Figuring Out Podcasts

The path to podcasts, for me, began when I wanted something to occupy my brain while gardening. My brother had a big portable old school radio, and I’d listen to NPR. Back before Trump, on the weekends, NPR would be fairly apolitical, or at least no worse than a typical neighbor in my area.

But then Trump happened, and NPR just got unbearable. Before that point, I’d occasionally listen to bloggingheads interviews while working after school, and it occurred to me that I could just hook up my laptop to some old speakers. That worked so well I ran out of bloggingheads interviews before summer gardening ended.

Before the pandemic, I would sit in Starbucks or other coffee shops and write, but Twitter and other reading attractions were distracting. I suddenly realized that my phone came with a headset and that the headset worked on my laptop. So I plugged them into my laptop and listened to songs on youtube. Usually albums, so I didn’t have to change. No, I don’t have spotify or pandora or even pay youtube. Just whatever I could find: old albums (writing to the Carpenters Greatest Hits is very productive. Don’t @ me),  classical music, anything that would distract me just enough to focus on writing rather than flipping around websites. Somewhere in the last few years I started transferring pictures from phone to laptop via Bluetooth and realized that my rental cars on roadtrips also had Bluetooth which might be useful during the many hours when I was out of radio station range and Sirius had nothing to offer. Believe it or not, I used my laptop in my car to listen to podcasts I’d downloaded for about a year then suddenly, Rich Lowry’s regular reminder “it’s easier for you and better for us” to listen to the podcasts from a service finally sunk in as relevant information.  For the past….six months? year? not sure, I’ve been using Stitcher with inexpensive wireless earphones in rental cars, on walks. My own car was destroyed by a massive bus (sob) and when I get around to buying another it will support my podcast habit. I’m still pretty cheap. Not a big electronics person. And speak to me not of Apple.

Anyway, I’ll share my favorites and occasionals, and if anyone notices a pattern and has other suggestions, let me know.

Top Two:

Mickey Kaus and Bob Wright: These two invented bloggingheads, but then Mickey dropped out because his decision-making process unerringly directs him to choices guaranteeing the least visibility. I was delighted when the two decided to do a regular weekly show to discuss the pandemic. Guys, please don’t give it up. You can tell Mickey is worried that he’s made a choice that might be successful, as he constantly protests a commitment to anything long term. These guys are great. I love the lack of focus, the interruptions, the dispassionate assessment, and their obvious affection for each other.

The Glenn Show: Glenn Loury is a genius, a marvellous interviewer, and a guy who, like Mickey and Bob, should have a much higher visibility in today’s discourse. I’ve written about two episodes before. Eclectic, fearless, and ruthlessly analytical. Always worth listening to, particularly the “black guys at bloggingheads” series with John McWhorter. Other favorites are Amy Wax and Robert Cherry.

After these two clear favorites, it’s categories:

 Weekly or daily roundups

Ricochet Podcast: Rob Long, Peter Robinson, James Lileks. This was one of the first podcasts I began listening to in the garden. It’s very funny, very wry, and a nice mix of geography, political opinions, and personality. Peter Robinson sounds like ChooChoo on Top Cat and boy, does that make me sound old. They’re all interesting, but while Peter Robinson is by trade an interviewer, Rob Long, who began life as a comedy writer, is a pretty thoughtful analyst. Lileks is an op-ed guy.  They alternate between interviews and conversations; I generally prefer the conversations. I wrote about a particular podcast.

NRO’s The Editors: Rich Lowry and Charlie Cooke, with Jim Geraghty and Michael Brendan Dougherty alternating. I actually liked this podcast better when Luke Thompson was a regular, but I’m figuring he was terminated for boldly predicting that Joe Biden was a corpse knocking against the side of the boat.  Never showy or terribly memorable, it still always keeps me interested. I also confess a fondness for Rich Lowry, who would gun Sonny down on the causeway in a minute, because it’s just business. Dude’s a shark.

