcast.
Alohomora!: Do you like Harry Potter? This is a re-read and discussion of the whole series.
Purple Radio Podcasts: Last but not least, Durham’s own Purple Radio has podcasts as well, go listen!
How to listen?
There are a variety of ways you can listen to podcasts. Personally, I prefer using an app called DownCast on my iPhone. There are several other apps you can use, regardless of your operating system — a quick Google search should reveal some of them for you. When you use an app, you simply have to search for the podcasts you would like to subscribe to, subscribe to them, and then they will be downloaded automatically once new episodes are released. As simple as it gets! You can also download them though iTunes (although you sometimes need to pay for them) or stream them from their online websites, if that suits you better.
I hope that this article made you want to get on the podcast groove! I’m addicted to listening, and rarely go a whole day without listening to them. Remember to be curious, and gain all the knowledge about everything!