BlogOfTheMoon

Monday, 15 February 2021

Podcast Recommendations: Culture and Ideas

Podcasts are all the rage right now. I listen to a fair few, and I’ve got opinions about them. Opinions that I’m happy to share with you. You can read the first post in the series, where I talk about the SF podcasts that I’ve enjoyed here, and read on for my opinions about podcasts in the hand-wavey category of culture and ideas.

99 Percent Invisible

99 Percent Invisible (99PI to its friends) is a very difficult thing to describe. Nominally it’s a podcast about architecture and design, but their actual remit is so much wider than that suggests. Recent episodes have included stories about Santa Fe’s Pueblo Revival architecture; the history of movie novelisations; and how the US Government released almost the entirety of Enron’s emails (the episode on city flags and why they’re awful is a classic and was later turned into a TED talk). It’s always fascinating, and they’ve been going for over a decade now, with over 400 episodes in the archive, and an incredibly detailed website that expands on the stories in the podcast. Episodes are released weekly and are usually between thirty and forty minutes long. The only downside is that so much of my conversation these days starts “Ooh, I heard something really interesting on 99PI the other day…”

It’s hosted by Roman Mars, whose smooth West-coast tones are very easy on the ear, and from whom I learned to “always read the plaque”.

More or Less

More or Less is a BBC Radio 4 programme about statistics in the news and in life, presented by Tim Harford (aka the Financial Times Undercover Economist). So many of the numbers we get bombarded with in the media are either only superficially true, based on a misunderstanding, or are just outright lies. More or Less has been gallantly standing up for the truth and to improve public understanding of numbers and statistics for years now.

It’s an excellent show, usually talking about the stats that have come up in the media the week prior to broadcast, and they take listener questions too. They try and get to the original source of statistics, delving into the scientific literature and talking to the experts (experts! Remember them?). Obviously the last couple of series have been pretty focussed on Covid-19, but they occasionally still find time to talk about other things (butterfly decline in the UK in a recent episode, for example). Episodes are half an hour long.

Reasons to be Cheerful

Reasons to be Cheerful, a podcast about political ideas, completely rehabilitated Ed Miliband for me. Released from the shackles of having to be bland and media-friendly (not that that really worked for him), he’s surprisingly passionate and funny. This podcast was started in the wake of the 2015 general election and consists of him and radio presenter Geoff Lloyd discussing ideas in the political and cultural sphere and finding reasons to be cheerful. From universal basic income to improving public transport to the four day week, they cover a broad spectrum of ideas. And they do it in reasonable depth too. They interview a series of experts, and are generally happy to let them talk about their expertise, without that horrid macho interruption so common in media political interviews. They do sometimes make the usual mistake in “UK” politics of thinking UK = England, which can be a bit frustrating at times, but there’s more than enough more general conversations that make up for it.

They’ve got great chemistry together and are obviously good friends off-mic. At times, I feel I listen to it for the the banter between them as much for the ideas.

Episodes are released weekly and there’s over 175 episodes in the archive. The episodes tend to be about an hour long.

Reply All

Reply All, aside from being a function that you should think very carefully before using in your email client, is a podcast about the Internet: about the people who shaped it and how it shapes people. This is another podcast that interprets its remit broadly. They’ve featured episodes on feelings of impotence in the face of the climate emergency; trying to explain QAnon; finding out about the story behind JenniCam, (a blast from the past for Internet users of a certain age); and looking at the story behind spam recordings that sometime briefly take over American government phone numbers. It’s a fascinating insight into the underbelly of the Internet, and the feature where they explain some of the weirder memes floating around the web/social media to their boss has shown me parts of Internet culture that I wish I could unsee, but it’s really interesting from an anthropological point of view.

In tone, it’s often quite light, and the hosts mock each other mercilessly, but they’re not afraid to share their feelings and to go into quite dark places at times. There was, for example, a multi-part story where one of the producers talks to a man in prison for murder, having discovered him because he wrote a blog from the inside (on paper, that his mother took away and typed up for him).

The show is normally released fortnightly, but the schedule can sometimes be vaguer than that, and they always take some time off in the summer where they run reruns. There’s over 170 episodes (including reruns) in the archive and episodes started off at running under half an hour, although these days they’re closer to between forty minutes and an hour.


So there’s the second set of podcasts, the next set will probably fit whatever the theme the post will be about a bit better. You can find the other posts in the series below.

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