For a while at the new gig, I had an office far from people I knew and from windows – the glass artifacts, not the operating system. To keep my sanity, I started listening to a lot of podcasts. Partially that was just to hear some voices, but I have come to enjoy many of then on their own merits. Here are a few of my favorites that you might like, too.
This American Life is a groundbreaking radio journalism show that also podcasts its content. That’s not an unusual state of affairs, and several of the podcasts I listen to either have radio show roots or are ongoing shows. This American Life is many things, but the attraction for me is its powerful commitment to both tireless research and immersion in stories and in their innovative and powerful storytelling techniques. The commitment to getting to the core of the story is enough of a reason love them. Any of their work during the election, on refugees, or on education (especially in Chicago) is insightful. Most telling is the one time the staff felt that they had to retract a story. Listening to how embarrassed and angry they are at themselves and at the intensity of the mea culpa they issue – they essentially turn the full focus of their considerable investigative prowess themselves – made me understand the standards they hold themselves to. Since that show, their fact checking has been well beyond what normal humans would consider sufficient.
The other key thing about This American Life is the caliber of their communications skills: they tell a great story. Those skills not only make this show powerful, but has spawned a progeny that addresses a stunning array of topics aiming for the same compelling and illuminating power.
Planet Money explains economics and the economy using the powerful storytelling techniques of This American Life. The lineage here is direct. Some of Planet Money‘s founders were key players in This American Life. The podcast itself grew out of a This American Life episode. They do their progenitors proud. Almost every episode has something worth listening to, but these two recent episodes will tell you if Planet Money is for you, though they’ve also done some projects worth looking at.
Welcome to Night Vale is a horse of a different color. From everything. It’s one of those pieces of art that sounds ridiculous when you describe it, but it is its own macabre, poetic, comical, romantic thing. Try a few and you’ll know if it’s for you.
Night Vale has also produced several very different children. All of these are original and solid, though only Within The Wires speaks to me. It’s one of those pieces of art that blindsided me completely. One episode was light and comical and the next showed me how much these characters had come to breathe, even though I’d had only the smallest hole through which to see them. Try it.
Off-Ramp is John Rabe’s rambling, insightful, penetrating, light-hearted romance with southern California. He has a boundless curiosity and takes significant delight in bringing local stories from the sprawling metroplex of LA to that community. He’s led me to art shows, restaurants and injustices in my adopted home with a smile and a wink (where appropriate). It’s something of a shaggy dog, but it has such personality that I think of the show as a weekly must.
Reply All is a show about the Internet. Like soylent green, the Internet is people. From that vague jumping off point they find stories of humor, terror, and passion that cannot be missed. They also try some innovative things. Another must.
The Memory Palace is a site full of poetic history. Nate DiMeo constructs these short, evocative gems about people great and small. Pick one up and try it out.
Here Be Monsters is an emerging favorite. Ostensibly about fear and the unknown, it covers a broad range of subjects. I’ve just started listening to it, so I don’t know if I’m just hitting a strong streak or not. If you try these, try a few and get the feeling of the range.
There are more, but I’m going to stop here for now.