My Favorite Podcasts for the Background

When I’m at work, I concentrate better when I have some background noise. It helps the tedious tasks go faster, and I feel like having something to tune out helps me focus on what I’m looking at more. My work environment isn’t all that noisy, so I bring podcasts with me when I go to work. There are no commercials, like when listening to radio, and I can pick what programs to listen to based on my mood. My workplace also blocks online radio, so music-wise, I’m limited to what I can fit on my player, and that can get boring sometimes.

Here are some of the podcasts that help me get through the workday (in alphabetical order).  You’re best off googling the title to get the best source for whatever your podcast downloading program is, which is why I haven’t included links.

All Songs Considered: A song sampling podcast. Features lots of different artists, so I’ll always hear something new. They tend to pick non-top 40 artists, which is great for me, as I’ve felt like the charts have homogenized lately. Updates weekly.

American Radioworks: The name of this show is deceiving. It’s actually about education. I may not be in academia anymore, but I like to pay attention to it. This show isn’t always using the most recent news stories, just stories that are interesting and related to education. It covers K through college topics, so anything goes. Updates weekly.

Ask Me Another: A quiz show from NPR featuring puzzles and a bit of music. They have a guest every week. It’s very similar to Wait, Wait, Don’t Tell Me (below), but the puzzles could be about anything, not just the news. Also has more of a trivia aspect than the Sunday Puzzle (below). Updates weekly.

BBC World Update – Daily Commute: A morning news summary from the BBC. I love the BBC because compared to most American news sources, they are truly neutral about U.S. news. They have a bias, of course, but it’s a bias that is very easy to spot, and doesn’t bother me. They also tend to focus on international news more than American news sources. The show normally focuses on two to three stories, and reads headlines in between. Updates weekdays plus an extra on the weekend.

Fresh Air: This show feels like mostly a pop culture show; they interview authors, musicians, film-makers, etc. Most of the time the interview is just about their work, or their influences, or their history. Not a lot of opinions to be dramatic about. Tends to feature lots of clips or examples of the works. Updates weekdays with a “highlights” episode on the weekend.

JapanesePod101: I actually have a minor in Japanese. I haven’t used much Japanese since then, but I try to at least make sure I’m listening to a little bit of this. This podcast features a short (roughly 10-15 minutes) lesson, normally using a conversation. They include a translation in the lesson, and put a transcript in the lyrics of the mp3 file. There’s an associated website (which I haven’t used because it requires a subscription for serious use), and other languages. If I ever decide to learn Polish, I’ve decided that I’ll try this first. Updates weekdays with an extra “news” (i.e. advertisement) segment on Sundays.

NPR Story of the Day: It may seem like I listen to a lot of podcasts, but even I don’t like to have to juggle too many episodes. All Things Considered and Morning Edition are actually really interesting news programs, but to get them in podcast form would require downloading a lot of episodes each day. Updates daily.

NPR Sunday Puzzle: A quick game, normally a word based one since it’s hosted by the guy who makes the crossword puzzles for the New York Times. Not as fun as some of the other posted shows, but it at least gets the brain thinking in a different way. Updates weekly.

Snap Judgment: Stories on a theme, with added sound effects and music. Similar to This American Life (below), but with a little more rhythm. Also, doesn’t follow a three act formula; some of the stories are only a couple minutes long. Updates weekly.

Splendid Table: A show about people who like to talk about food and think about food. It’s almost like something that would be on Food Network, but on the radio. Relies on their website if you want to get recipes, but what cooking show doesn’t? Updates weekly.

Tell Me More: A mixed news show, with interviews and round tables on various topics. It often leans toward current events, especially politics, typically with a focus on issues related to diversity. Since it’s NPR, they have to present a neutral view, of course, but it’s one of the few U.S. news sources I can listen to without head-desking. Updates on weekdays.

This American Life: A show with stories on a theme. Normally done in 3 parts. Updates weekly.

Thistle and Shamrock: A collection of celtic music from NPR. I actually used to listen to this on my local NPR station back home, but the one here in Oklahoma doesn’t seem to carry it. Thankfully, there are podcasts. Unlike All Songs Considered (above), there is very little talking about the actual music. They tend to just let it play. Updates weekly.

Wait, Wait, Don’t Tell Me: A quiz show based on the news. Lots of repeating gags, and tends to include an interview. Humorous way to keep up with current events. For me, it’s heartening when I get all the questions right, because it makes me feel like I haven’t fallen out of touch, despite not having cable. Updates weekly.

You Bet Your Garden: A show about gardening. Full of lots of tips and tricks for fruits, vegetables, and ornamental plants. The format is that of a call-in style show, with an interview sometimes and a question of the week. It mostly focuses on in the ground gardens, which isn’t super applicable to me right now, but may be in the future. Updates weekly.