Recommended BBC Podcasts: Current Events, Science, and Documentaries

Category: TechToday

Contrary to what devoted users of Twitter and Facebook think, microblogging and using social networking services doesn't mean you're well-informed with current events. Old technologies such as RSS and newsreaders have done a good job for years providing current events to the well-informed, but they are considered clunky compared to today's obsession with instantaneous services and cloud apps. Even podcasts, which can be scheduled for download, are starting to lose their appeal and user base due to the proliferation of instant access to web sites using tablets and smartphones.
The downside of using mobile devices to consume news, however, is that there's always a distraction. I don't have any installed gaming apps on my iPad but I'm always distracted by my sideloaded Esquire magazines and old issues of Spectacular Spider-Man. Moreover, there's always the temptation to pull up a video or two of Alfred Hitchcock Presents. So what's a guy to do to get some news without having to browse BBC, Channel News Asia, China Daily and other news sites on the go?

I'm probably a small minority, but I still download audio podcasts regularly to get my fix of current events and news. Browsing the aforementioned news web sites is great but downloading news podcasts are better because you end up listening and learning events you would have otherwise skipped. The iPad is better for consuming videos and general entertainment, but my iPod Touch is perfect for the numerous current event programs I download using iTunes.

BBC1, BBC2, BBC3, BBC4 . . .

Sometime in the last 15 years, I discovered that BBC provides the best podcasts on the Internet. The programs they provide are relevant, intelligent, comprehensive, and truly educational. In fact, most of the content complements many free online courses from iTunesU and Khan Academy or assist in anyone's general education. I've been listening to BBC's podcasts for a few years now and although there were occasions when I found some of the news anchors/presentors and interviewers snotty, overly aggressive, and even arrogant (that guy from In Our Time Archives could be pretty defensive when it comes to the UK), the news items are selected well and presented with skill and tact. Moreover, the podcasts are free even to users that aren't living in the U.K. Plus, they have a huge selection of programs encompassing a wide range of genres and fields. MSNBC, Reuters, TED, and CNN certainly can't say the same.

What's on my iPod? Here are some great podcasts that are consistent and can be considered quality programs. Unlike 90% of the podcasts available in the Apple Store, these podcasts are updated regularly and are timely and exceptionally well-done. The best part about BBC podcasts is that archived episodes are still available for downloading:
  1. BBC World Update: Daily Commute - This is arguably my primary source of news information. And it's not because of the British accent. If you want to keep yourself up-to-date with European and American news, skip CNN, download BBC World Update Daily Commute daily or even weekly and learn what's happening to the rest of the world. When work or Linux gets  in the way, I download the missed podcasts and play them while working on Corel Painter or jogging during the weekends. If I ever had a kid, I'd delete his/her Rihanna playlist and stuff Daily Commute on his iPod.
  2. Thought of the Day - This program features a 3-5 minute reflection from a variety of religious representatives. The presenters include Sikh leaders, Buddhist monks, Catholic priests, missionaries, bishops, and rabbis. The program isn't a sermon, but rather a personal and often intimate exposition from a spiritual point of view regarding a current event such as the U.S. elections, dieting, suicides, and the London riots. You don't have to have a religion or be religious to enjoy and appreciate this podcast.
  3. Click - This podcast complements the Click TV show, but is generally more lighthearted and fun with Bill Thomson ("studio expert") and Gareth Mitchell. Even though I visit sites such as Wired and Engadget on a regular basis, I still find myself drawn to Click for its somewhat industry-focused look at technology at work. Gareth, the lead presenter, is a genial and patient host. Abrasive and rude Bill Thomson, who seems to intentionally oppose Gareth just for the sake of sounding intelligent, is a tool with an exaggerated sense of self-importance. However, the show does unearth emerging tech being implemented in places like Australia and Africa, which otherwise would be overlooked in traditional shows or U.S.-based web sites. It's a brief and easy show to consume, especially for those interested in science and electronics.
  4. BBC World Service Documentaries - Arguably the most educational of all of BBC's library of podcasts, these documentaries highlight specific stories from the past, present, and future. Some are purely pedestrian, such as a museum of broken hearts in Europe, while others are decidedly disturbing. Stories ranging from the simple livelihood of African women to the radical racists in Russia, provide you with an incredibly broad but enlightening look at other societies and countries. It's an eye-opener and a program I would recommend teachers to play in a history or social sciences class regularly. The depth and detail are pretty amazing. Some of the episodes are extremely long or segmented into parts, but all are worth a listen.
  5. Point of View - Point of View isn't necessarily my favorite BBC podcast, but it certainly is the most intelligent. Point of View is updated sporadically, but when an episode does come out, it takes a few runs to actually understand the message of the speaker. Some of the discussions are grossly opinionated and close-minded, but that's the whole point of the program.


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