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Dec 19, 2011

Pod and Prejudice (podcast faves 2011)

I simply can't follow music anymore, and just listen to what's in the air, or on the shelves/hard drive -- next to nothing post-2009, you understand. Nor can I do more than read the rev

W H Chong — Culture Mulcher

W H Chong

Culture Mulcher

I simply can’t follow music anymore, and just listen to what’s in the air, or on the shelves/hard drive — next to nothing post-2009, you understand. Nor can I do more than read the reviews of books and movies, and catch what I can. Springsteen reckoned there were 57 channels and nothing on, but then the Hollywood Hills do seem remote from humanity.

Podcasts, ah, podcasts you can find and access them from home. And like Fido, it’s ready when you are. I’m lucky enough that I can often tune into words while working — whichever whorls and sand dune corrugations in that strange walnut up top are involved with images, they don’t seem to mind text directly streaming into the shell-likes.

Here are my favourite podcasts of the year:

9. World Book Club (BBC)

Big name writers come on this monthly show to talk about their book, usually the one which made their name. These are writers who’ve sold cargo-loads and have a large, global following — I’m taken aback by how many of them I don’t know, and whose books I haven’t seen, never mind read. Nonetheless the interviews, around 50 minutes, by the warm and well-read Harriet Gilbert are at the very least, entertaining, and sometimes elicit the kind of answer that makes you think differently about the author. Also of interest is that the audience — in the room and on the phone around the globe — ask questions and make comments, and the authors have to cope. This year’s highlight for me: Colm Toibin talking about Brooklyn — Toibin is charming, self-effacing, subtle and deeply crafty.

8. Radiolab (WNYC)

You might be familiar with RN’s The Night Air (“Radio abstraction for listening pleasure”). Radiolab has a not dissimilar approach — “obliquely connected material is re-assembled with sonic glue allowing the listener’s imagination to build a new story.” Radiolab’s discontinuous sonic collages are introduced by hosts Jad Abumrad and Robert Krulwich, who also provide a kind of running exegesis. An acquired taste, it’s enlivening and delightful when you’re in their groove. Radiolab comes twice a month, in Shorts, around 20 mins, and the standard hour. See this gorgeous video Symmetry and listen to the program that inspired it, Desperately Seeking Symmetry.

7. The Philosopher’s Zone (RN)

Presented by the beautiful mind of Alan Saunders, PZ is a very enjoyable bluffer’s guide in 25 minutes, but also manages to pass us small crystals of ideas which glint and shimmer as we turn them later in our minds. Saunder’s voice is amber pillowed on velvet, and his tone of judicious cool is unique on radio. This one on robo-war ethics by P.W. Singer is fantastic, and anyone who saw and admired, or was unconvinced by Terence Malick’s film Tree of Life will find this discussion a fascinating entree into the director’s philosophy.

6. Canberra Calling (Crikey)

You’ll forgive a little logrolling. Crikey editor Sophie Black’s weekly chat to Bernard Keane in Canberra is distinguished by the combination of Sophie’s light-fingered scepticism with Bernard’s dry realism. One might say Bernard’s reading of Canberra is pitiless. Slightly plagued this year by problems in broadcast consistency, it’s back on track the last few months. Dare I say, they could lash out and have a bit more fun. 15 – 25 minutes.

5.  Culture Gabfest (Slate)

Like them or not, the Slate culture trio of Stephen Metcalf, Dana Stevens, and Julia Turner can make for a refreshingly mainstream-alt-east coast 45 minutes. Set apart by the Metcalvian trademark note of self-mocking snooty disdain and patronising high culture humour, they deliver on Beyoncé and dance plagiarism, movies, TV, literary theory in Beavis and Butthead, and the cultural canon of this century, so far. Maddening, but also splendified by Metcalf’s occassional riffs and rants.

4. Politics Weekly (Guardian)

The Guardian‘s excellent weekly update on politics in the UK. Sharp, clarifying and a whole lot less ideological than you might assume; in the best British tradition, the presenter Anne Perkins entertains a selection of voices who are not often in agreement. The star is Michael White, a very old hand who’s seen it all and whose acerbic and dry-eyed comments cut the mustard, and through the grease.

