Esquire Magazine has been around forever, and for the last several years it's become more of a style guide in the Men's Journal mold. Regardless, over the years plenty of top-notch writers have contributed articles ranging from profiles to expose´s. The Esquire Classic Podcast, hosted by David Brancaccio, is a weekly (more or less) effort that looks at an article from the past and discusses it with either the author or someone familiar with the author and subject. Always worth a listen, many of the pieces, in retrospect, help to define the era that they were written in. Cindy Katz is the designated reader, and has an uncanny ability to sound as if she had written whatever she reads.
Vox's The Weeds is an open-ended discussion of current events. The inability of the hosts to LIKE refrain from saying LIKE in almost every utterance was LIKE too much. As the LIKEs piled up I was unable to focus on the topic at hand. I'm now monitoring my own LIKE output in conversation, and I can sympathize with the transgressors--- but I'm not irritating an audience of thousands, only my wife and dog. Loudon Wainwright III addressed this social ill in his song Cobwebs.
Writers talking to writers. Hey, at least they're not celebrities (yet). The Longform podcast doesn't pretend to be anything other than a forum for non-fiction writers to talk about their craft. The rotating panel of hosts does a workmanlike job of digging into the work and the author's process. Not a lot of fireworks with this particular effort, but consistent exposure to writers and work that I would otherwise miss.
Roman Mars is the host and creative force behind the podcast 99% Invisible. The first several times that I tuned in I wasn't aware of the design and architecture premise. I simply enjoyed the relaxed approach to storytelling and figured it was another This American Life type of an effort. Over time I've been able to recognize the underlying theme and look forward to each week's episode.
The Stuff You Should Know podcast explores how things work, from the microscopic to the cosmic and quite a lot in between. The hosts, Josh and Chuck, have a pleasant back and forth approach that introduces a subject and then fills in the details. They keep the information general enough so the laymen among us (like me) don't get dazed and confused. Their off-topic sidebars drive me nuts, but maybe that's their point of differentiation. Twice-weekly, usually about three quarters of an hour in length.
Never would have thought I would be eager to tear through four-hour episodes of World War I history, but Dan Carlin's Hardcore History got me hooked early and gave me no reason to turn away. The six-part (so far) Blueprint for Armageddon effort has been a revelation. Carlin has the ability to tell the story, cite first-hand accounts and essentially be very captivating in the retelling of the horrors that were World War I. There is an ample backlog of previously run podcasts as well, which I'm looking forward to. This is easily one of the best podcasts I've taken in to date.
Dr. Steven Novella hosts a small panel of scientists (including one or two other Novellas) for the hour-plus podcast The Skeptics Guide to the Universe. Once a subject is introduced a spirited discussion follows. Skepticism is the underlying theme. Many of the subjects are commonly held beliefs, the validity of which, upon further examination either come under question or are thoroughly debunked. It's a good-natured group, kind of like being in the smart guys locker room as they laugh and cajole over tales of astrophysics and the speed of light.
Many of the podcasts I've landed upon are in the NPR/storytelling mode, offshoots of the This American Life model. Superego is strictly comedy performance, ensemble style. I don't know where any of the four leads (Matt Gourley, Jeremy Carter, Mark McConville and Paul F. Tompkins) came from, but who cares? They are funny. The show is a half an hour long, usually consists of four or five skits. The snappy patter can be fast and furious and sometimes a second listen is worthwhile.
Strangers is a popular storytelling production from Lea Thau, the Peabody Award winning creator of The Moth Radio Hour and The Moth Podcast, the gold standards for modern day storytelling on radio and podcasts. The content of the stories are interesting, compelling and personal. I can't get past Thau's presence in many of the episodes. For whatever reason, I have no interest in her personal life for the episodes that feature her life, and in episodes where she conducts interviews I want her to step out of the narrative and let the subject be the subject. It's a personality thing. Thau is very highly regarded and gets plenty of stellar reviews from high-rolling media outlets including Slate and the New York Times.
Many podcasts that deal with nonfiction storytelling end up sounding like a This American Life segment. That shouldn't necessarily be considered a negative. Hosted by Phoebe Judge, Criminal is that way. Short (never more than twenty minutes), always interesting, and with little fanfare, the common denominator is that each episode deals with the effects or aftermath of a criminal act, and not always a violent one. Did the owl do it?
Former NPR reporter Mike Pesca hosts this daily, half-hour effort courtesy of Slate. Pesca is very funny and he crams in a lot of words between the opening and closing bells, so much so that even his credits are laced with jokes. The problem with repeated wisecracks in the credits is just that—they're repeated. Daily. Regardless, the host combines his humor and seasoned reporting chops to deliver a solid interview with each episode, as well as an informed opinion piece. The editorials may come in the form of a production number, or in a straight read. My preference is the straight read, as the guy is more entertaining when he's not trying to entertain.
