Wednesday, October 25, 2006

I posted something a while back asking for podcast suggestions and was met with reaction akin to a roomful of crickets. OK, to be fair, a roomful of crickets plus one comment with a very generic suggestion and one email with some quirky suggestions that didn't really do it for me.

So I had to go it alone, but the good news is that I found some good stuff. Here are the podcasts I've been checking out that I recommend (all available for free on iTunes):

  • Grammar Girl's Quick and Dirty Tips for Better Writing: This is a short irregular podcast, approximately 5 minutes each, with about 20 episodes available to date. Grammar Girl is a professional tech writer, and each podcast tackles a practical grammar issue. The tips are basic, but they provide nice refreshers and often nice mnemonics for keeping them straight. And in my experience even people generally mindful of grammar have certain blind spots or rules they just can't keep straight--personally, I highly appreciated the primer on that vs. which. Some episodes are not pure grammar either, but deal with topics such as interviewing or proofreading. Highly recommended.
  • KCRW's Morning Becomes Eclectic: This podcast is even more irregular, with only a handful of episodes out right now. It's roughly a half hour set of one musician or band with a little bit of interview. The guests are indeed eclectic. I've listened to the Guster and Camera Obscura episodes. I highly recommend Guster, sort of recommend Camera Obscura, and in general recommend perusing the episodes for ones you might like rather than subscribing.
  • KCRW's The Treatment: This is film critic Elvis Mitchell interviewing someone in the film industry for approximately a half-hour. I listened to the Matt Dillon episode, and it had the feel of a Will Ferrell as James Lipton Inside the Actor's Studio. It was downright scrumtrillescent. Other episodes might be better. Not particularly recommended based on small sample size.
  • New York Times Times Talks: This is a series of approximately semi-weekly hour-long chats with someone in the news, though many of them seem to be entertainment figures. I listened to the Howard Dean talk, and if they're all that good, then you should subscribe. I'm also going to check out the Joan Didion episode. But I personally find it hard to get interested in some of the topics. Maybe recommended.
  • NPR All Songs Considered: This is simply an irregular 20 to 35-minute broadcast of various eclectic songs, some episodes with a theme and others not so much. Check out the contents of individual episodes, and you'll probably find some gems.
  • NPR Books and NPR Pop Culture: These are weekly half-hour-ish collections of NPR stories on the relevant topic. Books has a lot of author interviews, and is a nice way to hear about what's being published in a variety of areas, while Pop Culture is generally oddball stories. I've actually subscribed to these, and they're worthwhile. Recommended.
  • NPR This I Believe: These are weekly 500-word statements by a variety of people outlining their personal beliefs, and they run about 4 minutes each. I haven't made up my mind yet about this one, but the one by the autistic woman who made a career out of designing more humane slaughterhouses is not to be missed.
  • Slate Explainer: Slate takes a current news story and finds a bizarre question that requires more research, and presents an answer. For instance, faced with North Korea's declarations about nuclear warheads, they research how it is that a small cadre of folks learn (admitted strained) English in that insular country. Or they explain how museum professionals would fix a Picasso that you've accidentally punched a hole in, or what a protest at Gallaudet University sounds like. The answers are inevitably as entertaining as the questions. Highly Recommended.
  • This American Life: The highly acclaimed hour-long weekly radio series is now available in podcast form. The only catch is that you can only download the current episode for free; back episodes cost 95 cents. I've only listened to one episode, but on the basis of that episode I plan to make it a habit. Recommended, even though the one at a time thing annoys me.
  • The Folkways Collection: This is a 24-episode history of one of the 20th Century's more unusual record labels. Each hour-long episode discusses part of that history, focusing on an artist, a genre, or some behind-the-scenes aspect. The Folkways label collected all sorts of off the beaten path music--folk, country, world music, spoken word, jazz, etc.--from 1948 until the early 1970s, and it's now housed as The Folkways Collection of the Smithsonian. I'm picking and choosing on this one, having listened so far to the introductory generic history of the label, the country and bluegrass episode, and the Phil Ochs episode. I don't know how many more I'll check out, but this is a nice collection of the music itself along with personal biographies and other music history. Recommended if and only if any of this sounds particularly appealing to you.
  • The Loveline Archive. OK, I lied, this one isn't on iTunes. But it's years worth of complete episodes of what was the best radio show on the planet until Adam Carolla left to host what's probably the new best radio show on the planet. Each episode has the commercials removed and runs about 95 minutes. I don't know how legal this is and how long it will stick around, so if you love Loveline 10% as much as I do or more, you should start grabbing episodes now. Right now. Go. I'll wait.
The bottom line appears to be that if you're looking to find general interest podcasts, going to iTunes and looking to a handful of providers (NPR, PRI, KCRW, New York Times, CNN, PBS) will provide you a lot of good stuff, and following the "Listeners Also Subscribed To..." box will get you beyond that small group.

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