Five Podcasts You Should Be Listening To

1-IMG_0994-1I am a podcast addict, and I’m not ashamed to say it.

The beauty of the podcast is its utter portability. I listen while I drive, while I run, while I cook, clean and do laundry. It’s like having a conversation with a really interesting friend, only I don’t have to talk at all. As for my real-world friends, I regularly regale them with tales of my latest finds, surprised that not everyone has heard of these nuggets of diversion.

My favorite podcasts, like my magazines, are more numerous than I can possibly listen to every week, so I’ll start with the biggies–the must-haves for the podcast uninitiated.

  1. Serial. Serial explores the case of Adnan Syed, currently serving a life sentence for the murder of his ex-girlfriend, Hae Min Lee. He was a high school senior at the time, and was convicted largely based on the testimony of another person, Jay Wilds. Hosted by Sara Koenig, she explores the evidence against Adnan, the inconsistencies in the investigation that led to his arrest and conviction as well as her own journey of discovery. Is Adnan a victim of judicial injustice or a really convincing sociopath? (Cue foreboding music)
  2. Undisclosed – The State vs. Adnan Syed. It’s sort of a cheat, I suppose, including this as a separate entry, but it’s my blog. Hosted by three lawyers, Rabia Chaudry, Susan Simpson and Colin Miller, Undisclosed dives deep into the evidence and matters of case law. Ms. Chaudry is a friend of the Syed family, and was the individual who brought Adnan’s case to Sarah Koenig, so she definitely has a point of view, but the window into police investigation and criminal trial process appeals to the geek in me (which is pretty much all of me). If you’ve ever watched Law and Order and wondered how this process works in real life, or doesn’t, Undisclosed is for you.
  3. This American Life. This American Life, hosted by Ira Glass is the grandfather of all storytelling radio shows. You can listen to it every week on your local NPR station, or download the podcast and listen at your leisure (and without bleeped curse words). Each week has a theme, with a series of personal stories that relate to the idea at hand. Some are socially relevant like school segregation, the dynamics behind the sub-prime mortgage crisis (for which they won a Peabody award), and the real-time story of a Somalian refugee trying to make his way to the U.S. Others are just really fun, like a Riverdance troupe that pooled their money for a lottery ticket, and were convinced that they were giving their final performance before making enough money to never work again, or a police officer who locked himself in his own squad car.
  4. Wait, Wait, Don’t Tell Me. Yes, it’s another NPR show. But face it, the degree of separation between podcast geeks and NPR listeners is pretty small. It’s a weekly quiz show covering current events with panelists like Paula Poundstone, Adam Felber, Tom Bodette, Amy Dickenson and Peter Grosz. The show includes segments like “Who’s Bill This Time?” where newscaster Bill Curtis re-enacts quotes from the news of the week, and call-in listeners have to guess who he is, or the “Listener Limerick” where the contestant has to guess the final word of a news story in, you guessed it, limerick form. My favorite segment is “Not My Job” where famous guests have to answer questions about odd topics somehow related to what they do, but without any real connection to what they do, like asking Surgeon General Vivek Murthy about “General Hospital”. Participating in this segment is my life’s goal. I dream big.
  5. The Moth. Real people telling real stories in a few short, riveting minutes. Moth shows are recorded live across the country. Storytellers use no notes or cards, and share experiences that have shaped their lives. Some are funny, like a temp worker who accidentally sets the office on fire while working late, to deeply moving, like a man throwing a final birthday party for his dying mother. It’s a great reminder that people are awesome and interesting and that we all have stories worth listening to.

All of these podcasts are available on ITunes and they are free–that’s right–free, or you can click the links on each title and stream episodes from your computer.

This is just a handful of my obsessions–it was hard to cut it to five (Sorry Invisibilia, The Gist, WTF, Dinner Party Download, Studio 360, Radiolab. I’ll get to you late.) Give them a listen, and let me know what you think.

What podcasts do you love? Please share – I have a lot of laundry to do.

Public Media could use a hug

The New York Times asked Ira Stone which author, living or dead he’d like to meet, and what question he would ask. He replied “Edgar Allen Poe. I don’t have a question, but dude just seems like he could use a hug.”

This is why I adore public radio.

I’m an NPR junkie.  I love Diane Rehm, Terry Gross and Peter Sagal.  I love the way Sylvia Poggioli says her name and did you know Ari Shapiro sings like nobody’s business? He is also a snappy dresser. Of course, that last part I didn’t learn on the radio, I saw him at a Pink Martini concert, but you get the point.

After Mitt dissed Big Bird, there’s been a lot of debate about whether the government should support Public Media and the arts. I won’t hash that out here. But in this week of public radio fundraising, this is my love letter to NPR, and why I’m a continuing member.

I won’t say NPR is unbiased in the topics it chooses to cover, but at least it’s factual in presenting those topics that it does. They put real numbers on the table. Their guests are the real deal and they make me think about my own biases and question my assumptions.

They provide a forum for civil discourse where opposing viewpoints get airtime and consideration. As much as conservatives dislike NPR, it actually has a greater likelihood to shift my thinking on issues than Fox News or MSNBC. I actually listen because sometimes I don’t like what I hear, but it’s what I need to know and it comes from a source that I believe values honesty.

I won’t hear about the latest grisly murder, or car crash, or celebrity scandal. I’ll hear about important events outside of the U.S. I’ll hear about books that aren’t on the NYT bestseller list, and hear interviews with authors who are. I love them for giving the world David Sedaris. I like to think of David Sedaris and Jane Austen as my spiritual parents.

Quieting voices of dissent is never a good strategy. Conservatives would be far wiser in using public media to get their message across.  Talk about reaching a target audience. If you want to change minds, it’s good to talk to people who hold the opposing viewpoint. But I digress — the bottom line is money. Although public media is a drop in the budget bucket, it’s fair game.

So my point is simple.  If you love public radio/public television, sign the petitions, send letters to your representatives, March with the Muppets if you choose. But before you do, make a donation. It doesn’t have to be a lot. If you want to keep public media rolling, put your money where your mouth is.  Even if you can only give a couple of dollars a month, it’s worth it. It’s like saving Tinkerbell. If we all clap our hands, she’ll hear us.

I believe, Tink. I believe.

Words J. B. Everett

Photograph by Hey Paul Studios © 2011 Creative Commons