Non-middlebrow podcasts
November 7, 2016 4:18 PM   Subscribe

It seems like every podcast I listen to shares the same aesthetic. Sort of a Slate/Vox/NPR white college educated late 20s creative professional thing. Same aesthetic as "oral histories" and contrarian thinkpieces about TV shows. What are some good podcasts that aren't in this bubble? Leaving this deliberately broad.

I would put 99% Invisible under the category I'm getting sick of, along with basically anything hosted by a comedian. Also NPR as mentioned. All of the spooky paranormal radio dramas. Almost anything hosted by a major media outlet is going to be hosted by reporters, who tend to be pretty homogenous in their backgrounds and ways of thinking.

I don't even know what I'm looking for, so hopefully you all can help me find it!
posted by vogon_poet to Media & Arts (54 answers total) 87 users marked this as a favorite
Sports? I'm not going to suggest my rugby podcasts to you since I would hazard a guess you don't follow the Wallabies, but if that's an interest....
posted by wilful at 4:21 PM on November 7, 2016 [1 favorite]

I know exactly what you mean. I tend to listen to a lot of Canadian-centric podcasts, but I'll list some that may have universal appeal:

This is Actually Happening — first-person accounts of strange or remarkable experiences
Strangers podcast — more first-person memoir, produced by Lea Thau, formerly of The Moth
Guardian Long Read podcast
FT Big Read — free podcast by the Financial Times
Radio New Zealand's Sunday programming is worth finding
CBC Ideas has a daily podcast of hour-long documentaries
CBC Writers & Company has some great interviews with writers
New Yorker Short Fiction podcast has tons and tons of short stories
posted by My Dad at 4:25 PM on November 7, 2016 [8 favorites]

I agree. The American podcast vernacular, which seems to be a product of improv comedy culture, smug NPR/Daily Show bromides, and dully competent writer's room writing, is imo unlistenable.

Try In Our Time. True high culture snobs would call it middle brow, and its certainly a product of the UK media establishment, but it predates podcasts so the format and outlook is very different.
posted by caek at 4:34 PM on November 7, 2016 [14 favorites]

Interested in genre TV and movies and how the art of story comes into play? You might look over at Storywonk. Alastair Stevens is a Scot and wife Lani Diane Rich complements him. No NPR-ness here. Includes in-depth looks at episodes of various shows such as Buffy, Veronica Mars, Outlander, and others. Past work includes deep-dives into the storytelling behind Star Wars, and in January they start a year-and-a-half long exploration of the storytelling of The Hobbit and LOTR.
posted by lhauser at 4:37 PM on November 7, 2016 [7 favorites]

Kevin and Ursula Eat Cheap is pretty far from the kind of thing you're fed up with.

BBC4's The Kitchen Cabinet is one of my favorites.

Ouch: Disability Talk (also from the BBC) has a wide range of guests and presenters. Stuttertalk is also good.

Punt PI is interesting and not the usual kind of thing.

A couple of bartending-related ones: 5 Minutes of Rum. Bartender Journey. Mixology Talk.
posted by Lexica at 4:43 PM on November 7, 2016 [1 favorite]

Politically Reactive, hosted by W. Kamau Bell and Hari Kondabolu, leans more political than comedic. I find it to be a good respite from both political podcasts and comedian podcasts.
posted by Etrigan at 4:48 PM on November 7, 2016 [5 favorites]

You can find my favorite podcasts (and more from other mefites) at this recent AskMe. Hope that's helpful!
posted by the thought-fox at 4:51 PM on November 7, 2016

Adam Savage's podcast Still Untitled? Not the NPR podcast vibe.
posted by GuyZero at 5:00 PM on November 7, 2016 [3 favorites]

Historically Black.
posted by praemunire at 5:04 PM on November 7, 2016 [3 favorites]

Thinking sideways - about unsolved mysteries
Casefile - an Australian guy talks about true crime
posted by pintapicasso at 5:12 PM on November 7, 2016 [2 favorites]

The Kiss Me Quicks Erotica Podcast. Run by a husband and wife. They DIY the whole thing. It's fantastically done, too.

