Tuesday, December 18, 2012

My Tribute to Podcasts Everywhere

Every new year, since creating this blog, I have set a goal to make more blog entries than the year before.  Usually this means, I find myself on New Year's Eve rushing to finish the last blog entry of the year. One year, I had to blog twice on New Year's Eve to meet the goal. This year, I guess, is a good year because I met my goal with this entry in mid-December. Also, early this Fall I hit the 5,000 hit mark which took five years. I am excited to say today it is over 6,800 just a few months later. Things are good on the blogging front. For the last blog entry of the year (this could be it), I would like to do something different.

I cannot imagine how difficult finding all the information I have used in this blog without the Internet (google, wikipedia, podcasts etc.) A co-worker of mine, who is in her 20's, recently asked me, "What did people do before Google?" It is hard to believe the amount of time I'd have to spend in a library researching all this stuff if I didn't have the net. The way I have consumed media has changed drastically throughout the years. When I was young, before the net, it was the evening news and occasional news magazine or daily paper ... I wasn't very well informed. College was a black hole for me in regards to news because I was so busy with classes, homework and part-time jobs, I had no time to consume news. I hadn't discovered NPR (National Public Radio) at that point either. It wasn't until I moved to Boston, after college, that I discovered NPR. I used to read the Sunday Boston Globe at that point also. Sunday mornings I would catch a jazz brunch at a bagel place in Jamaica Plain and read the Sunday paper from start to finish. It wasn't until I met my wife that I became an NPR-head, simply through the osmosis of hanging out with her. (Please note: we have a dog named Cokie Roberts.) Even if I didn't hear a story on NPR, I'd hear it from her. For a brief period, I was streaming some of my favorite NPR shows from their web site. It wasn't until I was living here in Vermont, in the early 2000's, that I discovered podcasts. I had just bought our first iMac and it came loaded with iTunes.  I went onto the iTunes store to check out the music and I noticed something called a podcast. I didn't know what they were, but curiosity got me where I was going. I found that some of my favorite shows had podcasts which you could subscribe to for free. I clicked on NPR's Science Friday and it downloaded to my Mac. It was so simple that I started subscribing to a bunch of my favorite shows. I discovered that when a new show came out, it would just show up on my computer. My wife and I decided after about a year of listening to podcasts that we didn't need cable television anymore because our entertainment, listening to podcasts, was enough. We were more informed than ever. Now that I download the podcast directly to my phone, I couldn't be more happy with the situation. They are just an integral part of my life. I can listen to them anywhere.

Less than half of the podcasts I listen to now are from NPR. A lot of them come from completely independent entities.  I would like to spend some time sharing with you some of these with links to the shows.  My schedule varies but it looks something like this:

Adam Carolla: I start every work day with Carolla because it is light, funny and helps me deal with the trauma of the morning. This is the most popular podcast in the history of podcasts and is currently in the  Guinness Book of World Records for the most downloads. This show is not for everyone. If you are particularly sensitive to racial, gender, toilet or adult humor then you will probably not enjoy this show. Some of my favorite guests in the past have been: Dr. Drew, Ken Burns, Joe Walsh, Albert Brooks and David Alan Grier.

Merriam Dictionary's Word of the Day: Every day get a new word that you may not know. It is basically a dictionary entry read out loud.

Garrison Keillor's Writer's Almanac: Most people I know hear this one on their way into work in the morning. Since I telecommute, I hear it while sipping my coffee in my toasty little office. Mr. Keillor shares some of his favorite works of literature and some history as well.

KEXP's Song of the Day:  Alternative rock station KEXP in Seattle gives you a song to listen to each day.  If I like them, I find it on iTunes and buy it.

On Point with Tom Ashbrook:  This show comes out every week day, two one hour shows.  So what I don't catch daily, I listen on the weekend. Friday's Week In the News can't be missed.  This may be my favorite show on NPR. Tom is a great host capable of carrying an intelligent conversation on most subjects. One day he'll be talking about pies and the next, a heated discussion about Hamas. I don't catch every show, but I often listen to episodes that I don't expect to be interested in and I get pulled in.

ESPN's Baseball Fantasy Focus:  This is broadcasted during the Major League baseball season and leading up the season only. They talk about baseball for fantasy baseball fans. I am in two leagues. This year I won one and came in second place in the other.  This show certainly helped.  

C-SPAN:  Mondays are difficult so I start the work week with something dry. I listen to  three of their podcasts. Afterword comes out every week and has a guest journalist interviewing an author of a recent non-fiction book.  Q and A is hosted by C-SPAN founder, Brian Lamb, where he interviews a non-fiction author for an hour. Lectures in History is my newest podcast. Every week you get a different lecture from a US history professor.

CBC3: CBC Radio 3 is Canada's music radio station. Some of the best rock n' roll in English is coming out of our neighbor to the north. Thanks to this Podcast, I discovered such great performers as Arcade Fire, Dan Mandan, Corb Lund, Joel Plaskett and Feist. The DJ's are annoying but the music is great.

