Confessions of a podcast addict

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All due respect to Beyoncé, but podcasts have been the overlords of all of my listening devices for several years now. My iPhone is perpetually filling up with the 20-25 hours of podcasts I listen to weekly (then promptly delete in order to save room).

After a certain number of requests for podcast suggestions, I figured it was time to throw down a list of audio magic that rules my headphones. (If my list doesn’t really do it for you, Roman Mars, guru of all things audio and the genius behind 99% Invisible and the new Radiotopia has a a great list, and here are a few others, in case you don’t feel like listening to the kind of person who may or may not have endangered her life while trying to skip back in a podcast while in the middle of a crosswalk.

The PRX Remix app is another excellent option for audio lovers because it has a constant stream of incredible work that functions beautifully, delivers constantly and I love it when I’m feeling too lazy to actually choose what I want to listen to. Ok! Here we go:

Podcasts I listen to first thing, out of habit/obligation/desire to connect with the human condition:

The Moth – “True stories, told live, without notes.” Proof that live storytelling is instantly compelling, because as the audience you can’t do anything other than believe in the vulnerable ball of nerves speaking into the mic – regardless of how famous the person might be.
This American Life – We all know this show is the coolest girl at the party. If you don’t fall in love with the characters from the recent Car Dealership episode, you have no soul. Some of my all-time favorite stories include the chicken in the death row court case from the 2011 Poultry slam and the SUPER middle school-y voices/stories in the Middle School episode.
The Savage Lovecast – I’ve been listening to this since the beginning and even called in once (Dan ripped me a new one). I also did a feature on a musical based on his memoir for WNYC. Homeboy Savage “gets” relationships — even when he gets them wrong (and he is occasionally wrong.)
99 Percent Invisible – Design + stories + super-high production value = a gift to your brain, delivered via your ears. My favorite episodes are the ones about really design-y things like Revolving Doors and I <3 NY.
Snap Judgment – So many times, this makes me think “how did they GET this story?!” Glynn Washington is an innovator and oracle who’s surrounded himself with folks who can find a heart-wrenching story in just about any thematic corner of the audio-verse. Mind blowing pieces: Yanomami Mami, Genesis and Lady Jaye (word up to my man Brendan Baker for the great work!)
Slate’s Culture Gabfest – My podcast alma mater! It’s like sitting down at a coffee shop next to some supergeniuses whose conversation you can’t help but eavesdrop on. Any episode with June Thomas or Simon Doonan packs some extra-special wit.
HowSound – This is particularly great for radio producers, but fascinating for anyone who wants to know how things work. You know how finding the truth behind a magic trick can be kind of a bummer? This is the opposite of that. Peeking behind the curtain is so smart.
On the Media – I’m also a big fan of their podcast, TLDR, but OTM is one of the best ways anyone can consume/process/understand news and media.
Transom – Gorgeously produced gut-wrenching stories. My sweet spot. Transom is the good fairy of the audio world. If you head to their website, start with this Walter Murch piece about audio editing — it will change how you hear things.
Third Coast International Audio Festival Re:Sound – Transformative pieces from all over the world, vetted by people with serious listening street cred. I would say this is my favorite show, across the board.

All-time favorite episodes that you MUST listen to:

Transom – “Finding Miles” Such beautiful work by my girl Sarah P. Reynolds
Strangers – “Falling Slowly
KCRW’s UnFictional – Ministry of Presence – If this doesn’t get you, nothing will.

Fun episodes of shows I like with interesting guests:

Zadie Smith, Lauren Bacall and Dustin Hoffman on Desert Island Discs
The WTF with Marc Maron episodes with Carlos MenciaLouis CK and Amy Poehler
Design Matters with Jason Kottke and Jessica Walsh

Listen regularly (without missing an episode, for the most part): 

