On this episode of Too Embarrassed to Ask, former Recode reporter Liz Gannes came by the studio to talk about the podcast app 60dB and her favorite podcasts. Gannes, Kara Swisher, Lauren Goode, Eric Johnson and readers and listeners around the world contributed to a “Best Of” list of podcasts for 2017.
You can read some of the highlights from their discussion at that link, or listen to it in the audio player above. Below, we’ve posted a lightly edited complete transcript of their conversation.
Kara Swisher: Hi, I’m Kara Swisher, Executive Editor of Recode.
Lauren Goode: And I’m Lauren Goode, Senior Tech Editor at The Verge.
KS: And you’re listening to “Too Embarrassed to Ask,” coming to you from the Vox Media Podcast network. This is a show where we answer all of your embarrassing questions about consumer tech, and Lauren makes silly noises.
LG: Like “Ka-ching.” Oh, we’re not there yet.
KS: We’re not there yet.
LG: But seriously, we try to answer all of your questions about tech. It could be anything, like, “Will Google’s artificial intelligence soon take over the world?”
LG: “Why is Twitter getting into the live video business?”
KS: No idea.
LG: “What’s the fate of Uber?”
KS: Hmm ...
LG: “Did Kara miss me last week while I was out of the office?”
KS: No. No, I did not.
LG: Were you even in the office?
KS: No, I wasn’t. I was in D.C. So anyway ...
LG: Anyway ...
KS: So send us your questions. We read them all. Find us on Twitter, or tweet them to @Recode, or to myself, or to Lauren with the hashtag #TooEmbarrassed.
LG: We also have an email address where you can send us questions. It’s email@example.com, and friendly reminder that embarrassed has two Rs and two Ss.
So are you ready for Code Conference?
KS: I am ready. I’ve been working out. I’ve been going to Soulcycle. I’ve been trying to sleep, but it’s not working.
LG: Who are you most excited to interview?
LG: Thank you for explaining that.
KS: No, a lot of them. Ballmer, Steve Ballmer. We don’t get along all time. I think that will be fun because he’s not a CEO anymore. So he can tell me to screw myself, which I think he probably will.
LG: You don’t think he would have done that when he was a CEO?
KS: He did it quietly, but now, he can say it publicly. I think a lot of people ... Jill Soloway I think will be amazing, creator of “Transparent.” All kinds of ... There’s just so many good ones. There’s so many good people.
LG: There really are. Anthony Noto from Twitter.
LG: Kamala Harris ...
KS: Kamala Harris, Laurene Powell Jobs ... All of kinds of people. It’s just a ... It’s a really great line up. And one of the things I’m particularly proud of is it’s half women this year.
KS: I think it is.
LG: That’s fantastic.
KS: I believe I did it, finally.
LG: Because in year’s past, we’ve tried ... You’ve tried to book a lot of women.
KS: I have tried mightily.
LG: And sometimes, it just ... Schedule-wise, other things come up where you know people say they can do it, and some people decline.
KS: It’s a smaller pool.
LG: And there’s just ... Right. And so, it would look like, maybe there are only two people onstage who are women, when in reality we would put out ... We would cast a wide net.
LG: But it’s great that this year, it’s actually balanced out.
KS: I feel good about that. I feel really good. There were two more that we almost ... Two women didn’t work out. But we have Andy Rubin coming, Dean Baquet of the New York Times, Marc Andreessen, and Reid Hoffman, who are in fact two white men, but they’ll be fascinating talking about innovation. Ruth Porat from Google. It’s just a really great lineup.
LG: Did you know that I’m going to be leading a drone school while we’re there?
KS: Oh, I’m excited for that. Yeah, we’re doing a special thing where we’re doing new things now. We’re trying to innovate within the Code Conference. It’s super successful, but we are not happy with our success. We are going to innovate, and destroy, and disrupt ourselves.
KS: Exactly. So I’m very excited, but I didn’t realize you were coming. I had security spoken to, but I guess you’ll have to come, I suppose.
LG: See, this is why “Silicon Valley” — it’s on HBO — called you “too mean” on their little white board.
KS: We’re going to do a "Too Embarrassed To Ask" from there too, aren’t we?
LG: We are. It’s going to be really special. We’re going to be recording a special episode with the one and only Walt Mossberg. And he’s going to be answering all of your questions ...
KS: His final questions.
LG: About his career, the tech products he’s reviewed — the best, the worst. Seriously, you could ask him anything.
KS: Ask him anything. And then he’s going to go away, and that is it. So we’re recording that on Sunday, May 28th. And so if you’re listening to this on Friday or Saturday, send us your questions now. We’ve got some questions already, which we’ve been seeding for Walt. But email them at firstname.lastname@example.org.
LG: But this week on "Too Embarrassed To Ask," we’re going a little bit meta.
LG: We’re going to be taping a podcast about podcasts. Last year, we did an episode like this, and we got an overwhelming number of questions and suggestions from people about their podcasting experience and their favorite programs. So we decided to revive this idea. And we are delighted to be joined by Liz Gannes. She’s a former Recode reporter, who is now ...
KS: Legendary Recode reporter.
LG: Legendary. She covered the Ellen Pao trial ...
KS: Social media.
LG: Social media.
KS: Lots of things.
LG: I mean ... If you go back to before everything was an on-demand service, Liz was at the forefront of covering services like that.
LG: The instant gratification economy ...
KS: Yes, she was.
LG: And now she’s at podcasting company 60dB. Liz, thanks so much for joining us.
Liz Gannes: Thanks guys.
KS: Are you glad to be back sitting in the red chair there?
KS: You know, we had Mike Isaac recently. We’re just going to have all of the alumni who’ve left us.
We’ve spread out into the world.
KS: That is right, and you’re doing great.
LG: Can I be a friend of the pod?
KS: Yes, you can be a friend of the pod if you insist. So tell us about what 60dB is? What does it do? What is it?
It’s like a personalized radio app. So we bring you all your podcasts, but we also put them into playlists, so you don’t have to look down and switch to the next one. We think long rambly podcasts are great, but ...
KS: That’s like mine. Right?
We also like short podcasts, and news bits.
LG: We’re already guilty of this. We just rambled for like 15 minutes before we introduced Liz.
You haven’t done a pre-roll ad yet.
LG: That’s true.
KS: We will.
