My Favorite Podcast

  By Shamus   Mar 24, 2008   44 comments

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Fear the Boot is a Podcast dedicated to tabletop roleplaying games and whatnot. They had me on the show in May of 2007. They hooked me up with Shawn, which led to the creating of Chainmail Bikini. I’m pretty fond of the show and the hosts, and so what follows might, to the untrained eye, appear to be little more than fanboy cheerleading. However, this post is actually a cleverly disguised diatribe on all the things wrong with podcasting in general. There are a lot of podcasts out there, run by earnest, enthusiastic, and sometimes even talented people. Rather than deface their efforts by using them as a negative example, I’m going to list what FtB does right and why it works. What this means for other podcasts and what I think of their work is left as an exercise for the reader.

FtB is generally considered a rousing success by most podcast standards, even though FtB ignores a lot of the conventional wisdom about how you’re supposed to run a podcast. This is not surprising to me at all, because I think the conventional wisdom is flat-out wrong. The rules state that you should keep your podcasts short, because people like to absorb something quickly and move on. Like blog-surfing. Like YouTubing. Like Flickr-browsing. Visitors are supposedly capricious creatures, prone to hit the back button at the slightest provocation and leave your site if there is a lapse in the entertainment. Surfers are nomadic hunter-gatherers, who seek out and subsist on entertaining media.

Most podcasts seem to stick to the suggested length of 10 minutes or so. FtB usually weighs in at about 60 minutes. Hosts and subject matter aside, I think this is a big part of the appeal of the show. The podcasting guides out there will tell you this is madness – no prospective listener is going to want to sink a whole hour into a new show! No matter how good it is, you’ll never get any listeners. (I wonder how people ever start watching new TV shows, then?)

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But the important thing to note is that audio is different from video and text because you can listen to audio and do something else. You find something to keep your eyeballs busy while you think about the show. Acting like people will listen to podcasts the way they read blogs ignores everything we know about how people listen to other stuff. How many people just turn on the radio and then fold their hands in their lap and stare at the dial? For most people, listening to audio is intended to accompany some other activity.

Some people save the show and listen during their morning commute. I listen while running staggering haltingly on my treadmill, using the friendly voices and hilarious banter to stave off observations on my own mortality and the grim fact fact that, as far as my body goes, it’s all downhill from here. I’m sure more well-adjusted gamers do stuff like painting miniatures and drawing maps while they listen. The important thing this that a ten-minute show would be almost useless for this sort of thing. If I listened to normal-length podcasts, I’d have to stop what I was doing every ten minutes to find another show to listen to.

Another thing that sets FtB apart is the editing. FtB host Luke said once that you can add 20 IQ points onto the hosts, just through editing. It’s true. Editing is tedious and time consuming to do, but the jump in quality is astounding. You cut out the “ums”, the awkward pauses, boring tangents, lame jokes, distracting background noises, belches, and anything else that makes you sound unprofessional or unorganized. This is particularly true for new hosts who are still learning the craft. I’ve heard new podcasts where the host will thrash around, digress, lose their train of thought, waste thirty seconds trying to remember the name of something only tangentially related to the conversation at hand, and then get interrupted by a co-host with an unexplained in-joke once they finally recover. It’s cringe-inducing, and makes it very likely that people will tune out before you settle down and get on-topic. The magic of editing can fix that.

If you read any of the various “how to get started in podcasting” guides – and they are legion – the guides will invariably encourage you to “Have Something to Say.” This sounds like something which should have the word “duh” appended to the end, but you’d be surprised how many podcasts I’ve heard fail at this. The issue here is that opinions are not content, discussion is content. Anyone can rattle off a list of stuff that sucks / rocks, and that can generate discussions with your readers if you’re controversial enough, but if you stop there then your podcast is going to be a dull litany of pointless bashing and empty cheerleading. If your opinion begins and ends with “this thing sucks and I can’t believe that anyone watches / listens / cares about it”, then you don’t have anything to say. Saying it sucks twenty different ways does not transform an opinion into commentary. The guys at FtB manage to say some pretty controversial stuff in an entertaining way. The controversy is an emergent part of the conversation, not the goal.