Commentary: John Podhoretz, Noah Rothman, Abe Greenwald, Christine Rosen. In their recent 500th episode, John Podhoretz mentioned that the Commentary editors moved to a daily podcast when the pandemic began, and that their listening audience tripled. Bingo. I had listened to them occasionally before, but when I walked a couple miles each day to get coffee, Commentary kept me from running out of podcasts.

It’s a very New York City sounding group. Hmm. I would like to be clear I’m not using “New York City” as a proxy for “Jewish”.  I mean that even though one lives in New Jersey and another in DC, the conversation has an extremely New York City sensibility. Like, when they are discussing the riots, they all talk about their neighbors and how they banded together, and I’m like who knows their neighbors?   They all seem to live in apartments. And so on. Maybe people do that in Chicago, too.

Reason Round Table: The libertarian politics are rarely front and center, while deep skepticism for political and media figures is. I like everything except the entertainment recommendations in the last 10 minutes.

GLOP: Jonah Goldberg, Rob Long, John Podhoretz. I used to like this a lot better than I do now. But at its best, it’s a fantastic pop culture show, and Rob Long’s insights into the entertainment industry are excellent (like why Burt Reynolds couldn’t get hired).  They’ve gone down to a show every two weeks; that and Jonah’s occasional Trump rants have dropped it down a notch. Still, I listen faithfully.

London Calling: James Delingpole, Toby Young. I don’t listen to this all the time because the issues just go right by me. But these two are hilarious. They used to do a podcast on Game of Thrones and their ignorance was a treatBack in February, Toby Young did a story about an 8 hour trip to the emergency room and a Chinese-loooking man who said he had corona virus, the memory of which still makes me chortle. I need to remember to listen to them more.

Mad Dogs and Englishmen: Kevin Williamson and Charles Cooke. I can’t stand Williamson. He’s arrogant, hates America, and has very little interesting to say. But for some reason the podcast passes the time adequately, possibly because neither of them live in New York or Washington DC.

Dropped: Left, Right, Center when Bruenig left. The new leftist is horrible. I Tell You What, with Dana Perino and Chris Stirewalt dropped off my list, more for Chris Stirewalt, also way left and really annoying.  I like Bret Baier’s show, but it’s too short.

Never considered: The Bulwark, Beg to Differ, any of a large variety of really smug Never Trump shows.

Interview shows. In general, I choose interview shows for the subject, not the interviewer. But these folks all choose interesting subjects. Note–the best interview show I’ve already mentioned, in the #2 overall slot above.

The Remnant: I gripe about Jonah Goldberg but it’s worth remembering I’ve been listening or reading him for 20 years. He’s a guy who really valued his relationship with his audience, and the Trump rise shattered that relationship, and the audience. He’s never really recovered psychologically from that blow, and he blames Trump and his followers. Fortunately, he had a lot more going on, so all that happens is periodically he breaks into a rant about Trump or his followers or what they say to him and it’s really boring. The rest of the time, he’s still Jonah and keeps interviews moving and fascinating. He tends only to choose people he agrees with, and knows real well, so it sounds like old home week.

The Reason Interview with Nick Gillespie: For some reason his stuff doesn’t show up in my feed, and I have to remember to go find him. Very good interviewer, keeps conversations interesting and funny.

Conversations with Bill Kristol: Another Never Trumper I despise who nonetheless puts together a decent interview show, provided you can keep him away from Trump. (In other words, the Mike Murphy spots are unbearable.) Also, his website of all the interviews is unintentionally hilarious: Hi! Are you a white guy expert over 60? Boy, is this the place for you! The Christopher Caldwell talks are excellent, and the interview with John Podhoretz on the movie industry is one I listen to about once a year.

The Dispatch:  Steve Hayes interviews only. Understand, the Dispatch podcast roundtable with Hayes, Sarah Isgur, Jonah Goldberg, and David French is not on my list at all. It’s basically ok until Jonah starts going down the Trump rabbit hole, and horrible whenever French opens his mouth. Disclosure: I loathe French.  And I hate his voice.

However. Steve Hayes does a very nice interview, and Sarah Isgur isn’t bad. So whenever it’s an interview with just them, it’s worth a listen.  The interview with two young conservative Dispatch staffers was so good I almost subscribed, but then David French was an asshole on Twitter, and the impulse evaporated.

