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My Favourite Podcasts

By Hugh Fraser

Podcast Listener / Subscriber

Storynory is a podcast as well as a website – you can find us in the Kids and Family section of iTunes as well as on other podcasting apps. My sense is that podcasts are coming back into a fashion after a few years when they have been eclipsed by the glamour of the app store. At any rate, I see a lot of new players trying out podcasting. I am not sure why, as it is hardly the route to riches but there you go.

I thought I would share with you some of the podcasts I listen to. They are probably quite grown-up in taste – so this post is more for Storynory mums and dads than Storynory kids.

(The picture is not me by the way, just an image I found in the library ! )

Podcasts Faves

Philosophy Bites
David Edmunds and Nigel Warburton interview the world’s leading philosophers about questions in philosophy. Each interview is packed into a 15 to 20 minute programme. The episodes are always engaging and stimulating and show how the a podcast conversation is a very efficient way of conveying a good deal of high-brow information in a short time. I worked with David at the BBC, and I have to say his experience as a professional radio producer helps this indie podcast stand way above the crowd – – in particular he understands time discipline, which is a quality lacking from many more waffly podcasts. These “bites” of philosophy are gourmet snacks of intellect and I guarantee your day will be richer if you listen to one.

The View from 22
The Spectator’s Podcast is probably only of interest if you live in the UK. However it is a pleasing antidote to the narrow outlook of the BBC’s domestic political agenda. It covers cultural issues too – such the relevance of Twitter to travel writers or recent books on World War 1. You can hear quirky and funny arguments about issues like the annoyance v usefulness of cycle lanes in the countryside. They get surprisingly heated. The Spectator is on the right of the British political scene, but it is able to appreciate and respect alternative points of view, as evidenced by its award of Parliamentarian of the Year to Labour’s leader Ed Miliband. There are some great ding-dong arguments and left-wingers seem willing to come into the bear pit and take on the Speccy’s journos. Great if you love politics but think the BBC’s agenda is way too predictable and blinkered. It proves that print journalists can produce good audio (but it is still true that the audio spin-offs from many other print publications just don’t hack it).

In Our Time with Melvyn Bragg
Having slagged off the BBC, it is only fair to give my thanks to Aunty Beeb for this wonderful programme which has international appeal. Melvyn Bragg, an ancient stalwart of British broadcasting on the arts, holds the ring with three academics about a high brow topic. He covers philosophy (but not as well as Philosophy Bites), and Science, but to my mind he really shines at history and literature. There are so many episodes that I have enjoyed, but let me mention a few – Evelyn Waugh’s Decline and Fall, Boudicca, Zenobia of Palmyra, The War of 1812 Between Britain and the USA, Le Morte Darthur, The South Sea Bubble – all wonderful stuff.

The Moth
This is an amazing podcast, which seems to be very big in America but not “over here”. The Moth is recorded live all over the States. People stand up in front of an audience and tell a real life story without notes. Some of themes are really GROWN UP and perhaps not for “in front of the children”. Others are mainstream. I actually attended a recording of The Moth when I was in LA during Social Media week. I put my name in the hat to speak, but was relieved when it did not come out – those who performed were so fluent and self-assured. The room was packed with a very lively, young and enthusiastic audience. From that evening, the story that I enjoyed most was about a man who went for a job at the top of Network Television and was interviewed by a cycopath. The story has a wonderful twist of fate at the end. Another story I recall listening to online was about an terrible boat trip involving a ship-wreck and sharks. One from the past that sticks in my mind was a man who got sucked into a fraud and ended up in jail. All in all, The Moth shows that the art of storytelling is alive and kicking.