So we bring in ... I like listening to news about the Warriors. I like listening to what’s going on in Washington. I have my own personal preferences. I’ve gotten into barbecue lately. And every day, when I wake up and start listening to 60dB, there’s a personal playlist for me of things that the algorithm thinks I would be interested in.
KS: And they’re shorter ... They’re shorter little bits.
They tend to be.
KS: I want to get back to the barbecue issue in a little while ...
I made some great shrimp.
KS: No, you sound like Peter Kafka. I don’t want to hear it from him either. So you’re essentially organizing ... It’s like a Google [inaudible 00:05:34] or what?
Well, probably the obvious the comparison is a Netflix of it. So our CEO and co-founder started the personalization project at Netflix.
KS: Oh wow.
So he wants to do the same thing for audio.
KS: And why?
Because we like to listen to stuff. Getting your news while you’re running, or doing dishes, or whatever you want to be doing is something we like to do. But somehow, radio has not caught up with that. And there’s been this whole kind of cool explosion of long rambly podcasts and “This American Life”-type stuff. But there’s a lot of other things you want to listen to. So we want to make that short, timely stuff come to you.
LG: Talk a little bit about how what you’re doing is more like, in some ways, the terrestrial radio model.
LG: You know, if you got into your car in the morning to commute and you turned on NPR, you would be exposed to short 5-minute segments of various topics ...
KS: Live on the 5.
LG: Versus, “I’m going to listen to a tech podcast this morning,” and every episode’s about tech. And every one is like 45 minutes long.
But if you got into your car 10 minutes after that NPR show started, good luck getting back to the beginning.
LG: You’d miss it. Right.
And if you’re not interested in that topic, okay, keep waiting. So we have more of like the Tinder swipe. I’m not interested in this topic, I’ll go to the next one. And we only ... I don’t know. I feel like I’m not convincing you, Kara. You’re still squinting at me.
KS: I’m squinting ... I want you to explain it more, Liz, just like I would if I was an editor, for example, on a story. Why it’s interesting.
I cannot escape.
KS: I get the idea of it. It is true. It’s like hard-to-find stuff. You just sort of happen upon it. It’s like library books thrown on the floor of the library. You just don’t know what parts to get.
It’s also work ... you know, when you get to the end of a "Too Embarrassed To Ask" episode, you go, “Hmm, what do I want to listen to next?”
And we just keep playing with what we think you want to listen to next.
KS: I got it. In pieces ... So you cut them up and slash them?
Yeah. So we carry a lot of the “Marketplace,” “Here and Now,” takeaway stuff that you would hear ...
KS: Which are shorter radio ...
Yeah, but those show are made up of up segments. So we divide up the segments and give you some of them.
KS: And you use an algorithm to do this. It’s not hand-curated, or “Here’s our podcast of the day made up of podcasts” sort of kind of thing.
We do that too. We give you options. But yeah, the central thing is a personalization algorithm that tries to give you what you want but is also programmed to break you out of your filter bubble a little bit too.
KS: Right. How so? Explain the technology behind it, because I think the technology here is probably super interesting.
There’s a whole lot of different factors that go into understanding what you might like. And some of it is what you’ve listened to before, some of it is your preferences, some of it is the direct ways that you’ve indicated — you know, thumbs up, thumbs down kind of thing. And some of it is what other people like you have listened to. But those things are really complicated signals to combine, but what matters is bringing them to what’s new. So it’s not looking across everything that’s ever been released on Netflix and saying you might want to watch this movie tonight. It’s looking at what has just been coming out in the last couple of hours.
So when I log in, the first thing will often be a “BBC Minute” update that came out within the last 30 minutes. And then it will skip me over to maybe a Fox News segment that just came out a couple of hours ago. And then they’ll maybe skip me over to something coming from “The World” from PRI.
LG: But just like Netflix ...
KS: Wait, someone who listens to NPR listens to Fox News? It does that? That’s an interesting thing.
I could. Yeah, I actually get a lot of Fox News in my personal feed.
KS: Wow, that’s fascinating.
Well, I try not to skip things even when I’m getting that a little, “Oh, I’m not sure about this” feeling. But sometimes I do. And then say I get out of my car, and I go home, and I have my little Alexa machine in my kitchen, the Echo. And I say, “Echo, keep playing 60dB,” and it comes back to my feed. So it follows me around wherever I want to go.
KS: ’Cause the news thing on Alexis is terrible. It’s not terrible. It just goes ... It’s not ...
LG: And they’re like briefings. You get like a news flash sometimes ...
KS: Yeah, they are, but I want more.
LG: Unless you have a specific podcast app skill that you’re using. But what’s interesting about 60dB, and I will admit that I’ve been listening to it now for months, partly because Liz is my friend and I heard about it early on, but partly because I genuinely enjoy this app. It’s become my go-to podcast app in the car. You guys are doing original content, too. So the Netflix comparison is actually pretty apt here.
Yeah. There’s a lot of places in the world that don’t have their own podcasts that make great stories. So people on the team that I work on, we go out and seek those. We do a lot of stories with the Washington Post ... They don’t have a big audio department. We do a lot of stories with the Atlantic.
KS: Can you explain like, what would you do?
We often interview reporters about stuff that they’re working on and do that ... Have you listened to “The Daily” from the New York Times yet?
KS: Of course. I think it’s great.
Yeah, so I would say that’s very similar to our style, where we’re talking through the news with a reporter, we’re explaining context on it, and we’re bringing some of the kind of stuff that didn’t quite get into the story, like the experience ... I was just listening to “The Daily” on my way up, and it’s like calling the reporter in Jerusalem, reaching them at the hotel kind of understanding where this is coming from, not just words on the page.
KS: Yeah. I’m deeply in love with Maggie Haberman, so I enjoy “The Daily.”
She’s killing it.
KS: She’s killing it. She’s so great. She’s like a mom, though. You know what I mean? She looks like your mom kind of thing. Well, not my mom, ’cause I’m old.
LG: She is a mom.
KS: No, I know, but she looks like ... And then she’s kicking ass. I like the whole thing she’s got going on. So talk about the thought process behind the interface of the app. Now, Lauren uses it. It went through a big redesign. It’s a year old. Just a year old, correct?
Yeah, I just mean barely. The app is much less than a year old. So if you went to the app today, something you might see is Lauren put out a call saying that you guys were going to be talking about podcasts today, and what did people who listen to your show also like to listen to. And we made a collection running up to the last minute right before this started, which is now the featured collection on our discover page of podcast liked listeners of “Too Embarrassed to Ask.” And if you guys ... If your WI-FI was working, I would show it to you there. So here’s like ... This is all the things your listeners like.
