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7 podcasts to stimulate your brain

Does your commute bore you? Does exercising sound dull? Do you struggle to find something to do in your study breaks? Maybe you should try turning these hum-drum experiences into an opportunity to inspire yourself?

The rise of podcasting has brought on a radio renaissance, with writers, journalists, comedians, and complete amateurs the world over finding huge audiences to share stories with.

‘Podcasting allows people to time shift. Just as Netflix has revolutionised TV, podcasts have done the same for radio. You can listen to it when it suits you instead of when it’s broadcast,’ says Ross Monaghan, Lecturer in Communications at Deakin University.

Ross was the first lecturer at Deakin to harness the power of blogging and podcasting to get stories and conversations out to an eager audience.

‘I wanted to be able to share conversations I was having with experts from around the world. When I started, it was pretty easy to just call somebody on skype and record the interview. I thought that was a pretty amazing thing, to be able to expose my students to experts from around the world,’ he says.

Now, 14 years later, his blog and podcast The Mediapod are still going strong. But what is it that gives a podcast such staying power?

‘You cannot underestimate the power of storytelling. The reason many podcasts prosper, is that they truly know the value of a good story. People who can tell a good story are always going to have an audience. We’ve been telling stories since our ancestors were hunting mammoths and sitting around a campfire at night. Podcasting is just an extension of that, and it’s going a long way in expanding the global village,’ Monaghan says.

'Podcasting allows people to time shift. Just as Netflix has revolutionised TV, podcasts have done the same for radio. You can listen to it when it suits you instead of when it’s broadcast.'

Ross Monaghan,
School of Communication and Creative Arts, Deakin University

So, next time you’re thinking about going for that run, staring blankly through your commute, or sitting around twiddling your thumbs – put one of these on and fill those moments with informative and eye-opening entertainment.

This American Life

This American Life is one of the most popular podcasts in the format’s history, and it’s easy to see why. Having first aired in 1995, this hour-long radio program delivers beautifully told stories on a wide range of themes from some of the most talented journalists, writers, comedians, essayists and more.

TED Talks Daily

It’s likely that you’ve seen a TED Talk before. The widely popular video-series has consistently gone viral for their innovative new ideas, emotional impact and inspirational tone. But what many people don’t realise is that you can listen to the audio through the TED Talks Daily Podcast. Most are delivered in bite-sized, ten-minute-or-less episodes. Perfect for a mid-study break.

Freakonomics radio

Inspired by the books of the same name, Freakonomics Radio is hosted by Stephen Dubner, with co-author Steve Levitt. An award-winning podcast exploring ‘the hidden side of everything’, Dubner and Levitt are able to establish unthinkable connections between events and the incentives or conditions that brought them about.

Revisionist history

There’s an old saying, ‘History is written by the victors’. Revisionist History, hosted by famed storyteller Malcolm Gladwell, takes a critical second look at historical topics to uncover what really happened, and connects past events to those happening now. Each week, Gladwell attempts to answer the question ‘When does doing good lead to doing bad, and when does doing good lead to doing more good?’.

Radiolab

Equal parts informative and immersive, Radiolab is a truly ground-breaking podcast. Weaving intricate sound-effects and musical scoring through their stories and interviews, this show needs to be heard to be appreciated. While the subject matter – science and philosophy – is usually quite complex, hosts Jad Abumrad and Robert Krulwich expertly simplify the topics so anyone can understand them.

Flash Forward

Have you ever wondered what would happen if space pirates dragged a second moon to Earth? Or what might happen in a world where anyone can make a video of you doing anything? In Flash Forward, host and producer Rose Eleveth takes us through these and other interesting visions of the future. Some entirely based on fiction, others based on research being done today.

99% Invisible

99% Invisible is about all the thought that goes into the things we don’t think. Each episode, host Roman Mars highlights a nearly invisible design process that you had no idea was so interesting and then unpacks why it is. For those with a desire to understand the effort that goes into making an experience you don’t need to think about, this is the podcast for you.

And finally, Monaghan has a suggestion:

Make your own

‘The benefits of being your own publisher, whether you’re publishing audio, video or text, are the wealth of knowledge you’ll learn and the connections you make, both with the people you interview and with your audience. I would absolutely recommend it to anyone interested in learning more about a particular topic. Whether it’s a personal or career interest, or a unique creative project, you can reach out and speak to people and become your own media outlet. The barrier to entry is low and the benefits are huge,’ Monaghan says.

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Mr Ross Monaghan
Mr Ross Monaghan

Lecturer in communication, Faculty of Arts and Education, Deakin University
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