30 for 30: Podcasts

30 for 30 – as I reach my fourth decade of being, I’m writing about some of the things that made the three that came before what they were. 30 – mostly trivial – things that have been a part of 30 – mostly trivial – years.

5. PODCASTS

Fresh Air's Terry Gross, hosting the show in 1987. Still the greatest interviewer we've ever had.

Something different for this entry.

Podcasts are awesome. They have been a big part of my life for the last 5 years. Every week, I spend hours listening to podcasts – which is more time than I spend on eating probably.

So it’s odd how little we talk about podcasts.

I’ve learnt so much about the world from them. They are such a rich source of interviews, entertainment, education, comedy – everything. All the things I loved about community radio and talk radio has now become podcasts. By subscribing to dozens of them, I have my own custom radio station, with just shows I like.

And it still seems like a secret world. It seems like most people I know don’t follow podcasts.

There’s also no discussion on great podcasts. Ones that help define the medium. I guess because it comes from all places – slick professional radio stations to one guy rambling into a macbook. Still, there is no critical council for podcasts – no reviews, no Oscars, etc.

It’s also hard to say what is best as there are just so many podcasts. It’s an utterly fragmented world.

So with that said, here are some podcasts I love. And some reasons why.

(Namesource/topics covered/format/frequency)

Fresh Airpublic radio/general interest/interviews/daily
websiteiTunes

This the place to start with podcasts.

Running since 1975, it’s one of the most highly regarded shows in public broadcasting in the US. Hosted by Terry Gross, it covers the gamut of life – from presidential candidates to obscure singer songwriters. Soldiers, actors, scientists, historians – they are all here, completely engaging. Gross is probably the best interviewer in the world – she has a casual air that draws in the listening and disarms her guests.

I have lived with Fresh Air for about 5 years and it’s the perfect daily podcast. Mainly because I can skip past the repeat shows and the topics that don’t interest me. But In any given week, there are 3 if not more shows I want to hear.

Sometimes I think Gross knows everything in the world ever. She can quote Vic Chesnutt lyrics in front of Michael Stipe and she can explain the global financial situation.

Wait, Wait, Don’t Tell Mepublic radio/news/game show/weekly
websiteiTunes

The best produced podcasts on the web. It’s a game show about the week’s news, with a panel of always funny contestants, hosted by Peter Sagal (and sidekick Carl Kasell).

There’s no shortage of superstars walking through either – from ZZ Top to George Stephanopoulos to Leonard Nimoy. Once you get to know the format and the hosts, the show is hugely rewarding.

This is the first podcast I listen to on a Monday. It starts the week in a good way – informed and amused. Who else does one deal with life?

Sunday Night Safranpublic radio/religon, ethnicity/talk/weekly
websiteiTunes

There is no one else like John Safran. Shameless, fearless and tactless, he tackles the toughest subjects in modern life – religion and race. And he tears it apart, laughing the whole time.

Safran is joined by Father Bob, the 75 year old Priest who is a personality all of his own. Together they tackle the spiritial and racial threads in a variety of topics. Be it an art exhibition about a minority in Australia to interviewing Richard Dawkins.

I’m making it sound more serious than it is. It does make you think though, as Safran and Bob take things apart very cleverly (if they aren’t fighting).

It’s one of the few podcasts I follow from Australia, as most of the ones I loved has now stopped (top of the pile was Andrew Denton’s Enough Rope).

The Onion News Networkoriginal content/humour/news parody/daily
websiteiTunes (audio)iTunes (video)

The Onion has been lampooning news since 1988. Their service offers two podcasts – audio news and video news.

Audio news sounds like a radio station news break. Short and sharp – the stories are usually under a minute (and always hosted by the awesome Doyle Redman). Some headlines include ‘God Cites Mysterious Ways As Motive For Killing’. It’s definitely out there.

The real treasure though, is the video stuff. Made like a 24 hour news network would look, with it’s own branded shows, the Onion News Network is some of the funniest things you’ll ever see.

Some of my all time faves

‘Iron Man 2’ Buzz Heats Up Over Rumors Gwyneth Paltrow Gets Punched In Face

Apple Introduces Revolutionary New Laptop With No Keyboard

Google Opt Out Feature Lets Users Protect Privacy By Moving To Remote Village

Those are a few of many, many excellent videos. The Onion Sports Network is a spot on parody of ESPN, to the point where it’s been comissioned for a weekly TV show. I also love Today Now!, the morning magazine program. But really I love it all.

So the point is this. Some of the best comedy virals from the last decade have come from a podcast! Why aren’t we talking about it?

Popdoseoriginal content/pop music and culture/talk/monthly
websiteiTunes

One of my favourite blogs is popdose.com. A few months ago they started a podcast – three of the writers sit around and discuss music, life, and make terrible jokes.

