I am so excited about podcasts! In the last year, the medium has really found its feet. It used to be that I only listened to podcasts if I was bored on a road trip, but now they are filling a gap in my life somewhere near the intersection of books, tv, movies and radio. They lie at the Four Corners of media! Washing dishes, folding laundry and getting ready for the day have been transformed from mundane necessities to anticipated opportunities to catch up on the latest episodes.
My one issue with podcasts is that I want more of them to consume. As such, I am constantly on the prowl for new content. Why not share what I’ve found so far? Without further adieu…
This American Life is the godfather of all podcasts. It began as a radio show in 1995. 1995, people! Almost every other podcast in this post has a former contributor or producer from This American Life on their team or gained popularity only after This American Life used their material in an episode. Chris and I went to an Ira Glass lecture/performance/guy-on-stage-with-an-iPad in Boise. He explained his motto for the show as follows: news can be sensational, terrifying, gut-wrenching and attention grabbing, but it doesn’t have to be. The producers of This American Life have demonstrated that people will listen to good reporting, even if it’s about events that don’t initiate frenzied media coverage. The show is thoughtful, deliberate, patient and relatable. It can be shocking, hilarious or sorrowful, but it’s always real. That has kept it on the air for 20 years. ‘Nuff said.
Planet Money started in 2008 to try to explain the mortgage crisis in the US. They took a ridiculously complicated topic (even the regulators didn’t get it!) and made it enjoyable and (somewhat) understandable. They use a bit of This American Life’s model of showing listeners what is interesting about everyday events. Do you think it sounds boring to go through your homeowners insurance policy line by line? Think again! Planet Money episodes are short, funny and informative. I never knew complex financial mumbo jumbo could be so fun!
I love Radiolab because it’s sciencey (it’s like a science lab, but on the radio. Get it?). The first time I heard an episode, I found the editing to be quite jarring. However, I have since come to appreciate the way they weave a soundscape (if you will) by cross-cutting voices, phrases and sounds and I have noticed newer podcasts tend to employ a similar editing style. The hosts, Jad and Robert, have a genius grant and several decades of experience between them. But best of all, the stories are mind-blowing. Prepare to feel smart!
And Then There Was SERIAL!
So much has already been said about Serial. If you haven’t already listened to the whole first season, you are really good at ignoring hype. I don’t have too much to add, but I will say this – Serial changed the podcast landscape from a place where geniuses like Jad and Ira were plugging along making content for NPR to a new world where podcasters can actually become famous (and of course, beauty and wealth follows). I believe we have Serial to thank, in part, for the emergence of so many great new podcasts (and so many bad ones, but let’s ignore those).
New Kids on the Block
Invisibilia is the love child of Radiolab and This American Life. The sound-alike hosts, Lulu and Alix, worked on the two shows respectively. It is a show about the invisible forces that shape our lives. I don’t think it brings anything new to the table – it could easily just be more episodes of either of its predesessors – but I still enjoy it. The hosts are charming and the content packs the intellectual and emotional punch I would expect from Radiolab or This American Life.
I just discovered The Memory Palace this week while shoveling snow. It’s a short and sweet history podcast. The episodes are generally less than 10 minutes long and they each contain unexpected tidbits of historical trivia. The focus is on aspects of stories that don’t normally make it into history books. They are sad, funny and surprising little gems that may or may not have shaped history in the greater sense. My takeaway from this podcast is that there is much more to historical events than just the names and dates they get distilled down to.
And finally, Reply All. This addictive show about the internet will make you feel so plugged into the modern day! My favorite part is a segment called “Yes Yes No”, in which the hosts explain crazy internet stuff to their boss. Do you know what the phrase “Weird Twitter will hoot” means? Neither did Alex Blumberg and I! But the guys from Reply All explained it to us and now we’re hip to that jive!
What podcasts do you love? Come on, feed my obsession!