3. Wheeler Centre

In the unlikely event you don’t know, the Wheeler Centre is a year round forum for books, writing and ideas, with its home and stage in the south side of the State Library on Swanston Walk. For those who can’t get there in person, you can view their videos of the talks and discussions, or just do the podcast thing. The line-up is stellar, so you can cherry pick: Paul Keating on himself; Simon Leys on lit crit; Michael Kirby on the love that dare not be spoken of by Julia; you can check out Christine Nixon’s apologia; and also people who you’ve never heard of on subjects which are esoteric but surprisingly pertinent, such as Mandy Brett’s Why the World Needs Editors Even if it Doesn’t Need Books. Shorts at 30 minutes, otherwise an hour.

2. Slate’s Political Gabfest

American politics through the contrarian prism of Slate editors David Plotz, John Dickerson and Emily Bazelon. An unmissable, weekly 20 mins.

1. Filmspotting

An hour of sheer pleasure. Every week Adam Kampenaar and Matty “Ballgame” Robinson talk/argue/dispute about current films, and review past movies in a theme suggested by the week’s pick (Drive led to Top 5 Movie Vehicles). Their hilarious Movie Massacre has the duo act a scene from a film (badly, naturally) with listeners going into draw — first correct guess wins a Filmspotting t-. And you know it’s really good because (i) people subscribe from around the world, with quite a bunch from Australia — at up to $5 or $10 a month, and (ii) even their reading out of the subscribers’ names and whereabouts are great fun. Very nicely produced, these folk know and love their subject, and it’s very easy to love them.

 

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9 thoughts on “Pod and Prejudice (podcast faves 2011)

  1. SusieQ

    oooh, sorry, just read your post W H Chong – not exactly, have been to Ireland a few times and have friends there, thats about it really. One of them put me onto the RTE show.

  2. W H Chong

    SusieQ,
    Thanks for those. Summary pods are appreciated – eg, the BBC GlobalNews is a neat 30 min roundup of … global news. I enjoy the Desert Island Discs too, though you probably need to be in the UK, or of the UK, to get a sense of who some of their interviewees are – but they did one with Blondie (D Harry) recently and she seemed to almost deliberately do the inarticulate rockstar thing. And they chop back the tunes for copyright purposes which is frustrating. Science shows are all the go – wonder why they work so well as audio? Playback RTE 1: I’m guessing you have Irish associations?

  3. SusieQ

    Thanks for all the recommendations – I used to listen to the Bugle, but got a bit sick of the constant use of the ‘f’ word – really unnecessary from two intelligent, funny chaps. As a train commuter, I get plenty of chances to listen to podcasts and can recommend:

    – StarStuff – astronomy and science from Stuart Gary on NewsRadio
    – Desert Island Discs – sounds cheesy, but you get half an hour listening to someone talk about their life inbetween their music choices and its amazing what you find out.
    – The Front Page – a short poddie on headlines from the New York Times
    – the Guardian’s science podcasts – cover a range of topics and don’t talk down to the listener.

    I find podcasts that provide a summary of events can be really good, like Playback from RTE1, a good weekly podcast, which is a summary of news, current affairs, music and poetry from Ireland. Because I can’t listen to the radio at work, I also download the Conversation Hour from ABC Melb.

  4. W H Chong

    There certainly is a lot of good stuff out there, so it’s great to check out your curation.
    The theme of atheistic interest in religion on your list is a very fruitful cross. (So to speak.)
    And I too am very grateful for podcasts.
    Had a quick listen to Bible Geek; very well named. Why You’re Wrong is pretty fun, I like their tone.

  5. Matthew of Canberra

    “How do you keep up?”

