My New Audio Paint: Podcasts

I grew up in a house where public radio always seemed to be on. There were multiple radios tuned into whatever program was airing in the kitchen, living room, even the garage. To this day, my mother in particular still uses radio to fill her home. She even winds down in bed listening to another hour or so of programming before she slides into sleep. I recall vowing that my home would never be that inundated with radio waves, but I am my mother’s son, and that’s exactly what’s happened, right down to the practice of listening to a program before I sleep. It’s like paint on the walls, radio and talking voices cover everything with an audio coat.

But of late, I’ve been listening to an “audio paint” of another color. The dictionary defines podcasts as “digital audio files made available on the Internet for downloading to a computer or portable media player, typically available as a series, new installments of which can be received by subscribers automatically.” What streaming video has done to allow viewers to binge watch television, podcasts have offered a similar, on-demand, convenience to enjoy back to back episodes. A few years back, when I finally bought my first smartphone, my radio habits changed as increasingly I’ve been able enjoy the convenience of listening to podcasts on demand. I plug in headphones when I’m going for a walk, send a signal via Bluetooth to my stereo, or just set my phone down and play a podcast from my nightstand.

Some of my favorite podcasts these days are: This American Life (stories on each week’s chosen theme), Comedy Bang Bang (alternative comedy), Criminal (crime), As It Happens (world news, current affairs, and human interest) and an recent discovery You Must Remember This which is billed as “the podcast about the secret and/or forgotten history of Hollywood’s first century.”  That’s a lot of listening, but thankfully I have a smartphone app to keep everything organized.

Perhaps you’ve been caught up in the nationwide phenomenon of one of the most popular podcasts to date, a spin-off of This American Life called Serial? Now in it’s second season, Serial has already won a 2015 Peabody Award and attracted millions of listeners who have tuned into its compelling non-fiction storytelling. Check it out. As the popularity of podcasts increases, seeking recommendations for podcasts is getting easier too. National Public Radio has created a podcast review website called and billed as “your Friendly Guide to Great Podcasts.” It’s really helpful for finding  countless subject themed recommendations. Finally, I’d be remiss if I didn’t put in a plug for my friend Dana Gerber-Margie’s blog The Audio Signal. Dana and I graduated from the same UW-Madison graduate library and information studies program and she currently works as an audio archivist at the Wisconsin Historical Society. She does a fantastic job of curating a selection of audio offerings and including great descriptive details. I’m impressed by how much she manages to listen to each week. Subscribe to her email list for The Audio Signal and get those weekly recommendations with links sent directly to you!

There have also been books written about podcasting and new innovations in radio storytelling. I recently read Jessica Abel’s graphic novel Out on the Wire: The Storytelling Secrets of the New Masters of Radio. With the help of This American Out on the WireLife’s Ira Glass, Abel spent years behind the scenes researching some of the most popular podcasts and radio programs. She interviewed their hosts and producers about their process and deftly uncovered some of the more nuanced issues related to how these podcast construct their episodes. The amount of revisions undertaken, opinions and feedback sought, ideas championed and abandoned, and thoughtful music selection that goes into what seems like a simple audio interview is astounding. If you’re interested in podcasts and radio programs, Out on the Wire is a great way to explore the process and gather an understanding of how these programs are produced. It certainly helps make it palatable that the subject is conveyed with some great graphic storytelling as well. For other books on the topic of “podcasting” check out these from our MORE catalog.

Even public libraries have expanded into podcasting. The New York Public Library Podcast offers an opportunity to hear your “favorite writers, artists, and thinkers in smart talks and provocative conversations” and the Los Angeles Public Library’s award winning ALOUD series.

Now you’ve heard what I’ve been listening to. I’m all ears for your suggestions. What are some of your favorite podcasts or radio programs?


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