Dan Carlin: Dan is an independent podcaster. I really enjoy both his shows, Hardcore History and Common Sense.  The history show doesn't come out often enough. Due to the amount of work that goes into the show, but it is worth the wait. Common Sense addresses current events. I have supported this show, financially, in the past.

Freakanomics: If you have read the great non-fiction book Freakanomics by Stephen J. Dubner and Steven D. Levitt, then you are in for a treat, because Dubner (the journalist of the two authors) has a podcast.  You can hear parts of it on NPR here and there, but the whole show is available on podcast.  This is the book that verified what I have been saying for years ... economics can explain everything.

Free Library of Philadelphia: If you are ever in downtown Phillie, you may notice the amazing public library they have. Their lecture series is now available via podcast.  You can hear great authors reading their books, lecturing and answering questions about their latest works.

My History Can Beat Up Your Politics: It is one of the better more even-handed history/political podcasts. The host, Bruce Carlson, goes into the minutia of congress and some presidential decisions that you may not know as well as you think you do.  I have to stop working to listen to this one.  He gets a lot into a very small amount of time.

The Nerdist: This one is for nerds.  Comedian Chris Hardwick talks about sci-fi movies and books, comic books and nerdy television shows usually with an interesting guest.  I just heard an episode when he chatted with Andrew Lincoln from The Walking Dead that was highly entertaining. This podcast reminds me that I am not alone in my nerdiness.

Intelligence Squared: This NPR show may be the best issue based show on-line. It is an Oxford style debate where they tackle some of the biggest issues of our day. The two sides of the debate have equal time to defend their point of view and the audience votes for a winner.
Shortwave with Grant Lee Phillips: Grant Lee Phillips is one of more soft spoken rockers you will ever hear.  He is a great host.  He has casual conversations with rock musicians.  The first one I ever heard was with Amie Mann, one of my favorite song writers.  I have been hooked since.

Sound Opinions:  This is an NPR rock and roll show from Chicago's WBEZ.  These two rock critics, Jim and Greg, talk about rock and roll for an hour.  This is probably the most intelligent rock show out there. Thanks to these guys I've been exposed to some great bands like Blitzen Trapper, The Black Keys, The Decemberists and The Drive-by Truckers.

Sports with Frank Deford: This is a very short NPR commentary about sports. Mr. Deford is always funny, witty, biting and poignant.

MacBreak Weekly: These folks discuss all things Apple: iTune, iPhone, iPods and Macs. Some of my favorite apps on my phone are stuff that I heard talked about on this show.

Write the Book: This is a local podcast for writers. Vermonter Shelagh Shapiro interviews authors near and far about their recent projects.

Science Talk: This is produced by the Scientific American magazine.  They talk about subjects that were published in their magazine.  This hasn't been coming out as often as it used so I hope it is not going away.

FolkAlley: This comes out once a month.  It is folk music only. If you don't like folk, don't listen.

Endless Boundaries:  This is jam band music.  If you don't like music like the Grateful Dead, Phish and Gov't Mule this is not for you.

Slate's Hang Up and Listen: This is probably the most intelligent sports show I've ever listened to. Baseball is the only sport I follow but these guys fill me in on whats happening in other sports.

The weekends I listen to podcasts that my wife and I enjoy together.  NPR shows like Wait Wait Don't Tell Me, Sunday Puzzle with Will Shortz, Mountain Stage, Radio Lab and On the Media can be heard on the radio. But if we miss them, we can hear the podcast.

The podcast we listen to together are:

Slate's Gabfest: Our three Slate.com hosts talk about the week in politics.  My favorite part is Emily's updates on what is coming up for the Supreme Court which is a branch of the government I don't hear enough about.

Stuff You Should Know: These two guys are very entertaining.  They have great chemistry together.  They discuss all kinds of things ranging from How Fire Works to What the Dead Sea Scrolls are.  Very light and informative.

The Thomas Jefferson Hour:  We donate to this independent show.  Actor and humanities scholar Clay Jenkinson portrays our third President.  He addresses modern issues like gun control and space exploration as well as slavery, free will and the other founding fathers.  This show is a delight.

The Economist's Week Ahead: Editors of the The Economist talk about events that are coming in the week ahead like elections, global summits and impending deadlines.

Big Picture Science: Scientists from the SETI institute talk science with some very geeky humor mixed in.

Planet Money: This is an NPR show but only parts of it are played on the radio as segments in other shows.  To hear the whole show, you need to listen to the podcast.  If not for this show, I would probably be lost on what is happening in the economy.

Real Time with Bill Mahr: If I were to pay for HBO, it would be for this show. Fortunately, you can get the audio only of the show via iTunes for free. This is always a good laugh.  I don't always agree with Mr. Mahr but I appreciate his insights and those of his guests.

One show we listen to only on a special occasion.  We go on a lot of road trips: drives to Chicago, Phillie, the Georgia coast, Canada etc. When we find ourselves getting sleepy, we put the PodQuiz on. I save them up on my phone for when we need them. It is a very well put together trivia show.  Nothing like some good trivia to keep you awake while driving.

I believe I covered most of them. I always trying checking out new podcasts.  If you know any I should check out, post a comment please.

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