If you had told me back in 2007, when approximately 30 per cent of all my waking hours were spent trying to sync new episodes of The Bugle to my iPod Classic, that listening to podcasts would be a substantial part of my job I would not have believed you. Making a podcast was barely a job then; just listening to them could surely not result in an income.
Yet here I am, someone who is professionally obligated to listen to 6+ hours of podcasts a week. Most of that is done for the podcast recommendation newsletter The Listener, in which I write about three different episodes a day. The aim is to choose stuff that readers will not encounter otherwise — i.e. shows that aren't hosted by celebrities or Ira Glass — so I sift through an endless stream of random audio to filter out the undiscovered gems. Recent picks that I'm proud of include this Australian show about escalators, this interview about how much fishing is too much fishing, and this fifteen minute dog-based romantic comedy.
But like anyone who has successfully monetised a beloved hobby, I occasionally still yearn for the old days of doing it for nothing. When I could just listen to eighteen episodes of the same badly made podcast in a row because it was making me laugh and not worry about the impact that choice would have on my ability to get through enough new shows before my next deadline.
After over a year of listening intensely like this (Lifehacker interviewed me about my system and tech setup last year, by the way, if you're interested), I'm still constantly impressed by the seemingly infinite variety and creativity to be found in the podcasting medium. I mean, this same format and means of publication encompasses both Describing A Rock and Joe Rogan.
However, I have recently come to realise that doing what I do prizes mostly what is novel, whereas the way most people listen is by loyally tuning in again and again to the few shows that they enjoy. I'm constantly flitting between feeds, looking for the next thing that I can recommend. That means that I spend far less time doing what it was that drew me to podcasts in the first place: the habit of listening consistently to conversational shows where the hosts' particular brand of humour or world view happens to align with mine.
Since noticing that I was neglecting this quintessential aspect of podcast listening, I've been making more of an effort to carve out time for the handful of shows that currently meet the above criteria for me.
These are the podcasts that I keep up with, no matter what else is in my queue. I'm not going to include them in The Listener any time soon; perhaps they already had an episode recommended, or perhaps their appeal is just too personal for me to articulate why anyone else should try them. But I did want to share them here, in case they resonate with any of you too.
I did actually write about Election Profit Makers at the end of its first series in 2016. The three hosts — David Rees, Jon Kimball and Starlee Kine (of Mystery Show fame) — had spent all summer cheerily using a political betting site to make money from the US presidential election.
And then Donald Trump won, and their entire worldview collapsed in on them. I found it very cathartic to hear them process the result together, live. The podcast had become more and more eccentric as the campaign went on, dropping mixtapes and banning specific people from listening to the show, but in a way that just... worked for me.
It has returned for a second season for the 2020 campaign, more wary and more zany than ever. These days, it's the only American political commentary I can cope with.
I should reassure any friends or family members reading this: I am not pregnant, trying to get pregnant, or in any other way personally engaged with the content of Matt and Doree's Eggcellent Adventure, a podcast that is ostensibly just about one couple's efforts to have a child with IVF.
So why am I listening to it every week? I'm not really sure. I think it just comes down to the personalities of the hosts — I like spending time with them no matter what they're talking about. They both do other podcasts that are ostensibly more aligned with my interests, too, but it's this one that I stay up to date with.
This one isn't conversational — Hot Pipes! is just one man introducing recordings of music played on old fashioned theatre pipe organs. And I love it so much. I don't feel like I need to say any more about this one: if you know, you know.
I can't actually remember how I first came across The Receipts, but I've been listening since about episode ten and they're now somewhere over a hundred. There are a lot of shows that purport to do this kind unfiltered, unscripted talk about relationships and sex, but this is the one that works for me. It went exclusive on Spotify around episode seventy, so if you get addicted you'll have to switch over to that here.
There is explicit language in this one, just fyi for anyone who might press play with young children around.
This is the newest edition to my private podcast rotation — the show only started at the beginning of the pandemic. The hosts are a couple: Finneas O'Connell is a musician (he's Billie Eilish's brother) and Claudia Sulewski is a YouTuber. Their weekly conversations about what they've been up to and their takes on current affairs feel to me a lot like the erstwhile perception of all podcasting, because they really do just set up a microphone in their basement and talk into it for an hour and then upload.
Occasionally some aspects of their Los Angeles celebrity-adjacent lifestyle irritates me, but mostly I find them soothing to have on in the background, talking about what TV shows they have enjoyed and what their dog has done recently. I treat it like background chatter in a coffee shop and for that purpose, it is perfect.
That's it from me this week — other recommendations will return next time when I might have had more time to read stuff.
If you read this far and thought 'I want more of her', then you can get that in a few different places: the aforementioned daily podcast recommendations at The Listener, weekly podcast industry reports for Hot Pod, my own fortnightly podcast called Shedunnit and sometimes Twitter and Instagram. My book is now out in paperback, find the links to purchase a copy here.
Until next time,