Enough with the Ted Talks and Gary Vaynerchuk.
As freelancers, what we talk about when we talk about podcasts tends to be the same dull business interview, ostensibly commentating on current affairs but completely detached from contemporary culture and wider issues.
In reality, there is so much more out there that can keep us up to date and, perhaps more importantly, keep us entertained. With this in mind, here are 10 of the best non-work-related podcasts from 2018.
Poets Rachael Allen and Jack Underwood present this fantastic introduction to contemporary poetry.
Each episode features two guest poets in the studio who read and discuss their work, alongside a number of ‘poetry postcards’ – pre-recorded readings from the likes of Ocean Vuong and Jennifer L Knox.
Start off with episode one, featuring Emily Berry and Momtaza Mehri (19 April 2018).
Another literary choice, this podcast is perfect for anyone wanting to fit more fiction around their busy schedule.
Not only are the weekly stories enjoyable, but they are also some of the most interesting contributions to the form by some of the finest contemporary writers.
‘The Minutes’ by Nell Stevens (21 September 2018) is particularly good, with a great interview at the end. But avoid Will Self’s ‘A Figure of Speech’ (16 November 2018) for as long as you can.
New York Times culture writers Wesley Morris and Jenna Wortham unpack everything from cinema to technology to barbecue season in this weekly show. Their focus is on the US, but that shouldn’t stop us listening from the UK or elsewhere (after all, America is hardly a wallflower).
Whilst they’ve been on a hiatus since August, highlights from this year are ‘We Spy Two BlacKkKlansmen – and One is Omarosa’ (23 August 2018) and ‘We Watch Whiteness’ (26 April 2018).
Host Deborah Frances-White has appeared on the BBC’s Mock the Week and more recently Have I Got News For You? but is better known for this live-recorded comedy podcast.
Frances-White and her guests are hugely prolific, with episodes released at least once a week.
Themes vary from current political situations such as ‘Brexit’ (29 October 2018) and ‘The Windrush Generation’ (22 October 2018) to issues such as ‘Money’ (5 November 2018) and ‘Active Compassion’ (10 December 2018).
Guests range as widely as comedian Hari Kondabolu, actress Jessica Hynes, and Labour MP Tulip Siddiq.
It must be a comfortable rock you’re living under if you don’t know Jonathan Van Ness. But despite the popularity of this year’s Queer Eye reboot, Van Ness has been presenting Getting Curious since the end of 2015.
Sitting down each week to interview an academic or celebrity on such matters as bees, Brexit, and Beyoncé, Van Ness is the ideal podcast presenter: always pushing his academic guests into giving concise, boiled-down answers. This would obviously be unsuitable in other forms, but it works perfectly here.
Highlights include ‘Has Britain Screwed Itself with Brexit?’ (25 April 2018) and ‘Who Was the Beyoncé of Renaissance Art?’ (16 May 2018).
Claudia Hammond’s weekly discussion of neuroscience and mental health has been running since 2010 but remains current with its focus on recent news and research.
Episodes cover a number of topics relating to the mind, from memory to ecstasy and sleep hygiene to self-driving cars.
A good place to start is ‘Self-care, Schadenfreude, How maths ability might relate to ball-catching skills’ (4 December 2018) – the first segment in particular demonstrates this show’s combination of academic science with the real-life experience of mental health problems.
Once a fortnight, writer and broadcaster Helen Zaltzman considers various aspects of language, from linguistic quirks to minority languages in decline.
Highlights include ‘Oot in the Open’ (21 May 2018) on the origins and politics of the Scots language, and ‘A Novel Remedy’ (13 August 2018), which looks at the recuperative benefits of reading fiction.
The only drawback is Zaltzman’s nearly two minutes of advertising pre-amble at the beginning of each episode, with almost four at the end. But skip ahead and enjoy.
Everyone knows the Today programme, but BBC Radio Four’s Beyond Today is the best weekday news podcast.
Its focus is on ‘one big question about one big story,’ and despite being a news podcast these questions are on such wide-spanning political and social issues that the back catalogue still makes for good listening.
Just twenty minutes long, each episode is informative enough to supply you with ample conversation for the water cooler or dinner table.
Especially interesting is ‘What’s wrong with designer babies?’ (29 November 2018), but start with the most recent episode.
Each week host Roman Mars discusses the design of our world from grand architecture to push signs on doors.
Especially noteworthy episodes are ‘Thermal Delight’ (17 January 2018) about air conditioning and ‘The Accidental Room’ (12 December 2018) about a hidden apartment inside a shopping mall in Rhode Island.
Unfortunately, like The Allusionist, this is a Radiotopia show and Mars is another advertiser: over three minutes’ identical advertising at the beginning of each episode, and nearly two at the end. Mars’s patronising attempt at guilt-tripping listeners into donations is incredibly irritating by the fifth or sixth time, but the show itself is remarkable.
Last, but certainly not least. BBC Radio Four have been churning-out ‘In Our Time’ since 1998, but after 800 episodes it’s still one of the best ways to learn about our modern world.
Each week Melvyn Bragg sits down with three academics to discuss a specific topic, be it historical, cultural, or scientific.
Whilst the guests are academics, the discussion is far from challenging: Bragg makes a conscious effort to keep things as straightforward as possible.
Episodes are now accompanied by short reading lists on their website, but these aren’t necessary.
The summer repeat of ‘Circadian Rhythms’ (16 August 2018) is particularly relevant to freelancers.