LG: So it’s like a playlist in a way ...
KS: That’s what I would think. “Pod Save America.” It’s all the top ones too. Right?
So these are the ones that people tweet about that they liked.
KS: Yeah, the new Reid Hoffman one.
Which is very fancy. Have you guys listened to that?
KS: I just talked about it the other day.
There’s a lot of sound effects coming from every direction.
KS: Yeah, but this is what I would say ...
Oh, that’s like about old Hollywood.
KS: What is the “Jay and Farhad” show doing there?
LG: I don’t remember someone tweeting that to us that they liked it.
KS: God, I don’t even remember that. Let’s cut that out.
LG: So when the app first started it ...
KS: Wrong listeners.
LG: What would happen is, I’d launch the app, and it would basically just go straight into the daily news briefing, which was kind of cool because that really did replicate turning on the radio, and I’m listening to radio. And then one of the things I really liked about it was that you can’t ... Kara, this is not a joke. You can swipe “yeah, I liked this” or “I didn’t like this” — which, when you’re driving, by the way, is very handy because you don’t have to poke around for a tiny little button to look for your next podcast and all that stuff. But it was a pretty bare-bones app and so now there are a few more menu options and things and ...
Yeah, we want to give you options. So the first thing is still the top news of the day, personalized for you. But we also ... We’ve been making curated playlists of real breaking news so ... The title changes every day. When the initial Comey revelations came out, we started a playlist and we bring in ... ’Cause that stuff can be hard to find if you ... It’s almost like an email newsletter. You know, someone chooses the best stories of the day. Do you read the Axios newsletters?
LG: I do. Speaking of former Recoders, Ina Fried puts that together.
Yeah, so they have ... They’ll send out some of their own original reporting, but then they also link to the good stuff. So I think of sometimes what we’re doing is the audio equivalent of that, where we’ll just say, “Okay, I’ll listen to all the stories about Comey being fired today.” And I’ll pick ... Here’s the two that actually have like good interviews in them and good stuff in them. So when you press play on that, we’re not wasting your time.
KS: All right, which is the point, I think. So talk a little bit about the trends in podcasting, ’cause this is something you hadn’t done at Recode. We haven’t done any of it.
KS: How did you get into this? You went to Stanford, right? And?
So I had done one audio project, which was a freelance thing on the side not about tech at all, which was a walking tour of this neighbor in San Francisco.
KS: Groupon dude.
Yes, Detour from Andrew Mason. And it was really cool, though they did a lot of the work for me of kind of the production stuff, but I wrote it and read it. And that kind got me heading in that direction, just realizing that you can ... When you’re talking to someone in their ear, it’s like this really evocative experience.
KS: Yeah, it is.
LG: Just like we’re talking to you right now.
KS: No, but I would agree with that. I have a lot of people that come up to me and feel like they’re much different fans of the podcast versus the website.
Yeah, so I liked that.
KS: They love that relationship ...
But you asked me about trends in podcasting.
KS: So you got into it doing that, and then you decided to stay ’cause you were going to do some other stuff.
I wanted to really learn how to do it. And so what I’m doing now is I’m ... Every day I’m making a thing. Well, not today. Sorry, I’m busy.
LG: You’re making a thing with us.
I’m making a thing with you. Yes. And so that’s been a very cool way of getting in at the beginning and learning something and also being at a small company and learning stuff. So I’ve liked that.
I think that Recode and All Things D, we were startups, but we were very much media startups. We’re basically WordPress sites on the product side with excellent developers working on making a WordPress site good. And so I’ve been enjoying being also there in the room with all these developers really trying to figure out how we can make something that people want to use ...
’Cause we’re little.
And in terms of what’s going on with podcasts, I think one big changes happened like ... Did you ... If you were listening to podcasts this past fall, if you listened to before “Pod Save America,” there was “Keeping It 1600.” And you would listen to them come out with an episode and then maybe you didn’t listen for two days, you’d see the episode in your feed, and you’d be like, “Huh, like this is so stale. Politics are changing so fast.”
And so I think that there’s kind of this shift that’s going on and just corresponds with the way news ... We’re all, instead of having this wonderful, diversified media landscape, where we’ll all be telling different stories to different people, and there’s a long tail and everything’s democratized — no, we’re all paying attention to Trump all the time.
And when there is a focused story, it moves quickly and you need to keep up with that. So podcasts that happen once a week that are about the news don’t make sense anymore. So I think that there’s \ this shift toward newsiness, which is really exemplified by “The Daily.” But there are examples of that. Like “The Outline” now has a new daily podcast called “World Dispatch.” NPR even is launching a daily podcast called “Up First.”
KS: Eric, get on “The Daily” podcast.
Well, maybe you guys could do a shorter daily podcast.
KS: I’ll just wake up in the morning and go “ah.”
LG: I was just going to say, Kara’s schedule is really flexible around that. We should just try to work with her schedule to tape something every day.
KS: You know what? I’m bringing the money to you. Okay. You know why you keep having a job? Because Kara Swisher’s working every day.
LG: I’m just saying ...
I would love to wake up with Kara Swisher telling me that I’m an idiot.
KS: Yes. Hah!
LG: I would want to wake up to Kara Swisher hearing who she dialed at like one in the morning the night before ...
KS: I was talking last night.
LG: And just pound them for information.
Can you just do a daily podcast of Kara Swisher’s voicemails?
LG: Voicemails. That’s a good one.
KS: I don’t leave voicemails. I text. I’m big texting. I argue with people in text.
LG: Kara Swisher’s texts read aloud.
KS: Oh, I had some good ones last night.
Hire some actors.
KS: “What? You’re lying.”
We should bring in Janeane Garofalo and some other people.
KS: “Who is going to buy Netflix?” That was my last night’s bunches of text.
LG: Was that inspired by something? Or just out of the blue?
KS: I just had the conclusion that they’re probably going to get bought.
LG: She felt the vibrations, and they were traveling up from Los Gatos to San Francisco.
KS: I don’t know why I felt it. I just felt it and just started to pursue it. And yes, of course. That’s my newest thing.
But in any case, let’s get back to podcasts. So the big change is towards news. But what do you think of these long series? Like “Missing Richard Simmons” or “Serial,” because they’re the ones that got people into the podcasts.