Analyst Shows:

I used to like political analysis more than I do now, as most of them have gone way left. Amy Walter is intolerable. Five thirty eight is far too woke for me anymore, although I still have it on my feed.

I still give Josh Kraushaar a listen, depending on his guests. The Sean Trende discussion was fantastic–and speaking of guys who should have podcasts, Sean?  Henry Olsen, one of the few Trump friendly analysts, does a good interview even though his voice grates on me. I also like his ad analysis.


Here’s something ironic: Almost every show I listen to has a moment or three, sometimes each week, in which someone takes a dump all over teachers. And if you point that out to them, they say exactly the same thing: We don’t dump on teachers! We dump on teachers’ unions! Please. In the Thomas Sowell interview, Rob Long called schools “sclerotic”.  John Podhoretz routinely says “in those horrible awful teacher union public schools”. Kevin Williamson routinely writes broadsidesagainst the profession. mentioning teachers four times and cops once. They all want to “fire bad teachers”.  Newsflash: if you say teachers unions are responsible for America’s low scores, you’re attacking teachers, not unions. And America doesn’t have low scores, which you’d all know if you knew better.

Whenever I point this out, people think I’m bitching or whining and I’m not. It’s just that my god, conservatives and Republicans and libertarians, get up to speed.  The 90s called and they want their education policy back. Republicans who aren’t directly involved in public school policy have absolutely no idea what’s been happening, and have no idea how to successful promote an education policy that hasn’t already failed miserably.

Just one example: Thomas Sowell wrote a book celebrating Success Academy and charter schools that was just flatly a bunch of bullshit, and was interviewedon Ricochet. Lileks, Long, and Robinson were all gaga with praise and astonishment. None of them mentioned Robert Pondiscio’s book–probably because they have no idea it exists. Not a single conservative in education policy would ever be so idiotic as to brag about Success Academy. They know how SA achieves the numbers. They know it’s all a lie. The only thing they debate about is whether or not the lie can be rationalized or not. But none of this came up. Complexity, something they enjoy in other topics, vanishes entirely when conservatives start talking education.

Notice, too, that there are no education podcasts on my feed. Reformers are too irritating, progressives are too progressives. I do occasionally listen to Nat Malkus, who is at least an honest broker. Conservatives listed above would do well to listen to him, particularly The Shifting Politics of Charter Schooling and Success Academy Charter Schools with Robert Pondiscio.


So I just thought I’d toss this together, in my “write more” phase, and ask for recommendations. Specifically:

  • a good left of center podcast that won’t annoy me. I just heard Jesse Singal had one, so will check that out.
  • another culture podcast that discusses movies, ideally not just new ones.
  • a good comedy podcast. I tried Conan’s, couldn’t get into it. I like Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee, if that helps.
  • Other good shows in the categories above.

Also, is it possible to review shows in Stitcher? I am a very popular reviewer, Yelp assures me.


About educationrealist

25 responses to “Figuring Out Podcasts

  • Mitch Robb

    Left of center- Matt Tiabbi and Katie Halper do a podcast & video show released under Rolling Stone’s banner.
    Matt and Elizabeth Bruenig do a good show and release the odd one for free.
    The ‘Poz Button’ is great for discussion of movies and their cultural significance.

  • Karl Narveson

    Bret Weinstein’s Dark Horse podcast is a new favorite of mine. He is left of center, or so he insists, although he is insufficiently woke for the current year. He has interviewed John McWhorter.

  • Karl Narveson

    An outfit called Pushkin Industries helps various popular writers do in-depth documentaries with high production quality. Their podcasts include :
    Against the Rules by Michael Lewis,
    Revisionist History by Malcolm Gladwell,
    Cautionary Tales by Tim Harford.

  • Array

    Have you thought about history podcasts? They’re what I spend most of time listening too, current events change every week and you can spend 20 hours listening to news, then 90% of it’s outdated in a month. But 2000 year old Roman politics are pretty rarely updated.
    In any case, my recommendation to people who have at least a semi-decent history background is Revolutions, it covers many European and New World revolutions from the English Civil War in the 1600s up to the Russian Revolution in 1917(currently forthcoming). My favourite things about it is that 1. they’re independent revolutions and narratives, but they also interconnect, i.e the Marquis de Lafayette directly impacted the American Revolution, French Revolution of 1787, and French Revolution in 1830.