My goal is to work out on the treadmill six nights a week. FtB podcasts can only cover an hour of that. I’d be willing to give the other five hours to other podcasts. I keep hoping some will show up that try to approach the medium more like a radio program and less like someone reading a blog post or rambling around a subject, rudderless and lost. Podcasting is several years old now, but it still feels like the medium is trying to find its feet.

(Just for the sake of my curiosity, I’d love to hear what podcasts other people listen to. Even if they aren’t anything like FtB. Drop a link in the comments below if you don’t mind sharing.)

20204Feeling chatty? There are 44 comments.


  1. Sem says:

    One other point I like to bring up it to try to speak clean and steer away from slang & dialects. I speak English as my second language and thanks to years of gaming/reading/browsing/programming/anime subtitles I am reasonably good at it and understand some slang but naturally my level of proficiency is nowhere near the level of someone who lives in English speaking countries.

    Second, I usually hear it in music, TV shows and games that normally use clean English. I admit that you can try to figure out what someone said by rewinding and focusing on it and deriving from the context but as Shamus already said if you use podcasts while doing something this will break your flow.

    To be honest, I have to point out I am terrible myself in this aspect in my own native tongue. I live in Belgium where we have different dialects about every 10 km. I work 90 km from home and the first week at work I had to really focus to try to speak clean Dutch otherwise my colleagues were totally unable to understand me (and vice versa) so I know how hard it can be :).

  2. Noctambulist says:

    I like FtB, and listen regularly. In fact I found your site through them! Though just a personal taste thing, I think sometimes they go too far in the “banter” department, though I know some people really enjoy that. Crunch vs. Fluff thing I guess. But I listen to podcasts at work and I don’t think I subscribe to a single podcast (other than the ones from The Onion) that clocks in at under 30 minutes. I think 30 minutes is the MINIMUM! Anything less and I don’t think you are really covering a topic.

    Other podcasts I really like:

    Gamers With Jobs – a good, intelligent discussion of video games that’s also damn funny
    http://www.gamerswithjobs.com/podcast

    Games for Windows Podcast – hilarious, and sometimes about pc games – they also ramble a lot but they crack me up
    http://www.1up.com/do/minisite?cId=3144909

    Game Theory – couple Brits discuss the industry side of video games rather than reviews and such
    http://www.gametheoryshow.com/

    Craft Beer Radio – a podcast about good beer
    http://www.craftbeerradio.com/

    Big Foamy Head – another podcast about beer – but from funny Southern guys
    http://www.bigfoamyhead.com/

    Dragons Landing – another table-top RPG podcast that I really like
    http://www.dragonslanding.com/dli/

    Common Sense with Dan Carlin & Dan Carlin’s Hardcore History – Dan Carlin does a really great job on both of these. They are a great example of how to do a podcast with just one person talking. The only downside is they don’t come out on a regular basis. Common Sense is a political podcast that refreshingly doesn’t pick sides – it’s not liberal or conservative, but definitely always makes good points no matter what side you’re on. Hardcore History is about history, of course, but done in a really interesting way using events and cultures of the past to talk about more over-arching themes.
    http://dancarlin.com/

    And of course a lot of NPR podcasts like Car Talk and Wait, Wait Don’t Tell Me.

    Need more? Let me know :)
    Enjoy!

  3. Lebkin says:

    I spend over an hour in the car every day. Good conversation is much more enjoyable to listen to on this commute. So I how heartedly agree that ten minutes would be far too short. Personally, when I find a podcast that is enjoyable, the longer the better. I listened to Fear the Boot just this morning on the way to work and was sad when it was over.

