Wednesday, October 6, 2010

I'll Show you Mine if You Show me Yours

My list of podcasts, of course. What did you think I was talking about?

Occasionally, a Facebook status update gives me a peek at the podcasts to which my friends listen. In general, though, podcasts make me feel like an audience of one. I'm sure others listen to the same ones I do or good ones I should know about, but I have little way of knowing. So, I'll bare my MP3 soul in hopes that you'll share your podcast playlist in the comments.

[Editor's note: podcast is not in blogspot's spell check dictionary. Nor is Facebook or playlist. Nor, I should add, is blogspot. Natch.]

Breaking them down into categories, I'll cover the vegetables first (good for me and informative), then move to the fruit (good for me, but tasty and zesty, too), and finally to dessert (brain candy).
Informative, good-for-me Podcasts
NPR's Planet Money - The Economy, Explained. They do a really good job breaking down what's been happening in the economic crisis and the signs of recovery. It's economics for the common listener. Participation by the team that produces This American Life ensures that this is story-driven and character-focused. Some of the players from the dear departed Bryant Park Project work on this show, giving it a refreshing irreverence. 20-30 minute episodes, twice a week.
American Public Media's Marketplace Tech Report - A few weeks ago, this podcast changed its name from Future Tense to (yawn) Marketplace Tech Report. It also recently replaced its founding host, Jon Gordon with the equally likable John Moe. Only Johns need apply to host a quick look at the world of technology from new devices to privacy policy hi jinks to security threats. 5 minutes, 3-4 per week.
Brainstuff from How Stuff Works - The improbably named Marshall Brain takes listeners through a quick but thorough explanation of various things supposedly populated by listener questions. I remember "How does bulletproof glass work?" He hasn't taken on my question "Why do many children who start out blond end up having darker hair in later life?" HSW reminds me of a 5-minute lecture from my Uncle Larry, an engineer who does seem to know how everything works. 5 minutes, 3-4 per week.

Infotainment, Glad-I-heard-that Podcasts:
NPR's Fresh Air - Wow, can that Terry Gross interview. And now the others she uses for relief some days can, too. I love hearing Fresh Air on the radio, but often can't listen to the whole thing or join it half way and have trouble understanding what they're talking about. Now, if I don't catch it on the radio, I get it here. Fresh Air gets so TV-heavy when the new season starts, which is a bit of a bummer for one who watches TV only rarely, but overall the show produces such a terrific mix of news, entertainment and literature coverage. 1 hour on the air magically becomes 45 minutes on a podcast, daily.
NPR's This American Life - Quite possibly the best radio show ever made. Hear that, Murrow? Ever. Each show collects stories on a selected theme, mixing mostly true stories of the memoirish variety with short fiction that fits the theme. Creating 50 shows as good as this would be an accomplishment. Over 400 is simply staggering. I would have put this in the straight entertainment category, but I do learn important things listening to This American Life. 1 hour, occasionally posting reruns.
Kunstlercast - James Kunstler wrote Geography of Nowhere and several other books - non-fiction and a novel series - that focus on how suburbs are evil and the car-based world has to be going away. For the podcast, a lackey/former graduate student named Duncan Crary interviews Jim about his crazy worldview. I agree with most of his analysis of what works in older urban development and what doesn't work in the suburbs; I just feel like the way he packages this stuff often makes him sound nuts. Oh, and he uses bad language, which gives this totally straightforward and informative podcast the "Explicit" tag in iTunes. 20-40 minutes, about weekly.
Freakonomics Radio - The concept that was a great NY Times magazine article and became a pretty good book and has become a movie (!) also produces a half-hearted podcast that attempts to explain - through rogue economics - the hidden side of everything. Steven Levitt's mind works in fascinating ways, but whoever had this idea can't get enough Levitt to the subscribers for this medium. If they did it, this podcast would be better than the best parts of Planet Money and Brainstuff; it's a shame they lack the discipline to achieve that. They last posted at the World Cup. 20 minutes, when they feel like it.
NTEN Podcast - The Nonprofit Technology Network, a professional organization to which I belong, puts up a poor-audio podcast about once every never. They do a ton of good stuff, and this may just stretch a small staff's resources too thin. 1 hour, 10 minutes, 2-3 times a year.
NPR's Storycorps - Well-produced true stories from real people. 5 minutes, weekly.

Getting long here, so I'll speed up for the brain candy.