The Sexy Librarian's Blogcast in which the aforementioned wife interviews other erotica writers.
posted by asockpuppet at 5:24 PM on November 7, 2016 [4 favorites]

The History of England is great.
posted by Aizkolari at 5:53 PM on November 7, 2016

In Our Time is great. You may also like the History of Rome, which is complete. I think it gets a little NPR-ier as it goes, but it's idiosyncratic and the product of just the one guy.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 5:56 PM on November 7, 2016 [3 favorites]

Another Round is really fantastic. They're on hiatus, but their archives are great. Madam Secretary, What's Good? is a good starting place.
posted by ChuraChura at 6:07 PM on November 7, 2016 [8 favorites]

The Partially Examined Life might be just non-twee enough for you. They're former philosophy grad students, so they've got the highly-educated thing you don't like, but they lack some of the polish and Slateyness of NPR-type podcasts.
posted by kevinbelt at 6:11 PM on November 7, 2016

I really enjoy both 2 Dope Queens and Sooo Many White Guys

They're neither high- nor low-brow, and they're comedians and they're on WNYC so, ok: not exactly what you're looking for.

But for me at least just the fact that they're black women makes the vibe different than a lot of the rest of the podcast world.
posted by pocketfullofrye at 6:26 PM on November 7, 2016 [2 favorites]

Seconding Answer Me This! It's my very favourite podcast.

No Such Thing As A Fish is fun--it's hosted by the researchers for the British quiz show QI--they share their favourite facts they discovered during the week.

Rumble Strip Vermont is good and not NPR middlebrow.
posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 6:41 PM on November 7, 2016 [1 favorite]

The Heart, maybe? Maybe not. But their episode "The Big House" might be worth listening to.

I don't usually like Here Be Monsters, but the episode "Sasquatch of Pumpkintown" is great.

Your question is... surprisingly challenging.
posted by cnidaria at 6:43 PM on November 7, 2016

Do you listen to the Savage Lovecast?
posted by cnidaria at 6:45 PM on November 7, 2016

I know you said no NPR, but what about CarTalk and StoryCorps? In both, you're not being force fed information, but just listening to people who are essentially having conversations or telling stories, and absorbing what you will (and laughing along the way with CarTalk :-) )
posted by watrlily at 7:22 PM on November 7, 2016

I came here to suggest Another Round and Politically Reactive, and No Such Thing As A Fish. Also the American Desis Podcast. You might also like Sawbones, and if you're into Hamilton then The Room Where It's Happening.

(If you want something *really* not like NPR, there's My Dad Wrote A Porno.)
posted by Lyn Never at 7:46 PM on November 7, 2016

The Read and For Colored Nerds both sound fairly different from the standard issue podcast (and one another).

The Diane Rehm Show is NPR, but she's a more assertive interviewer, and the show has a call-in format that makes for more dynamic radio.
posted by circle at 7:47 PM on November 7, 2016 [3 favorites]

I would second, third and fourth In Our Time - far from middle brow, it's delightfully academic. (They impressed me when they did a topic I had just been researching, and I thought, "I bet they didn't ask Dr. X, the best person on this subject, to talk about it" - but they did. (If curious: it was English land enclosure, the expert is Mark Overton, and he really is one of the best people writing on the agrarian history of England).

I also have been enjoying The history of the world in 100 objects (similarly bbc, quiet and academic). And I love The News Quiz Extra (topical humour, also BBC, very diff from the Daily Show).