Yeah. I love them. I listen to them. I mean they’re ... So a few hours a day, I’m also trying to get through Ron Chernow’s Hamilton biography. And I’m like, where am I going to spread my listening time?
KS: I know. I do listen to Audible quite a bit — one of our sponsors. But I listens to books. That’s all I do is listen to books. I don’t read them anymore.
LG: Well in some way, the “Serial” format and “Missing Richard Simmons” is very novel-like. I mean, those are basically books.
KS: They do seem more short.
LG: Which one did I say? “Serial”? I meant to say “S-Town.”
KS: But you see more short form.
But I got totally absorbed in “S-Town” and “Missing Richard Simmons.” I’m on that bandwagon with “Missing Richard Simmons” ending up being pretty exploitative and not really having a point.
LG: Yeah, I agree.
But I listened. It was beautifully made. But “S-Town” even more so. That was ... The music on that was incredible.
LG: You have to respect on some level — especially once you start working in audio, and you realize what goes into the production — just the level of production that goes into making those work.
KS: Where’s our music?
It should be swelling right now.
LG: Car doors slamming ... You know, chimes ...
KS: “The Outskirts of the Playa in Mexico.”
Oh, now we’re at Burning Man?
KS: You know, those NPR ones. A wind picks up ...
KS: I know, honestly. I could do fake ones of those all day long.
So talk ... There’s some facts around podcasts that we have from Edison Research. A lot of people know what it is. Obviously, it’s gotten ... People now understand podcasting quite a bit more. It’s had a quick education. Most podcast listeners are employed full-time, more than 60 percent.
LG: I found that interesting.
KS: The next is retired.
LG: Yeah, so full-time ... This was a recent report that Edison put out in April, and it was based on data from January. Yeah, they do this every year. And it’s always fascinating. For the most part, when you look at all the graphs and charts, everything is on an incline when it comes to podcasts, whether it’s just recognition of the form or listening habits on a weekly and monthly basis.
Yeah, but that stat about, that more than 60 percent of podcast listeners are full-time, and the next biggest group are retirees. But like part-time workers and stay-at-home moms and stuff like ... They make up a very small percentage of podcasts.
KS: Interesting. They’re busy, stay-at-home moms.
LG: You would think more time ...
KS: They do not. Stay-at-home moms are ...
LG: No I was thinking like part-time workers.
LG: But maybe the rest of the time is spent filling the gaps or, you know, doing other things.
KS: And also they click and listen to it.
Just before we get to the questions from our listeners themselves, what do you think ... These trends ... You said news. What else?
And then you brought up this trend of beautifully produced stuff. You know, the weird thing to me, looking at that Edison research, was that a lot of people listen on Wi-Fi, and I kind of assumed that they listen in their cars. Like I thought that was ...
KS: Yeah, or on their phones. Phones is where it’s going.
I think they had a stat or we’ve had a stat internally that a lot our listening is just on your regular phone speakers. Like not even on your headphones, which is so ... I’m like ... Who is just listening? Then I look at myself folding laundry and having my phone on the counter. I was like, “Oh that’s me.”
LG: You need air pods.
Yeah. I do.
LG: Oh you’ve got them? Aren’t they great?
KS: I hate Steve Dowling. Fie on you. I love them.
LG: Wait, I like how you hate the comms person. He invented them.
She’s also caressing them against her cheek right now.
KS: This is my favorite product. I just bought them for three people.
LG: Did you see my weekend post this weekend?
KS: No, I didn’t.
LG: I thought they were fantastic for meditation apps.
I’ve definitely tried to do like a yoga app while the headphones all tangled everywhere and thought it was dumb.
LG: Air pods.
KS: I use these to work out all the time.
LG: They’re fantastic. Yeah, but no. More people are listening on smartphones.
KS: What other trends to expect? And then we will get to our questions ’cause we have quite a few.
Yeah, well, I think the long-term trend is once you have your self-driving car and you can just be watching TV or doing your work in your car, then this is all going to disappear. We’re never going to listen again.
LG: Oh, once video ... Will it be usurped by video?
KS: I don’t know. I’ll be drunk in the car and texting, so ...
LG: No, you ... You absolutely ... All I hear about from you is you complaining about how much other people drink.
KS: I just complain about it.
LG: Well you’re like, “I drink juice and tea.”
KS: I do.
That’s why once cars are autonomous, that’s when the walls coming down. That’s when Kara’s going to start drinking.
KS: It’s perfect. I’ll be about 65 by then. Then I will start drinking heavily until my death. I think that’s what I’m going to do. That’s what I’m going to do. That’s my plan.
LG: As your friend and colleague, I will ensure that doesn’t happen.
KS: No way. Absolutely, I think it’s brilliant. It’s kind of like the most brilliant way to conduct a career and a life, I think.
I think No. 3 trend is too many podcasts.
KS: All right.
LG: So I said this like a year ago and it ended up being quoted in a bunch of places. Last year, I said podcasts are the new business card because everyone had one. You’d meet somebody and they’d be like, “Here’s my business card.” When you meet someone now, especially if they’re in media in some capacity, “I have a podcast!”
KS: Yeah, everybody’s always like, “I’m going to do a podcast like yours.” And I’m like, “All right, whatever.” It’s interesting.
I remember there was this site that would show you YouTube video that had zero views. I would like that for podcasts.
KS: Oh interesting.
What are the podcasts that have zero listens?
LG: So you can discover them?
You know, just ’cause like for kicks. What’s the thing no one cares about? I want to care about it. I want to give it my view.
KS: If only you have a curated company that pushed out things like that maybe that would be interesting.
Well, they’re also probably not the ones you want to listen to.
KS: So what’s going to happen with all those podcasts? And then we’ll get to our reader questions.
No one will find them, and they’ll be okay. Your mom can listen to your podcasts. Not you and your mom.
KS: Right, okay.
The universal you and their mom.
LG: But it’s funny that you mention that. No one will be able to find them because I think that as much as all of this is trending upward in terms of podcast consumption and everything else, discovery and shareability are still an issue.
LG: And then there’s the whole data analytics side of things too, which is that the people who produce podcasts are sort of tearing their hair out still around how people are listening, and how many people are listening.
iTunes kind of killed podcast accountability.
LG: But in terms of finding them ... Yeah, it’s hard.
