Podcasts are to radio what BitTorrent and iPlayer are to television. Allowing the user to select only the content that interests them, to listen to at a time of their choosing makes them infinitely more convenient than tuning in and hoping there’s something good on. Nowadays smartphones (such as my own warranty-voided custom-firmwared HTC) are capable of automatically downloading the latest podcasts without any user interaction, queuing them up ready to listen whenever they are wanted.
Whilst its this level of convenience that makes podcasts radio-killers, for socialists there is a far more interesting aspect of this new media to examine. As with much internet-based content, the barrier to produce a podcast is far lower than producing a radio show. There’s no licence, no studio hire, all you need are some ideas and a half-decent microphone. This renders podcasts a far more democratic medium than radio, allowing alternative viewpoints to come to the fore, free from domination by state or company owned media machines.
Thanks to this democracy my 30 minute bus ride to work, normally dead time, has been transformed into a productive learning experience. I’ve listed below some of the podcasts that typically make up this experience, with mini-reviews for each in case you fancy trying one.
Out of all the podcasts I listen to, Radio Labour seems the most similar to a traditional radio format. Uploaded 5 days a week each 10 minute episode relays some of the major trade union news stories from around the world with a traditional radio-news style delivery. Typically the host does not venture beyond news items and into analysis or truly probing interviews, but this is understandable given the various trade union sponsorships the show has, it cant be seen as taking sides within the union movement.
Summary: Think of it as LabourStart in podcast form.
This podcast sets as its goal the bringing together of the Free software and labour movements. As a Linux-using shop steward its a project I can fully get behind, unions are amongst the worst culprits when it comes to spending money on software when there are free and often superior alternatives. Episodes of Cyberunions have so far covered a wide range of topics including open source social networking and the need to organise technology workers. The hosts are typically very honest about their own experiences with Free software, positive and negative and coming from different sides of the world from each other means they frequently provide insights into the ways unions operate differently in different countries (the downside to this internationalism is American cohost’s pronunciation of “Diaspora” which makes me wince, the small-minded xenophobe that I am).
Summary: Accessibly presented information on Free software aimed at trade unionists
A more infrequent podcast, CLB’s offering none the less provides some hugely interesting insights into the world of trade unionism and labour struggles within China. The hosts have a seemingly huge depth of knowledge and a very relaxed yet professional podcasting style which makes this one of the most listenable podcasts I subscribe to. Each episode tends to tackle a different topic though the major Chinese labour news stories of the day are always covered.
Summary: Professional and informative, an excellent source of information on labour struggles in China.
And the rest
The above podcasts are entirely labour movement orientated because I generally find most political podcasts too unfocussed and moralistic for my tastes, the only ones I occasionally listen to are those put out by the WSM, specifically I would recommend this recoding of a talk on the history of Syndicalism in Ireland. I also occasionally find time to listen to some podcasts completely unrelated to my politics, the highlights of which have to be the professional and funny GameSpot UK podcast and the fascinating and well-researched History of Rome podacst.
Podcasts are a fantastic resource for learning or catching up on news, and the left already has some good offerings. We can do a lot better though, and hopefully as the left slowly catches up with the technology we will see more and more quality left wing/labour movement podcasts.