The way I see it there’s two big categories of podcasts. There’s the first one which is one person or a group of people will talk amongst themselves with largely unprepared material and you as the listener get to feel like you’re sitting in on a conversation. I’m talking about podcasts like Bill Burr’s Monday Morning Podcast, or My Brother My Brother and Me. This also includes the subset of interview podcasts like WTF with Marc Maron or Bullseye. The second category of podcasts is that one which has a narrative arc set up, they have a point they’re telling and they get to it. These are usually a little bit more edited than the first category. I’m talking about shows like Radiolab, This American Life, or Revisionist History. It can also be shows that just have a very defined beginning and end like Levar Burton Reads or The Dollop. Shows like The Adventure Zone I feel fit into this second category if only barely.
Both of these categories have their own unique strengths, the first because of its non scripted nature allows the personality of the people in it to really be the foundation upon which the podcast stand. You listen to these podcasts for the close relationship you’ve built in your mind with the hosts through callbacks and inside jokes. The second while also having a “personality” factor to it is much more about the story that’s being told in the podcast. You know that This American Life for example is gonna tell stories a certain way and that’s what’s appealing. The shared language is built much more from a storytelling style perspective more so than the personality of the people in it. A quick test to verify this is to try and think of more than three contributors to Radiolab or Planet Money? You can’t really do it right? You can certainly remember the stories though.
Dan Carlin’s Hardcore History is a podcast unlike any other. Carlin himself is a former radio host and a self proclaimed “fan of history”. He doesn’t consider himself a historian though he does have BA in History and frankly the fact that he’s free of the “historian” label is what makes his podcast so compelling. Carlin is a great story teller. I’m talking Home- by-the-fire level great. Time Magazine’s Christopher Matthews put it best when he said:
Carlin's podcasts are hardly reminiscent of the dry history lectures you might remember from school. Carlin puts the "hardcore" in Hardcore History by focusing his narratives on the most violent and dramatic moments in human history, filling his show with colorful anecdotes that were most likely left out of your high school history class.
Carlin’s great at finding little interesting nuggets or drawing parallels to modern times, or pointing out something about the story that we might not have thought of before. For example when referring to Druids’ interactions with Romans and with their own people he has brought up the fact that while you and I in the modern times may know that magic isn’t real the people at the time did not. So everything in their worldview was shaped by that. It’s those kind of things that brings histories to life and allows the listeners to really engage in a way few history lectures do.
Going back to the “categories of podcasts” I brought up earlier. Dan Carlin’s Hardcore History is as much in one category as the other. It’s common knowledge that the sweet spot for a meaty podcast episode length is between 60 and 74 minutes. Anything more than that and you’re really demanding a lot of the listeners and are gonna get lost. Hardcore History episodes, especially when taking into account the length of series are significantly longer than that. The latest release “The Celtic Holocaust” is 6 hours long! 6 hours talking about one thing. That’s roughly 6 WTF episodes. Think of how close as a listener you are to Marc Maron after you’ve listened to 6 episodes of him? In the course of 6 hours with Dan Carlin you as the listener become intimately familiar with him, his phrases, his different “Scales” that he uses even the way he reads direct quotes from his source material become as much of a meme as those of any other podcast. Through it all though there’s a distinct “Carlin” style, which like the “this American Life” style makes this distinctly unique. As much in the personality category as the story telling category.
Dan Carlin’s Hardcore History podcasts don’t come out every week. Many months span one release from another but as soon as one drops it immediately jumps to the top of my listening queue. All other podcasts are cast aside, I can’t tell you how many Bill Simmons Podcast episodes I haven’t listened to since the latest HH dropped and frankly I don’t care. There’s nothing like this show and if you’ve ever liked history and podcasts you need to listen to this unicorn of great storytelling that has no business existing in 2017 and much less being as good as it is.
You can find Dan Carlin's Hardcore History wherever you subcribe to podcasts or directly on his site.