This could be the best and worse of what podcasts have to offer. The three guys – Jason Hare, Dave Lifton, Jeff Giles – are pretty average pop music nerds. But that’s what makes it so great. It’s like talking to people who share your interests. I have never, ever, had a conversation about how much I think John Mayer or Daryl Hall are assholes. But I feel like I have with these guys.

It’s amateurish, but charming. Great stings. This is what homemade podcasting can be. I have big plans to ape this format.

Mark Kermode & Simon Mayo Film Reviewsradio/film/talk/weekly
websiteiTunes

This is the opposite of popdose. This is a proper BBC radio show – probably THE BBC film show. Simon Mayo is the best interviewer Britain has to offer. Mark Kermode is a fantastic film head too. Together they make quite a team.

The show goes out on a Friday afternoon. But I don’t have to worry about that. For the last year or so, it’s been my Saturday morning listening. I don’t even have to get up at the same time each week to catch it. It’s just there. I don’t miss a second of it.

Even if you’re a casual film fan, you must download this.

Coffee Break Frenchoriginal content/language/educational/monthly
websiteiTunes

I’ve spent the last few years trying to get my French up to a conversational level. I take classes here, read books and of course, any excuse to visit France itslf is taken.

But part of it is Coffee Break French, the best of several French podcasts out there.

The advantage of the podcast is I can follow the lessons at my own pace. I can relisten at my leisure. There’s 80 lessons up there now, and I just make my way through them. It has helped me a lot. Just don’t ask me any questions in French.

Sound Opinionspublic radio/music/talk/weekly
websiteiTunes

“The world’s only rock ‘n’ roll talk show.”

That’s how they bill themselves and I have to agree. Made out of Chicago, and hosted by esteemed music critics Jim DeRogatis and Greg Kot, Sound Opinions is the one must-have music show in the podcast world.

It skewers to the critics world – new indie, and old Mojo mag stuff – but they will dig out big names, modern heroes and underground treasures – often in the same show. Mixed with music news, desert island discs, live performances, new album reviews, classic album dissections – there is nothing else like it for music buffs.

There are dozens, if not hundreds more. This American Life. A Prairie Home Companion. Comic book ones. Doctor Who ones. The famous Ricky Gervais one. The almost as famous Stephen Fry one. The legendary BBC Desert Island Discs. And dozens of other music ones. Lots of great cooking ones.

Anything and everything under the sun.

So – let’s start a conversation about podcasts. What do you listen to? What do you like about them? What doesn’t work?

I’d love to know. Because I think podcasts are cool. And it’s time I started telling people.

Wednesday Web: Sound Opinions Podcast

Greg Kot (left) and Jim DeRogatis (right) with Booker T Jones

Greg Kot (left) and Jim DeRogatis (right) with Booker T Jones

Ok, not really a website. Sound Opinions is a podcast to most of the world and a radio show in America. They call themselves “the world’s only rock ‘n’ roll talk show”, and for us, it’s a mandatory weekly listen. Based in Chicago and hosted by music writers Greg Kot and Jim DeRogatis, they comment and review an amazing amount of material, interview some huge names, fascinating characters, and seem to have a lot of fun the whole time.

Both Kot and DeRogatis are music critics at Chicago papers. Both are published authors on music, whether it be band biographies or anthologies (like the wonderful Kill Your Idols). They are rock nerds and a league of new music writers. They have a great knowledge of music history, yet a passion for new music. They have also been friends for years and fight a lot on air.

Now that we checked the CV, why we like this show is because it’s needed. They don’t play full songs – it’s talk. But it’s talk that covers the changing trends in music (the ground we hope to cover in our blog), playful reviews, studies of classic albums and genres, and exclusive live performances. Highlights from the show’s history for us are many:

– live sets from Wilco and Neko Case
– studies on Disco and the relationship between music and food (including a fascinating conversation with cooks about the music they listen to)
– classic album dissections, especially Johnny Cash‘s At Folsom Prison
– interview with a reformed Feelies!
– roundtable with America’s top indie retailers.
– desert island songs
– and more…

The show is powered by American Public Radio, and is a community supported radio network. No big corporate radio dollars here. You can download the podcasts anywhere in the world for free, and you can donate to support the show and the health of US radio.

Kot and DeRogatis are building quite a profile for themselves. They even appeared once on Conan. Of course, you cannot agree with everything they say, but at least they are throwing informed opinions out there, and there’s plenty of listener interactions to get a wide range of views. Yes, it’s occasionally indie and swarmy, but it’s the most informative and entertaining music podcast out there. In a sea of blogged judgements, it’s great to hear good music journalism on the iPod.

Sound Opinion website with all the links you need – http://soundopinions.org