    Currently, I am listening to Fear the Boot, the Dragonhearth, the CAGCast, CAG Foreplay, Joystiq, and Xbox 360 Fanboy.

  4. scragar says:

    I find it really hard to understand american’s when talking(written it’s fine, spoken is a whole different kettle of fish), so I tend to listen to FtB rarely, and when I do it’s often paused or rewound(sp?) for me to hear something again, either because I didn’t understand it, or I just plain missed what was said. Having said that I do enjoy the shows when I take time out to have a listen.

    I’ve listened to all of the irregular webcomic’s podcasts, although these are very unscheduled(intrestingly, I understand australians perfectly, go figure). What can I say, I’m not a big fan of podcasts :P

  5. Ferrari says:

    Filmspotting follows most of your rules. Solid podcast about movies by a couple of movie geeks. One of the things I enjoy most is the back and forth the hosts get when they disagree about a particular film. Good stuff.

  6. malraux says:

    Well, aside from radio shows in podcast format (cartalk, wait, wait, don’t tell me, quirk and quarks) the other podcast I listen to fairly often are the shows done by Yog-Sothoth especially their game recordings. Its just recordings of their gaming sessions, but its a great background type of thing. And since its Call of Cthulhu, it varies from boring interviews and research to hilariously bad luck in combat.

  7. Bard says:

    Still, a transcript would be nice.

  8. Nazgul says:

    I’d like to try a few more podcasts with the hope of finding one that I could really enjoy and get hooked on. It’s not easy because most podcasts, talk radio, and NPR make me want to kill myself. I’ll be watching the comments here to see if anything catches my eye.

  9. Jason says:

    I’ll second both of Dan Carlin’s podcasts. Freakin’ outstanding.

    Philosophy Bites, a show that condenses conversations with professional philosophers into 12-15 minute conversations on a topic.

    The History of Rome, because I like history. This one is another 15 minute or so podcast that would be even radder (did I just make up a word?) as a 45 to 60 minute cast.

    Into the Gamescape is the British version of Fear the Boot, only about boardgames and wargames. The dynamic between the three hosts is pretty much the same as between Dan, Chad, Luke, John, and all the other contributors. Plus, they have british accents, which makes everything 15% funnier in my opinion.

    Intelligence Squared, Oxford-style debating on interesting topics by smart people.

    I’m with you, Shamus; I listen to FtB while I’m on the treadmill and it does take one’s mind off the pain. I honestly think that they really do pretty much everything right (other than record every day).

  10. Eric J says:

    I tend to listen to podcasts in the car, so 40-60 minutes is the sweet spot for me lengthwise.

    My favorites are: Coverville, The Sound of Young America, the B.S. Report (Bill Simmons on ESPN), The Reduced Shakespeare Company, and Shire Network News (Center-right Anti-Jihad political. Nothing to do with Middle-Earth.)

  11. scragar says:

    @ Jason:
    it’s thegamescape.co.uk not intothemgamescape.co.uk – please fix that if you could.

  12. Jason says:

    @scragar- Yeah, just noticed I did that incorrectly. Too late to edit my comment, though. You can get to the podcast here. The front page hasn’t been updated in a while, but they do the ‘cast every three weeks or so, and you can subscribe through iTunes, as well.

  13. Puffinstuff says:

    One good podcast is GeeksOn. It’s done by 4 actors/videogame designers/writers and typically lasts an hour and 30 minutes.

  14. Hamish says:

    It sounds like you should listen to more gaming podcasts generally. They average 60 minutes, are well edited (although as always, the first couple of episodes are a bit rough), and always have something to say.

