I have a new addiction to podcasts. This is my attempt at being your gateway drug. You know you want to.
So in October I moved to England, which in addition to having been a great move scientifically, has also inspired some small lifestyle changes. For example, the combination of my slightly longer walk to work and the loss of NPR in my car, alarm, and work radios lead to a new weekly podcast routine. Car Talk, This American Life, and Prairie Home Companion had been fixtures of my childhood, however my first year of grad school solidified and expanded my listenage of these shows, since it was, as I see it, also my first year of living in the “real world”, in which my life became increasingly filled with monotonous tasks (cleaning regularly,weekends in lab, grocery shopping, etc) to which the radio added just enough of something interesting without distracting too much from the “productivity”. So my repertoire expanded to include all the various NPR news shows, some old-timey radio shows that played at especially ridiculous hours (but were totally worth it), The Moth Radio Hour, Wait Wait… Don’t Tell Me!, and most significantly, the love of my life, Radiolab.
So now that I am no longer victim to the whims of radio programming and have complete control of my listening schedule, I have reached a whole new level of ridiculousness and methodology. Keep in mind, however, that I’ve only been at this since about October, so the part where I recommend episodes, actually adds up to about a quarter of everything I’ve listened to. This also means that YOUR OWN RECOMMENDATIONS AND CHASTISEMENTS OF MY IGNORANCE ARE MORE THAN WELCOME. Anyway regardless of this fine print, every Sunday night I load up my sweet sweet iPod mini with the following weekly podcasts (yes, they are always in this order):
Wait Wait… Don’t Tell Me!
Always first on the list to get me ready and raring on Monday mornings, this is a quiz show based on the previous week’s news, in which a bunch of comedians banter and maybe answer some questions while callers and a celebrity guest compete for “Carl Kasell’s voice on their home answering machine.” To be honest, I think this show serves the same purpose for me as does The Daily Show for others. News. Comedy. All in one smooth pill. You know, just to reassure myself that I didn’t miss anything super important over the last week of being embedded in lab. Also, these guys are friggin hilarious, to the extent that I regularly laugh outloud, despite whatever looks I get from the Brits flanking me as I cross the street.
Recommended Episodes: The one with Dick Van Dyke (10/23/2010). Also something that might have been a bunch of old shows snipped together, but was still hilarious: Guest Veterinarian Kevin Fitzgerald (11/27/2010)
This American Life
This show hardly needs an introduction. There’s even like a TV show now, which… what? I got into it originally in high school with the Superhero episode, and have since been regularly blown away by the quality and variety of story-telling. Sometimes, I think one of the key reasons I like this show is that Ira Glass sounds like he’s 14, so I’m always incredibly impressed with how articulate he is until I remember that he’s just an ordinarily-aged dude. I suppose it can be a little hit or miss, but with such varied stories and such high ambition, that can only be expected. As a personal sidenote: in their “Christmas Jokes” episode they tried to make a case that there aren’t actually any Christmas jokes, which to me says none of them have spent much time in England, where every Christmas popper includes a tissue paper crown, a cracker-jack-like prize, and a gem of a joke such as “Q: What do you get when you cross a snowman with a polar bear.” “A Brr-Grr.” HarHar. Anyway… I can’t wait to listen to this week’s ‘The Invention of Money’.
Recommended Episodes: ‘Inside Job’ about the hedgefund that may have single-handedly destroyed the American economy, a story “which parallels quite closely the plot of a Mel Brooks musical.” ‘Nummi’ about how at one point GM and Toyota partnered up and made good cars until GM effed it all up. ‘Iraq After Us’ a depressing episode that is the most thoughtful reporting I have come across on the war in Iraq.
The show is cool cause it’s just real stories. Told by real people. Apparently there are live open mic events held in New York and Los Angeles (and somewhere else that I can’t remember/isn’t important). On the podcasts they are always encouraging us to attend events and submit our own stories, but I’m pretty sure I would pee my pants before I could even get on stage. Good thing I’m in England.
Recommended Episodes: ‘Mark Katz: President Clinton and the Egg Timer’ and ‘Steve Burns: Fameishness’ (Steve from Blues Clues and his encounter with a Playgirl) They’re really all pretty good.
