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Listen: Podcasting my way through formerly free time

2013-04-08T00:00:00Z 2013-04-09T13:29:05Z Listen: Podcasting my way through formerly free timeKathleen Dorsey nwitimes.com
April 08, 2013 12:00 am  • 

I love podcasts.

Podcasts are the perfect complement to my daily routine. I listen to them in the shower, while cooking dinner, while washing up after dinner, and before going to sleep.

I subscribe to or have in the past subscribed to about 30 different podcasts, covering a wide variety of topics and issues. With so many podcasts to choose from, I choose my listening material largely depending on what I’m doing at the time, and of course the time of day.

I frequently listen to Mysterious Universe—a rather hilarious radio show on all manner of supernatural topics, hosted from Australia—while getting ready for work, but I would never listen to it while trying to fall asleep, unless I want to lie awake for the next six hours wondering if that cobweb my cat is staring at is really a shadow person manifestation.

A fantastic podcast to listen to at night is WNYC’s RadioLab podcast, a science podcast from New York City’s NPR station. Their sound editing and mixing skills are above average in the audio podcasting world, to the point that occasionally RadioLab seems over-produced, but still lovely. My favorite episode of this podcast is entitled “Space,” in which Carl Sagan’s widow explains what it was like in the early days of their relationship as they were assembling the Voyager probe together.

It seems a little anachronistic to be so dedicated to podcast-listening. If you think about it, podcasts are basically today’s equivalent of the talk radio show, only anyone can do it, and anyone can have access to it, from anywhere in the world, through the wonder of iTunes. No fiddling with radio dials or interpreting speech through heavy static—unless the podcast in question has particularly terrible recording methods.

Something I’ve noticed while listening to my podcasts is that when it comes to spoken programs, I’m a bit of an audio snob. If a podcast is recorded on bad equipment, the presenter has an irritating voice, bad rhythm, is obviously reading from a script, or there is too much background noise in the podcast, I have to turn it off.

The only thing I have found that can possibly fix any of these problems is the passage of time. Often, as podcasters learn more about their craft (or hobby, more likely), they learn better methods of recording and speaking.

One of my favorite podcasts is “The History of England”, by someone called David Crowther based in the UK. In the beginning, the podcast was somewhat poorly recorded, with a little bit of static over the audio, but recently it has become much more professional. The lesson here is that you have to give podcasts a second chance. Although I admit I miss the sound of birds chirping in the background of the more primitive recordings—as Crowther has acknowledged that his podcast is (or was) created in his backyard shed.

Crowther’s podcast is everything I could want in a history podcast—in-depth investigation of a topic, including an ongoing storyline, and frequent check-ins on daily life (during whichever century he's exploring at the moment). Crowther’s encyclopedic knowledge of English history is only highlighted by his gentle delivery and snippets of dry British wit that sneak in every so often. I highly recommend trying "The History of England."

So what is the appeal of podcasts? While the delivery method may seem antiquated—I'm visualizing my grandparents as children gathered around the family radio to listen to a favorite program—the content is cutting-edge and tailor-made for the information age. Podcasts can teach you anything, with dedicated shows like NPR’s “How to Do Everything”, or foreign language podcasts such as “Coffee Break Spanish”. There are literature podcasts, car podcasts, sports podcasts, religion podcasts, philosophy podcasts, and there are podcasts that combine all these elements.

There are podcasts on more topics than I could begin to list.

These shows are not only a way to learn, but a way to share information and connect with people you may otherwise never meet. A celebrity interview on a podcast is always more intimate than the same interview on a morning talk show, and allows the celebrity’s personality to shine through.

Podcasts are perfect for today’s multitasking lifestyle, allowing listeners to get things accomplished while learning or being entertained. Ever try to do the dishes while watching a TV show? Even with the convenience of online streaming, you’re inevitably going to miss something crucial. I defy any viewer to focus on the image 100 percent of the time and do anything else. Audio podcasts are written with this restriction in mind. You aren't missing anything.

If you must go visual, there are video podcasts. Video podcasts are an entirely different realm of experiences that includes lectures and discussions but also cooking shows and step-by-step instructions that have rescued many an end user in a technological emergency. While I am not as much of a fan of video podcasts, I do sorely miss the Revision 3 cooking show “Food Mob”, on which Irish Chef Niall Harbison cooked a meal while talking with friends and interacting with the audience on social media. Unfortunately, the show’s parent company opted to pull the plug back in 2010, and I have never recovered.

I don’t find it too strange to miss a podcast even three years after it has gone dark. After all, these people, these podcast creators, have been a big part of my life in an intimate way. NPR’s “Pop Culture Happy Hour” feels like going to a bar with friends to talk about our favorite TV shows. “Food Mob” felt like sitting in a friend’s apartment while he is making dinner. I am not surprised when I hear myself voicing my opinions to the brothers of “WedWay Radio”, especially when I disagree with them on the subject of the Disney parks.

Strangely enough, I never listen to podcasts while driving, even though I know that is the most preferred podcast-listening venue because it is often referenced within the podcasts I listen to. Because driving is my preferred opportunity to sing as loudly as I wish with no witnesses, and I just can’t give that up for another podcast. Podcasts are already starving my free time.

And as my favorite history podcasts have taught me, life is short. Why be restricted by habit?

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