This Podcast Life

“Play with me and you’ll play with fire.”Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings, Retreat!

It’s probably been eight or so years since I’ve regularly listened to podcasts. You know, back in the first hey day of the medium. Back then it was Left, Right, and Center and Wait, Wait and a few other shows from KCRW’s line-up that I was usually too busy at work to catch live. But over time, I shifted further and further away from iTunes as my primary music player so, at some point, the podcasts started to pile up and I declared audio bankruptcy and dumped them all and never looked back.

Well, never say never. A few weeks ago, Kevin Smokler tweeted:

Oh. It’s like that now? Serial was the game-changer, huh? One of those transformative efforts that elevates the space. So, I knew I wanted to check it out but first I had to figure out how people were consuming podcasts these days. I landed on Pocket Casts which is the first android app I’ve paid real yanqui dollars for in a long time. Then I asked what I had no idea would be such an involved question:

This was my most popular tweet this month (thanks Thinkup!) and I’m betting, by far. It was surprising to read how passionate people are about their podcasts. Outside of the occasional mention of This American Life or listening to Planet Money when Tiffany is driving, I hadn’t seen people writetweet much about the podcast but it’s going through a renaissance. Kinda like blogging I guess.

The maturation of these digital forms of expression that seemed to have run their course nearly a decade ago is hella cool. Podcasts, like blogging, were so meaningful to me then, it’s nice to see that we can come home again and find new things to love.

And with that, from all your recommendations, here’s what I’ve sampled and subscribed:

Serial – I can’t recommend this highly enough. It is truly a spectacular listen and obliterated my expectations.

DecodeDC – It’s amazing how difficult it is to decipher what’s happening in Washington these days with all the dark money (something they explained recently) and this weekly breakdown helps. A lot.

99% Invisible – Something about it feels a little hipster-y—an artisanal podcast if you will—but I have thoroughly enjoyed both episodes I’ve heard so far.

Snap Judgment – Out of Oakland, this is a hoot. Nerdy and black and fun, it feels like an old-timey radio hour but with new school freshness.

Planet Money – Like DecodeDC, excellent explainers in a subject I always struggle to understand. It helps that they are also quite funny.

WTF with Marc Maron – He publishes way more often than I can keep up with so I don’t listen to everything but his recent conversations with Larry Wilmore and Andre Royo were both great. 

Call Your Girlfriend – I’m biased because I (humblebrag) occasionally get to hang out with Ann Friedman but this is such a charming show. It’s also intimate. Even though she and Aminatou Sow are allowing us to eavesdrop, I almost feel like I’m not supposed to hear this. Especially as a man. But I will.

I’m also sampling the His and Hers Podcast which I’m not sure I love yet (it’s a little too unstructured) and, of course, This American Life. I still have Song Exploder and a few other recommendations like the TWiB network of shows to try out, too.

The really good podcasts are so compelling that I’m sad when my commute ends before the end of the show. It’s a great way to spend my hour or so on the bus and train to and from work.

I have questions, though: 

  • Do people talk about podcasts online or amongst friends a lot more than I realized until now or not?
  • If not, why not?
  • What makes Serial so transformative?

Oh, and is there something you’d think I’d like that I haven’t mentioned? I could probably listen to a couple more.

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