Podcast Roundup Part Deux: The Golden Age of Radio(-style)

(I love podcasts. I listen around 2 or 3 hours a day, between my commute, time at the gym, and household chores. I’ll be going over my favorites in the course of a few posts. Part 1 here: https://seanvansickel.com/2014/10/20/podcast-roundup-part-1-stories/ )

Public Radio was never part of my life growing up, but I became a fan of a few programs when I was doing private security as an undergrad. Our local NPR station has a few good programs, but leaves a lot to be desired. Fortunately, this was around the time when most major programs were offering either selections of their show or entire broadcasts on iTunes as podcasts. I fell in love and looked forward to each new release.

This American Life was one of the first such shows I downloaded. The stories were (and are) compelling and interesting, even when about subjects I wouldn’t have thought had much potential. Ira Glass deserves every bit of critical acclaim he’s received over the years. Whether they are doing long-form investigative journalism or compiling a series of interconnected vignettes, the show is always worthwhile.

RadioLab is similar, but with an aesthetic that focuses on sound, editing, and creating an extremely processed and deliberately created sonic experience. Their stories are eclectic, and more than once I have had an idea for a story or a song that germinated from a single line or idea expressed in passing about a subject I would have never encountered otherwise. The aural style of this program is distinctive, and while I found it a bit off-putting at first I’ve become a big fan of it the longer I listen. This might be something akin to Stockholm Syndrome, but I’m okay with that.

99% Invisible has a similar aesthetic to RadioLab -where I first heard of the program- but a more narrow focus: design. While that might sound overly specific, it’s a good example of the validity of the paradox which holds that limitations placed on oneself are creatively freeing, whether one is writing in tezra rima, recording into a 4-track, or making a podcast about a single general concept. 99% brings listeners into the worlds of architecture, sound design, IKEA hacking and numbers stations. It’s creative in a way that is just different enough from my normal creative outlets to get certain unused sections of my brain firing in a way they wouldn’t otherwise.

New Yorker: Out Loud is mostly interviews and conversations with contributors to the magazine. While fiction authors make occasional appearances, most of the discussion has to do with current events, coverage of the world at large, and discussions about culture -from Linklater to Kanye West. While the pop culture stuff can get a bit tiresome, (the coverage of music in particular) the show host some interesting discussion that offer informed and nuanced perspectives on a variety of issues.


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