I love to read; this is no secret. But finding time to luxuriate over lengthy chapters is not always easy. I spend a lot of time in the car, for example, driving to work, waiting to pick up kids, cruising around 4 different Kmarts looking for the last Lego advent calendar as displayed in the recent catalogue… you see what I mean. So how does a busy working mum (cringe) stay on top of her brainfood diet? Podcasts!
Podcasts are the perfect summer entertainment option, and they’re booming thanks to our love of on-demand listening, and the busy lives that keep us on the move so much during the day. They are a fantastic way to enjoy news, views and interviews, or simply a good laugh, without being glued to a screen. Walking the dog? Day at the beach? Head to iTunes (or your relevant store of choice) and you’ll find loads to choose from: comedy, true crime, current affairs, weird and wonderful, kid-friendly…the list goes on.
Here are my 10 current favourites – 2 for the kids, and the other 8 to be enjoyed on your headphones, away from little ears! Take note and enjoy some smart, sassy, informative listening over the summer.
Smart, sassy podcasts for summer
British comedian and writer Baddiel takes on topics submitted by listeners via Twitter. His aim is to identify concepts many of us kind-of-half-understand and hunt down some straightforward expert opinions. The show is on hiatus right now, but back episodes include the International Monetary Fund, Bit Coin, Fracking and Pi. Tune in for bite-sized 15 minute snapshots, then walk away with renewed water cooler confidence.
Originally an online magazine, the Standard Issue is the brainchild of comedian Sarah Millican, who identified a gap in the market for women who wanted light but informative reading, without the endless ads for perfume. Now a podcast, this remains a magazine-style product ‘for all women’, with news segments and interviews covering the arts, politics, science, sport and beyond. It’s bawdy and bold, sensitive and hilarious, all at once – with no body shaming fashion spreads.
This one is also on a production break while the cast is touring, but the back episodes are available. TV’s favourite physicist, Professor Brian Cox, leads a panel of guests, usually including a mix of world-renowned thinkers and random comedians, through a light-hearted look at serious science. Each episode is based on a theme, from astrophysics to virtual reality and back. The science is genuinely informative, but the comedy premise makes it a whole lot more digestible.
Richard Fidler is one of the best radio interviewers around, with a unique ability to guide his guests without intruding upon their stories. His series for ABC radio makes a smooth transition to podcast format, with hour long single-subject discussions. The people he meets are from every walk of life, and all have an astounding story to tell. From authors, actors and newsmakers to ‘everyday people’ with extraordinary lives, Fidler invites his guests into relaxed conversations that plumb the depths of the human experience.
For some lighter listening, try this radio play series – recorded live on stage as part of the Melbourne Fringe. Written and performed by Tony Martin (of Martin & Molloy fame) and an all-star team, this is the tale of a childless-by-choice couple navigating life in a community of breeders. Anyone who’s bored to tears by their friends’ endless chatter about schools and weekend sport, or who’s sick of gingerly negotiating a path between prams at their favourite café will relate. But even if you’re a parent, there are plenty of laughs here. Let’s face it, being a grown up – childless or not – is ridiculous, and the gags here about office politics, popular culture, and the foodie revolution are a treasure trove of middle class first world problems that will resonate with plenty. Importantly, too, it asks us to think twice about the way we judge others’ lifestyles.
The Minefield is another ABC radio program delivered in podcast format. The pod includes an extra 10 minutes or so beyond what you hear on the wireless, so it’s worth a listen if a particular topic or interviewee has grabbed your attention. Hosted by Waleed Aly and Scott Stephens, with a range of expert guests, this is a blend of heavy duty philosophy and pop culture. The ‘minefield’ refers to navigating the dilemmas of modern life – ethics, moral positions, and all the ‘isms’. If you are someone who wants to do the right thing, but isn’t always sure what the ‘right’ thing is, this may be the podcast for you.
In a similar vein, the Guilty Feminist is for listeners who are committed to equality, but don’t always get it ‘right’. What is feminism anyway? What are the rules? Host Deborah Frances-White is a comedian and public speaker with a fierce social conscience. What I enjoy most about Deborah is that she is always curious, respectful and open to correction – she doesn’t have all the answers, but who does? This is a no holds barred, no judgement, questioning of anything and everything to do with being a woman in our very complex society.
If your choice of ‘entertainment’ is more on the gruesome side, Australian True Crime is the summer podcast fix you’ve been looking for. Hosted by comedian and tv presenter Meshel Laurie and crime writer/researcher Emily Webb, this pod looks at ‘how people become killers, how people become victims, and what happens in between’. Interviewees range from journalists to former detectives, families of victims and criminals themselves, all of whom share new perspectives that go behind the headlines of some of our country’s most harrowing crimes.
And here are two podcasts designed for kids, but just as interesting for the whole family. Pop these on in the car for your next road trip!
This is a monthly podcast that’s ‘serious about being curious’. 15 minute episodes cover interesting facts about science in an engaging way, including all the things kids love most, like animals, the body, and technology. Produced in the US, for Minnesota Public Radio, it does a great job of including topics relevant to kids all around the world – with 6-12 years as the target age group. Each episode ends with an ‘honour roll’ mentioning the names of kids who’ve submitted questions or simply put their hands up as fans. My Miss 10 was pretty thrilled to hear her personal shout out just recently!
The New York Times recently reported that the podcast is the ‘new bedtime story’. I don’t think they need be mutually exclusive, but in my house podcasts (along with ebooks and so on) are certainly used in this way some evenings – and why not? Especially if you’re choosing smart, engaging topics that give kids something amazing to think about as they drift off. Wow In The World is born out of the American public radio system – similarly to Brains On. Its subjects and delivery style are a little broader, making it more appealing to older kids and adults as well as younger listeners. The topics here go beyond science, towards anything that makes you go ‘wow!’ – true stories, new inventions, and interesting facts (which my kids, and probably most kids, just love to share around!) Adults might recognise writer/host Guy Raz from his How I Built This pod about innovation and entrepreneurs. Whoops! I just hit 11…