I’m what you might call an OG consumer of podcasts. I first discovered the medium in around 2007 or 2008 and I was hooked almost immediately.
If you’re unfamiliar with podcasts, although they have become pretty mainstream in recent years, they are basically radio programs without the radio, often produced by everyday people, not broadcast professionals.
There are now tons of professionally produced podcasts (the name is a portmanteau of ‘iPod’ and ‘broadcast’ since at the beginning they were mostly an Apple medium), but back in the early days and up until fairly recently, they were created by people with an interest in a particular topic.
You can find podcasts on virtually anything: news, history, pop culture, politics, humour … you name it and there’s likely a podcast (or podcasts) on it.
I consider myself a humanist and a scientific skeptic, so my first podcasts were mostly related to that. Skepticality, hosted by Derek Colanduno and Swoopy, was my first. It is the official podcast of Skeptic Magazine, which is how I got interested in it in the first place.
I don’t listen to that pod anymore, but it holds a special place in my heart as the show that got me in.
I’ve listened to dozens of different shows over the years, but there are several that I’ve been listening to since I got into podcasts and a few others that I just think are worthy of sharing. So what follows is a short list of podcasts that I love.
If you listen to podcasts and think you have one I might enjoy, feel free to tip me off in the comments below.
Skeptoid is probably the second podcast I discovered and it is still one of my favourites. Hosted by Brian Dunning since 2006, these short 15-minute episodes use scientific skepticism to examine paranormal claims, cryptozoology, pop culture and urban legends. He’s tackled everything from free energy to Bigfoot to the moon hoax conspiracy.
What I love about Dunning’s work is he leads listeners through the skeptical process of testing claims using rational thinking, evidence and the scientific method. It’s as educational as it is entertaining, and it has forced me to examine some of my own beliefs through the skeptical method.
Dunning isn’t a naysayer. He approaches every topic with an open mind and examines the available evidence to arrive at the most likely conclusion. He doesn’t tell you what to think, but how to think, and I love that.
Anyone who knows me knows I love monsters. Pop culture monsters like sasquatch and Nessie, and movie monsters like King Kong, Godzilla and Gamera. Blake Smith and Dr. Karen Stollznow examine claims about real world monsters from a skeptical standpoint and use them as a springboard to talk about actual science — it’s MonsterTalk, tagline: A science show about monsters.
They have taken on every monster you’ve heard of (like Bigfoot and Nessie) and many you may not have (like my favourite, the Mongolian deathworm). I’ve been a regular listener since the podcast began in 2009.
If you like MonsterTalk, you might like Blake Smith’s other two podcasts, too: In Research of, in which Smith and Dr. Jeb Card rewatch every episode of “In Search Of…”, the 1970s TV show hosted by Leonard Nimoy (yes, Spock) and discuss how science-y each topic is handled; and The Horror Podcast, in which Smith brings on a guest to talk about an obscure horror movie.
Behind the Bastards
Behind the Bastards is a show about everything you never knew about the worst people in history -- at least that’s what the tagline claims. Behind the Bastards is hosted by journalist Robert Evans (follow him on Twitter @IWriteOK), who each week uses his considerable journalistic skill to research and write a story on a particular person. Then, he brings on a guest, usually a comedian, to react to the terrible story Evans has crafted.
Did you know Saddam Hussein wrote erotic fiction or that Hitler was partly inspired by a German writer of American cowboy stories? Evans’ work is always eye-opening, well-researched and well-written.
This is one of my favourite podcasts. There isn’t a bad episode.
Stuff To Blow Your Mind
Part of the ‘Stuff’ series of podcasts that began with Stuff You Missed In History Class (one of the first podcasts I listened to) and branched out into a whole family of podcasts, including Stuff They Don’t Want You To Know and Stuff You Should Know.
Hosts Robert Lamb and Joe McCormick look at interesting science topics and explore them from a somewhat philosophical point of view. The science of mirages, the biology of Hobbits, the history of the spoon … Lamb and McCormick are impeccable researchers and good journalists who manage to make a topic like the history of spoons engaging, informative and thought-provoking -- exactly what I’m looking for. They also do a regular series called Weird Cinema about odd, obscure movies, which is just delicious candy for those of us who like weird things (and I’m definitely one of those).
Dan Carlin’s Hardcore History
Again, this is an OG podcast that began in the aughts and continues to this day. Host Dan Carlin is a journalist and amateur historian with a particular interest in military history. Carlin doesn’t do anything halfway. When he takes on a topic, be prepared to be in for a long haul.
His six-part First World War series, Blueprint for Armageddon, has a total run time of nearly 24 hours. It’s exhaustive and thoroughly engrossing.
Topics jump around various historical periods from the ancient world to the modern day, and they often explore the extremes of the human experience. Of the many aspects of his work that I admire, one thing Carlin does better than any other history podcast out there (and I’ve listened to several) is make the human experience front and central.
In a theatre-of-the-mind style of delivery, he explores what it must have been like for the average soldier in the trenches of the western front, or for the Roman legionary at the Battle of Cannae during the Second Punic War. He puts you in the saddle with the Mongol soldiers as Genghis Khan raged across China and Central Asia.
If you’re into history, you should be into Hardcore History.
OK, so those are my favourites. As for honourable mentions, I’ll include WTF with Marc Maron (who is just a really great interviewer), Stuff They Don’t Want You to Know (about conspiracy theories), and the HP Lovecraft Literary Podcast (which explores the great weird author’s life and work, racist warts and all).
Oh, and one other. This podcast is no longer running, but it’s Canadian content (and possibly my all-time favourite) so I’m going to include it: Caustic Soda, a podcast of the gross, the weird and the obscene. It was produced from 2010 to 2016 by three guys from Vancouver, Toren Atkinson, Joe Fulgham and Kevin Leeson.
It’s really funny, often really gross and sometimes offensive, and always scientific. It’s just a great show full of bad fake accents and much mirth. I wish they would bring it back.
Mark Gentili is the community editor of Sudbury.com.