No. 4 trend is people listening at like 1.5x. So, listen to more podcasts so we can all sound like chipmunks.
KS: Someone told me. I didn’t have any idea.
LG: Can you imagine Kara Swisher’s interview? “Oh, I should do that some time.” Just speed yours up 3x.
KS: People have done it. People have told me.
What it sounds like?
KS: I don’t know.
LG: Oh my God. Imagine drunk Kara Swisher late at night, 1 o’clock in the morning, reading texts aloud in a chipmunk voice. Subscribe.
KS: Exactly. Or just going, “Fuck you, Lauren. I don’t miss you, not even slightly.”
LG: You’re so mean Kara. You’re so mean.
KS: But the podcast is with you over the next week. I got to get ready.
LG: Are we ... We’re not sharing a room. Are we?
KS: Kara Swisher gets a suite. It’s a suite. Nice to meet you.
LG: I think I get a casita or something. It’s probably not like your suite.
KS: Not this year, my friend. Vox Media needs the money.
LG: Oh, I didn’t know that.
KS: We have six people in your room. So sorry.
Liz, in a minute, we’re going to be talking to some of our listeners about our favorite podcasts and more. But first, we’re going to take a quick break for our word from our sponsors. Lauren ...
LG: You already said it.
KS: Say it again.
LG: You say it.
KS: This is the spot where you have to say it.
I listen to your podcast. I know what happens. “Ka-ching.”
KS: That wasn’t a very good “ka-ching.” That was a very cynical “ka-ching.”
Oh excuse me.
KS: I would like something with some feeling, like ...
Are you playing me right now?
KS: No, not anymore. God.
KS: Well done, Lauren. Good.
LG: Thank you very much. “Ka-ching.”
KS: All right. If you’ve been listening to our show, you know how it works. Every week, we take tech questions from our readers and listeners. And we try to answer everything we can.
LG: We do. And this week instead of taking questions about podcasts, we asked you for your favorite podcasts, and we’re going to discuss some of them with Liz Gannes of 60dB, formerly of Recode. And we’re going to share our current favorites as well. And if you’re interested in listening to all the podcasts we’re about to name, download the 60dB app. They’ve done a really nice thing. They’ve put together a playlist for us of all the recommendations that people gave. So you can find them all there.
KS: All right. I’ll do the first one. Sandro George @Sci_technerd. “My favorite podcast right now is ‘Star Talk Radio.’” Liz ...
LG: I don’t know that one. Do you know that one?
Yeah, it’s Neil Degrasse Tyson. Right?
LG: Oh yes, of course.
KS: Explain it, Liz. Why is that good?
Oh, he’s just really smart. And he gets really good guests. It is long and rambly. But it ...
KS: He’s long and rambly, so that would explain it.
And he’ll kind of do the interview, and then he’ll step out of it and interview someone else about the interview, which sometimes is really good for really deeply nerdy techie key topics.
KS: What’s the most ... What do you with that podcast since it’s rambly? What does 60dB do?
Listen to it rarely.
LG: Do you excerpt it?
Do we excerpt it? No. But that would be a good idea. That podcast is very popular.
LG: Yes it is. So he’s like the Kara Swisher of science.
The cosmos ...
KS: The cosmos ...
LG: The cosmos ...
KS: We’re just talking to my dumb tech bros. Honestly, they’re talking about the future of our world.
LG: Steve McLendon. He’s @SteveMcLendon on Twitter. He named some sports podcasts that he likes. Like Bill Simmons, which is one we get suggested a lot, but he also added ... Oh and of course “Reliable Sources with Brian Stelter,” who’s also been on this show before and just had a baby. Congratulations, Brian. Well, he didn’t physically have the ... But in either case ...
KS: In any case, he was involved.
KS: Not committed. So what did ... You liked that? Brian’s a well-known person. There’s that trend of well-known people.
Well, his podcast is basically ... It’s his show. Right? It’s the TV show on audio.
KS: But he does special interviews for it and stuff like that, which is good. I think those are interesting. He adds ... It’s an addition to what he does on CNN.
On the sports front, I guess I’m kind of disappointed because there’s so many sports podcasts. But they’re all just like, “Last night’s game. Tomorrow’s game. Who’s going to be in the finals? What’s the score? Blah, blah, blah.”
I’m excited for more sports storytelling. That was actually something I was working on this week. And the thing to look forward to there is ESPN is doing “30 for 30” for audio, launching next month.
LG: Oh that’s cool.
So there will be cool sports documentaries coming to the world of podcasts finally. But in the meantime, the one I’ve found that I really like is the Outside magazine podcast. It has really amazing stories about extreme athletes like paragliding and mountain climbing and things like that.
KS: Yeah, that’s a great magazine.
LG: Yeah, it’s actually great. They did an issue recently that was just the women’s issue. Every story in it was about women.
KS: That’s like once a year?
LG: I know. Honestly, sports and fitness magazines ...
KS: Because women don’t do any sports ...
LG: Sports and fitness magazines need to do that more with women without the objectification of women.
Like maybe half the time?
LG: You know? Without just like, “Oh and here they are in tiny little spandex.”
KS: What do they have? A people of color issue?
There’s an amazing episode though of the Outside podcast about this all-women’s expedition that climbed Anapurna in 1978.
LG: Yes. And there’s a book about it and everything. It’s fantastic. It was honestly, yeah, very good stuff. Completely agree.
KS: I enjoy reading Outside magazine in the airport as I’m waiting for my flight.
Yeah, you read US Weekly.
KS: I do. I love US Weekly. I buy US Weekly. I subscribe to that.
Or you just look at it outside on the shelf?
KS: No, I get it. I subscribe to it on my iPad.
Oh excuse me.
KS: I’m not embarrassed by my love of celebrity news, although I’ve done a lot less of it lately. It’s all now Trump, as you said.
All right, the next one. Adriana @AdrianaTrong. “The Crooked Media empire of ‘Pod Save America,’ ‘Pod Save the World,’ and ‘Pod Save the People,’ and then there’s ‘Love It or Leave It.’” Talk about them. I interviewed them at South by Southwest, and we had an enjoyable podcast.
Oh did you? I didn’t hear that. I was ...
KS: It was really ... It was very popular. I’ll tell you, I’ve never gotten so much response.
Oh yeah? I was going to suggest that you interview them, but I guess I just missed that episode.
KS: Well, John Lovett and I just basically gated each and gay-insulted each other.
