I’ve become a podcast listener over the last two or three years. Mostly while in my truck, I’ll have one of the fourteen casts to which I subscribe playing in my Bluetooth earpiece, a Plantronics device that cost way too much and is starting, frankly, to fall apart.
But in case there are any other podcast junkies out there, and like me often search for new material to add to the mix, I thought I’d briefly mention my choices, which are all available free on iTunes. If you’ve never listened to a podcast, this might be a good place to start.
This is the best and it’s only 15 minutes long because “you’re in a hurry, and we’re not that smart.” I wish it was longer frankly. Those 15 minutes are packed with terrific advice for fiction writers and a solid, nerdy chemistry amongst Brandon Sanderson, Dan Wells, Mary Robinette Kowal and Howard Taylor, all very successful creators in their own right.
In this podcast Paula actually reads – bedtime style – a chapter or two of a MS submitted by a listener, offering edit and structure advice along the way. She’s great and unfortunately has recently announced she will no longer be podcasting. But I believe you can still catch her past “Slush Pile Workshops” on iTunes for the foreseeable future.
Mur Lafferty sits upon the throne of podcast royalty in the field of writing. She’s been doing it for a long time and offers up advice, feedback, great interviews and a brief glimpse of what it’s like for her to be in the biz. The show has a welcome-to-my-den feel to it, down to the frequent jingle and jangle of her dog’s collar in most of the shows.
I just subscribed to this one after I heard it mentioned in Writing Excuses. Dan Wells from W.E. teams up with his brother Robison. They are both writers, although I’m not yet convinced this is a show about writing. Still, so far they are very entertaining and I’m looking forward to digging in to their sibling dynamic.
The show hosted by Josh Clark and Chuck Bryant started the stuff craze in my world. Affiliated with The Discovery Channel and howstuffworks.com, they have literally thousands of articles from which to draw. In the end I can just about guarantee you will learn something from each show, laugh a bit, and feel just a tiny bit smarter than when you began. And the subjects are sometimes seriously out there. The one I just listened to was titled “How Do Vampires Work”. They are doing so well, The Science Channel has decided to give them a television show which I will definitely DVR. (Is DVR a verb now?)
Robert Lamm and Julie Douglas host this one, which is a lot like Stuff You Should Know except it deals more specifically with the scientific explanation behind all things behavioral. The show I’ve got on right now is called The Healing Power of Laughter. In it they are analyzing why we laugh, what happens to our brains and body when we laugh and if there is any evidence supporting the idea that laughter can heal. Spoiler: There is. Julie’s rate of speech sometimes gets a little fast, causing her to mispronounce words. But it’s more endearing than annoynig and one knows after about ten seconds of listening that she is phenomenally intelligent and deserves respect and attention.
This is a new one for me, but I’m digging it so far. In this stuff cast, Deblina Chakraborty (say that three times fast) and Sarah Dowdey bring out the hidden, unknown side of history. The delivery is light, even if the subject matter is occasionally very heavy, creating a solid balance that keeps me coming back. The one I just heard dealt with the factual account of Mutiny on the Bounty.
This is by far the cheesiest of the bunch, hosted by Jonathan Strickland and Chris Pollette. Dedicated to demystifying technology, one cannot get through a show without hearing something like, “Then along came/They were purchased by/This was invented by a little known company, oh, by the name of, would that be, Apple/Microsoft/Xerox/HP?” See the joke is that it’s not a little company, but it was only funny the first fifty times they did it. This gets more than a little annoying after a while, but I’m so interested in the subject matter, I listen anyway. The puns get to be a bit much as well, but that does add to the cheese charm factor. All in all, they are great announcers and really know their stuff, so it feels OK to slip into the fifth grade zone once in a while.
AND THE REST
This was my first podcast thanks to my beautiful wife, before I really knew what the word meant. It’s still the best. Ira Glass hosts the hour show, which is broken down into acts (stories) that revolve around that week’s theme. Presented by Public Radio International, this program is so well written, so well produced and so well presented, when the rest of the world is dreading Sunday night I get excited because I know the new T.A.L. is about to pop up. I can’t do it justice in a short description. If you’re new to podcasts and want to give it a go, start here and then drop me a note and tell me how brilliant my recommendation was.
I think of this show as the NC-17 version of This American Life. Excellent production and presentation, but the subject matter is very adult and very real. To give an idea, two of the previous settings were a prison and a pimp’s home. So don’t listen if this bothers you. The problem with this show is they don’t make them any more. The last one they did was July 19th of this year, May before that and pre-January before that. But there are many past episodes worth enjoying.
Recommended by my brother-in-law and right in line with This American Life in quality, this one is hosted by Robert Krulwich and Jad Abumrad and produced through WNYC. The difference here is the discussion between the two hosts, which adds a new dimension to the show that doesn’t exist with T.A.L. And the show basically asks a philosophical or scientific question at the beginning, and then takes the listener on a journey of discovery to get to the answer, which often contains an ambivalent quality that begs additional questions. Despite this, the journey is delightful and I always look forward to the long-form version over the short shows which tend to leave me wanting.
Another newbie in my quiver and also from WNYC, Freakonomics discusses… you got it, the economy! It doesn’t sound very sexy, but the hosts are good at what they do. The main host is Stephen Dubner, who wrote Freakonomics and promises to explore the “hidden side of everything.” Again, this one is really only frustrating in that the shows are often too short for my taste.
This is a newish Alec Baldwin vehicle, also through WNYC, where so far he interviews people mostly from around New York that he mostly knows from parties or SNL or 30 Rock or political circles or whatever. I love Mr. Baldwin as far as what he does on the screen, but I’m starting to lose patience with him and his questions that aren’t really questions, but rather ways for him to express his views or talk about how closely connected he is to people of importance. That’s fine, I suppose, but this show is set up to be sort of like a Carson or Letterman for the ears, and I believe Alec puts too much Alec in each show. I listen to it last, when all my other podcast selections have been exhausted, and will keep listening in hopes of improvement.
This is my only fiction podcast. It’s good, sort of a Twilight Zone for radio. Jonathan Mitchell is the host, but most of the 15 or 20 minutes is taken up by the story. Much of the actors’ dialogue is adlibbed, sometimes obviously, most times not, and sound effects are added to bring the “movies for your ears” to life. This program is just starting out, maybe a couple dozen shows. They are experimenting with different structures and really just finding their way. I’m a big fan of the old timey, scary radio shows from the mid 1900’s ala Vincent Price, and this feels like a modern version of that great era.
All in all, it's a good group and I'm glad I got turned on to the podcast world. If I've turned you on, please feel free to explore these and more.
Thanks for reading! Off to write... and listen...