Drive time: Prick up your ears for our pick of the best podcasts to commute to .

The podcast renaissance has been one of the most triumphant digital stories of recent years. Just as it looked as though the medium might be consigned to the bin of anachronism, along with the iPod and the DVD, it re-emerged fighting and better than ever. And never are we more glad of that fact than on our commute to work. Whether to rev up or wind down at the tail end of each day, podcasts provide a perfect way to step away from a screen while still plugging into engaging and enriching content. And they make us feel smart, just as tuning into Radio 4 does – all without having to snooze through Money Box (though if that’s your bag, there are plenty of personal finance podcasts too). Here ‘s our pick of the audio crop to head to work to.

Citations Needed
Ok, we grant, if you’re looking for something to raise a smile, clear your mind, instil inner peace and give you a shot of inspiration for the day, Citations Needed, which is recorded across the pond, is emphatically not it. However, if you prefer a wake up call that’s the audible equivalent of a triple espresso – rather than, say, a chilled chai latte – with a shot of rage thrown in to really pump you up for the tasks ahead, this is the one.

Every Wednesday, for roughly an hour, presenters Nima Shirazi and Adam Johnson take a searing look at how the media is constructed to shroud truth in mystery and protect the powerful. Want to know what terms certain media outlets use to demonise the homeless? There’s a two-part episode for that, in which the presenters present the linguistic parallels with Nazi rhetoric. Fancy spending your train ride delving into the classical roots of western civilisation and how it has been commandeered by the far right in America? There’s an episode for that too, which features contributions from a handful of US university professors to enlighten. It may not be a sunny slice of optimism for your ears, but knowledge is power, and to feel powerful can’t be a bad feeling on the way to work – no matter how potent or otherwise you feel once you reach your desk.

The Adam Buxton podcast
‘I added one more podcast to the giant podcast bin… I took my microphone and found some human folk, then I recorded all the noises while we spoke.’ So begins the eponymous Adam Buxton Podcast opening jingle, succinctly alerting grateful listeners to the fact that this is going to be an hour (and occasionally up to two) spent basking in unashamedly frivolity. Comedian Buxton who ‘identifies as short’, invites said humans – who just happen to be brilliantly talented and much celebrated folk – for what he calls ‘ramble chats’ that often spill over into wholly infectious hysteria.

These humans range from legend-in-the-making American musician John Grant, whose circuitous conversation takes in growing up gay in a religious family and island survival, to ubiquitous panel show super-nerd David Mitchell, who expounds on being bad at everything (driving, small talk, habits). But the absolute highlight is the Joe Cornish and Louis Theroux episode. Both were Buxton’s school friends, and the, at times, surreal banter reaches an apotheosis in some bad Bowie impersonation one-upmanship and a falsetto version of Yes Sir, I Can Boogie from straight-man Theroux. Unmissable.

Do the Right Thing
If you like to start your mornings, or indeed wrap up your day, with a hearty dose of chaotic morality, then Do The Right Thing, a panel show brought to the podcast format, is just the ticket. Presented by Danielle Ward, captains of the raucous teams are Margaret Cabourn-Smith and Michael Legge, while guests have included queen of the mumsily delivered smutty observation, Sarah Millican, to the laddish presenter Rick Edwards. The shtick? The teams battle it out to see who can come up with the funniest solutions to everyday, and sometimes not-so-everyday dilemmas, asking all the big questions, such as what to do if you cry cream egg filling, or whether vegans can kill wasps.

Two out of the three regulars are women, making it a welcome antidote to the ubiquitous male panel show, though don’t expect any less in the way of sweary, near-the-knuckle jokes. The must-listen episode award goes to Rufus Hound and Diane Morgan (aka Philomena Clunk), the latter of whom opines, ‘This is awful, I thought it was going to be like Loose Women’. We’re not in Kansas anymore. Toto.

The Tip Off
As fellow commuters shake out their Metro and bone up on the day’s headlines, every other Thursday the more inquisitive podcaster can instead plug in their headphones for half an hour and bask in superior, behind-the-scenes journalistic knowledge, all thanks to The Tip Off. Hosted and produced by Bureau of Investigative Journalism’s Maeve McClenaghan, it delves behind the headlines to reveal the processes and methods that make them. And in these days when, whatever side of the raging debate you fall on, the news is never dull – so much so that it conjures to mind the old Chinese curse, ‘May you live in interesting times’ – it has never been more timely. Each episode centres on a big investigative news story, featuring interviews with the journalists who broke it.

Subjects range from the forcible sterilisation of Native American women, to the journalist who doggedly and determinedly followed a story of suspected abuse for decades before it made the paper; right through to journalist Barry McCaffrey’s coverage of a six-person massacre in the village of Loughinisland during the troubles and his own, and others’, suspicion that the culprits had walked free. Hard-hitting, informative stuff that makes you understand and question what you read in all the right ways.

How I Built This
What better or more inspiring way to begin the week than with How I Built This, a podcast which tells the stories of successful companies through the words of their creators? Every Monday, for 45-60 minutes, host Guy Raz grills a new entrepreneur, and we’re talking the real deal here: the considerable brains behind many of former disruptors, now household names – Airbnb, Instagram, Ben & Jerry’s – have all featured.

It’s all juicy, gutsy tales to inspire those who want to go get it for themselves, but it also has something for the more casual listener too, in the form of intimate histories of well-known companies most of us use on the regular. Highlights include how Andy Puddicimbe went from being a Buddhist monk who’d given away all his possessions to conceiving of the now $100m idea for Headspace, along with his partner Rich Pierson; and listening to James Dyson recount how he made some 5,000 prototypes before he launched his bagless vacuum, testament to how there is no such thing as an overnight success. Essential listening for anyone who runs their own business, or has aspirations to do so.

No Such Thing As a Fish
Learning by stealth is our favourite kind of learning. And No Such Thing As a Fish represents the apotheosis of the phenomenon, filling our semi zoned-out, post-work brains with facts so strange that they often take up residence in our heads forever, ripe for busting out at odd moments of triumph: at the pub quiz, at dry dinner parties and to win long-standing arguments, the sillier the better. And no collection of fact-gatherers is better positioned to impart such gems; after all, the crew behind this podcast are the very same behind the BBC’s ever-popular quirky fact central show, QI.

Hosted by Dan Schreiber with James Harkin, Andrew Hunter Murray, and Anna Ptaszynski – otherwise known as the QI Elves – the idea for the podcast was born out of their frustration that such a tiny fraction of the oddities they unearthed made it on to the show. This is for you if, like Schrieber, diversions such as the hunt for Bigfoot is your cup of Earl Grey, or like Harkin, you enjoy bizarre calculations such as his own that the dish of the world’s largest telescope could hold enough cornflakes to give Earth’s population a bowl for breakfast every day for a year. Excellent for impressing (boring?) colleagues with your random knowledge of obscure subject matter that will send them straight to Google to catch you out – to no avail.

By Nancy Alsop
October 2019


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