    • educationrealist

      I like the idea of history podcasts, but in reality I get ancy with them. But I’ll check it out, thanks!

      • Array

        I think you could argue it’s somewhat center-left too, it’s pretty unbiased, but I think you can tell the host disapproves of monarchy, but also disapproves of guillotining everyone who isn’t sufficiently revolutionary. A lot of the subject matter is recent enough and relevant enough to impact my current political thoughts without being so recent as to be filled with bias.

    • Lockean Proviso

      I mostly listen to history podcasts too because current events are something I need a break from- especially now. BBC In Our Time is good because the format of three academics talking about a topic fosters both exposition and debate, particularly given the British emphasis on empiricism and argument in their history departments. I also enjoy Historically Thinking with Al Zambone for fast-moving yet in-depth interviews with historians by an academic historian who has read their books and knows what questions to ask. He’s old school, not reflexively woke, so it’s substantive and not a search for a Euro-villain and ritual denunciation. I also enjoy when they talk shop about the job of writing history, trends in the field, historiography, and research.

  • Joel

    Oh Boy, Podcasts, something I know about that’s useful. Worth 900 words? You decide.

    Some initial remarks, for anyone unfamiliar with the Podcast medium.

    I use a Mac + iTunes to download free (FREE!) Podcasts, add a Vocal Booster equalizer, arrange them into a Playlist, and transfer the Playlist to an iPod Nano. One caveat: iTunes can be balky and a little slow to navigate. But it’s hard to complain about something so valuable and accessible provided for free.

    The iPod has two essential features: 2X playback, which speeds it up but still sounds normal, and 30-second rewind, to re-listen to anything that was hard to understand, because of jargon or accents or a passing fire engine. Like Ed, I listen while gardening or doing chores, or when running for exercise. But the greatest benefit has been to play them on long boring drives of 100 to 500 miles, especially at night. I plug the iPod into the car speakers, and the battery easily lasts for around six hours. If you prefer the radio or recorded music or audio books or the sound of your Ferrari V-12, fine, but Podcasts are like having the most interesting people in the world keeping you company.

    Stugeon’s Law applies: “Ninety percent of everything is crap.” Podcasts are the new Gold Rush, with millions of people figuring they can do it for cheap and score the lucky strike. The best Podcasters make it look easy. Still, there’s so much to choose from. Start with genres you like and sample some Podcasts that are recommended by a trusted reviewer. I like interviews, history, science, economics/investing, politics, and education. My favorite ones usually combine these subjects, like an interview of an economist discussing education. Personality, professionalism, and preparation are distinguishing traits.

    After selecting a particular Podcast creator I scan the titles and “info” descriptions of dozens or hundreds of previous Podcasts listed chronologically. This is the best feature of Podcasts: CHOICE. Listen to what you like, when you want. Load a Playlist, try one out, decide it’s not your taste, push a button to try the next one.

    Save this list. You’re welcome.


    One reason Joe Rogan is making millions is because he gets the most interesting, often most controversial, people and lets them say what they want for a couple of hours. If you’ve heard of Jordan Peterson and wonder what he’s about, he’s good here.

    Art of Manliness: Authors of new books, usually history or self-improvement. I’ve been motivated to buy several excellent books.

    EconTalk: Russ Roberts from Stanford’s Hoover Institute. Economics, culture, education, government. I learn something important, usually surprising, every time. Try Arnold Kling, Michael Pollan, Jordan Peterson.

    Conversations with Tyler (Cowan). Economics-centric but wide ranging. Top people in their fields. Authors, academics, entrepreneurs. You might know T.C.’s Marginal Revolution Website.

    Masters in Business: Barry Ritzhold with Wall Street financiers and mostly economics authors.

    HBR Ideacast: Harvard professors, billionaires, Nobelists, pop psychologists. And Educators!

