“Do you listen to podcasts?” someone might ask. With a laugh and roll of my eyes, “NO!” I’d respond mockingly. That conversation happened many times before I did finally give in and listen. I went into that first podcast with such skepticism. Four years later, I listen to at least one podcast almost every day. And here’s why:
They are my teachers.
Before I actually started listening to podcasts I assumed they were boring, amateurish interviews between two people about whom I couldn’t care less. And some definitely are that. Then a friend recommended Radio Lab to me. It is the gateway podcast. Professionally produced in a studio, it is a beacon of education. Often it covers stories from the science world, but sometimes it’s human-interesty. Every time I listen though, I learn something new. The hosts of the show are smart, funny, and have great chemistry (pun intended). Radio Lab is very closely related to The Ted Radio Hour from which I also get weekly lessons. The Ted Radio Hour is formatted like an interview with additional discussion by the game-changers that have given Ted Talks. Again, being the forever student that I am, this one always scratches the learning itch for me. Hidden Brain is one I have to mention here as well. It’s a healthy combo of both aforementioned podcasts featuring interviews, production and experiment analysis.
They are my news.
More Perfect is a podcast about the Supreme Court. Not a topic most regular folks are keen to study, but it’s not boring case analysis. I never thought that listening to discussion about past SCOTUS cases could be so interesting. This podcast should replace every government class in high school. It is made by the folks at Radio Lab so the production is phenomenal. The cases they choose are always related to current events. It will make you say “OOOOOOOHHHHHH, that’s why they do that!” (I’ve said that out loud to myself while listening to this one many times.) Another great news podcast is Embedded. I would say this is the “60 Minutes” of the podcast world, but much more captivating. It is refreshing investigative journalism taking the listener deeper into the news. It fills in the third dimension of an often two dimensional news cycle.
They make me laugh.
Pop Culture Happy Hour is where I get my “what’s happening in Hollywood” fix. I also look forward to just about every new show because they always make me happy. One could liken it to Rolling Stone, but it doesn’t take itself that seriously and they do tend to review more movies than music. It’s a panel podcast so there are usually 3-4 regular contributors. I’ve discovered books, TV shows, movies, music and other podcasts from listening to PCHH. Most importantly though, it lightens my spirit and reminds me to laugh. Another funny show that also crosses over to the learning genre is Stuff You Should Know. Not as well-produced as most of my other favorites, but the two hosts are very funny.
They make me feel.
Snap Judgement is a story telling podcast. True stories mostly, but periodically there are short works of fiction performed by actors. All “set to a beat” as the host Glen Weldon says. They are human interest stories, well-produced and immersive. Every year at Halloween Snap spends a month doing scary stories. I love it! They are spooky and true, complete with sound effects, eerie music and bone-chilling editing. If you don’t listen any other time, give Snap a listen in October, at least. It’ll put you right in the Halloween spirit. Snap Judgement has also made me cry on numerous occasions. One show in particular about a unique alpha wolf called 06 Female is one of my favorite episodes of any podcast. This American Life is also a classic story telling podcast. It too has made me feel happy, sad, mad, confused, surprised. It’s even inspired some writing. It’s a tenured weekly podcast that is part of my Monday morning ritual. It’s the way I start my week.
I could go on. There are so many others. I, of course, have to give a nod to Fresh Air. My feelings about Terry Gross and how brilliantly she does what she does are so strong though that they merit a separate blog. Reply All is a great tech podcast. Tara Brach has a wonderful meditation/buddhist podcast. Two Dope Queens, now an HBO show, started as a hilarious comedy podcast.
The podcast world is one that I’m grateful to have discovered. I hope that you will give any of these podcasts a listen next time you are commuting or doing laundry or mowing your lawn or working out. You’ll be glad that you did. And you might just learn something along the way. I know most of us are writers and that makes us all good readers, but, with podcasts maybe we can be good listeners too.