When I arrived at university I had suffered from insomnia for as long as I could remember, one night my friend who suffered a similar fate told me that she had found the ultimate cure: podcasts. My friend had recently discovered The New Yorker fiction podcast where writers for The New Yorker choose a favourite story of theirs that had been published in the paper to read out loud and discuss with The New Yorker fiction editor, Deborah Treisman. I began listening to the podcast and before I knew it, listening to the soothing sound of a writer reading such great literature put me to sleep. The solution was in a way obvious, many of us grew up with our parents reading us to sleep, and now we had computers to do the job for them.
After subscribing to the podcast in the iTunes store (for free by the way) I started receiving recommendations of similar podcasts, and now three years later my library is packed with a variety of different subscriptions. Podcasts are not only a way to relax in the evening and help you fall asleep, you can listen to them whilst cooking, walking to your classes, hiking on the coastal path, working out at the gym or even when you are taking a shower, and they exist for literally any topic or subject.
In the past radio has been restricted by schedules and geographical locations, with the arrival of podcasts all those problems were eliminated: you can now listen to American radio in Scotland, archived BBC episodes from the 1960s and even classical novels that are in the public domain, all with one click at the time of your convenience.
To survive, media forms have to adapt: television has adapted to the internet with the invention of services such as Netflix and now radio has done the same by allowing listeners to access recorded shows in their own time on their computers. The only downside of podcasts is that, like on the radio, you still have to listen to sponsorship advertisements, they are however always brief.
What started for me as a cure to insomnia has led to me discovering all these amazing free programmes, so here are the essential podcasts I highly recommend giving a go, I promise you won’t regret it:
The Moth – An evening of true storytelling by celebrities and audience members in front of a live audience, you never know what you might find here.
This American Life – A weekly programme with a theme hosted by Ira Glass, I especially recommend the contributions of humorist David Sedaris and the episode “Show Me The way.“
Serial – The first spin-off of this American life follows the true story of Adnan Syed, who was accused of murdering his high-school girlfriend but might be innocent, over a whole season.
5×15 – Five speakers, who are world leading figures in their fields give 15 minutes speeches. I highly recommend Lynn Barber and Ian McEwan’s contributions
The BBC Film Programme – BBC’s film program keeps you updated on the latest releases and interviews with stars and directors
Mark Kermode and Simon Mayo’s Film Reviews – Kermode and Mayo give their verdict on the week’s movies.
How did this get made? – Paul Scheer, Jason Mantzoukas and June Diane Raphael disentangle some of the worst movies ever made questioning how they made it into production, a must-listen to for film geeks.
Arts and Culture:
Desert Island Discs – Kirsty Young invites a celebrity to choose their favourite songs to take to a desert island whilst explaining their choices you get to hear fragments about their lives.
Open Book – Marielle Frostrup talks to authors and publishers about the best new fiction and non-fiction.
Pop Culture Happy Hour from NPR – Covers all the latest in pop culture from the return of Twin Peaks to Gillian Anderson.
Freakonomics Radio – a weekly show hosted by the Freakonomics authors which will be eye-opening and interesting to anyone regardless of their economics knowledge.
Stuff you missed in history class– The fun side of history, the older episodes are however the best ones.
TEDTalks – Here you can listen to as well as see the TED talks from TED conference TEDx events and partner events around the world.
In Our Time – Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the history of ideas.
Hard Talk – BBC World Service’s programme which features Stephen Sackur’s interviews with the world’s leading politicians, thinkers and cultural figures. It is literally hard talk as Stephen Sackur isn’t shy about pursuing his questions.
Studio 360 – A Peabody Award winning program where Kurt Andersen steers you to the must-see movies, books to read and new songs as well as interviewing a celebrity about their upcoming projects.
WTF with Marc Maron – Marc Maron, a stand-up comic, interviews celebrities about their lives from the beginning to where they are now, cutting away the b******t. An especially great episode is his interview with Robin Williams where he eerily speaks about his battle with depression and suicidal thoughts.
The New Yorker Fiction Podcast – writers read and discuss archived stories from the magazine. My only complaint with this show is that it only comes out once a month.
Selected Shorts from PRI – A collection of stories with a similar theme are read out.