Podcasts I Know & Love

I’ve been asked to write some podcast reviews for my friends over at http://www.happenstanceradio.com – always happy to help.

Podcasts that I know and love

Mr Happenstance and I go way back….we’ve known each other for 27 years, although there was an interamicum of 16 years before an unlikely reunion was sparked by a sighting in O’Brien’s “Irish” Bar in Kyiv, Ukraine. It remains one of the most incredible coincidences of my life, as I was talking about him not 10 minutes before I saw him. This is a story for another time. Mr H has asked me to pen an irregular (i.e. when I get around to it, but not too often as I have a habit of going on a bit) posting about podcasts…..I’m here to tell you that your iPod is too heavy with music, that those minutes on the commute could be invested with drama or that the aural distraction from your exercise could be expanding your mind as well as your lungs.

I like to think of myself as half-decent company, but sometimes I like to be the passive partner in a conversation – not in a “tell me about yourself” type of way, or worse still “please, go to the toilet for the third time this half-hour so that you may return refreshed with new angles on the story about how fucking great you were during the sales conference”. I like to be informed, and I’m afraid that sometimes one must turn to the experts. It was during those months I lived in Kyiv that I discovered a love for The Spoken Word. I had no television, and I’m a slut for telly, but I wanted some English language entertainment. So I started to dip my toe in the world of podcasts. The Archers, inexplicably, was the first subscription. Then the Russell Brand BBC show – I’m one of the people that saw that whole furore coming, having listened to the show rather than getting sucked down the drain of moral outrage that 99% of complainants did. For the record, I thought it was beyond tasteless, but I also think it was a set-up; certainly the whole thing had been flagged up in the episode prior. I was tiring of Brand’s rhetoric in any case – the Cockney gentleman schtick only goes so far. Ross is a far more accomplished broadcaster and a piece of my BBC podcast jigsaw I have yet to fill. But, dear reader, and I hope soon, listener (of my recommendations, not of me….yet), this is all far to UK-centric. I want to introduce those of you not yet familiar with the work of Ira Glass to TAL…..This American Life. The formula is simple – take a related theme and build an hour of radio around it each week. Sometimes the show is dedicated to one story, sometimes to four or five.

In the three years or more that I’ve been listening to TAL, I’ve come to understand that Ira Glass is something of a legend; the apparent ease with which the show is put together led me to believe that anyone could do this…even me. One show had a stunning story about a confusing parental situation, put together by Ruby Wright, an Englishwoman. Her web address was given at the end, so I looked her up and sent her a mail. Would you mind meeting me? Of course not, I’m playing a gig in Islington tonight, come down. Sure, why not?

Ruby is way more talented and dynamic than I. We talked for 20 minutes or so, and she pointed out that she’d been involved in radio for a long time, cutting her teeth with the Beeb of all people and she was still struggling to get pieces to air – but most of all, the story of her dysfunctional parents being aired on TAL was a highlight and she left me in no doubt that Ira Glass is a rare talent.

I had a critical failure of my computer at the end of last year – and TAL only allow the free download of their latest podcast, although you can purchase the back catalogue from their website, or stream them for free. So I currently have about 20 episodes backed up. Will They Know Me Back Home about soldiers on the front line facing a return to “normality” is stunning, whilst Starting From Scratch is tender warm and inspiring. The titles are never obtuse or oblique….they do what they say on the tin. Search This American Life on iTunes and learn something about our liberal cousins across the pond.