He’s done a live show now. Like his podcast, they tape it live, and it’s so entertaining. It’s really funny.
KS: Yeah, he’s very funny.
I mean, I don’t know. I think some days I have patience for the Obama bros and sometimes I don’t. But they’re ... It’s very well done.
KS: And why do you think it hits a nerve with the topic? They can talk about Trump endlessly.
You know, I think the left has been waiting for its Rush Limbaugh. And maybe it’s Jon Favreau.
KS: Yeah. A handsome one, a handsome one, and then John Lovett. John’s adorable. He’s adorable. They’re very clever.
They are. And it’s ... That company is what? Six months old? Pretty cool what they’ve done so far.
KS: It’ll be interesting to see how they last. There’s going to be a Trump ... That’s enough of him kind of thing, I think. It’s sort of a show that we loved and then we just didn’t.
LG: You’re saying they’ll have to evolve in some way.
KS: Yeah, it’ll be interesting because I can’t ... I can think of 10 shows that I was like, “Awww.” You know? And very few are sustainable. You ultimately hit ... We’ll see, although he seems endlessly interesting. Trump for sure mostly ’cause you’re indignant almost ... A high state of indignation from much of the nation and a high state of thrill for the other half of the nation.
Anyways, next one?
LG: I feel like we should just patch in Taylor Swift saying right now, "This is exhausting," and move on. The next one is from Ivo Sotirov on Twitter. “Trailblazers” with Walter Isaacson, “All Time Favorites,” “Hardcore History,” and “Control, Walt, Delete.” And he added an emoji with a tear drop because “Control, Walt, Delete” is Walt Mossberg and Nilay Patel’s podcast, and Walt’s retiring. We don’t know the exact future of it.
KS: You can’t call it “Control, Walt, Delete,” so you’ll hire someone named Walt.
LG: That’s true.
They could make a Walt doll that intros every show.
KS: He’ll call from the cigar store. “Oh leave me alone.”
LG: He’ll be like, “I’m windsurfing.”
KS: Oh my God. Walt windsurfing.
LG: He’s not going to windsurf, but I love the idea. I just love idea, like ... Take that photo of Obama as he’s water skiing.
KS: Oh we should do that. Think about that.
LG: I know that’d be a good one. I don’t listen to ... So I listen to “Control, Walt, Delete.” But ...
“Hardcore History” is pretty amazing. If you listen ... Which one did you listen to?
KS: Oh, lots of them. I love them. I think they’re very ... I love all history ones.
If you have some time to invest and you care about weapons and more strategy.
LG: I can think of someone who can maybe afford to listen to some history podcasts right now. I’m not going to say who.
KS: Yes exactly. All right.
LG: This is exhausting.
KS: Isaacson’s an interview show. Right?
LG: I don’t know.
KS: It’s got to be Trailblazers.
LG: We’re going to have to look that up. I’m going to listen it. I’m going to add it to my list.
KS: All right. I’m just saying. He’s not going to be like ... He’s working on a book on Leonardo Da Vinci. He’s not going to say, “I’m here with Leonardo Da Vinci.” No, a southern accent, “I’m here with Leonardo Da Vinci.” I just was with Walter in New Orleans. It was quite delightful.
All right, the next one is Kate Agnew, @Katesacliche. “My favorite podcast is the Riveters podcast. They just kicked off season 3.” Never heard of it! Liz?
I have heard of that, actually. That is done by two long-time women who worked in advocacy and government and related things. So it’s kind of like ... They do a lot of politics, but they do other things too. So it’s riveters as in Rosie the Riveter, and they interview women.
KS: Ah okay. That was a good one. The “Riveters Podcast.” All right.
LG: The next one is Danilo Olguin Vega who says, “‘The Daily’ by New York Times, brief but concise, knowing the most important topics in the morning with some content is a great driving companion.”
That is the one you should listen to if you want to be up on the trends. Michael Barbaro was on Seth Meyers this week. It’s like the big podcast breakout star.
KS: It is. It’s doing really well. It’s fast growing.
25 million listens or something.
KS: Yeah, it’s smart. It’s very smart. It’s a super smart idea.
LG: Does anyone still think of the iPad newspaper when you hear “The Daily?” That’s where my mind goes.
KS: I remember them giving all the money to them and not to AllThingsD. I remember that part of it. Yeah.
LG: It’s been long enough.
KS: Still bitter.
LG: The statute of limitations is over on that, so the New York Times can have the name “The Daily.”
KS: It’s a great thing. I recommend it to everybody. I love that New York Times. Again, we’re having Dean Baquet at the Code Conference, and we will ask him about it.
LG: He was great at South by Southwest.
KS: He was. He’s a great guy.
LG: He’s really smart.
KS: He’s been at several other events. He was at Code Media. But this is a great time to talk to them, with Jeff Bezos talking about the Washington Post last year. So kind of the two twin really news organizations in the news.
Isn’t it crazy how complementary their stories are these day?
KS: Yeah. They’re like, bang.
It’s like clockwork.
KS: One hits, the other hits, one hits ...
They never seem to be working on the exact same scoop. They’re just like great different facets of a scoop.
KS: I have a suggestion where they sell their subscriptions together.
LG: Oh, I have a suggestion where they get a room. Just kidding. I really do love them both quite a bit.
KS: I hope you don’t say that to Dean Baquet. He will not be allowed into the dinner. I hope he’s not listening to this.
LG: Thank you for doing all that you’ve done for democracy.
KS: All right. Next one is Nikola Mojovic. “This is not an easy question. ‘The Ezra Klein Show’” — and then answers it. And the Vergecast.
LG: Oh so he’s into the Vox Media podcast network!
KS: Podcast network! Do you like us saying that, Liz? We have a network now.
Do you have to say it at beginning and the end of every show?
KS: Yes, we have to say it all the time.
LG: In that game show style voice.
KS: Yeah, Liz is like, “I’m so glad I’m not working here anymore.”
LG: Well, thank you, Nicola, for saying you like our Vox Media Podcast network.
KS: Next one.
LG: Next one is Mark Riedy. “How I Built This.” I think we got that one suggested a bunch last year.
KS: No, don’t know what that is. Liz?
LG: Do you listen to that?
Is that ... That’s not “Masters of Scale.” That’s Reed Hoffman’s new show. How ... I forget which one “How I Built This.” Is that the Guy Ros show? There’s a lot shows where they deconstruct entrepreneurship.
