The term “podcasting” was first invented by Guardian columnist Ben Hammersley in February 2004. But podcasts didn’t really take off in any meaningful way until years later. I only really started listening to podcasts around four or five years ago. Nowadays, they can be big business, with many podcasts attracting hundreds of thousands of listeners.
The BBC, as usual in these things, came to the party a bit late and is now seeking to dominate it. They produced some very polished shows, but to my mind the whole point of podcasts is that it doesn’t matter if they’re not perfect from a production viewpoint. The odd bit of clunkery is immaterial. And the beauty is that Ofcom can’t regulate podcasts, so radio presenters can be as opinionated as they like (although that doesn’t seem to apply to BBC personnel…) and we can even utter the odd swear word, as listeners to our ‘For the Many’ podcast will testify to.
When choosing ten podcasts to mention in this blogpost I just scrolled through my podcast subscriptions and chose the ten that I listen to most often. There are some where I’m literally gagging for the new episode to appear. But what you’ll notice is that there are very few political podcasts included here. Perhaps that’s because I have enough politics on the radio every day and I subconsciously try t seek a release from it. However, I do listen to Matt Chorley’s ‘Times Red Box’ podcast, Steve Richards’ ‘Rock ‘n’ Roll Politics’ as well as catching up on shows like the ‘Westminster Hour’, and ‘Any Questions’.
The ideal length of a podcast is something hotly debated among radio people. When we started ‘For the Many’ I kept being told the ideal length of a podcast is 20-25 minutes. Bollocks to that, I thought. Podcasts should find their own length. It doesn’t need to be the same for each episode. Jacqui Smith and I have found that 55-65 minutes allows us to go into enough detail and cover the number of subjects we want to. I’ve never had anyone complain that our podcasts are too long. The ‘Fortunately’ podcast is a case in point. It started out as 25-35 minutes but has found its natural length at 35-45 minutes.
Podcasts should also never be scripted. Spontaneity is what makes a great podcast. If you want a scripted show, go and make a Radio 4 programme. To me, this is what sorts the best from the rest in the podcast world.
iTunes, or Apple Podcasts, as we must now call them are having finally having their hegemony challenged in the podcast market. Earlier this year Google Podcasts launched to great fanfare and it will be interesting to see how much of Apple’s 60% market share they can eat into.
So, here are ten podcasts I listen to most, in no particular order…
Desert Island Dicks
The show that sees you marooned on a desert island with the worst people and the worst things imaginable’ - that’s what the PR blurb says, and it’s very accurate! It’s the antithesis of Desert Island Discs and gives the guest the opportunity to vent their spleen against the people and things they hate in life. I appeared on the podcast a few months ago, and had an absolute ball. Listen HERE. Hosted by James Deacon, it’s a very entertaining 40 or 50 minutes of entertainment and laughs.
Possibly my favourite podcast of them all, this is a weekly show from Radio 4’s Jane Garvey and Fi Glover. It started out as just a conversation between the two of them, talking about their womanly week. They then developed the format with a weekly guest, who they talk to in the BBC Piazza. Other than that there’s no structure to it and they meander all over the place and onto totally random subjects. They’re a brilliant pairing and I guarantee that if you listen to this on a train, you’ll get some very odd looks as you spontaneously burst out laughing.
Moore Than Just a Podcast
A (usually) weekly podcast made by West Ham fans for West Ham fans. Hosted (usually) by Sean Whetstone, an inveterate West Ham blogger, he’s joined by a group of friends who include arch critics of the West Ham board, Nigel Kahn. I’ve even been known to join them myself from time to time. None of them are what you’d call natural broadcasters, but any clunkery is made up for by the genuine passion they display about the way the team plays and how the club is (or isn’t) run.
A weekly roundup of what’s going on in the world of radio. This podcast has developed from a 20 minute effort into something that usually lasts around an hour. Regular features include a weekly monologue from radio futurologist James Cridland, plus David Lloyd offers a trip down memory lane with his ‘Radio Moments’. Apart from delivering the radio industry news of the week, they also have a lengthy guest interview and once a week industry veteran Trevor Dann (formerly the main presenter of the podcast) hosts a round table with three industry figures. Stuart Clarkson is the genial host, with his boss Roy Martin, the creator of the Radio Today website alongside him for the news section. Wish they’d get rid of the cringeworthy ‘geek of the week’ section, though. It’s positively Patridge-like, and not in a good way.
