In a recent post about Ukraine I included a link to Ezra Klein's interview with Fiona Hill. It got me thinking about podcasts I listen to regularly, and I wanted to share a few of my favorites with you.
I won't include links to them because you can use any Android or Apple smartphone or tablet to search for them by name and then listen, and if you wish, subscribe.
I'm certain everyone knows what a podcast is, but here's a brief overview:
Podcasts, which might be thought of simply as radio shows you can download and save on your phone or computer, have exploded since 2004 when the first known one was created. It's now estimated that there are 4.2 MILLION of them floating out there in cyberspace.
They come in all shapes and sizes, from segments of broadcast news programs, to serialized novels and true crime stories, to podcasts that include visual material—slides and video. But I believe the most common format still involves interviews and monologues.
Many (most?) podcasts are free to download, paid for by sponsors or by the inclusion of commercial advertisements, while some are based on a paid subscription model. There are also "hybrid" models, where the basic podcast is free with ads, but additional content and/or an ad-free version is available for a monthly fee.
I first became aware of podcasts via Mark Maron's "WTF" (it stands for exactly what you think) in which he interviews movie stars, musicians, politicians—including President Obama—and others. Maron's podcast gained fame, and helped spread the word about podcasts, by his ability to get his subjects to open up about the most intimate details of their lives (the coolest President ever wasn't one of those who did). WTF is currently airing (if that's the proper term for something that doesn't actually go over the air) its 1,330th episode. I've since moved on from WTF, and have a number of other podcasts that I listen to regularly.
The Ezra Klein Show
This is easily my favorite.
Ezra, who focuses on politics and world events, started out as a blogger, became a frequent talking head on MSNBC, then moved to the NY Times. He writes a column for them, and has a weekly podcast as well. He is easily the best prepared interviewer in the business, and he and his staff do intensive research on the subjects and guests he has on.
One smart cookie.
"Wait, Wait Don't Tell Me!"
This podcast is a replay of a weekly NPR radio show that airs on Saturday mornings. The format is simple. The host, Peter Sagar, and a panel of three comedians/commentators dissect the week's news events with humor, and it is FUNNY. And I mean—laugh out loud funny.
The hour long show also includes a guest of some prominence who is forced to play a Q&A game called "Not My Job" where they are asked about a subject that has nothing to do with whatever it is that brought them fame.
The show has advertisements, but my iPhone has a little > button that allows me to skip ahead in 30 second increments, so I avoid them.
(PS. "Wait, Wait" is often performed in front of an audience, and this week's show airs from Shea's Buffalo Theater here in town.)
To The Best of Our Knowledge
This podcast comes from Wisconsin Public Radio, and its hosts cover a wide-ranging list of subjects using interviews with experts in the field and/or people who have experienced the events being discussed. The titles of recent episodes will give you a flavor of their range: "Plants As Persons", "Secrets of Alchemy", "Taking Pop Seriously" and "Searching For Order In The Universe."
It's intelligent and thoughtful, and one you need to pay close attention to as you listen.
Another famous interview podcast, Fresh Air stars Terry Gross (who, coincidentally, attended the University of Buffalo). Gross's podcast pre-dates WTF, and she is admired as one of the best interviewers out there. I myself am not a huge fan—she sometimes she seems unprepared, and too often interrupts her guests—but her guest list is pretty amazing. If there's anything of interest going on in society at the moment, you can be sure that Fresh Air will bring in the right guest to talk about it.
The Axe Files
This interview podcast stars David Axelrod, who was Obama's chief campaign strategist and a Senior Advisor during much of their time in the White House. As you might expect from a political consultant, Axelrod's guests come from the ranks of politicians and print and television journalists. He doesn't play political favorites. His guests come from both ends of the political spectrum.
He has a nice way of introducing us to his guests by exploring their life story in detail before diving in to his questions.
Sarah, a self-proclaimed potty-mouthed comedian and committed progressive, has a simple format to her podcast. It consists of a brief monologue on what's happening in her world—from something as mundane as a silly argument with her boyfriend to the tragic loss of a close friend—and then segues into callers' voicemails. The calls generally involve someone asking her for personal relationship advice, or questions about show business and Sarah's life as a comedian.
While Sarah is the first to admit she isn't a trained therapist, there's always something straightforward and wise about her responses to people's problems. She appears to be thinking out loud, and isn't shy about doubting the value of her own advice even as she's giving it. Yet, by the end of her response you realize she just nailed it again.
Two warnings: 1) she really is often X-rated; and 2) the podcast gets bogged down by commercials that can last 2+ minutes at a time. But there's always that skip-ahead button to let you avoid the worst of them.
Hope you'll check out one of the above. And let me know if you have other favorite podcasts you'd recommend.
And, as always, thanks for reading this far.