    Try the rest of the 2007 ENnie nominees, Fear the Boot, was in exceptionally good company:
    Have Games, Will Travel
    Godzilla Gaming
    Sons of Kryos
    Yog Sothoth Radio
    Honorable Mention: Pulp Gamer

    (I’m in a rush, so no links sorry)

  15. For my evening walks with the dog I use:

    Buzz Out Loud (M-F, 35min) – Daily tech buzz
    Fear the Boot (Weekly, 1hr)
    This Week in Tech (Weekly, 1hr) – Rants and raves on tech
    Sound Opinions (Weekly, 1hr) – Music reviews
    Filmspotting (Weekly, 1hr) – Film reviews
    FLOSS Weekly (Weekly-ish, 1hr) – Open source interviews

    On top of those there’s also everything from KCRW, NPR and APM.

  16. jeffx says:

    I am a big fan of EscapePod. It isn’t gaming related but its quality is top notch. It may be the first podcast I started listening too.

  17. Jaguar says:

    If you like movies, you might like: All Movie Talk. It ran weekly for a year. Unfortunately, they aren’t making any new episodes. They run about an hour per episode.

  18. Davesnot says:

    I’ve been listening to the NeverWinterNights Podcast http://neverwinternightspodcast.com/ since the beginning.

    It showcases the still-thriving NWN and NWN2 community.

    ..now get this.. They’ve added me as a host!!

    Each of us has a different strength.. We have one of the best community-made-module reviewers as a host.. though she, like Shamus, isn’t an “official” reviewer.

    I look to be bringing more of the PnP world into the Podcast. A lot of us use the NWN DM-client to run D&D games for their widely (worldly) distributed groups..

    Anyway.. the point was that the show usually runs from 45 to 75 minutes.. I think you’re right, Shamus.. it’s a good length.

    I listen to it while I mod for the game.. I’ll be building a game area and listening to other builders’ perspectives..

    Gamers talking about the games they love.. check it out!

    … oh.. and our girl host’s sexy voice doesn’t hurt download counts.

  19. YaVerOt says:

    I listen to a few from twit.tv:
    TwiT
    Floss weekly
    Security Now! (I started by reading the transcripts while on dial-up)

    I’ve only listened to three FtBs so far. The one with Shamus, another one with poor sound quality latter and recently tried one again. I’m going to try it for a while see if it can stick now.

  20. anonymous today only says:

    I really like listening to several NPR shows as Podcasts: the news-centered game show “Wait, Wait, Don’t Tell Me,” and the often sentimental, always thought-provoking personal narratives found on Ira Glass’s “This American Life.”

    I also follow the podcast of a certain sex-advice columnist available on The Onion’s AV page. ‘Nuff said. (Name and address withheld at the writer’s request)

  21. MadTinkerer says:

    I like The Game’s The Thing. It’s a semi-monthly podcast (sometimes more often than monthly, but usually monthly) that has a lot of Savage Worlds content, but they’ll do all kinds of tabletop games. It has lots of interviews with people who’ve worked on tabletop games, not just reviews by the hosts.

    http://www.thegamesthething.com/

  22. lapse says:

    […] that have made it possible for the country to be used as a transit point …www.nationmedia.comMy Favorite PodcastMy Favorite Podcast Posted by Shamus on March 24th, 2008 Fear the Boot is a Podcast dedicated to […]

  23. Fosse says:

    http://secondcity.com/?id=theatres/chicago/features

    You’ve never written anything to indicate that this is up your or your readers’ ally. But everyone likes comedy, so give it a whirl. Ruby Streak has been the musical director at the legendary Second City theatre in Chicago for decades and she’s recently taken to interviewing famous and not-so-famous comedic talents. There’s about a year and a half’s material there in half-hour installments.

  24. Clint says:

    I tend to like audio theatre-style podcasts, so I’ll put in my recommendations for the following:

    Second Shift — these people have a really well-told fantasy story in radio theatre format. The voice acting is top-notch, the world is interesting, and the effects create an immersive aural environment. Highly recommended.

    Silent Universe — another great audio drama, this time with hard science fiction. The creators post each script before recording it so that fans can go over it and point out errors and inconsistencies, resulting in an extremely high production quality. Unfortunately, this also means that the time between episodes is often months long.

