Monday, June 10, 2013

The Podcasting Way of Life

If you have ever had a real-life conversation with me, you probably know how often I reference podcasts. I used to think podcasts were sort of a 2003-ish blip on the radar in the larger scale of the digital age (perhaps like ipod shuffles?), and frankly, I just didn't see the appeal. Now that incredible imagery is available at the tips of our fingers, day and night, radio is dead. Right? Enter, world's most boring job.

I work in an office with great people and a ton of monotonousness paper work. In no way do I wish to discredit the company in saying that my job is boring - I'm grateful to have a job, and what I do is a task that needs to be done, even if I don't have to use my brain very much. That said, I've found it necessary to fill in the gaps in my mental state (even more so since I've been out of school). I have built a very robust Spotify library, as well as become that annoying person who always has some trivia fact to add to every conversation because of all the podcasts I listen to.

If you need enrichment while at work, commuting, roadtripping, plodding through domestic duties, or need some non-screen entertainment, you are a primed to love podcasts too. I love that podcasts keep my mind sharp by introducing new ideas for me to mull over and keeping me up to date on what's going on in the world, especially since I don't read the newspaper or use other conventional ways to get news. Podcasts lend themselves really well to multitasking, which is especially helpful when you have kids. Podcasts also afford me an arsenal of quotes and a gold mine of things to research further as I tend to my own writing. I've been introduced to so many incredible thinkers (and often their books) via podcasts in subjects that I never would have thought I'd be interested in (like physics!) and make them accessible to those who may not be experts in those topics or know all the technical terms. They teach you some ground rules for learning to tell your own stories in an entertaining and effective way. Think of them like documentaries for your ears.

I have compiled a list of my favorite podcasts, complete with a synopsis of each and recommendations for my favorite episodes. Many of these shows air on our local NPR radio channel (90.1FM), so you may be familiar with a few of them, even if you didn't know you could access them for free, whenever you want, without getting cut off in the middle of a story because you have to get out of your car. We'll call this a beginner's guide. All of these podcasts are available for free on iTunes - search their titles and begin exploring! If you choose to subscribe, new installments of each show will automatically download into your account when they become available.

1. This American Life is at the top of the iTunes charts almost every single week, and the host, Ira Glass, is a downright celebrity in the world of radio. Each week of TAL has a theme, and then there are several segments with stories on that theme. I think what I appreciate most about this show is its ability to put me in someone else's shoes. I've gotten to the point where, even if I have a gut reaction to side with one view in a story right off the bat, I tell myself to wait and see how they go about humanizing "the opposition" (e.g. people who live on disability checks due to minor ailments). I think that is stellar, in the media business. David Sedaris is a regular guest, who is almost guaranteed to make me laugh out loud (at work) and make my heart ache, simultaneously. Since I know you're gonna love it, you can get a fan [temporary] tattoo! Some of my favorite episodes: Kid Logic, Americans In China, Oh You Shouldn't Have (particularly Act 3).

2. Listening to just part of a Radiolab story is akin to eating only one potato chip; humanly impossible. Ok, I know there are fancy pants people out there (such as myself, ahem) who have eaten only one potato chip just to disprove that, but seriously, Jad Abumrad and Robert Krulwich (hosts) deliver some of the most engaging content on the airwaves. I'd say the topics usually have at least a thread of science involved, but they have nailed the balance between real-life humanity and the more mathematical aspects of our universe. Furthermore, they do a great job of "battling" one another in trying to explain how life works; Jad generally takes a factual and more cynical view of things, Robert counters with the fact that it is very difficult for us to be certain about anything and tends to give the human heart and mind the benefit of the doubt. At first the editing (splicing of sounds, mainly) of the show was distracting to me, now I totally love how they use it to tell their unique stories. I've even gotten my husband hooked on this show! A recent episode highlighted musician David Rothenberg, and how he plays music with animals. Some favorite episodes: Unraveling Bolero, Laughter, Emergence.





3. The Splendid Table is hosted by Lynn Rosetto Casper who is sweet as can be, but the show theme music and even the cadence of her voice can get a little syrupy for me. Regardless, I have learned some great cooking tips and gotten some good ideas and inspiration from listening to her talk about food, answer people's cooking questions and spend time with chefs in their kitchens. She interviews people about food on the road, their cookbooks, growing food, you name it. She also discusses wine a fair amount, which I kind of drown out, but could be useful if you're into that. This is a podcast that I "absorb" rather than listen carefully too; I cherry pick what applies to me. The podcast website is full of goodies, from recipes to giveaways. My single greatest reason for loving this show is that it introduced me to the magical concept that is Conflict Kitchen (episode from April 13, 2012), which kind of changed my life

4. We're Alive. Walking Dead for the radio, before there was Walking Dead (the show, at least). There can only be so many plot twists when it comes to zombies, and some of the voice actors on We're Alive bug, but you sure get sucked into the story! It's been running for 3 seasons now, but only releases about a chapter (3 installments of 15-20 mins) a month, so I let the downloads build up, and then listen to a chunk of them all at once. If you become a die-hard fan, they've even done one or two live recordings in LA that you can get tickets to. The gaps between seasons are pretty long, but I keep coming back to try and unravel why [minor spoiler] some of the zombies are intelligent (dun-dun-dun!).

