We love music, there's no doubt about it - whether at work or at home we're pretty much constantly jamming tunes. But once in awhile, especially if we're spending lots of time in the car or on public trans, it's nice to shake things up with podcasts.
Podcasts have been around for awhile now, but it feels in a way like they're just coming into their own as a medium. There are plenty of smartphone apps out there to help find and stream podcasts, and in terms of content, there's a huge selection. One of the coolest things about podcasts is how democratic a format it is - someone alone in their bedroom can produce and publish their own show about any topic they choose. It might not be as high quality as an NPR affiliated show, but nevertheless, it doesn't require a crazy amount of equipment or skill to get started.
And of course, there are plenty (more all the time) of podcasts made with professional production quality, in depth journalism, and incredible storytelling. You've probably listened to a Radiolab,This American Life or Serial episode or five, as well you should. Those are the best of the sort of "major leagues" of podcasts. But lately we've been digging a handful of smaller, more indie podcasts lately that we're happy to share with you.
Spilled Milk is a dynamic duo of two food writers, Molly Wizenberg and Matthew Amster-Burton, who also fancy themselves amateur comedians. They have some pretty good jokes, but their real talent is talking about food in a totally engaging, mostly non-pretentious way. And when they do have pretentious moments, they are the first to call themselves out.
Each episode focuses on one kind of food or ingredient (apples, say, or gum, or this seasonally appropriate and amazing one about pumpkin spice), and they just dive in. They often take a trip down memory lane and talk about their childhood memories, and usually end up quoting funny snippets of 80's pop culture. Sometimes they do comparative taste tests, sometimes they just riff and josh around, and occasionally, they actually talk about real recipes and stuff. It's the best way to spend a 25 minute car ride.
The Sporkful is another food-centric podcast hosted by writer Dan Pashman. His deal is that most people aren't eating food properly. That's not to say, like, using the steak fork instead of the salad fork; it's more about the quest for ultimate deliciousness, which often reveals the fact that much of the stuff we eat could get from plate to mouth in a smarter, more efficient, or just tastier fashion. Think topics like "which shape of enchilada is the most delicious?" He explores a lot more about food, too, has some pretty famous guests on (Marc Maron, for example), and the podcast is always a lot of fun. Dan also hosts a web series on the Cooking Channel called "You're Eating it Wrong," which is entertaining and informative stuff.
"The longest, shortest time," is a phrase often applied to the first year or two of a baby's life. It's also the name of a superb podcast about the relationships between children and parents. The Longest Shortest Time definitely isn't only for people with kids - it's a narrative exploration of family, and sometimes focuses on the decision to become a parent, which, it turns out, a lot of people feel quite conflicted about. The host, Hillary Frank, has a really honest, intuitive way of asking questions, which allows the people on her show to talk very openly about family life: the highs, the lows, the hilarity, and the tragedy.
About Life's Mysteries
Mystery Show is a really special podcast...it's not really like anything we've ever heard before. Starlee Kine (who you may know from This American Life) solves mysteries brought to her by friends and acquaintances. The mysteries themselves are special, too - they can't be figured out just using Google, and they often seem to be unanswered questions that have been irking the subject for a long time. To be clear, Starlee is not a trained or licensed P.I., but using journalistic smarts and a ton of charm, she actually does solve the mysteries. And it's totally thrilling. Currently, there are only six episodes, and we are on the edge of our seat waiting for more!
Mystery Show is part of the podcast line up at Gimlet Media, which deserves a separate shout out here. They are creating arguably the best podcast content right now, including Start Up, Reply All, and a new show (coming soon!) called Awesome Boring, which sounds super promising. It's hosted by Adam Davidson (of Planet Money) and Adam McKay (the director of Anchorman, Talladega Nights, and Step Brothers).
And just in case you're unclear on how to listen to podcasts, there are a few ways:
- Most podcasts have their own website which have episodes you can stream or download on your phone or computer.
- There are podcast apps out there which are pretty great, including the one that comes standard on iPhone iOS, as well as Stitcher and Overcast. There are probably a lot more, too.
- You can subscribe to most podcasts (and they usually are free) through iTunes.
Whatever you're into, there's almost definitely a podcast out there for you. So, start exploring and happy listening!