But since I do prefer quiet and academic, I have largely switched to audiobooks and especially the series of audio lectures you can get from the Teaching Company. They have them available online through my public library. I can play offline just like a podcast.
posted by jb at 7:57 PM on November 7, 2016 [5 favorites]

I know the answer! I know the answer! It's Entitled Opinions, which is a radio show (available in podcast form) out of Stanford, hosted by a professor named Robert Harrison. With a handful of exceptions, he mostly just interviews other professors, and his mode is full on "academics chatting in the hallway between conferences," in a way that captures, wonderfully and terribly, the Intellectual Culture of the Contemporary University. He is SO pretentious! He is SO insufferable. But goddamnit, he's a really smart person talking to even smarter people, and he does not dumb the conversations down. He may go off on his own weirdo tangents and spout off on his favorite topics but I'm never sitting there thinking OMG WHY DO WE HAVE TO SPEND TWENTY MINUTES REHASHING THE MOST BASIC POINTS WHILE YOU PRETEND TO BE PERPLEXED BY SOME INANE QUESTION YOU SURELY KNOW THE ANSWER TO, YOU HAVE A MACARTHUR GENIUS GRANT, GODDAMNIT (ahem). He moves fast and he goes deep. I don't know if it's highbrow, exactly, but it's a cut of complexity above the norm, and I appreciate that.
posted by pretentious illiterate at 8:01 PM on November 7, 2016 [3 favorites]

In Our Time is very much not a journalist's point of view, as the speakers are all academics (and specialists in the topics discussed).

another mainstream media podcast that isn't so media typical is More or Less, which is hosted by an economist and is all about the use and misuse of numbers and statistics.

the BBC also has a lot of documentaries and the world service has international content.
posted by jb at 8:02 PM on November 7, 2016 [2 favorites]

It you want to bang a left in a COMPLETELY different direction, I've really been enjoying The Adventure Zone. It's hosted by a bunch of comedians -- the McElroys, of My Brother My Brother And Me -- but while I find MBMBAM to be exhausting to listen to and gave up on it pretty quickly, playing Dungeons and Dragons together with their dad seems to bring out the best of them. They're still funny guys, so it's more entertaining to listen to than your average tabletop roleplaying podcast, but the structure of an actual narrative -- plus the fact that Griffin McElroy is actually quite a good DM once he gets the hang of things -- sort of forces them to both stay focused and to talk things out sincerely with each other. It starts out a little goofy and "lets hassle all the non-player characters" but the more recent arcs have been genuinely affecting as well as not-infrequently hilarious.

(Note: start with Episode 1.5, which is an abbreviated version of the somewhat bloated "lets set up our characters" pilot episode.)
posted by Narrative Priorities at 8:50 PM on November 7, 2016 [3 favorites]

It is by a major broadcaster, but I'd recommend some of RTE's stuff. A lot of them are pre-podcast longform radio in a way we don't really do in America, at least not anymore. So they don't have that NPR podcast feel at all, they harken back to an earlier style.

The flagship is the Documentary on One (Soundcloud, iTunes) --- they pull from their archives from as far back as the 1970s, they're mostly small human stories. Not all of them will grab you, likely, but they've literally hundreds up --- I'd just browse a bit and see what jumps out.

Two that have stuck with me: Little Star, about a former child actor, and The Ballad of Paddy Folan.

They also have a legit modern radio dramas, and some interesting science and nature shows.
posted by Diablevert at 8:53 PM on November 7, 2016

They may be a little college-educated white male for you, but I LOVE Dear Hank and John. NYT Best selling author and his brother talk about death, give dubious advice, and give you all the week's news from Mars, a cold dead rock in the vacuum of space, and AFC Wimbledon, a fourth tier English football team. They are late 30's, not late 20's, and while neither are comedians, they are funny. They talk a lot about science and the etiquette of things like arm-rests on an airplane.

I also have liked Phoebe's Fall and Bowraville - they are made by journalists, but have a totally different aesthetic when it comes to podcasting. They are both Australian. One is ongoing (Phoebe's Fall) and one is done, for now.

