My favorite podcasts

You’ll think this is strange but two of my favorite podcasts are made by the same woman and I’ve become obsessed with listening to her (in a most professional way)… even though it’s all in German. But stick with me here, for I want to make a bigger point about what makes podcasts good.

Annik Rubens — a nom de pod Annik Rubens — started with Schlaflos in München (Sleepless in Munich), a very brief, daily snippet of her life. And now she is costar, with Timo Hetzel, of Filme Und So (Movies and Stuff) a very well-produced but still casual review of movies, books, gadgets, and more. Both are among iTunes top German podcasts.

I happened upon her because I am forever doing penance for not paying attention in German class (which I got into by mistake, really). And I’ve found that listening to German audiobooks — and now, better yet, podcasts — is a great way to try to brush up.

As soon as I found Schlaflos, I was smitten. Rubens, as I’ve said before, does the oxymoronically impossible: She makes German sound sexy. But as I’ve listened to both her ‘casts over time, I’ve also realized that her voice — more broadly, her personality — is what makes her the ideal podcaster.

You see, she’s friendly and appealing and funny and real, unlike radio and TV “professionals,” who’ve been made fake on a scale from stiff to overbearing to obnoxious. Think about it: Would you really want to sit in a chair across from Rush Limbaugh or Randi Rhodes yelling at you, or any given newsreader boring you? Even Howard Stern isn’t Howard Stern off the air, he says. But I’ll just bet that Rubens is Rubens. That’s what makes her that ideal podcaster… and that’s what makes podcasts as unlike radio as weblogs are unlike newspapers. They’re made of people. Yet Rubens is also not clumsy and crude and long-winded like some podcasters, bless their hearts. She is just slick enough; she cares about making a good show and thinks it through and the effort shows. She’s friendly and entertaining but informative and organized (which is to say, unlike some podcasters I won’t name, she knows that just because you can talk for two hours, you don’t have to).

She and Hetzel also created a great blog to go along with their podcast. But note that: The blog isn’t the thing, it’s just the value added. The podcast is the thing.

So as strange as it may sound, I recommend that you go listen to either of her podcasts. In some ways, it’s better that most of you can’t understand, because you’ll hear the tone and it’s the tone I’m talking about. It’s the ability to create a good show without turning yourself into something you’re not.

: I am also a big fan of Diggnation, where founder Kevin Rose and friend Alex Albrecht talk about the stories that the public voted up to the front page of Digg… while they try a new beer. It’s that simple. But that’s what makes it so good: They actually care about this stuff. They give their opinions. They give credit to the people who found these stories. And they give us news. They’re two guys talking and you can imagine joining them over a beer and joining in the conversation. And, like Rubens, they produce the show to a clock and keep it moving.

My son is the one who got me into Diggnation. Today, he’s wearing his Diggnation T-shirt. And I hope he’ll forgive me for messing up an effort to meet Rose when I was at Web 2.0/1.0 in San Francisco. But note well that Rose is a celebrity to Jake and the audience. Podcasts are making stars.

Jake also got me to make it a habit to listen to and enjoy TWiT (This Week in Tech) with host Leo Laporte and a bunch of regular guests, including chronic curmudgeon John C. Dvorak. And he got me to watch video versions of both.

So one week, I thought I’d download tech podcasts produced by NPR so we could listen together. But they quickly bored Jake — and me — silly because they’re overproduced. They’re underhuman. That is the voice of “professional” radio and it’s not a compelling voice at all. I’d rather listen to friends — or people I come to think of as friends, or at least would like to meet — than the strangers of big-time broadcasting.

That is the true voice of the internet.

: Some people I have met are making podcasts, too, and so I’ll throw them props: Ken Rutkowski also has chats about technology at KenRadio and Steve Rubel and Joseph Jaffe are talking PR and marketing at Across The Sound.

Oh, and by the way, go listen to Nerd TV’s interview with podcast papa Dave Winer. Nobody has a more authentic voice on the internet than Dave and I enjoyed hearing the history of many of his innovations.