The Read – This one causes a major uptick in expletive use and hair flipping. And I love it. (and so does Beyoncé!!)
AudioSmut – This one is lush and beautiful to listen to, but it’s definitely not for subway/public listening. Stories about “your body, your heart and your junk,” which is one of the best taglines ever conceived of. This show caused me to write a fan letter that I have yet to send because it’s so gushy and over the top.
Best Friend’s However – Eliot Glazer can do no wrong and Jackie is always right, which makes these contrarian friends and their guests delightful to listen to.
Slate’s XX Gabfest – Not just for feminists! Or women! For everyone!
Studio 360 – Lately I loved the episode on “The Wizard of Oz” and the interview with Matthew McConaughey, in which he wouldn’t stop guffawing.
Latino USA – The recent segment on “The Worst Latino” does that thing where a piece speaks to you and you can’t get it out of your head. It’s a fantastic show that’s also very, very important. Other favorite stories include my man Marlon Bishop’s piece on organic farming in Puerto Rico and their piece on latino WWII veterans.
The Broad Experience – A podcast about women in the workplace that really shows how much needs to change. I hired Ashley to do a column for Metro based on this great work, and I haven’t regretted it once.
Radio Diaries – There is so much incredible work here, but Juan’s teenage diary and all of the pieces on Mandela are favorites. Non-narrated audio is essentially the precious metal of audio pieces. It requires ninja-level editing and production skills that make the people who do this kind of work akin to superzen monastic oracles. They contain multitudes (of stories).
New Yorker: Fiction Podcast – Edwige Danticat reading Jamaica Kincaid is a favorite, as is Tobias Wolff reading Denis Johnson. I always love the answers to the question “is there anything we should know about the story before we hear it?”
Radiolab – I mean, duh. DUH DUH DUH.
Slate’s Political Gabfest – I have used Cocktail Chatter over actual cocktails numerous times to great effect. If you don’t want to be friends with all three of the panelists, your friend priorities are way off.
BBOX Radio Ask Brooklyn – My girl Kate Rath is a warm, genuine, generous host with a talent for finding great guests. Community radio for the win!
The Memory Palace – Elevators! Dancing! Marveling at The Way Things Used to Be, with a love for teeny-tiny details that become humongous and deep and often, weird. History through the lens of great storytelling.
Fresh Air – Terry Gross is like the Burberry print of radio hosts. Classic, stylish, and instantly recognizable.
Radio Rookies – Proof positive that making radio and telling stories can change lives. (I’m talking about the listeners’ lives, too.) Favorites: Our 9/11, Growing Up, Getting by
Design Matters – Though it’s not my field, I really like thinking about design from Debbie Millman (& co.)’s perspective. She asks great questions and does that thing that hosts do best, when they really invite and include the listener.
Storycorps – Also not subway listening, because of the tears. Inevitably, with tenderness and families, there are always tears. Big ups to the non-narrated pieces.

Recent discoveries I’m super into:

Why Oh Why with Andrea Silenzi – A show about dating and love that ultimately asks who wouldn’t fall in love with Andrea?
 Low Times Podcast – FMU FTW (hat tip, Chris Berube, a PhD-level podcast listener and generally the nicest person anyone will ever meet.)
WNYC’s New Tech City – I listened to their episode on the Cicada 3301 twice, just so I could understand the structure of how they did it. And the moment when the guy says “unidentified Asian female” in my good buddy Ilya Marritz’s story on the two sides of the AirBNB wars made me laugh out loud.
Life of the Law – The law shapes everything around us, which means it could never, ever be boring. Audrey Quinn’s great piece on women in prison is what drew me in, I stayed for the incredible reporting and thought behind pieces like Redefining Rape and Reporter on Death Row.

Shows I aspire to listen to but have some idiot hangup about:

Planet Money – Everyone I know listens to this show, but for some reason I haven’t binged and put it in rotation just yet. I think partly that’s because the general concept of money stresses me out. Which is why I should listen, because maybe then it wouldn’t stress me out and I could write this post from a cabana on Fernando de Noronha island in Brazil, where dolphins literally dance around in the ocean for you.

Welcome to Night Vale –  I’m a tough sell on science fiction, dystopian plots and the like. I know it makes me a sap, but I love tenderness above essentially all other things. If a world is too dystopian, it chills me and makes me feel like the it’s too cold to listen to. I listen with my TEARS, guys.

Shows I listen to occasionally (I’m eternally catching up but enjoy what I hear when I do):

Professor Blastoff
Radio France Culture: L’atelier interieur
Radio Ambulante
Soul Music
The Sporkful
Love + Radio
WTF with Marc Maron
Selected Shorts
Writers on the Record
NPR’s Ask Me Another
Slate’s Spoiler Specials
Bullseye with Jesse Thorn
Decode DC
Wiretap with Jonathan Goldstein

Update: A work in progress!

After writing this whole thing up, my audio people on Twitter suggested that I have made some enemies due to a few glaring omissions. I figure it’s a work in progress, anyhow, so getting new ideas and adding to the list itself is part of the deal. However, here are some shows I wanted to add right away:

Tiny Spark – This show is fascinating because you’d think it would be a bummer see the inner workings (and sometimes shady practices) of organizations that purport to do good, but it’s not. I’m currently blowing my entire data plan downloading all of the episodes I haven’t listened to yet.
State of the Re:Union – I love this show in particular when I’m on a long-ish train or plane ride. In a way it’s like a little audio road trip, where the accents and stories from all around the country come alive. For anyone who dreams of driving across the country one day but doesn’t have the funds (or vacation time) it is perfect.




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