It’s a rare person not on the podcast craze in our time. I usually can’t go more than a week without hearing of a recommendation for a new one from one of my other podcasts, from social media, or from wait staff or bartenders. Occasionally I’ll get recommendations from friends and family, but for some reason they only recommend single episodes of something or start out recommending radio programs that may also be available as a podcast.
Some podcasts I have been listening to for decades; most of the NPR podcasts fall into that category. When I graduated from college I missed classes so much that I tuned into public radio nearly around the clock, a habit made even more intense by the fact that one of my part-time jobs out of college was data entry for a health insurance company. In the mornings I would tune my radio/headset combination to NPR while everyone else listened to rock or country music on theirs (this was Southwest Missouri in the early aughts; coincidentally I was the first person on the floor to know that 9/11 was happening because of my listening choice). I also listened to audio books during pledge season, picking out classic literature from the library.
After moving to California, my first manager there bought me an iPod as a performance achievement gift, and then I could download podcasts from my laptop into it and listen to them as I walked to lunch or during sightseeing adventures. Podcasts always seem to serve as a way to fill the silence; I had moved to California expecting worldly conversation and instead heard a lot of cell phone conversations that were watered down with bragging and filler words. Podcasts blocked out these disappointments, but they also blocked out a lot of the life that I loved in the Bay; now when I go out for a walk, or hop on transit, the earbuds stay stashed in my bag. But I still listen to a LOT of podcasts, even if I don’t listen to them as a multitask activity much anymore. They are like the old time radio programs of the early 20th century, and, yet, still like the classes that I miss at college.
Here are the podcasts I miss, love, and do my best to keep up with when I can:
- The Writer’s Almanac – This one went the way of the dodo when its host was looped into the business end of the #MeToo movement, but I still listen to old episodes from time to time. The podcast was a 5-minute overview of famous literary and cultural events in history that happened that day, and was aired daily, weekday and weekend;
- Fresh Air – This one goes all the way back to when I was still in college; Fresh Air is something my mother would catch occasionally so we would have something to share. My favorite interviews are the ones with writers and comedians, but they did have an interview last year with Springsteen that I loved, and Rachel Maddow is also a favorite (she’s been on twice);
- (Speaking of Maddow…) Bag Man – This was a recent, limited series podcast from Rachel Maddow on the story behind Spiro Agnew’s troubled political career and his fall from power under Nixon. A lot of people remember Agnew as being caught up in the Watergate issue, but he actually had nothing to do with Watergate and was a loaded morality bomb of his own. This podcast actually falls into the “I miss my history courses” reason for listening, and Maddow is a sparkling storyteller;
- The Daily (New York Times) – This podcast is one of my morning espresso shots; the opening sequence is about 20 minutes of in-depth coverage on one topical item, and then the host comes back for two-minute recap of top headlines. If I don’t want to listen to an entire Trump speech (who does), I wait until this podcast and let them give me the highlights;
- Up First – This podcast is NPR’s version of The Daily, and is my other shot of espresso. Up First carries a variety of stories in their 20 minutes, however. Both The Daily and Up First are weekday podcasts, not airing on weekends (and in The Daily’s case, on holidays);
- The California Report/The California Report Magazine – Like Up First and The Daily, but California news only, or how national events affect Californians. There are some lovely history segments, unexpected popular music tie-ins, and a healthy sense of humor with these folks, with just enough gravitas to make updates of the wildfires and the border crossings meaningful as well;
- Recode Decode – Kara Swisher is one of my biggest heroes, and not just because she has a track history of holding top Silicon Valley leadership accountable. This podcast introduces me to new companies (employment opportunities?) and reenforces, with every podcast, the importance of letting your intelligence shine out, even if you aren’t always encouraged to do so as a woman;
- Pop Culture Happy Hour – Another NPR favorite. I sometimes find myself annoyed at the easy criticisms for difficult cultural reviews on this show, but for the most part this show tells me about things I might miss in my radar;
- Make Me Smart – Not NPR but commonly mistaken for being part of the NPR family, Make Me Smart is a half-tech, half-business podcast that kind of works as a companion piece to Recode Decode, with a twist; listeners are advised to send their expertise in for topics as well. There are interviews with topic experts, book club selections, and a special segment where interview subjects and listeners alike are asked the question, “What is something you thought you knew, but it turns out you didn’t?”;
- All Songs Considered – I used to listen to this podcast a lot when I lived in the Bay because it was long (an hour plus at times) and had enough variety in music to make me happy. When I started a job in San Diego a coworker friend would recommend new music to me all of the time, so I took this podcast off my list, but when I moved on to another job and didn’t hear from him as much I went back to listening to this podcast. The hosts of this program have interviews, best of recent releases episodes, artist hosting episodes, and variety shows for holidays, and the banter is great;
- Book Riot (any podcast) – Some of the Book Riot podcasts are audio, some are video, and some are by paid subscription, but all of them are good. Book podcasts can be pretty dry and hinting at profound, but these hosts have just enough humor to dress up any aspect of reading (and writing);
- So Many Damn Books – Unrelated to Book Riot, but another good reader/writer podcast. This podcast features interviews and book recs (I particularly loved their gift suggestions for Christmas);
- This American Life – Almost everyone knows this one based on associations with Mike Birbiglia and David Sedaris, but if not…this podcast is a collection of three to six segments on a common theme, sometimes topical, sometimes historical, and always quirky. I deeply loved a most recent episode on libraries, which they linked to the Room or Requirement in Hogwarts, and which I heard right after finishing Susan Orlean’s The Library Book, and it brought some tears and laughter;
- 30 For 30 – Because, baseball.
Yes…I do have a difficult time keeping up with all of them, and even listen to individual episodes of even more.
But they keep me learning, keep me curious, and keep me listening. 🎧