It's not for everybody, but I LOVE Truth and Justice too. He's a former fire chief who was inspired by Serial to investigate wrongful convictions. He's definitely not like the journalists you hate. He's neck-deep in several cases right now, but you could jump in at the start (the 100 series is about Adnan Syed, and the 200 series is about Tyler, Texas and the intertwining cases of Kenny Snow, Edward Ates, Kerry Max Cook, and hundreds of others convicted by the terrible Smith County DA).
posted by guster4lovers at 9:04 PM on November 7, 2016

I'm always recommending the New Books Network lately. It's not middle brow.

Do you have any interest in bikes? Try The Bike Show.

If I were you I'd Google for podcasts related to your niche interests. You'll turn up less professionalized, less slick productions on topics you're already into. I mean, there are multiple, long running Star Trek podcasts. There are underground black comedian podcasts. There are transit activist podcasts. What are you already into?
posted by latkes at 9:13 PM on November 7, 2016

Despite being hosted by a comedian, Never Not Funny is hosted by Jimmy Pardo, whose aesthetic is rooted in drivetime radio and game shows more than the alt comedy shows that you have in mind, I think. Adam Carolla's extremely popular podcast has a similar aesthetic, though it isn't to my taste. Fangraphs Audio is nominally about baseball but is hosted by poet Carson Cistulli, whose interest is primarily in baseball as art, and the podcast often meanders in a formless way that more standard podcasts avoid.
posted by Kwine at 9:34 PM on November 7, 2016

Anther lecture option is Big Ideas (hmm, that link seems to be the 2003-2007 archives, but it's still running, so find it in your favorite podcast app). You might also like some of the Commonwealth Club's lectures.
posted by salvia at 10:42 PM on November 7, 2016 [1 favorite]

The Songs That Saved Your Life
posted by batmonkey at 11:22 PM on November 7, 2016

I live and breathe that demographic (and work for public radio) but totally totally know what you mean. Even thoughtful conversations hosted by smart and funny people of color (e.g. Politically Reactive) have the same kinda sound and dramaturgy. I think it might actually be a class thing as well as just wanting to make high-production value audio.

I found 2 Dope Queens to be a real breath of fresh air. Another Round, too, has a kind of casual loopiness. Also Car Talk and Wait, Wait, Don't Tell Me! feel a little more inclusive to me somehow in the grains of the voices, liveness, and hint of chaos.

What I like about shows that feature non-professional story-tellers like StoryCorps is that, while the production is definitely done by the NPR tote-bag-set, the actual stories are told by people who sound more like my dad.
posted by athirstforsalt at 12:31 AM on November 8, 2016

I don't think you'll find an individual podcast stream that's as varied & as high quality as the BBC World Service Documentary. Although a fair part of it is fronted by journalists, none of them are in the 'American 20-something NPR-ish' demographic as these are world service journos, from across the globe; there's also a good proportion of eye-witness pieces, some arts reportage, etc.
posted by AFII at 12:46 AM on November 8, 2016 [3 favorites]

Hardcore History is phenomenal. At first glance, Dan Carlin's delivery is definitely a bit 'loopy shock jock', but these are fantastically broad (and very long) overviews of some key eras of history. He's not a trained historian (as he frequently admits) but I've learned a staggering amount and seen everything from the Mongols to Stalingrad in a different light. Highly recommended.
posted by Happy Dave at 1:51 AM on November 8, 2016 [2 favorites]

A few more:

Backstory - NPR-ish in funding, but the panel format and the three ol' Southern dudes who host it are charming. Hour-long-ish dives into the specifics of different historical topics in the US.

The British History Podcast - Brit-with-an-American-accent ex-lawyer guy Jamie doing a very long and in-depth overview of UK history from the retreat of the glaciers to the start of WWII. He's up to King Alfred at the moment.

The Dirtbag Diaries - dirtbag climbers, mountaineers and adventurers telling stories. Really good.
posted by Happy Dave at 1:57 AM on November 8, 2016

Bodega Boys is a current events/culture/comedy podcast hosted by two New York-based comedians, Desus Nice and The Kid Mero.
posted by superfluousm at 7:52 AM on November 8, 2016 [1 favorite]

Going to nth History of Rome but I think he really hits his stride with his new podcast "Revolutions".

