55 minus 03: Ten podcasts I’ll listen to every episode of

Posted: 14 August 2019 in 55 minus
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OK, on the past few weeks, I’ve written about stuff I like re-reading or rewatching, about individual episodes of tv shows, individual comic book issues, and pilots, and two on old movies ,then one on old-ish movies, I’ll happily rewatch.

But given how much audio I listen to, it’s kind of surprising to me that I’d not mentioned that at any point… No, not albums; I rarely listen to a whole album. Very occasionally, but only very occasionally.

I mentioned last week the podcasts I’ll repeatedly listen to; in effect, I treat them like audiobooks.

But there are also podcasts that release new episodes on a regular basis, and I’ll listen to them when released. Not every episode, maybe, but most of them. Many of them are episodes of radio shows from the BBC, and many of them are from radio 4, my natural radio home for as long as I can recell.

As I said last week, the BBC for the longest time insisted on calling such releases ‘downloads’, which makes kind of makes sense since their podcasts are usually downloadable versions of radio shows that have been previously broadcast on the network.

So here are some podcasts that I listen to whenever they release a episode.


MSNBC evening podcasts.

A while back, MSNBC started releasing podcasts of their shows. I don’t listen to every episode of every show, but it’s rare that I don’t listen to a couple of them every day.

I regard the entire slate as excellent listening to get a feel for what’s going on in US politics. Chris Matthews is more aggresive as an interviewer and a presenter; Chris Hayes and Rachel Maddow are both policy wonks and it shows; they’ll break down a policy step by step. And Lawrence O’Donnell is fantastic about analysis of what stuff means. But all are excellent at communicating the important issues, with humour and style and knowledge. I don’t always agree with their stances – only very rarely with Maddow, to be fair – but I’ll take knowledge and depth over always agreeing every bloody time.

They usually have guests for an interview or two, or a panel of guests. Again, almost always good… except when they have people on who’re running for office. (I’m not sure what happens to great presenters when they have people running for office on the show. They… lose something, and when it’s someone they obviously like, the interviews can be less than good.)

But all four shows are great.




The Westminster Hour

The one radio show, or podcast, that I regard as truly essential to understand, appreciate and ‘get’ British politics. Presented with superb skill and depth by Carolyn Quinn, it’s 45 minutes of news, updates forecasts and explanations of what the hell has been happening in the past week, and what’s likely to happen in the week to come. Rarely does the show have front bench spokespeople for the parties, but there’s always an MP from the main parties, and often MPs from other parties as well. You get a feel for what the parties think without having to swallow the usual pre-packaged bullshit the official representatives of the parties spout. And it may be merely my own view, but I think you get a bit more honesty as well. There’s never been an episode when it’s been a waste of time listening, and more often than not I come away with a deeper appreciation of this thing or that political topic. There’s also a magazine element, where they’ll look back at history of Parliament, or of British politics. Superb from start to finish.

Piennaar’s Politics

Also a great show on British politics, this 45 minute show is far more of the ‘official spokesman’ type where front bench politicians put, and defend, the party’s official position. But worth it nonetheless for John Pienaar’s skillful demolition of that position. Pienaar gets away, week after week, with inviting politicians on, convincing them that it’ll be a cosy chat, and it’s only afterwards they realise just how much he took them apart. But he’s reasonable – play fair with him, he’ll play fair with you. Sadly, as the show demonstrates on a weekly basis, too many appear thinking – due to his manner – that Pienaar is an easy touch and that they can bullshit. They cant, and he usually shows them why not. Super research on his part often shows where politicians have reversed positions (or their parties have). If there’s any cautionary caveat, it’s that Pienaar appears to value determination on sticking to a position, despite the obvious flaws in that position, as something worthy. But always worth listening to.