LG: Yeah, it’s about innovators, entrepreneurs and idealists, and the stories behind the movements they built. It’s on NPR.
KS: So that’s “Masters of Scale?”
LG: Yeah, I think it’s ... Yeah.
KS: There’s a lot ... And again, the media startup and this and that.
Which is now going to be a TV show starring Zach Braff. Did you see the trailer? It looks so bad.
KS: No. Is it?
LG: Oh now. Really?
Well I loved the first season of “Startup” because it was so raw and authentic. And now they’re casting a Hollywood show to do the same thing?
KS: I know. There’s not going to be a show on Recode.
Who’s going to play you?
KS: Just me, I think.
LG: Who would play ... Oh I know. Sally Field.
KS: What? She’s like 109 years old.
LG: I feel like 30 years ago.
A young Sally Field.
LG: I meant that like ... Never mind.
KS: Someone thought years ago that I was like Holly Hunter. That’s what they ... In “Broadcast News” where she just yells at everybody. You know? I was sort like, “Is that a compliment or an insult?” I believe it’s an insult.
That she played a reporter in a movie?
KS: I want George Clooney to play me.
It’ll be an AR movie.
LG: I want Sarah Silverman to play me.
KS: Oh she’d be good. She’s doing some cool stuff.
Good choice, actually.
Except for your doppelganger who already stars in “Silicon Valley.” She’ll probably have to play you.
KS: She had a lot of lines the other night.
LG: Oh yeah. Although I think she’s really based after Megan Quinn from Spark Capital.
KS: Yeah, she is.
You look alike.
LG: Oh, well thanks. I take that as a compliment.
KS: She had more than one line this week. It’s crazy.
LG: Oh I know. You know it’s funny if like ...
KS: She’s an actual character.
LG: Okay, we’re going to go off on a brief tangent for a moment about TV shows rather than podcasts. But it’s funny how every punch line just kind of lands on that show because it’s so true except for the Monica punchlines. I watch it and I’m like, “Oh this is just not funny.”
KS: No actually, she was good this week.
LG: But it’s not her. It’s the way ... It’s the whole idea of ...
It’s not true to life.
LG: No, it’s too true to life.
Oh no. It’s your life.
KS: She had a good one about hanging with the tech bros this week that I thought was good. She broed it up. I thought she was great this week.
LG: I am not saying this about Amanda Crew in any way. I think she’s great, and every so often she likes my tweets. Thanks Amanda. But it’s just the way the whole Lorie dynamic and the male VC getting credit for what Monica did and then having the baby shower to overthrow Lorie from her seat.
Spoiler, spoiler, spoiler.
LG: Sorry. But it’s like, ugh this is so true because this is how it is. It’s almost like painful rather than funny. That’s what I meant.
KS: It’s just a comedy, Lauren.
LG: I know. I’m just taking it too seriously.
KS: Watch “Vegan,” you’ll be much happier. Anyway, okay, the next one is Carl Obermeier. Too many to list in 140 characters, which you took like 70 characters to say, but the best are, “Remember This Pod,” “Slate Gabfest,” “Hardcore History,” and anything on the TWiT network. That’s a lot. Oh my gosh. Got a lot in there.
KS: So, any of these, Liz?
So I think “Remember This Pod” is “You Must Remember This,” which is a podcast about old Hollywood primarily, which is pretty cool because that’s not a topic that’s usually addressed in regular media. And TWiT. I don’t know. We know Leo Laporte. Friend up to the north. And they make media every day.
LG: He’s been doing it for a while.
KS: He’s been on that for a long time blabbing away. He’s been blabbing away for a long time. We’ve all just jumped on the blab-away bandwagon. Lauren?
LG: I was gonna say, that’s the second mention we have for “Hardcore History” as well, so clearly that is a favorite. The next suggestion is from Jodie White @jodieblanco on Twitter. Good name. “The Adventure Zone.” I’m not familiar with that one. Are any of you familiar with that?
Sounds exciting, though.
LG: Eric’s gonna weigh in on this.
Eric Johnson: I have not listened to it, but I am pretty sure the “Adventure Zone,” one of the hosts is Griffin McElroy from Polygon. So, in terms of Vox Media Podcast Network, I’m pretty sure that that’s one of his shows.
LG: We were just kidding, everybody. Thanks for listening to the Vox Media Podcast Network.
Why are we talking about podcasts with Eric in the room not mic’d?
LG: I told him to bring a 4th mic, but we didn’t actually have a 4th mic, so we’re gonna share.
KS: So anyway. All right, finishing up with Liz Gannes here, who is from 60dB, which is a cool app that deals with podcasts. What are your favorite podcasts right now? And Eric, you have to answer too. Liz, yours?
Okay, so one thing we didn’t talk about a whole category of podcast I’m into is TV recap and discussion podcasts. I love watching the show and hearing smart people talk about the show. Some of my favorites, like “Better Call Saul” is airing right now. They’re in season, and they are producers. All the people behind the show have a podcast where they break down shot by shot and what interesting things happen and super geeking out. But I always listen to that. I watch one night and then I listen to the podcast the next day.
KS: Is there one on “House of Cards,” because that’s about to start again?
Yeah, and I even have been watching “Survivor” this season, and I listen to the “Survivor Recap” podcast. The whole reason I watched “Westworld” is because I love Dave Chen and Joanna Robinson’s podcasts about “Game of Thrones.” So, when they were like, “We’re gonna start a podcast about this new show ‘Westworld,’” I was like, “Okay, I better go watch that new show ‘Westworld’ because I want to hear them talk about it and if they think it’s good.”
KS: Yeah, and do you like “Westworld”?
I did like “Westworld.”
KS: Did you? I can take only so much robot abuse.
Well, I don’t think I would have wanted to watch it without having that discussion around it. Because they were ... They put it in context a lot better than the show did.
KS: So, is there a “House of Cards” one?
KS: That would be great.
I’m off “House of Cards.”
KS: No. One nation, Underwood. I’m so excited.
I will find it and send it to you.
KS: Just Claire walking across the hall back and forth ... I can just watch her doing that all day long.
If you download 60dB and take a screenshot and verify you’ve downloaded it, I will send you a “House of Cards” podcast.
KS: All right. Thank you very much. All right, Lauren? Yours?
LG: Look at that human curation.
KS: I know. Look at her. That was blackmail. That’s what that was.
