This Podcast Life

In the manner that most people keep up with television shows, I keep up with podcasts.

How I Got Into Podcasts
At the end of 2013, deeply starved for entertainment, I clicked on the ‘Podcast’ app that comes pre-installed on all iPhones with the expectation that I would find cob-webbed episodes recorded circa 2004. Naturally, I searched for the term “cheese” and was surprised to find that a weekly podcast called Stuff You Missed in History Class had recorded an episode all about the history of cheese earlier that year. It was entertaining and informative and I wanted more ASAP. I started listening to the related podcasts Stuff You Should Know and Pop Stuff, before reaching This American Life. And thus began my obsession with the world of podcasts; since then radio stories and conversations have been a ubiquitous soundtrack to bus rides, plane rides, jet lagged insomnia and exercise sessions.

The Perfect Sleep & Travel Companion 
As a restless, multitasking, 21st century being, I’m constantly looking for new ways to be entertained and to absorb new information. Listening to something, rather than watching, is an ideal entertainment format that doesn’t require much attention but can provide a lot of amusement. In contrast to most radio programs, podcasts usually follow a particular theme or structure and often delve deeper into certain topics. Just as people gain a certain affection towards actors or YouTubers, the familiarity of the voices of podcast hosts can be of particular comfort. I often listen to podcasts when travelling as a way of remaining grounded and warding off homesickness. No matter where I am in the world, listening to a podcast on public transport or before I go to sleep is a ritual that makes me feel right at home.

My Favourite Podcasts
Just like television or movies, there exists a vast array of podcast genres and styles, however the podcasts that I enjoy the most involve non-fiction storytelling. Below are a few of my favourite shows and episodes that I highly recommend. Let me know if I’ve missed a favourite of yours!

TAL_color2This American Life
Produced since 1995, This American Life is an hour-long program and is my no.1 podcast favourite. Its host, Ira Glass, states its structure in each episode: “every week we pick a theme and bring you different stories on that theme. This week…” switched at birth; Batman; fiasco!; confessions; accidental documentaries; blackjack… Each theme is often interpreted in three to four different stories or interviews. Some episodes are hilarious; some deeply serious investigative journalism. Overall, This American Life is entertaining and I always feel that I’ve learned a little bit more about a pocket of the world after listening to an episode.

(A Few Of) My favourites: Dr. Gilmer & Mr HydeDoppelgängersLoveBreak UpI Was So HighCarsNo Coincidence, No StoryHarper High School Pt 1Harper High School Pt 2Original RecipeThe Incredible Case of the P.I. MomsWhen Patents AttackPetty TyrantPoultry SlamAmericans in China; any episode with David Sedaris.

76823The Moth
The Moth podcast is a curated selection of recordings from their live stage show events. The Moth often invites well-known people to tell stories however also workshops stories with people and groups from a broad range of demographics. Above all, the Moth is passionate storytelling; the themes and lengths vary but they are all very entertaining and very effective.

(A Few Of) My Favourites: Parties, Plans, and PoliceFarms, Fishbanks, and an Iron RoofWall of Sound (Piper Chapman Kerman)Mothering in Captivity (Molly Ringwald). Truth be told: they’re all good.

og_imageStuff You Missed In History Class
Twice a week, Tracy V. Wilson and Holly Frey discuss a history event or topic. Episodes often focus on subjects such as historical figures, wreckages, massacres, missions, hoaxes, riots, battles, fires, famines, epidemics et cetera. I’m always impressed by their attention to historical accuracy and sourcing (they do appreciate a good journal article), and their ability to speak about history in a very accessible manner.

(A Few Of) My Favourites: The Voynich ManuscriptWho Was Tokyo Rose?Unearthed (episodes about recent archaeological finds!); Frida KahloCannibalism at JamestownBoudica: Warrior QueenThe Origin of CheesesThe History of Halloween CandyThe Nazca LinesAntoni GaudiChina’s Foot Binding TraditionThe Life of Johnny Appleseed.

For those who are unacquainted, Serial launched last year as the first spin-off of This American Life and quickly became the most popular podcast in the world, as well as the centre of much heated debate. It was a 12-part podcast series which investigated the 1999 murder of American teenager Hae Min Lee and, in particular, the case against Adnan Syed, Hae’s boyfriend who is currently in prison for the crime however maintains his innocence. The reports are intriguing and the podcast was the catalyst of many many heated discussions. I would wait up until 11pm (AEST) when the show was uploaded weekly, and then I would listen to the Slate podcast soon thereafter to satisfy the need for discussion and speculation. Overall, the story-telling is accessible and intriguing. I will warn you, however, that I found the ending to be highly unsatisfying; it is a real life story with real life pace but the suspense of the 12 weeks was left greatly unresolved.

SERIAL PODCAST | Slate’s Serial Spoiler Special | Conversations on the Serial Podcast | Undisclosed Podcast | Serial Sub-Reddit

If you’re interested in a similar investigative show (also done by Sarah Koenig) but with a very interesting conclusion, I recommend listening to the This American Life episode Dr. Gilmer & Mr Hyde.

wait_wait_dont_tell_me_logo_detailWait Wait… Don’t Tell Me
Light-hearted and topical, Wait Wait… Don’t Tell Me is a weekly quiz show. It’s recorded live at various locations across the US and consists of several rounds of questions asked to people over the phone, special guests, and a panel usually consisting of three comedians (my favourite of which is Paula Poundstone!). The questions are about current news issues which makes it an exemplary entertainment/news update.

546_lg_0Episode: Burroughs 101
A particular mention must be made of one of the most intriguing radio stories that I have ever heard. To commemorate the 100th birthday of the infamous American author William S. Burroughs, Burroughs at 100 was originally produced for BBC radio, however I listened to it via This American Life (which dedicated its whole episode to it; it’s that damn interesting) on a train ride to Tokyo Bay. Narrated by Iggy Pop, the show discusses Burroughs’ seminal works Naked Lunch and Junkee; his infamous heroin addiction and his shooting of his wife; starting the Beat Movement; and his role as an icon of counter culture. Iggy unapologetically warns at the beginning of the show, “the following program contains references to homosexuality, drug use, sex with aliens, violence and kitty cats. What did you expect?” I highly recommend listening to this episode!

If you’re still confused about how to listen to a podcast, you should watch Ira Glass (and his endearing friend Mary) explain it here! Do you listen to any podcasts that I’ve missed? Let me know xx