From Wikipedia: "The first section of Revolutions covered the English Civil War from the reign of Charles I to the Restoration. The second section covered the American Revolution, while the third, a history of The French Revolution, covered the period between financial crisis of the 1770s to the coup of 18 Brumaire which brought General Napoleon Bonaparte to power as First Consul of France in 1799. The Haitian Revolution was the fourth season, and then is being followed by the currently airing season on the Spanish American wars of independence."

I'm not sure it's exactly what you are looking for but it is just one man giving a very entertaining history lecture.
posted by josher71 at 8:37 AM on November 8, 2016 [1 favorite]

Scroobius Pip's Distraction Pieces
posted by rhamphorhynchus at 9:30 AM on November 8, 2016

How about WFMU for the anti-NPR podcast?
posted by latkes at 11:07 AM on November 8, 2016

Holy cow, first, I'm glad it's not just me, second, this is exactly what I was looking for. In tons of different directions, too.

Thanks, everybody.
posted by vogon_poet at 11:22 AM on November 8, 2016 [1 favorite]

Oh my god, AMEN dude. I have a hard time with talk radio to begin with, so if I'm going to listen to a podcast, it has to be as un-talk radio-like as possible or I just CANNOT.

I tend to favor podcasts that are a) under an hour long, b) episodic in nature so I can skip around if I want to, and c) not hosted by boring NPR newsies or smug white boy comedians making inside jokes at each other for two goddamn hours. I also like podcasts that have some kind of story/history structure so it's not just aimless rambling. So if that sounds good, here are my favorites:

Nthing The Read. This is one of the only podcasts that is regularly more than an hour long that I actually enjoy listening to without lamenting how long it is. Kid Fury and Crissle are HILARIOUS.

I know you said you don't like the spooky mystery podcasts, but I do REALLY like Lore. Aaron Mahnke tells true(ish) stories from history and folklore as if they were spooky campfire stories, and he does a good job with the pacing and tone of it. They're making a TV show out of it soon!

While I don't like My Brother, My Brother, and Me (see "white boy comedians making inside jokes at each other"), some of the other McElroy-affiliated podcasts (Shmanners, Sawbones, Still Buffering, Court Appointed) are pretty good, largely because they are shorter, usually pretty funny, and often have an historical element of some kind.

Werewolf Ambulance is a lot of fun if you like horror movies and want to listen to Pittsburghers Allen and Katie talk about how good or crappy they were in the most hilarious ways possible.

Eliza Starting at 16 is surprisingly fun. It's almost like an audio diary, but it's pretty interesting and the episodes are pretty much all 15 minutes or less.

I think this might be juuuuust on the edge of what you'd want to tolerate, but The Truth is alright. Each episode is sort of a self-contained fictional radio short and some of them are REALLY good. I particularly like the spookier ones: Sleep Some More and Man V. Nature were two of the most recent ones that I really enjoyed.

Best of luck!
posted by helloimjennsco at 11:33 AM on November 8, 2016 [1 favorite]

You could try The Black Guy Who Tips or maybe What's the Tea? or Whiskey, Wine, and Moonshine. Interracial Jawn is pretty good, too.

I recently started listening to Popaganda based on a rec here, and don't regret it one bit.

Nthing Another Round as well.
posted by freezer cake at 11:40 AM on November 8, 2016 [1 favorite]

How about Stephanie Lepp's Reckonings? It's interviews with people who have "wrestled with transformation." I've listened to the one with Glenn Lowry, and the one about money and cross-class relationships. Both were excellent...mostly told by the subjects, with some prompting and framing by the host/interviewer.

Ideas and its grandad In Our Time are both tremendous, as are both History of Rome and Revolutions. Holy shit, the Haitian about shit that doesn't come up in school.