For Immediate Release (FIR)
Neville Hobson in Britain and Shel Holtz in the USA hook up to host a podcast about technology and the world of PR. Since the start of 2005 (even longer than Storynory has been running) they have been pushing at the frontiers of podcasting. They have an innovative format and correspondents all over the world who feed in reports. Not having a big BBC budget does not stop them making an international show. PR might not sound like your sort of thing, but they are right at the forefront of social change covering social media and the way those corporations we sometimes love but mostly hate try to “manage their reputations”. As Neville and Shel are PR people, they are usually quite diplomatic when companies really get it wrong, but their insights are very revealing. It is a model of how factual podcasting can and should be done.

This Week in Tech (TwiT)
Leo Laporte discusses consumer gadgets and technology with guests. There is usually a lively and very viewy discussion about hot topics in technology such as the latest iPad or the ObamaCare website debacle. Can be a bit lengthy, but worthwhile if you have got time to sit back and listen.

The Economist (All Audio)
Like the Spectator, this podcast is a spin-off from a topical newspaper / magazine. It very much reflects the publication itself. Most of it is dry as a bone, but just every now and then it is fascinating. Its appeal is international. There are regular features such as Money Talks, The Week Ahead, and Babbage (technology) – but the one-offs are where the gems can usually be found. I would probably never read one of the vast “special reports” in the publication, but often the audio chit-chat version can be quite interesting. Recently there have been editions on Test Cricket, Piracy in Somalia, and will Puerto Rico Go Bust. Nobody could say that the Economist has the knack of making great radio programmes. They are way too lofty to produce a warm an entertaining conversation. Even so, The Economist’s audio is worth dipping into and you can learn something about the world here. For instance, I have just been listening to a report on unrest in Thailand due to a move to bring in an amnesty which would let past politicians off the hook for violent clamp-downs. This would have probably passed me by if I did not listen to the Economist !

The Best of Today
Snippets from the BBC’s morning breakfast show on Radio 4. Often they will pick something quirky for the podcast. I’ve just been listening to a lovely item on the use of classical rhetoric to make memorable lines in poetry, pop-songs, or political speeches.

Front Row
This is my favourite arts programme from the BBC. Brilliant interviews with leading writers, film-makers, music, artists, etc. Mostly of interest if you live in Britain, but some international figures like Woody Allen, Sandra Bullock and Paul Mccartney have made appearances recently.

Global News from the BBC World Service
I used to work for the BBC World Service, and before that I was an avid listener on Short Wave from Moscow and elsewhere in the world. Over the past 10 or more years it has declined into inane blandness. The rich mix of features, magazine programmes, news and world culture has gone. The finger of blame points at the second-rate careerists and the managerial class who have destroyed its unique sound and flavour. Somehow they think the world is interested in listening to the view from Islington. Much of it is rehashed Radio 4. However, this podcast – the best of the World News over the past 24 hours – is still half an hour well-spent keeping up with what is happening around the globe.

Other Story Podcasts
I should mention that there are other story podcasts, such as The Story Home and Sparkle Stories. They seem partly modelled on Storynory, but aimed at younger kids. We appeal to a slightly older segment and even to some grown-ups. Their style is totally different to ours. Both these other podcasts are narrated by skilled storytellers with pleasing voices who seem to do their own material – but our stories are written by me (mostly) and performed and interpreted by actors in a creative collaboration. We are more wide-ranging and challenging. It’s a very different effect.

How I subscribe

I subscribe to podcasts using the IPP Podcast App on my Google Nexus 4 phone. It’s a functional rather than a beautiful app, but it works for me better than any others I have tried. It downloads and stores mp3 files on my phone so that I can listen while I am walking the park. I have a pair of folding Sony headphones. I also love a very aesthetically pleasing app called Feedly which I use for both news feeds and podcasts, but it does not download and store podcasts locally – so I can only use it when I am in range of Wifi.

Conclusion

I’ve listed a few BBC Podcasts, but the independents are worthy to rank alongside them showing that podcasting does not need a big budget or state funding to be good.

Podcasting (like the BBC’s Radio 4, and the World Service when it was in its heyday) is quite high-brow and attracts a classy kind of demographic. All the above shows are stimulating and sophisticated and a good use of your time.

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