Brain Food: My Top Five Podcasts (Volume 1)



I love podcasts. Unlike Netflix or YouTube, they’re completely digestible forms of learning and entertainment while you’re doing other things; and keeping your brain well-oiled makes for a more satisfying life.

The medium has experienced huge growth over the last few years, transitioning from a fairly niche practice among subject-specific enthusiasts to something mainstream journalists, magazines and bloggers are all engaging with. Brands have seized on this momentum too: think ASOS’ My Big Idea, which interviews female entrepreneurs and asks them all the great, nosey questions about how they go about their day.

If your job, like mine, involves working on detailed, fairly solitary projects for hours at a time, podcasts are perfect brain food. And even more so when you’re working remotely as a freelance and need to hear human voices (however distant) every now and then.

Here are some of my favourites:


Desert Island Discs (BBC Radio 4)

Radio 4 was the soundtrack of my A-Levels. The measured, mostly RP tones of Women’s Hour and radio dramas kept me awake as I did my art homework, right up until the Shipping Forecast closed out my evening (alright, I was deep into World Service territory by the time I’d finished).

Desert Island Discs could be seen as the granddaddy of podcasts: since 1942, personalities from all over public life have chosen eight records that they’d take to a theoretical desert island, revealing some of their meaningful life experiences along the way.

The picks can be surprising. I was tickled to see ABBA’s ‘Dancing Queen’ among current PM Theresa May’s otherwise classical selections.


Invisibilia (NPR)

NPR is the US equivalent of Radio 4 and offers a whole slew of intellectually engaging shows in its Podcast Directory.

I was introduced to Invisibilia via Luke Leighfield’s awesome ‘Ten Things’ newsletter, which linked to an episode on the relationship between our emotions and what we wear. Invisibilia explores human behaviour in a narrative storytelling format, melding research, psychology and personal experience within one totally absorbing hour.


You Must Remember This

Like You’ll be thrilled/horrified to discover all the celebrity dirt that existed before the internet aired everyone’s dirty laundry in real-time.

You Must Remember This is about Old Hollywood, that glamorous monochromatic era of cocktails before dinner, Edith Head gowns and ambitious film sets. The podcast bills itself as exploring “the secret and/or forgotten histories of Hollywood’s first century“, mining myth and factual reports to uncover the stories behind the filmmakers and performers of the time.


Digital Human (BBC Radio 4)

As a digital media professional, its easy to get wrapped up in the minutiae of the industry – the specifics of Facebook’s algorithm, the penetration of smartphone usage in world markets – without thinking about the human motivations behind our interactions with technology.

Digital Human is another narrative-style podcast, voiced by US-born, but UK-based, internet academic/geek Aleks Krotoski. Listening to her is oddly soothing. I love the show’s approach to content, cutting to the core of each digital topic with episode titles like ‘Maps’ and ‘Isolation’.

One of my favourites is ‘Nostalgia‘, which explores the paradox of using modern technology to engage with the past. In other words, weirdos like me who use their smartphone to check out 50 year old dresses on Etsy and listen to podcasts about 1930s Hollywood.


The Bowery Boys

Cities are rich storytelling territory and NYC history podcast The Bowery Boys knows all the best ones. I devoured this podcast’s archives to prep for a week in the city during 2015, learning about its birth as New Amsterdam in the 1600s up until more recent events like the Stonewall Riots.

If all these don’t quite quench your appetite, the Guardian has an excellent podcast roundup.

And drop me a line in the comments with your favourites – I’m always on the hunt for new stuff to listen to.

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