History Extra from the BBC's History Magazine might be up your alley. Serious history nerds interviewing authors, curators, archaeologists, and historians about their areas of expertise.

The Radio 3 Documentary is more Serious People talking about Serious Things.

Word of Mouth from Radio 4 is two or three language people digging into a fairly narrow little area of language in a very conversational way. The first episodes I listened to were about small talk and children's invented words. Both were great.
posted by Kreiger at 12:45 PM on November 8, 2016 [2 favorites]

The Cipher is excellent. Each week a substantial, thoughtful interview with an individual steeped in hip-hop culture. Some musicians, some producers, some others, all awesome.
posted by donnagirl at 2:14 PM on November 8, 2016 [1 favorite]

Inside Appalachia is a pretty thoughtful podcast out of West Virginia. Maybe it is public radio but they cover a variety of topics pertinent to the region, both positive and negative. Midwifery, food, drug addiction, music, politics, environmental justice, outside perceptions of Appalachia, etc.
posted by the offing at 2:47 PM on November 8, 2016

"Straight Talk with Ross Mathews" is kinda comedian-driven, but is way gayer and sillier than the average studied neo-NPR voice, even more so than "Throwing Shade" (which I was personally meh on). It also has more of a... talk-radio quality maybe? Except obviously without the shitty political connotations.

Meanwhile in a TOTALLY DIFFERENT direction, I also like the podcasts from the three "sexiest" general-audience science journals, Science, PNAS, and Nature. I find the AAAS Science podcast particularly charming for its nerdy, "underproduced" quality; it's way on the other end of the spectrum from, e.g., Radiolab (which gives me a headache tbh). PNAS's podcast is similar. Both do give you at least some background info but it may go by pretty quickly if you're not in that field. I like those two a bit more than the Nature podcast, which is a little more glossy/NPR (but still better than the average pop sci podcast). Further down that rabbit hole, one of my friends from work likes "This Week In Virology" and I've started listening to "This Week In Microbiology"; they seem to be like the AAAS Science podcast but even more so, but I haven't listened enough to give a full recommendation.
posted by en forme de poire at 6:35 PM on November 8, 2016 [1 favorite]

Two more solo history podcasts: The China History podcast and The History of English podcast (the History of England is good too!). And a bit of an odd one, the Useless Information podcast - all sorts of fun history tidbits, with retro commercials, news clippings and even a quiz.

The China History podcast is done by a businessman who works internationally, the English podcast by a North Carolina lawyer with a passion for linguistics and the Useless Information podcast by a high school teacher. Not a radio pro/NPR/PRI guys amongst them.
posted by clerestory at 6:56 PM on November 8, 2016 [1 favorite]

Rumble Strip Vermont is very good, and has an interview with Mefi's Own Jessamyn in a recent episode.

I like Adventure Time. It's different and fun.

Honey is probably the most consistently interesting podcast I listen to. It might fit into your demographic a bit, but the premise, a woman interviewing couples about their fights, overcomes it for me.
posted by OmieWise at 9:34 AM on November 9, 2016 [1 favorite]

The sci-fi/comic/movie/geek-oriented podcast The Incomparable is good. Pretty white, more like early-40s, and with a rotating cast that almost always includes a strong woman's voice.

"Hang Up and Listen" is a weekly Slate product, covering sports from three smart guys' perspectives. They try to have women as guests periodically, to balance things out.
posted by wenestvedt at 12:52 PM on November 15, 2016

(And FWIW, those two podcasts have higher production values then most, and better editing.)
posted by wenestvedt at 12:58 PM on November 15, 2016

Something of an alternative to the "white bro comedians talking nerd stuff with in-jokes", there's Foxes in the Hen House, is four women nerds (not comedians but are witty) talking about nerdy stuff. With in-jokes. I find them entertaining, but it may or may not be your cup of tea.
posted by rmd1023 at 7:58 PM on November 16, 2016

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