Podcasts To Expand Your Mind

Jeremy Lucas | Media, Podcasts
26 May 2012
Podcast Page

The Podcast Page of iTunes on my iPad

This Person Is Expanding Their Mind

In our increasingly growing, and yet strained media landscape, information is somehow becoming increasingly hard to come by in mainstream forms. With TV for instance, I can get news and commentary on political events, but it comes in 6-minute blocks of blathering mostly done by idiots.

I’m not going to be that guy that says that advertising is ruining modern society, but the reason that we only spend 6 minutes talking about a subject is because we have a bloody commercial break. When the show comes back from that commercial break, it’s expected that they got everything you needed to know out in those 6-minutes, so they can move onto another subject, which usually involves useless topics and subjects to stir pots of controversial material. Aiming to expand my horizons on this front, I’ve dived head-on into the world of Podcasts.

The Symbol for a Podcast

For those that don’t know, which is the majority of you since the highest-downloaded podcast a week only reaches about 750,000 people, a podcast is basically a radio program that people usually download from iTunes, or stream off the web. A podcast can be recorded and uploaded by anybody, can be about any topic, or any length. Most of the time, they come in audio form, but you also download NBC Nightly News, or clips from the Today Show. iTunes also allows subscriptions to these podcasts, so whenever a new episode comes out, it’ll download directly to your computer. You don’t have to turn into a radio, or turn on the TV at a certain time. It comes to you, to be consumed on your time.

A Podcasting Cat

In the 5 years since Podcasting’s true inception, it’s already helping change the media landscape and changing what’s possible. Consider this: What’s more persuasive, reading a blog on somebody’s ideas, or listening to them speak it, convincing you in a very intimate and personal environment by going straight into your ears? It’s a product of our on-demand culture, and so far, it’s being put to very good use. Now, when people see me constantly connected to my iPod, I’m usually not listening to trendy music as much as expanding my mind on a variety of different subjects.

Heck, I tried to start a podcast an even recorded a pilot episode. However, the microphone I have makes the audio quality unlistenable. So either the world dodged a bullet, or the greatest thing it’s ever seen. I’m betting on the latter.

With this blog post, I wanted to recommend some podcasts I find particularly helpful, insightful, and just plain entertaining. Hopefully I can spread some love to these shows I love so much, so you can love them too. Also, since podcasting is so integral to how I’m defining my world view nowadays, it’ll also help you figure out where I’m coming from. The AV Club already kind of does this on a weekly basis with their popular “Podmass” feature, but this is my spin, with my podcasts. So, let me recommend some podcasts to expand your mind in the field of…

Public Radio:

On Point With Tom Ashbrook: On Point is one of the many shows that Public Radio makes available in full, for free, and without commercial breaks to its listeners. I like On Point because it’s essentially an hour-long version of those 6-minute segments you find on cable news. With the Trayvon Martin episode for example, they first presented the facts in a non-biased prospective, playing the relevant audio recordings, interviewed a reporter who had been covering the case to help explain the story, bring on experts to give their opinion on what the story means, and then open up the phones to callers and work off the questions raised there. In one hour, I felt like I got everything about and the main perspectives in the incident, all in a fair and easily-digestible manner. Tom Ashbrook is a big part of the reason I like the program because he engages everything in a clear and calm manner, asking relevant and fair questions, while still keeping his guests and callers orderly, even calling them out on their logic fallacies.

Recommended Episode: George Packer: The Decade Since 9/11 (An explanation of New Yorker writer George Packer of the America we’ve become in the decade since 9/11)

TED Radio Hour: If you’ve ever heard a good TED Talk, you know what an intellectual goldmine the project is, of giving a forum to our greatest minds to speak on their greatest world-changing topics, and making it free and available to the world. This recently-launched program on NPR which is a collaboration between the two organizations integrates well into an hour of academic exploration. It gives the original talk of a speaker, but then interviews them today and has them expand, update and commentate on both their talks and their subjects. The result is an hour of learning.

