I hate listening to the radio. Hate it. Commercials, the same ten songs over and over; it’s just not for me.
For many years, I relied on books on CD to get me through the 2+ hours a day I spend in my car. If stranded on a desert island, all I would need is the set of Jim Dale reading the Harry Potter books to get me through the rest of my life. When podcasts started gaining in popularity, I was delighted. Finally, a way to make the useless hours spent driving productive once again! However, there are close to a kajillion podcasts on iTunes, so sorting through to find the good stuff can be a challenge. I have given hundreds a chance, but there are only 15 I subscribe to regularly. There are the givens, such as NPR’s This American Life, Wait, Wait, Don’t Tell Me, and Fresh Air with Terry Gross because those are so well-known and awesome it would be unnecessary to expound on their virtues. Here are the five, in no particular order, that may not rank as high on the download charts, but are well worth a listen.
5. The Moth
The tag-line is “True Stories Boldly Told,” and I find this to be an incredibly apt description. Most of these are fewer than ten minutes long and feature one or two stories that have been told live at various Moth events across the country. Each event has a theme, which the story must revolve around, and it is different every week. Some of these are hilarious, such as Elna Baker’s recent tale of telling her SUPER Mormon parents that she had lost her virginity while on her “Mormon Rumspringa,” something she was forced to reveal because she had written an article for Glamour about it that was going to be published. Some are inspiring, like George Lombardi’s “Mission to India,” which tells of his being whisked to India to treat Mother Teresa very early in his career as an infectious disease expert. Some of the storytellers are famous, some are teenagers who have taken storytelling workshops, some are just everyday people with an interesting tale to tell.
4. Here’s the Thing with Alec Baldwin
Alec Baldwin is a charming mofo, man. He exudes a hyper-masculine confidence that is entrancing onscreen, but there have been so many gossip column inches devoted to him being a jerk that I wouldn’t have necessarily assumed what an excellent interviewer he would be. He is, however, quite adept at the art and I have found this podcast to be one of my new favorites. He interviews everyone from celebrities like Kristen Wiig, Debbie Reynolds (she is sassy!), and Judd Apatow, to pediatric endocrinologist Robert Lustig to Rob Morris, president and co-founder of Love 146, an organization that fights child sex slavery. You can sense the admiration he has for his interview subjects and it is kind of adorable to listen to him get star-struck by some of his guests. I wish this one updated more than twice a month.
3. NPR: TED Radio Hour
I’m not sure how long this podcast has been around, but I started listening to it a few months ago and downloaded all the episodes I could get my hands on. I think the TED idea is really cool, taking complex subjects, giving a short talk that gives people an overview, and then they can seek out further information if they are so inclined. I haven’t watched that many, maybe 10-15 or so, but I have enjoyed all of them. The TED Radio Hour takes a topic, say “The Violence Within Us,” and includes snippets from various TED talks that address the issue. They invite the original speakers on to further their arguments or add to their information. It makes for an engrossing and highly informative show. I also like that the contributors seem to be split pretty evenly between men and women, which can be hard to find.
The first time I tried this podcast, I almost turned it off because I couldn’t take the host. Kevin Allison is an original member of The State and is incredibly funny, but it was way too “cheesy stereotypical radio announcer guy” for me. I’m glad I stuck it out because the stories I have heard on this show have been phenomenal. He has had a slew of top names share “true stories they never thought they’d dare to share!” Lili Taylor, Janeane Garofalo, Michael Ian Black, Aubrey O’Day(who actually seems like a really funny and cool person, totally unlike the media-presented image I had of her in my head), Kerry Kenney-Silver from Reno:911; literally hundreds of storytellers. The stories themselves range from dealing with a bipolar father (Lili Taylor) to having anonymous sex with someone who wants you to tie his shoe to your balls (Kevin Allison). Every week has a different theme and every week brings new ridiculousness to enjoy.
1. Savage Lovecast
I know there are many people who find Dan Savage problematic. I am not going to try to argue that he has never said anything hurtful, and I won’t attempt to tell people how they should feel about someone just because I might not happen to agree. What I will say is that I adore Dan Savage. I think he is an extremely outspoken and intelligent man who calls people on their shit and gives good advice 80-90% of the time. I will also say that he has opened my mind and normalized many things that I found shocking when I began listening to him, whether through upbringing, societal influence, or ignorance. Polyamorous relationships? Once I may have frowned upon or judged harshly a couple who choose to partake in such an endeavor. Now I realize that there are so many more valid relationship options than strict monogamy. Two of Dan’s go-to acronyms have also come in handy in my day-to-day. The first is to be GGG- Good, Giving, and Game. It means to be good to your partner, giving in life and in bed, and game to try out new things, within reason, at least once. Simple advice that can greatly enrich any relationship. The other is DTMFA, or Dump The Mother Fucker Already. How many times have you wanted to shake someone you care about and yell this in their face? Okay, maybe that is a little aggressive, but it can be frustrating to watch someone continue in an unhealthy or unproductive relationship. DTMFA! Basically, I feel like any show that can help educate people about things the mainstream media and world is not talking about is a good thing. Whether it is how to support a loved one though their coming out process, what to do when you find porn on your partner’s computer, how to indulge a partner’s kink that you may not be totally into, or how to navigate an open relationship, you’ll find answers here. It is endlessly fascinating to learn about what goes on inside other people’s minds, and you will find plenty of that in this podcast.
All podcasts are available for free on iTunes. How about you all? Do you listen to podcasts? Which ones are your favorites?