The Chris Moyles Show Podcast
I don’t really listen to much radio at breakfast time, mainly because I’m not up! And if I do, it’s likely to be a mix of news based shows like Today, Nick Ferrari of 5 Live Breakfast. Until he came to Radio X I’d never listened to Chris Moyles on Radio 1, but somehow I discovered his weekly podcast and became rather addicted to it. It’s around 90 minutes of not only the best bits from his daily show, but it’s also topped and tailed with an intro and ending. I like the fact that his producers and newsreader are all integral parts of the podcast and show. Pippa Taylor, Dominic Byrne, Matt Parkes-Smith and James Robinson are a brilliant foil for Chris, and there are plenty of laughs along the way. And when Moyles gets into rant mode, it’s unmissable. However, they should ditch the reverse words feature. Not funny anymore.
The Media Show
This podcast has changed a lot since the days of the legendary Steve Hewlett. It’s now more of a panel based discussion led by Amol Rajan with a much more 5 Live tone to it than Radio 4. The podcast usually contains extra material too. It’s very fleet of foot and reacts to breaking media stories and doesn’t shy away from issues which are difficult for the BBC. Rajan is also quite opinionated on the show, without always appearing to be so.
The Political Party with Matt Forde
Matt Forde started off working for the Labour Party under Tony Blair. He then tried his hand at overnight radio and latterly has developed into a very accomplished stand-up comedian. He is a superb mimic and his Boris and Trump impressions are the best I’ve heard. But this is not a comedy show, it’s a series of interviews with people from the political world. He started off by doing live theatre shows, and these have turned out to be some of the best and most revealing interviews with politicians you’ll ever hear. He’s now turned it into a weekly podcast with lengthy studio based interviews. Hugely informative and entertaining too. He never fails to get something out of his subject that you’ve never heard before.
Cloutology with Max Foster
Max hosts CNNTalk, which I appear on three days a week at noon on CNN International. His podcast has grown out of his book and it looks at how people become successful. It’s still in its infancy but it’s already got me hooked after only two episodes. He reckons having ‘clout’ is the key to anyone’s success and seeks to define what the word actually means.
I don’t really listen to many Radio 4 programmes, but I do listen to the podcast of Feedback, mainly because I find it so unintentionally hilarious. The BBC loves nothing better to beat itself up about its own activities, and Feedback is only too happy to help. Essentially, it’s mainly about Radio 4 programmes, although they sometimes make an effort to widen their coverage. The presenter Roger Bolton is a BBC veteran and doesn’t pull his punches, while, of course, remaining strictly impartial. Natch. Some of the pre-vetted calls from listeners are exactly the sort of calls Not the Nine O’Clock News used to rip the piss out of when they were satirising Barry Tuck’s ‘Points of View’. And they’re all of a type. Upper middle class Radio 4 listeners from Midsomer.
Presented by former New Labour advisor turned PR guru Paul Blanchard this podcast is one of my favourites. Each fortnight he interviews a leading media figure about their careers and how they got to where they are. He’s got a real knack of getting things out of people, and the one to one lengthy format allows him to do that. His guests range from very famous media legends like John Humphrys, Jeremy Vine and Alan Rusbridger to the people who run media companies that you’ve probably never heard of. To my mind there are too many of the latter, nowadays. But even when I listen to an episode I don’t think I’ll be interested in, I am often surprised. You can listen to his interview with me HERE.
And forgive me for plugging the three podcasts I present or co-present. All weekly, and all available for your delectation on Apple or Google Podcasts…
For the Many
Every weekend Jacqui Smith sit down in our respective houses, power up our laptops and record an hour of political banter via the delights of IPDTL technology. As the podcast goes on we tend to degenerate a little into laughs and filth. Sometimes too much… The podcast is normally uploaded on a Sunday evening in time for the Monday morning commute.
Each Wednesday evening at 8pm on LBC I host a new political debate show, ‘CROSS QUESTION’. Our panel usually consists of two politicians and two commentators, with questions coming from LBC listeners. The podcast is usually uploaded by midnight that day.
Iain Dale’s Book Club
Another weekly podcast, but unlike CROSS QUESTION this doesn’t go out on air on LBC. It’s a Global Original podcast. It does what it says on the tin, and showcases the best new books and authors. I don’t just concentrate on political authors - we have June, Giles and Mary from Gogglebox on, for example! The podcast is usually released on a Friday but there will also be lots of midweek bonus episodes, some from the LBC archives.