Recommended Episode: The Power of Crowds (Particularly the Clay Shirky segments, which is just gold to anybody interested in the impact of social media on society)

This American Life: It’s hard to explain this program since it’s kind of a public radio story variety show that tells stories that are funny, dramatic, surprising, entertaining and most of the time, true. It’s like all the best of what you think of when you think of public radio stories in one program, all with a non-biased, pretty much a-political stance with tons of journalistic integrity and reporting. You may have heard of it for its constant use of David Sedaris, if you’re a fan of his, or for being the basis for the film, “The Informant.” More recently, you might have heard of it for its exploration into the questionable working conditions of an Apple Factory, or more likely, a retraction they did for that episode. Point is, there’s a reason why the show is perennially the most popular podcast on iTunes.

Recommended Episode: When Patents Attack! (An exploration of the Patent system and the problems it brings up in inherently discouraging Creativity)

Film & TV:

ScriptNotes: As any writer will know, you want to know about as much about your craft as possible to become a better writer. Usually, this leads to you buying books that supposedly have sage advice. Well, this podcast is that for screenwriting, except the information you’re learning about is useful, and it’s free. Hosted by a guy that writes most of Tim Burton’s recent films, and the guy that wrote The Hangover Part 2, it’s a must for any writer, and a Bible for anybody interested in the craft of screenwriting. More than that, it’s also two industry veterans talking about their industry, and imparting their wisdom on future victims. Hint: Don’t move to L.A. to pursue a screenwriting career unless you have zero attachments in life, are young and ambitious, and are willing to work hard in futility for an indeterminate time.

Recommended Episode: 20 Questions of John & Craig (Good introduction, good information all the way around)

The Motion/Captured Podcast: You know what I like when I hear somebody talking about something? Passion. And longtime movie writer, and even longer movie geek, Drew McWeeny is just that when talking about film. He approaches it as a film lover, and rarely comes down on the middle of something. He has conviction, he has opinions, and he has the film knowledge to back it up. The podcast never comes out as much as I want it to, but when it does, I never not enjoy it.

Other Recommended Film Podcasts That Are More Frequent: /Filmcast, Screen Rant Underground, Mousterpiece Cinema

Firewall & Iceberg: I’ve been a fan and looked up to Alan Sepinwall as a writer for years, since he basically changed the way people write about TV shows in both analyzing shows on a weekly, episodic basis. So this is naturally one of the podcasts I listen to literally the moment it comes out. The fact that I was the first person they took a question from on the podcast certainly doesn’t hurt either.


The Tony Kornheiser Show: Sure, that old, bald guy from ESPN may be known for his sports talk, but his personal radio program expands the topics to his entertaining personal life, to guests talking about of variety of often non-sports things, such as the political analysis of Chuck Todd and Howard Fineman, who are frankly more engaging and informative then their TV stints.

IKON Christian Community: As a Christian living in a very modern and intellectual world, I constantly struggle on reconciling the two since both worlds are very much at odds with each other. IKON, a church based out of San Francisco, and its Pastor, Aaron Monts, help me reconcile both my place in the world, the world’s place in relation to me, but also my faith’s role in all of it. I first discovered it by reading a New York Times article on the church, that described it as a “Hipster Church,” in that it’s not what you think of as a church. They attract young people, welcome the LGBT community, and embrace social media, like the podcast. With the podcast, they’re able to spread their message across the world, and allow people like me to take part, even when we’re halfway across the country. And just so you know, Monts talks to his congregation like people, more likely to tell a bad joke than ask for an “Amen” from the crowd.

Recommended Episode: Pause: Converting The Church – Confession (In which Monts takes the reputation of the modern church head-on, by suggesting we become integral to our community, rather than compartmentalizing our faith)


WTF with Marc Maron and The Nerdist: For me, the various podcasts, often of the comedy variety, that focus on interviews are only as good as their interview subjects. An interview with Jon Hamm or Craig Ferguson for instance is always insightful into both life, comedy and acting. A lesser-subject, a waste of time. WTF and Nerdist just happen to be the most consistently entertaining and interesting.

Throwing Shade: I’ve been following both Erin Gibson and Bryan Safi since their Infomania days where they mixed their stories and issues with a heavy dose of effective satire and comedy. Now that they’re in podcast form, the issues are more straight-up, and the humor more improvisational, but it’s still effective. It’s a comedic look at the current world of ladies and gays. How often do you have that prospective in your life?

Onion News Network: Every video The Onion does, delivered straight to you. It doesn’t get much better than that. Here’s an example of why I love these guys so much, and how effective they are.

Panelists Discussing GOP Debate Clearly Didn’t Watch It

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