    James Altucher: Quirky but always prepared, and he gets you thinking. Authors of books about personal finance, business at every scale from side-hustle to conglomerate. James benefitted from college but he doesn’t recommend it to anyone else. And that was before the Zoom Era.

    Modern Wisdom. This one’s new to me, but he gets the smartest people saying the smartest things. Try Morgan Housel, Rory Sutherland, Stephen Wolfram.

    Science and history:

    In Our Time: BBC roundtable of UK university experts discussing a topic. Try Circadian Rhythms or The Microscope.

    Elements: BBC series travels around the world, into laboratories, businesses, and homes to describe the chemical elements, usually one element per Podcast. Fundamental science related to history, economics, culture. Hard to pick any one element, they’re all great; maybe gold or aluminum or carbon. Or iron. Or Lithium. Or Helium.

    The Lonely Idea: A new series from Caltech about brilliant scientists given the resources to explore “crazy ideas that just might work.” Rest assured, the ideas work. It’s Caltech.

    Witness History: 10 minutes about something you’ve probably heard of, but described in depth by someone who has a personal involvement.

    50 Things that Made the Modern Economy: BBC, Tim Harford. If you don’t already know this guy, time to get with the program.


    Coffee with Scott Adams: Known for Dilbert and several popular books about persuasion. True Blue Dems should skip this one, because it will raise too many reasonable questions. Totally independent and unexpected but rational explanations of current events. Deep thinking, but also funny.

    Trey Gowdy. (New) A former prosecutor and Republican Congressman. A truly decent Southern Gentleman, but a stalwart defender of people’s legal rights, from down the block to the White House. Thoughtful and principled, calm but resolute. A Voice of Reason asks: “What’s ‘fair’?”

    The Journal.: Wall Street Journal reports, five days a week, using their world-wide resources and access to industry insiders and politicians, including the President.


    This turned out to be a long comment, but it’s good to see Ed Real stepping up production, and I’m happy to contribute. There is so much going on in education right now, truly existential problems, we’re fortunate to have this uniquely fearless forum to raise questions and suggest improvements. Podcasts can be a valuable complement.

    • educationrealist

      Dude, I said speak to me not of Apple! I’m fine using my phone. Minimize toys, I always say.

      Russ Roberts is a good idea. I’ve listened to him before. WSJ is a good suggestion. Tyler Cowen has always annoyed me–he lets his own preferences bleed in to an interview, which Bill Kristol, to name a super annoying person, doesn’t.

      I’ll check out the others. THanks!

  • Hattie

    Hi Ed, if you sign into YouTube on your Gmail account, they’ll build up playlists for you. No paying (at least not in money).

    If you like true crime, something like “True Crime BS”, ” The Thing About Pam”, “The Vanished”, or “Down the Hill” would be good. Speaking as a nerd, you have to be willing to bail the moment they lose focus, but they’re interesting all the same.

    (Sorry that that’s not specifically what you asked. Just sticking my oar in.)

  • Anonymous

    The Portal, from Bret’s brother Eric.

    Anything with Curtis Yarvin

    last never never never watch ….. Edward Dutton


    I generally avoid podcasts like the plague. They are too slow. They go on forever. They are poorly structured. TL;DL.

    I know they are relatively easier for the caster. But if you must do them, supply a transcript. There are automated transcription programs.

  • Jason

    Rewatchables, a podcast discussing re-watching good, “old” movies with no politics:

    Love the articles on your website, too. Been reading it for about a year and enjoy the sensible discourse.

  • NewarkTFA

    I realize this isn’t the type of recommendation you were specifically requesting, but I wanted to mention my all-time favorite—Kevin Stroud’s History of English podcast. The man is obviously an amateur in the best possible sense of the word. You seem like an eclectic generalist, so you might enjoy it if you give it a try.

  • annla

    You might like Vox The Weeds Podcast. One of my favorite podcasts is Reply All from Gimlet Media. It’s stories and investigations about what is happening on the internet. Very fun hosts. (I also LOVE Heavyweight from Gimlet, but that is more stories of people’s lives.) I know you won’t go for Pod Save America; love that one.

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