Skimming the NYTimes online is enough to satiate my daily news habit. Every Friday I'll take in the New Yorker Political Scene podcast—that's about all the news I can mainline for a week. Executive editor Dorothy Wickenden sets the table and then gets out of the way as a couple of other New Yorker editors weigh in on the week's topic. She moves the conversation along but doesn't feel compelled to give an opinion, simply setting up the next logical inquiry and letting her guests deliver their opinions. Smart, concise and rarely argumentative, this podcast exhibits how complicated subjects ought to be chewed upon.
With the emergence of atheism without shame, and with the continued frightening effects of religious conservatism on national and international politics, the examination of unscientific beliefs is a welcomed guest at our door. The trick to making skepticism engaging is handled nicely by David McRaney and his guests on his weekly podcast You Are Not So Smart. McRaney examines why we believe what we believe and offers keys to deciphering the self-delusion that we all experience, otherwise known as our beliefs. He presents his thoughts in a calm and rational manner that shares information, as opposed to dictating it. He also introduces a cookie recipe with each episode.
Apparently someone laid this moniker on George Carlin: a modern day philosopher. I believe it was meant to describe Carlin in particular and possibly stand-up comedians in general. Comic Danny Lobell hosts a comic guest each week and pairs him (or her?) with a philosopher that you've probably heard of and possibly know nothing about. They open with the usual celebrity banter and gradually work up to discussing the chosen thinker. It ain't deep, and that's just fine. It's a fun conceit, and Lobell sounds sincerely interested in the comics that are his guests. It airs once-a-week so burnout isn't a factor (take note daily podcasters) and I look forward to each week's effort. The archived editions are worth trolling through, there are gems to be had.
Every Sunday morning we used to rush downstairs to wallow in the glory of the Sunday New York Times. When we moved out of town delivery was no longer possible. Plus I was chafing at the $5 price tag... penny-wise, pound-foolish, eh? Anyhow, I got used to the weekly Book Review insert. Loved reading all but the fiction reviews. Never would have discovered Poppa Neutrino, Samuel Pepys, or countless other characters and stories that make for good, albeit condensed, reading. Inside The NYT Book Review Podcast serves the same purpose, for the most part. Diverse, succinct, and more often than not, most interesting.
Nothing innovative here, just good storytelling. Serial is a weekly, on-going tale that's spread out over several weeks. The inaugural effort is a true crime story that finds a man in prison for a murder committed over fifteen years ago. Let's just say it wasn't a cut and dry case. Each week, host Sarah Koenig peels away the layers of the story and provides enough twists and turns to whet the listener's appetite for what's going to be revealed in subsequent episodes. An offshoot of This American Life, and the first four installments indicate it's going to be worth following through to the conclusion.
Hosted by Mark Malkoff, The Carson Podcast wanders down memory lane in search of anyone who was a Tonight Show with Johnny Carson guest, writer, or behind the scenes player. Malkoff is an ardent fan of Carson and the Tonight Show and does thorough research--- guests are often surprised at his encyclopedic knowledge of everything Johnny. Carson is rapidly fading into the dark shadows of television history, but if you are old enough to have been a viewer and enough of a fan of pop entertainment, there's plenty of interesting backstage gossip and storytelling. But if I hear that Fred DeCordova story one more time... oy.
Marc Maron is a stand-up comic that has been around for a long time but has never exploded into a big star, although it looks like WTF has created serious momentum for his career. This podcast gives him a venue to interview fellow comics (mostly) and a handful of other entertainers. His struggles with his career and personal issues make him well-suited to dig into those of his guests. He says 'fuck' a lot. Spoiler alert: Boomer is/was a cat.
Designer/illustrator/screen printer Mark Brickey of Hero Design hosts this rambling one-hour-plus bull session that focuses on design and business issues for self-employed creatives. Most episodes feature an established or up and coming designer/illustrator and the discussions delve into the pros and cons of their career choices. It's instructive to hear some very talented people talk not only about their techniques, but also about the choices and sacrifices they've made in order to develop working environments that foster and support their creative output. Brickey's aggressive approach to hosting is an acquired taste, but he is a great advocate for independent designers and his questions for his guests are informed and relevant.
Clocking in at about 5 minutes per helping, The Writer's Almanac combines historic literary facts that happened on the day of broadcast, and then finishes with a poem. From Virgil to William Blake to Mary Oliver and everywhere in between, the poems sometimes glide on by, and on occasion they will be a perfect expression of a thought or feeling that punch me right in the face. Garrison Keillor provides the readings straight with no winks, no pregnant pauses. Just the facts. For an American humorist who is on par with Benjamin Franklin, Mark Twain and Will Rogers, Mr. Keillor's restraint and lack of embellishment make for a perfect delivery of the goods.