Entertainment Podcasts for Savoring and LOLing
ESPN's the BS Report - Bill Simmons calls his friends from college and LA and Boston and talks sports and pop culture in a mesmerizing way. 1 hour, 2-3 times a week.
The Moth - True stories, told live on stage without notes. Captivating from the funny to the touching. This is the podcast I save until I really want a treat. 15 minutes, once a week.
Dial-a-Stranger - Listeners submit open-ended questions (e.g. "Tell me about when someone saved your life"), and the hosts call a random listener (who has supplied his/her number) and ask them one of these questions. Zen-like interviews. I was on Episode 93, Baseball Angst. Yes, they called me. Hoo wa. 15 minutes, once a month when they're not overwhelmed.
The Absolute Peach - A couple of English guys chatting about everything and nothing in a way that's totally entertaining. Lots of inside jokes and references. Warning, if you start, you'll want to go back to the first of six series and listen to every one. They answered a question I posted on their facebook page on a recent episode. Yup. I'm everywhere. 1 hour, weekly.
The Pod F. Tompkast - Paul F. Tompkins just started this, and it's not for everyone. It's not always for me. Mostly, I think it's for my friend Jason H., who has a very similar sense of humor to PFT. Sometimes, I wish he would just get on with that and other times, I am practically (but not literally), ROTFL. 1 hour, bi-weekly or whatever.
Ricky Gervais - Mostly video casts, so I don't have time to consume them. Gervais is that English guy from the real Office and all the other squirm-worthy humorous content he produces. 2-10 minutes, monthly.

OK, if you're still reading and alive, let me know what's in your ears.


JFo said...

OK, I'm not saying I influenced this, but...

The next Freakonomics podcast I listened to after this blog post included a commitment to a bi-weekly schedule. Also, Freakonomics has hooked up with Marketplace, so the Marketplace brand now has at least three shows.

I'm not sayin'. I'm just sayin'.

Chip said...

In addition to This American Life and Fresh Air, I listen to a handful of podcasts on a regular basis.

Cooking Issues - Dave Arnold is the Director of Culinary Technology at The French Culinary Institute. I've read his blog for quite a while (it's like a graduate seminar for cooking nerds) and he has recently started a weekly radio show that is available as a podcast. This is where I learn to saber Sparkling Wine and why I have an unhealthy desire to spend a couple of thousands of dollars so I can experiment with sous vide cooking.

KCRW's Left, Right, and Center - A week-in-review news and politics discussion with Matt Miller, Arianna Huffington, Tony Blankley, and Bob Scheer. I'm a big fan of Miller and this is the only venue that I've ever heard Blankley be slightly tolerable. Scheer is actually from the left, which is a nice change of pace from the usual political commentary that spans the slightly left-of-center to paleo-conservative perspectives.

NPR's Live Concerts from All Songs Considered
KEXP's Live Performances
NPR's World Cafe Words and Music
I figure those 3 do not need much explanation.

WNYC's Radio Lab - Radio Lab is like This American Life/Planet Money takes on science.

The Tobolowsky Files - Stephen Tobolowsky is one of those character actors that you recognize as "that guy" whenever he appears on a TV or movie screen but you probably don't remember his name. The podcast is simply a good storyteller telling stories from his life.

I occasionally listen to WNYC's Brian Lehrer Show. Each segment of his radio call-in show is published as a separate podcast, making it easy to just download the 10-15 minute interviews that sound interesting to me.

Chip said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Jacksons said...

The Moth is an all-time favorite of mine. And Gervais...amazing. Love that guy. Thanks for the list Jeff.

JFo said...


The cooking one sounds pretty good, and the Tobolowsky one sounds really good.

Does Radio Lab use all of those strange sound effects? Or is that some other NPR obscura show?


Duncan Crary said...

Fuck you, pal.

JFo said...


I see you found your way to my post that included the Kunstlercast. Gosh, when I reread what i wrote, it looks a) like I don't enjoy the 'cast that much and b) like I don't think very much of you as a person/host. And that's not the way I feel. I do like the podcast; I listen to every episode and listened to a couple dozen back-episodes after I discovered it well in progress. I've only read Geography of Nowhere, and I guess what I meant when I called Jim's worldview crazy is that he declares things like "cars are going away" when I see little evidence of that. As you touched on in a recent episode, that either makes him a prophet or a Cassandra.

Also, I think you're a pretty neat guy with a good sense of humor and a worldview with which I agree. I appreciate the things you do in cities. It's clear that you work really hard on the show. Long story short, I'd enjoy knocking back some PBRs with you in that park that overlooks Troy (where I lived from age 5 months to 4.5 years).

I apologize. I shouldn't have called you Jim's lackey.

Keep up the good work.


Duncan Crary said...

No worries. I'm only messin' around 'cause you called me a lackey and mentioned the swearing.


Chip said...

Yup, one of the hosts of Radio Lab is a musician and composer so they experiment with the sound on the show quite a bit. Matt is a fan of the show, but Monte finds it to be over-produced and gimmicky.

Episode 34 (A Good Day at Auschwitz) would a great place to start with The Tobolosky Files.