LG: So, I’m not just saying this because Liz is in the room and she’s my friend, but my favorite podcast app right now is 60dB. Big fan of it. I’m not just saying this because you’re in the room, but I listen to “Recode Decode” all the time. I really love it. I just went for a hike this weekend, and I listened to the Patrick Collison interview, which was great. Actually for me there’s like a backlog where I look at yours and Peter’s and I’m like ... I have to listen to that ... Oh, I have to listen to that one, and there’s just not enough time in the day. So, big fans of those.
KS: “Handmaid’s Tale.” Listen to that guy. That was a good one.
LG: So I just finished the book. So no, I like have to get into the Hulu series.
KS: He’s fantastic.
That show, by the way, is the best show on TV right now.
LG: I mentioned this last year, and I’m still a fan of it. I’m a big fan of a podcast called “Lit Up,” which is hosted by a woman named Angela Ledgerwood.
KS: Marijuana use. Your heavy marijuana use.
LG: It’s a literary podcast, and she interviews authors.
KS: So she smoke and talk about like Jane Austen.
LG: Yeah, everyone gets real lit. And they talk about lit.
Wow, I wonder if librarians also make a lot of pot jokes.
LG: But yeah, no, she ... So it could be anything. It could be an interview with the latest author of the book at the top of the New York Times bestseller list right now. And something everyone’s heard of. Or it could be more obscure than that. I just listened to an interview she did with a Pulitzer-winning Vietnamese author who has a new book called “The Refugees.” And it was a fascinating interview. And she’s got this fantastic Australian accent. She’s like, "I’m Angela Letterwood, and I’m here from the soho house." And everything’s like fancy.
KS: That’s why you like that.
LG: It’s great. And it makes me ... As a writer, sometimes we get so heads down in the news that you forget about the other forums that out there. And you listen to other writers’ processes. And you’re like, “Oh there is another world out there,” and it’s really ...
KS: You’re caught up in this small minutia. Our idiot president ... Anyway ...
LG: And I did enjoy “S-Town.” But there’s a whole discussion to be had about the exploitative nature and the end of it and how much was revealed. Anyway, let’s move on.
KS: Eric ...
EJ: Well, I would just say for anyone who is curious. This is what Kara Swisher’s podcast is at ex speed.
LG: You can hear all the words.
EJ: Yeah, exactly. You can make it out. Liz, I actually listened to Chernow’s Hamilton book at 1.5x. And it was weird at first, but then I ... When I would turn it back to 1x, it was like he was drunk. It sounded wrong to go back to him talking at normal speed.
KS: Okay. How much did you retain from it?
EJ: Most of it. I remember the guy’s name was Andrew Hamilton. But no. In terms of podcasts that I love I would really recommend a show called “Flash Forward.” It’s a show that takes sort of a sci-fi premise, and then it says what if it were real? So basically, you have what if we killed all the mosquitoes? Or what if all teachers were replaced by robots? And then they actually talk to real people.
Like mythbusters for sci-fi?
EJ: Sort of, yeah. Each episode starts like a fictional ...
KS: What if we kill Hitler? That kind of thing. Right?
EJ: A little more grounded that. Like stuff that could actually happen maybe.
KS: Like the ice shelf falling of the planet?
EJ: I think there was a global warming episode.
KS: We’ll be seeing what happens with that rather soon.
EJ: Yeah. And the other one I would recommend is “Crime Town,” which is one of the Gimlet shows. It’s a show about organized crime in Providence, Rhode Island, where I lived for while I was in college.
KS: That’s where Walt Mossberg’s from.
EJ: Yeah, it is a fantastic work of journalism. They really go deep and really humanize the story. Go way beyond sort of the ...
KS: So it’s historical or current?
EJ: It’s recent history. It’s about ’70s and ’80s.
KS: They’re almost done.
EJ: Buddy Cianci died a couple years ago, and he’s one of the main figures of the story. It is recent history, but they talk to people who are still alive and who have all these amazing stories. Just the most insane stuff you’ve ever heard. And it’s just, you know, happening under the radar really, in an American city. So I think they’re now going to, in future seasons, go to other cities and talk about organized crime there.
KS: Scranton, Pennsylvania, I’d recommend.
EJ: You should tell that to Matt Lieber.
KS: My grandfather’s from there. My grandpa’s name is Sharky, but I’m not going to go into that story.
Do you have a name?
KS: No. Yes, given to him by the mob.
LG: What are yours?
KS: Mine? What are mine? I like history podcasts. The “History of Rome” podcast. I like “Stuff You Missed in History Class.” And anything with Rome. I’ll listen to anything ancient Rome. I love ancient Rome and ancient Greece. Mostly ancient Rome. So anything with history in it I like. And I mostly listen to a lot of books about history. Not just Hamilton but everything. I’m looking forward to the Da Vinci book and stuff like that. So I like anything to do with dead people. I talk to too many freaking live people. Dead people don’t fight back.
LG: They also don’t answer when you call one in the morning though.
KS: Someone the other day ... I do. I like dead people. I like learning about dead people’s lives and then assessments of those lives.
LG: Right. Well, history often repeats itself.
KS: Did you just actually say that?
LG: It is so true, and you can’t possibly understand. You can’t understand how your decisions are impacted in the future.
KS: Yes, you can. And I do think our country doesn’t see we’ve been in lots of these places before. We have no retention of history, which is a good thing and bad thing. And that’s such a deep thing to talk about.
LG: It really is. Are you listening to anything else?
KS: I listen to a lot of books on tape. That’s what I’ve been doing more than podcasts. I love books on tape. I’m listening to Joan Didion’s latest, “North and South.” And I just finished ... I’m listening to David Sedaris all the time, almost continually.
LG: Does Joan Didion read her own?
KS: Yeah. Yes, indeed.
I will almost only listen to books read by the author. So I read ... I listen to a lot of memoirs.
KS: Aw interesting. Well I have to tell you. Apparently ... And I’m going to get it. Claire Dane’s version of “The Handmaid’s Tale” is quite riveting.
LG: Oh really?
KS: That’s what everyone tells me, so ... She’s an actress.
Heard of her.
KS: Yeah she’s an actress. Anyway, this has been another great episode of “Too Embarrassed To Ask.” Liz, thank you for joining us. And please come back again.
LG: Yes Liz. It’s been so lovely having you in studio.
This article originally appeared on Recode.net.