It's summer -- that time of year when university students swear that they won't learn anything, and if they've made the mistake of signing up for spring and summer classes, they will only attend begrudgingly. If you are looking for a way to kill time this summer -- or avoid homework -- podcasting may be the best way to do it. The rise of podcasting has mirrored that of its namesake, the iPod, and it's easy to see why. Podcasting is a means of distributing digital content in an episodic form, and its popularity has surged because of its accessibility. Unfortunately, this accessibility has been a bit of a double-edged sword. Podcasting suffers from the same problem that plague blogging -- oversaturation by droves of people with nothing particularly important or exciting to say. Enter the Gauntlet, with an introduction to some of the better podcasts out there.
This American Life
It's hard to define what exactly This American Life is. The show deals with many topics, and each episode has three different stories that approach a weekly theme in a different way. Themes are sometimes succinct, like the episode about economics and the recent financial crisis, but they can also be as broad as an episode about long shots. Â The stories are great and the episodes are well thought out and well-produced. The show is hosted by the wonderful Ira Glass with new episodes released every Sunday night.
Dan Carlin, the host of Hardcore History, reminds his listeners at the beginning of every show that he is not a historian, but rather a fan of history. It shows. Carlin covers a variety of historical topics -- from the Eastern Front in World War II, to the Punic Wars, to a series on the history of Globalization -- with enthusiasm and passion. The shows are easy to listen to and Carlin does a great job of covering both the background of the issue and the issue itself. The only downside to his approach is that you don't always know where his information is coming from and he has a tendency to sensationalize the issues. The shows don't have a specific schedule, but you can download older episodes for free once you subscribe.
Wait Wait... Don't Tell Me!
The aptly named news quiz show is a must subscribe for anyone with an interest in current events. The show is hosted by Peter Sagal and Carl Kasell and has a rotating panel of three guests. The format of the show varies, but always consists of a series of games. One of the best games is "Bluff the Listener", wherein each of the guest panelists recounts a bizarre news story to a phone-in listener, and the listener must decide which of three stories is real. The true answer is often more bizarre than the made up stories. The panelists are hilarious and the show is an easy and entertaining way to keep up with politics and current events.
Radiolab is a show both scientific and philosophical in its approach. Hosts Jad Abumrad and Robert Krulwich tackle a broad range of topics, from terrorism and fundamentalism, to the adoption of a chimp by an American scientist in the 1970s. The show is powerful. Each episode is well thought out, well-researched and well-produced, and it's easy to tell that Abumrad and Krulwich truly enjoy the work they do. The show is in its seventh season and old episodes can be downloaded for free.
The Ricky Gervais Show
Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant debuted on the radio before their brainchild, The Office, became an international hit. Their original debut was short-lived and in 1998, the two were fired. Fast-forward to 2003, when the duo paired up with producer Karl Pilkington to take another crack at the airwaves. The original format of the show featured call-ins, guests and listeners' letters, but as Gervais and Merchants discussions with Pilkington became more and more bizarre, the spot-light shifted. The trio decided to launch a podcast focused on Pilkington's inane theories about everything. Pilkington is absolutely hilarious -- often inadvertently -- and is constantly lambasted by Merchant and Gervais for the silly things he says. The trio have strange but explosive chemistry and the show is full of laughs. Though they are not publishing regularly, occasionally news episodes surface, and they already have five seasons in the bank.