July 20, 2015

The seventh Waterman's Fortnightly: Podcast bonanza


[Length warning: This edition is extra-long, but packed full of links to good stuff.] ​[End of length warning.]

It's 2015 and everyone's going bonkers over podcasts like it's 2006 (I remember you, Odeo!). Obligatory references to Serial and StartUp go here.

But as the Gimlet Media folk have alluded to, there's currently a lack of tools to help discovery (especially if you're a non-iTunes user). So for the past few weeks I've been digging into the podcastiverse and sampling a variety of aural delights outside of the big guns mentioned above. These are some of my findlings. 

Radiotopia

Radiotopia is the name for a loose network under which a variety of interesting shows exist. Radiotopia was set up via Kickstarter by PRX (the funky arm of US public radio) and largely driven by Roman Mars, who runs 99% Invisible - this is billed as a podcast about design & architecture, but like the best ones it basically just tells good stories. A recent favourite: 'On Location', about The Bradbury Building in Los Angeles and its history as a location in the movies.

(Side note: there's a fair amount of rising intonation and vocal fry in podcast-land - Roman Mars's poised, authoritative monotone is a welcome contrast.)

Some other good stuff from Radiotopia:
  • Love+Radio is kind of unclassifiable but tends to deal with stories around relationships. One frankly devastating episode I listened to - 'The Living Room' - began as a tale of neighbourhood voyeurism before going somewhere very unexpected.
  • The Allusionist, from UK podcaster Helen Zaltzman, looks at the etymology of the words we use everyday and will of be of interest to language-lovers and readers of The Etymologicon.
  • Criminal, sharing stories of true crime, will fill part of the hole in Serial listeners' lives.
  • Theory of Everything covers stories about technology's impact on humanity - a recent three-parter, 'Instaserfs', followed a guy trying to make a living from the sharing economy.
In short: listen to everything on Radiotopia at least once and I reckon you'll find something you'll like.

Other US public radio goodness
  • PRX's How To Be Amazing With Michael Ian Black is an in-depth interview show in which the host talks to all manner of innovative and artistic folk. It's relatively young but has already secured guests such as Bob Odenkirk, Miranda July, Tavi Gevinson and Kevin Smith.
  • WNYC's Here's The Thing, hosted by Alec Baldwin, sees the occasionally furious actor reign in his temper and engage in thoughtful conversation with a great roster of guests. Baldwin suffers from interruptitis on occasion, although more recent episodes suggest he's made an effort to improve his listening skills.
  • Freakonomics Radio, also from WNYC, will be familiar to anyone who has read the books of the same name - it's equally compelling.
Earwolf

With over two dozen comedy shows on its network, Earwolf's output is always going to be hit-and-miss - but when it's good it's a delight. My favourites thus far:
  • Hollywood Handbook bills itself as an insider's guide to getting ahead in showbiz, but it's actually a deliriously silly dose of longform improv with which I have become, frankly, quite obsessed (I listened to more episodes of this than anything else during my podcast binge). You either get it or you don't, and those who do have formed a rabid fanbase who fill the show's online messageboard with impenetrable references to inside jokes. If you ever hear me urging you to 'speak on that' in the middle of a conversation, blame this show. Perhaps start with their (occasionally profane) chats with Rob Corddry and Adam DeVine.
  • How Did This Get Made? is an example of the thriving 'movie pisstakes' podcast genre. In this particular example, three comedians get together to dissect ridiculous films such as Tom Selleck's 'Runaway' and Arnold Schwarzenegger's 'Junior'.
  • Comedy Bang Bang's name and logo scream 'wAcKy!!', but depending on the guests it can often ascend/descend into an infectious brand of lunacy. Perhaps start with one of the episodes featuring Paul F. Tompkins or Andy Daly, both of whom are very gifted improvisers.
Cultural and societal stuff
  • Song Exploder is based on a simple idea: notable musicians reveal how they created one of their songs.
  • Millennial's premise may sound less enticing to anyone over a certain age - a college graduate negotiates life as a twentysomething. But we've all been there, and this show could resonate strongly with a sizeable audience, if it can find it.
  • Call Your Girlfriend takes the structure of an informal chat between writer Ann Friedman and her pal Aminatou Sow, and - I think - they conduct the whole thing over Skype. Expect a wide range of topics, from gender and workplace politics to pop music and Stanley Tucci fantasies.
  • The Broad Experience focuses on women and the challenges they face in the workplace. It's a labour of love by British, NY-based Ashley Milne-Tyte, and I found it to be sober, engaging and insightful. If there are any aspiring podcasters reading, this post she wrote about how she created the show will be interesting.
  • My beloved longform.org hosts interviews with journalists and feature writers on the Longform Podcast.
Further reading (and listening) So, what did I miss? There's enough good stuff out there to warrant another list of links at some point in the future. Let me know what I should include - you can reply to this email or tweet me @stu_waterman.

Stuart Waterman

(Psst - if you know someone who would find this list useful, forward it onto them.)