More Or Less – behind the Statistics

I like numbers. I’ve always felt comfortable with them. As a concept as for what you can use them for, and how you can use them. I detest their misuse. And if any or all of the forgoing applies to you, you’re going to love More Of Less. Two versions (one for Radio 4, 28 minutes; the world service version is only 9 minutes.) Both are excellent and are often of the “we saw this statistic reported in the news: ‘82% of people named John have poor eyesight; here’s why that’s nonsense'” type. OK, that’s a trivial thing but what about “82 families own as much as ½ the population of the planet” or “a million people visited food banks in the past quarter”… More or Less takes a look at the numbers that surround us, the numbers which are reported, and checks out whether they’re accurate, if they’ve been reported accurately, or – sometimes – whether they’re just utter bullshit, because they’ve been misinterpreted, or the methodology is bullshit, or whether they’re accurate, but meaningless. Tim Harford usually presents – the fella who does the 50 Things That Made The Modern Economy I mentioned last week. Always excellent, always engaging, never boring. Seriously, the show is fun, in a way most people don’t believe numbers can be. Let them prove those nay-sayers wrong. 92% of people agree with me. (They don’t.)

Citizens of Nowhere

There are plenty of podcasts out there where a couple of comedians just chat about… stuff. Important stuff, maybe, but stuff nonetheless. And usually it’s something to do with comedy. To my mind, none of them do it with the cleverness, experience, smarts and just sheer anecdotal ability of Nick Doody and Carey Marx. Whether it’s antisemitism, or the Edinburgh Fringe, or comedy tropes, or whether it’s ‘funny’ to throw stuff at people, whether it’s justified protest or violence… they always make you think, and that they’re funny as hell as well only helps.

Partly Political Podcast

In no way a direct contrast to Citizens of Nowhere, this hour long podcast from comedian Tiernan Douieb concentrates on the comedy. Not a line he’d use to describe the show, but I’m reminded of the line once said about Weekending… takes a long hard look at the weeks news.. and pisses on it from a huge height. Tiernan is very funny, writes scathingly funny material about current affairs, and usually interviews someone – with various audio qualities, it has to be admitted – who knows a lot about… something. Whether it’s the junior doctors’ dispute with the Health Department, or refugees or international trade, the Northern Ireland abortion debate or more esoteric subjects like attack journalism and the specifics of foreign aid. The interviews are always clever and fun, and the ‘what’s happened this week?’ introductions are clever, funny, silly and biting.

Political Thinking

I’d never really thought of Robinson as an interviewer. He’s a great politics explainer and was a good political editor for the BBC, but he’s really very good as an interviewer of politicians and political figures, getting them to reveal a lot about their backgrounds, politics, their history and their outlook. You may not like everyone he interviews, but you can”t help but be fascinated by them and especially when Robinson gets them to acknowledge that they were wrong about something in the past. Not perfect interviews by any means, but most of them are very, very good,

Now three short ones, all from Radio 4, all bite-size chungs, perfect for a ten or fifteen minute walk to or from the shops. or


Inheritance Tracks

Simple thing: pick a song you’ve inherited from your parents and one you’d choose to pass on to your kids, or the next generation, anyway. And talk a bit about both songs and about why you inherited this one and pass on that one. The editing is superb, as you never hear the questions, just the answers, and so it’s entirely personal, the person talking to a nebulous ‘audience’, but it never feels like a performance. It sounds more like you’re listening to the middle of a chat between friends who’ve known each other for decades. There are hundreds of personalities and celebes who’ve taken part… and it’s just lovely radio.

A Point Of View

This took over the Letter from America slot after Cooke died and it’s basically half a dozen ‘thinkers’ – journalists, writers, philosophers, academics – in turn, one per week, taking about 12 minutes to set out a case for something, and giving their thoughts on the matter. Some of them, I’ll admit, I see who’s doing it, and skip that week, but several people who do it are flat out excellent. Will Self is superb at the job, talking about everything from walking, to euthanasia, to addressing the lies told by politicians. The occasional piece from US academics take the show from very good, to excellent, especially when they comment on British politics.


Exactly what it says on the tin. This is a quick 15 minute profile of someone in the news. Usually, with the odd comment from someone, or several someones, who’ve known them for years, attempting to explain how the person in the news got to be the person they are. Whether it’s a leading politician, someone who heads up one of the world’s biggest companies, or just a celebrity in the news. Great fun, clever writing and you do learn stuff about people you didn’t know before.

The penultimate post tomorrow. And, unless plans change, a biggie.

This post is part of a series of blog entries, counting down to my fifty-fifth birthday on 17th August 2019. You can see the other posts in the run by clicking here.

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