Ear Candy: 5 Podcasts that Entertain and Educate

You know the feeling: You’ve been staring at your computer screen at work all day, all the good TV series are on summer recess and you’ve already watched (and re-watched, and watched again) the reruns of the crappy ones, you definitely don’t have the energy to pick up that 1000-page Russian Masterpiece that’s been staring at you for months, but you are craving something more narrative than the neighbor’s fight or the sound of your own heartbeat.

That’s where podcasts come in! Good-old-fashioned radio would probably also do the trick, but I always struggle with finding a station that has the preferred balance between talk and music, fun and content, fact and fiction. Podcasts are a lot like (audible) blogs. They allow you to find your own niche, are usually not too long, and can be listened to on demand. Like blogs, there are thousands of podcasts out there on all topics imaginable. And, also like blogs, the podcasts I enjoy most are the ones that entertain and educate at the same time. “Educate” is used in a very broad sense here, not just teaching you something, but making you think about something, making you feel something, inspiring you to do, change, or believe something. Yes, I guess I should have added a “geek” alert at the top of this posting…


You can listen/watch these podcasts at the websites, or subscribe to them for free on iTunes.

  1. This American Life. Love it or hate it. This American Life is a one-hour long radio show hosted by Ira Glass. Each week, the program chooses a theme, and brings you different kind of stories on that theme. (Yes, that’s literally from the show). Stories range from hilarious to serious, and from fact to fiction. They cover big, national headline topics, but also very personal and unconventional stories, and often present a nice alternative perspective on events and daily life (in the United States or elsewhere). My personal favorite is a story about somebody who admits he is great at misjudging greatness: somewhere in the ’90s he quit his job at an IT company when they started to develop something called “the Web.” Who wants to sit behind a computer connecting with others everyday, he thought. “Sajonara, suckers,” he scoldingly said as he walked out the door…
  2. TED talks. You will actually have to watch the screen for this, since it’s a video podcast, but most of the time it’s well worth it. TED talks are 20 minute presentations about “ideas worth spreading.” Topics vary from science and technology, to art and personal experiences. Presenters include academics, political and spiritual leaders, artist, and “regular” exceptional individuals. If you are sceptic about listening to “educational” presentations in your spare time, start out with a presentation by TED rockstar Hans Rosling, who makes analytics come to live in the funniest way possible. Or, watch one during work hours, and tell your boss it is for your professional development and the greater good of the company, as many of these talks are good examples of how to give a great presentation. Even the Harvard Business Review quotes the guys at TED.
  3.  The Moth Podcast. Ok. You’ve been educated enough for tonight, you just want to relax and be entertained. Try an episode of the Moth podcast. The Moth organizes live story-telling events throughout the United States, and records the stories told on stage. The only “rule” for these stories is that they have to be (more or less) true. It is just amazing to hear how people can morph seemingly ordinary (and sometimes extraordinary) life events into compelling, funny, moving, and entertaining stories. It inspires to look at your own life from a different perspective, to find the adventure or storyline in your own daily routine.
  4. NPR Tiny Desk Concerts. Time for some music. NPR’s Tiny Desk Concerts is just that: short concerts at the NPR office, behind a tiny desk. Entire (semi-acoustic) bands, solo artists, classic virtuosos, rockers, singers, world-musicians, they are all there. I discovered many bands/artists through this podcast, and for many of them, the Tiny Desk Concert versions of their songs remain my favorite, including Adele and Villagers.
  5. New Books in ….. Back to hard-core academic entertainment! The New Books Network records interview with authors about their recently published books in all fields of research. From New Books in Adventure, to New Books in World Music and everything in between. The interviews usually last about an hour and cover in depth the content and main argument of the book. New Books in East Asian Studies, World Music, Popular Culture, and Literature are currently in my podcast list, and if you have a broad interest (or the willingness to broaden it right now), you’ll have plenty more to choose from. Not necessarily light bedtime “reading” but really interesting if you are looking for some food for thought.

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