    Clint

  25. Fred Mischler says:

    Well, I have only listened to a few snippets some months ago when CB started. I like the idea, but the hour long show put me off. I am one of those who was “lost” or at least “not found” due to the length of the show. If each show could be re-edited into 4 or 5 sections focusing on a single topic, or several small topics if need be, then I might become a fan.

    But Grats on the successes . . .

    edit: I don’t have an hour commute to fill with sound, or freedom at work to listen. I would presume there are many, perhaps most, in similar time-crunched situations. Might be worthy of some test podcasts of varying length to see which get most play. . .

    In the end, I doubt length is determinative of whether to continue to listen, if the ‘casters have gotten someone to try them out a few times. If a listener likes the content generally, then it is editing that will keep them coming back, and perhaps a general acceptance of the ‘casters’ voices (tone, etc.). (IMHO, of course).

  26. Nathaniel says:

    I’d recommend the Skeptic’s Guide to the Universe (http://www.theskepticsguide.org). It’s an hour long, professional-sounding, Randi-style discussion of current superstitions/pseudoscience. Creationists may not like it, but otherwise religiously neutral.

  27. Justin says:

    My favourite podcast is 1UP Yours. They discuss the games they’ve been playing, the gaming news that week, and also include questions/feedback from the 1UP community. When I first started listening to podcasts I preferred shorter shows so I was put off by the 1 hour plus show lengths of 1UP Yours. But now I’ve changed my mind, and I’m actually disappointed when the shows are *only* an hour long, much preferring their two-hour epics!

  28. NobleBear says:

    The Metamor City podcast

    It’s a fantasy/sci-fi setting that began as an anthology but is currently telling a novel-length story within the world called “Making the Cut” with regular episodes run 45-60 minutes in length.

    The sound quality is excellent and I like that editing is used not only to remove bad stuff but to add effects and music that create ambiance and often have a “theater of the mind” type feel.

  29. ryanlb says:

    Webcomics Weekly is one of the most consistently entertaining podcasts that I listen to.

    It’s geared primarily towards people who are interested in making webcomics, but though I have absolutely no desire to make/write/draw a comic the podcast is hugely entertaining and interesting. It lacks the editing part, but I think the tangential discussions and stories that barely illustrate the point discussed are still worth the listen to. I frequently go back and listen to past episodes, because they’re just so darn funny. Brought to you by Scott Kurtz, Brad ‘Wigwam’ Guigar, Dave Kellet and Kris Straub.

    SW Action News a Star Wars collecting podcast. If you’re not interested in SW collectibles this probably won’t interest you much, but it is the first podcast I started listening to, and from the beginning it has met all of your points. It has really high production value, great editing (enhanced with images the last few months) and really spoiled me for other podcasts that I couldn’t stick with due (mostly) to things like poor editing.

    The Force Cast – another SW oriented podcast, but more generalized to include news and other items. It’s fun and interesting, but for some reason I can’t listen to it consistently like the other two podcasts.

  30. kamagurka says:

    The Penny Arcade podcast is freaking boss.

  31. Miral says:

    The only podcast I listen to regularly (well, as regularly as I can given that it’s been on hiatus for quite a while) is Gaming Steve, and that usually seems to clock in at around 60-90 minutes.

    And yes, I often listen to it in the background while reading other websites or doing other things.

  32. Ericc says:

    I agree with the Mad Thinker. The Game’s the Thing is a good podcast. However, in the interests of full disclosure, the web-site owners/hosts Ron & Veronica are my friends. Ron also manages a game store (Game Daze), so I buy all my stuff from him (waaaaay too much).

    Something I like about the interviews he does includes rules demos. For things which may be new to the game (usually Savage Worlds), he’ll get the writer or designer run a mini-session to explain how it works. This helps me out more than anything, and it would be great if WotC did this. If they do, someone tell me.