    The first list are actively listened to, and good if you like the subject matter. The latter ones are things that I have listened to, and probably will again, but not on current rotation. Basically, I just don’t watch TV any more. Pods are my radio, and main form of outside news and entertainment. I also live by myself, so having things “on” that involve people talking about things makes the house a nicer place to be. So they’re not even necessarily subjects I’m particularly obsessed with, but I find the talk interesting nonetheless (which is how farming todays get a guernsey). Everyone’s got their own faves – I compare lists with other people and hear about things I’ve never heard of because, say, I’m not really into film or pop music. There is a lot of good stuff out there, though.

  6. W H Chong

    Matthew of Canberra — fantastic list!
    How do you keep up? I’m super curious about Bible Geek and early Theology Unplugged, so will track em down. Ditto Partially Examined Life and teh Canucks. I may simply have to work my way through the whole list. Excellent offerings! Thanks for what seems like the podcast version of partridges, turttle doves, swans and gessese and golden rings all dangling from a pear tree.

  7. Matthew of Canberra

    – The Infinite Monkey Cage
    – Reasonable Doubts
    – For Good Reason
    – Point Of Inquiry
    – The Dinner-Party Download
    – Gareth Jones On Speed
    – Farming Today and the BBC Food Show (no, seriously)
    – NPR’s Tell Me More (intelligent news and discussion, but from somewhere else)
    – Skeptoid
    – Monster Talk
    – More Or Less (BBC show about numbers and statistics – give it a try)
    – The Bowery Boys’ New York City History

    Those are all listened to as soon as they’re downloaded. Now … into the fringes a bit … sometimes struggling to keep up but usually good to listen to in some setting:

    – The Bible Geek (two doctorates in christian theology, and THEN the guy has a change of heart … he’s also really into HP Lovecraft. I listen to him late at night)
    – Theology Unplugged – the early episodes were VERY good. I haven’t listened for a while since a change of format. If you are (like me) an atheist, and wonder what nice, friendly evangelical texas protestants believe, tune in. I really recommend the early ones, with greg cromarte.
    – The Partially-Examined Life (occasionally hard-core philosophy, but they’re funny and I do like listening to them yack)
    – Why You’re Wrong (two canadians doing a laid-back version of reasonable doubts / truth-driven thinking)
    – Truth-Driven thinking. Have a listen to the early ones first. It’s changed.
    – GodPod (anglicans discussing stuff theological – the archbishop’s missus Jane is a regular)

    All of the “stuffs” from the How Stuff Works site are worth investigating. I’ve gone off them recently, but I still listen to the odd CarStuff and Stuff You Missed In History class. TechStuff is occasionally very good. I used to really like MomStuff, but … maybe I just needed a break. Stuff You Should Know is considered an internet legend.

    Also, anything with Nigel Warburton or David Edmonds is automatically deemed Excellent, by me. Get hold of:

    Philosophy Bites
    Ethics Bites
    Bio-Ethics Bites
    Multiculturalism Bites
    Philosophy, The Classics.

    One of them did a monthly pod for the guardian, but stopped a few months ago.

    Um … I guess “This American Life” needs to be mentioned, but I don’t really listen to it myself. I have a friend who is a junkie.

    If you want some SERIOUS cackling, try out “The Bugle” from The Times. John Oliver and Andy Zaltzman, just going off. Often has rude words. Depends on taste.

    I very recently discovered “Why? Philosophical Discussions About Everyday Life”. I haven’t listened to a LOT of episodes, but so far it shows great promise.

    And obviously there are a couple of quite good crikey pods too.

    That’ll do for now. I don’t watch a lot of TV any more.

  8. W H Chong

    Mm, Rob, they sound like great choices. LNL is standard fare of course, and on the must-look-at list. I’ve checked out Thinking Allowed several times and must return to it. And I know just the person for History of Rome. Thanks for the leads. WHC

  9. Rob

    My favourite podcasts:
    – The History of Rome – great storytelling, witty
    – In our Time (BBC) – Melvyn Bragg leads a panel into the depths of a diverse range of subjects
    – Thinking Allowed (BBC) – all about society – although the episodes are sometimes a bit too short
    – Late Night Live (ABC) – if you miss the live version
    – TechWeekly (The Guardian) and Click (BBC) – all the techie stuff