Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Podcast Crazy

Ever since I got an Iphone in June of 2009, I've gone podcast crazy. I was already a lover of podcasts even before I became a fanboy of my 3Gs, but the ease with which Itunes manages podcast subscriptions really changed the game for me. So, given my wanton compulsiveness, I went berserk.

The 2 great things about podcasts are their convenience and their cost. Once they're downloaded, you can listen to them at your leisure, and they're free. They're a wonderful way to stay informed and engaged.

Now I've become one of those people who constantly walks around with earbuds on, though I've developed an idiosyncratic way of doing this. Generally, I only have one earbud in at a time. This allows me to still be aware of my surroundings whilst my podcasts play. It's a perfect accompaniment to housework and exercise, and it actually encourages me to do more of both.

As I walk my dog, lift weights, or wash dishes, my mind engages in a conversation with the wider world. It's invigorating. The mind is a muscle, after all.

However, I do get absent-minded and sometimes leave the earbud in even when I'm not listening to anything. I wonder if, years from now, a doctor is going to remark on my enlarged earholes...

At one point, I was subscribing to well over 100 podcasts, but I've become a bit more judicious. As of today, I subscribe to 84 different podcasts, only a few of which are daily. Many are weekly or monthly, and some are only occasional.

For the most part, the podcasts I listen to are news-related, although I enjoy a fair number of arts & entertainment ones, as well.

Here are my top 12:

1. Garrison Keillor's The Writer's Almanac: This daily little gem has one of America's favorite storytellers list each day's historical background (writer's birthdays, significant publication dates, etc.), finishing up with a poem. They're generally only about 5 minutes long, but they add a little literary perspective to my quotidian wanderings.

2. Marketplace: I am not formally trained in economics, other than 2 semesters in college and close readings of about 10 books over the years, but this weekday show has helped teach me the importance of the 'dismal science' in all aspects of our personal and national lives. As the catchphrase goes, "it's ALWAYS the economy, stupid!"

3. NPR Hourly News Summary: After all, one must stay informed, yes? Between this podcast and the hourly CNN News Update, I manage to keep up with all of the latest headlines. Truth be told, I generally check into these podcasts about three times a day.

4. The Moth Podcast: This occasional podcast features one or two nonfiction stories narrated onstage, capturing the immediacy of confessional performance in little 20-minute bites. These stories can come from anywhere, from a wide variety of narrators, so the quality of a given episode can vary. But this show is proof that truth is WAY stranger than fiction.

5. The New York Times Front Page: I still believe that the New York Times is America's paper of record. And this 7-minute weekday podcast gives a nice rundown of the major headlines that the paper will feature.

6. The Wall Street Journal This Morning: This half-hour podcast of the right-of-center, pro-financial-sector organ helps round out my daily news diet. Host Gordon Deal just can't help himself, letting his disdain for all things governmental color his comments. But I still enjoy it.

7. Slate Magazine's Daily Podcast: This podcast is actually an amalgam of 4 weekly podcasts sponsored by the online magazine, Slate. There's the Culture Gabfest, the Political Gabfest, the Hang Up And Listen podcast (their sports discussion podcast) and their Audio Book Club. It's a left-of-center, highbrow feast of opinion and wit, each of which is between 30 and 60 minutes long.

8. The Savage Love Podcast: Dan Savage and I could not be more different. He's gay, married, and a father. But his advice on sex and relationships is generally spot-on and generously humane. I also like his strong bullshit meter. He's opinionated, funny, and almost always right.

9. ROFL: I have a weakness for standup comedy, and this weekly video podcast helps satisfy this appetite. Each episode is a series of quick bits from a variety of performers. The only thing that sucks about this podcast is it's also filled with ads.

10. The Science Times Podcast: This weekly podcast from the New York Times is twenty-odd minutes of science news, which is manna from heaven for a lifelong geek like me.

11. Sound Opinions: Hosted by Jim DeRogatis and Greg Kot, this weekly, Chicago-based podcast is all about pop music, taking a critical view of the entire scene, spanning both eras and genres. They'll usually have a guest performer on the show, and they always end with their own critiques of an album. I don't always agree with them, but I do enjoy their eclectic, wide-ranging discussions.

12. This American Life: This weekly show is one of the most popular in the country for very good reasons. Host Ira Glass is a wonderful personality, and each podcast is a themed collection of 'mostly-true' stories that never fail to engage my sympathies and imagination.

These are the podcasts I never skip, whether they come out daily or weekly or whenever. This can't be said of the other 74 podcasts on my subscription list, although I really do manage to eventually check into all of them as time permits.

What podcasts do you enjoy?


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