    Ericc
    http://www.thegamesthething.com/

  33. cnh says:

    I’m also a big fan of FtB. I’ll second the suggestion of “The Sons of Kryos”; they’re a great source of social game theory and insight. Like Ftb, they do a long form show w/ editing, and while they may not have a “big board”, they do come to the mike with a definite plan for the show. They have roots in D&D, but are now heavily, heavily into the indie gaming scene. One of the hosts has a published a supplement for the RPG “Sorcerer”, and another has done a lot of artwork for various gaming companies.

  34. gottasing says:

    If you have women in your tabletop game (or are looking to encourage women to game with you), please try our podcast:

    http://www.rollinitiativepodcast.com

    We’re just getting off the ground and we’d love some feedback.

  35. Jon says:

    I would definitely recommend checking out 4 Feet Running. Every episode is about an hour long and you can tell that they do a lot of editing for each one. The topic is running; typically either training for or participating in a marathon.

  36. Greg says:

    “Saying it sucks twenty different ways does not transform an opinion into commentary.”

    I speculate that yahtzee could get away with this :P

  37. Phlux says:

    I listen to the Penny Arcade podcast. It doesn’t really follow any conventions whatsoever. It can be frustrating, though, because they don’t update it regularly. It can sometimes be weeks or months between episodes, and other times you’ll get two in the same week.

    They basically just leave a recorder on while they are writing their comic. It generally starts with brainstorming and discussion of gaming news, and ends with the finished text of the comic.

    For being so raw it’s surprisingly entertaining. Length is anywhere between 20 and 60 minutes.

    There’s no intro or outro, they don’t introduce themselves…you just have to figure out who is who all on your own…but it’s still hilarious.

    Edit: No need to start at the beginning either. Each podcast is totally independent. One of my favorites is “In the Love Nest of Hir’rakki”

  38. qrter says:

    I speculate that yahtzee could get away with this

    Not really.. which is why his reviews aren’t really reviews (as opposed to comic pieces, I mean) – but noone except Yahtzee seems to think they are, anyway. ;)

  39. Von Krieger says:

    Escape Pod feature science fiction and fantasy short stories being read each week with some little news bites from the host.

    I also second Skeptics’ Guide to the Universe, as its nice to be informed on all the nonsense that’s floating around out there in the world.

    Along the same lines as Skeptics ‘ Guide is the Geologic Podcast which features some skeptical type stuff combined with a lot of humor and silliness from the host. It’s always good for a laugh.

  40. Gaping_MAW says:

    Like someone further up the post tree..

    1up and the GFW 1up podcasts are good fun to listen to. Even if most of the former is console focused, the banter is entertaining and the information the pops out enlightening.

    Game theory is also good, but on a more cerebral/business level :)

  41. Dave says:

    It’s fascinating to me how many podcasts listed above overlap with my own favourites, considering the vast numbers of podcasts that exist out there in the wild. Go-go-gadget subculture, I guess. Here are some of my current faves:

    – Downloadable Content (the Penny Arcade podcast)
    – Dan Carlin’s Hardcore History, and Common Sense with Dan Carlin
    – Game Theory, and the PC Gamer Podcast
    – Skepticality
    – Wait, Wait, Don’t Tell Me
    – Quick Hitts (but this one isn’t long enough for running workouts)
    – Grammar Girl (also, too short for your purposes)
    – Fear the Boot (despite the fact that it’s been about 22 years since I actually played a tabletop RPG, I enjoy listening to them talk about them)

  42. website design says:

    Gotta say, I’m pretty much hooked on Dan Carlin’s podcasts.

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  1. By lapse on March 24, 2008 at 2:55 pm

    […] that have made it possible for the country to be used as a transit point …www.nationmedia.comMy Favorite PodcastMy Favorite Podcast Posted by Shamus on March 24th, 2008 Fear the Boot is a Podcast dedicated to […]

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