Jad and Robert pick a topic and find out everything they possibly can about it. I first heard about this show through This American Life (actually the same is true for The Moth…) in some episode about hookworms as a treatment for allergies. Then a friend of mine (also a grad student) highly suggested it to me. Then it came on the radio one day, and I literally sat at my bench after I finished my experiment so I could continue listening to the show. It was all downhill from there. One of the great things about this show is the back and forth between Jad Abumrad and Robert Krulwich. It’s just good stuff. It also has a lot of the story telling elements and style of This American Life. EXCEPT it is less stories about people and more stories about things or ideas, and the people whose lives revolve around them. And the interplay between some of the unbelievable things that scientists or historians will say and Jad and Robert’s reactions is just fantastic. It’s not like the news, where some talking head is just telling us the way it is. It’s almost like the listener is involved in the story themselves, having those “whoa, no way” and “aha!” moments as we’re listening! This show also has the bonus element of inducing hallucinations due to some of the funky sound-editting they do. Sometimes it gets annoying, but it’s part of the ambiance, so I won’t deign to say they should stop. In fact, I think for the most part, the sound design adds a lot to the experience. … I really haven’t done justice to this show. Just trust me, it’s amazing.
Recommended Episodes: The one that first got me hooked was: WORDS (S8E2). The Goat on the Cow, which was great and has since spawned lots of fun iconography, was in DETECTIVE STORIES. TIME, NUMBERS, and SLEEP were also extraordinary.
Stuff You Should Know
Chuck and Josh. They have this great Conan O’Brien-y jazz intro, and then it’s just two guys hanging out, talking about stuff they or someone at howstuffworks.com googled (there are probably more sophisticated methods involved… probably), and they chitchat about it. It has some of the same dynamic as Jad and Robert of Radiolab, except it’s even more like we’re eavesdropping on their buddy story. They don’t really have guests or sound bites or anything. They have to fill the time with something, so there’s all this stuff integrated in about Atlanta, about what they did the other night, about the office staff. It’s really quite charming. AND we get to learn lotsa cool stuff (octopi, taste, james bond, migraines, breathalyzers, treating mental illness with psychadelic drugs, etc.) that, while they may not totally get it right, is good enough, I think, for entertainment value and general learning about the world value. Like, there was this one podcast, I actually don’t remember which, where I knew they were getting some things slightly wrong with the science or whatever, but it apparently didn’t bother me enough to write it down and actually complain about it. If you want accurate science, I’d say go to RadioLab, they’ll get you your nobel prize winner to come in and talk about it, but if you want Chuck and Josh instead, come on over to this side of the internet. It’ll be awesome. They also have listener mail at the end of every podcast, which is grrreat.
Recommended Episodes: “Do zombies really exist?” and “Did Thomas Jefferson rewrite the Bible?” were both pretty killer.
I have mixed feelings about this show. Half the time I feel like Ira Flatow is out of his element, like he’s my grandpa trying to teach me how to use Google Docs. That’s sort of ageist of me, I guess, but there are a lot of ways in which I think the old-fashioned (geez, hello 1990s) aspects of this podcast work well and other ways in which it just falls short. Things that are good: One of the main reasons I listen to this podcast is that it does cover science news really well, though I have usually already seen most of it through twitter by the time I get around listening to the podcast. Also, the interactivity is like none of the other podcasts I listen to; anybody can call in or tweet a question, really giving a feel for science as a community affair that’s relevant to us all. Now, I’m starting to get all teary, and can’t remember what it was that’s bad about this show. I guess it’s mainly that Ira bugs me. His interruptions with station/show identification are irritating and almost always poorly timed with the guests, and his moderation of the callers and guests in general seems overly dictatorial especially compared to the conversational styles of Radiolab and Stuff You Should Know. But I suppose old habits die hard, and this really is a great show, in addition to being a classic that no doubt set the stage for all the other sciencey podcasts on here. I should probably find a way to listen live so I can tweet things @scifri instead of writing them in a blog post buried in between mountains of other text.
Recommended Episodes: Uhhh…. I feel like I’m now supposed to tell you my favorite episode of the news. Oh well, I’ve got one: “A Trip Back To The Future of the Internet”. During some holiday hiatus they rebroadcast the 1993 episode where they streamed a radio show for the first time live on the internet. The caller from Sweden kept on breaking up because apparently the force wasn’t strong with the internet back then. Listening to people talk about a future that has become the present is always good times.