5. TED Talks are better known in their video format, and you do miss out on some important content without the video aspect, on occasion, but I love these 15 minute idea bites that have the power to seriously alter your thinking, if you let them. TED talks make me feel more hopeful about the world and excited about the incredible innovations people are dedicating their lives to, but hopeless too, when I'm confronted by just how many issues need our attention and how terrible some situations are on this planet. For a while, I was on an Urban Planning kick (as in, that was my college major of choice) in part due to what I was hearing on TED Talks, and TED speakers have even informed my parenting style. Some of my favorite speakers are Dan Pallotta (we need to change our views of successful charity), Bruce Feiler (using corporate office strategies to parent), Alain de Botton (the perks of a religious lifestyle, even if you don't believe in God).

6. Freakonomics, again, is probably better known as a book. Imagine all the goodness of the book on a weekly basis, and you don't even have to exert the effort of reading on your own! I'm fascinated by the economist's outlook on the world, particularly in how they can take something that most people would find repellent and discover it's lesser known useful qualities - they're all about "the hidden side of everything." My favorite episodes: 100 Ways to Fight Obesity, The Tax Man Nudgeth, Mass Transit Hysteria, and Reading, Rockets, and 'Rithmetic.

7. Pop Culture Happy Hour is hosted by four culture (music, books, theater, etc.) writers for NPR, and has by far the most unscripted banter of any podcast I listen to, but I really enjoy it because they are super witty, even if I don't get all the references. I take notes like crazy when listening to this podcast because they review and suggest so many good musical artists, books, comic books, movies, TV shows, etc., beside discussing topics like lesser known classic films, sidekicks, and dogs in TV and movies, which manages to still be interesting and funny. My Amazon wishlist is littered with their suggestions. This podcast makes me feel like I'm getting smarter by osmosis and I sponge up all the hints on what a well-rounded lover-of-culture should be aware of, past, present, and future. 

8. The Moth is a story-telling event held live all around the country. Each evening has a theme and anyone (sometimes celebrities and renowned authors, sometimes your next door neighbor) can tell a personal story from their life as it relates to that theme. The podcast is comprised of recordings (roughly 10 minutes each) of these stories. The nature of the show being so varied definitely makes some stories better than others, but you sure do appreciate the power of a well told story when you get a good one. I would love to go to a live Moth event some day! I should also mention that a fair amount of these stories feature brief explicit language. Favorite storytellers/episodes: Aimee Mullins, Mike Birbiglia, Jim Bennett and Rebecca Addelman, Chicago GrandSLAM Part 1. 

9. The Dinner Party Download is a perfectly entertaining mash-up of celebrity/musician interviews (and I'm talking BIG names in every genre), original cocktail recipes, unique food reporting, new music, weekly news, and etiquette. This is one of the lighter-hearted podcasts and therefore doesn't include that much educational information, unless it's adding to my list of places to eat at in LA or opening my eyes to the wonders that are pretzel dumplings, the grilled cheese cook-off, and kouign-amann.

10. The How Stuff Works universe (Pop Stuff, Stuff Mom Never Told You, Stuff To Blow Your Mind, Stuff You Missed in History, etc.) has entertained me for many an hour, and you can find a podcast by them on almost any topic you can think of, but they aren't as smart as most of the other podcasts. Because they aren't as specialized (one office of people does all the podcasts), the information tends to be more general and/or read from sources written by other people. It's a good pace for kids. I love learning about archaeologists hunting for lost treasure that really exists (especially underwater! [image]) on Stuff You Missed in History, but my all time favorite episode from that podcast was about Emperor Norton of the United States. That episode doesn't seem to be available on iTunes anymore, but here's the transcript






















11. LibriVox and The Classic Tales Podcast are both like classic literature audio books, but in podcast form. The Classic Tales Podcast is better quality narration by far, but Librivox has a much larger selection. Some of the best books/authors I've listened to are Bram Stoker (Dracula), Gaston Leroux, G.K. Chesteron (The Man Who Was Thursday), and Rafael Sabatini (Captain Blood). 

12. Last but not least, I will unashamedly plug my church, Element Christian Church, and their podcast. All of the sermons are archived on iTunes which is pretty handy if you missed a Sunday, or if you're not able to be a part of a church body right now and need some Truth in your week. I think that our pastor, Aaron, though a jokester (consider yourself warned), does a great job of preaching the true gospel in a way that is fresh, engaging, thought provoking, and genuinely life changing for me.

1 comment:

  1. This is great! Definitely checking some of these out.

    ReplyDelete

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