On a semi-regular basis, I see people on Twitter urging others to follow an attractive mantra: share good content, ignore the bad.
Like so many others, I fall behind on promoting things I like and fall victim to the troll trap. I’m trying to be better (rule #1: never read Steve Simmons), and I’m making a conscious effort to RT articles that I enjoy or that come from good authors.
This post is an additional penance effort to make up for some (but not all) of my e-content sins.
Now that I’m 24 episodes into helping the Buckeye State Hockey Podcast, I thought this would be a good time to share the shows and episodes that I enjoy. These are the podcasts I hope Union Blue Radio can learn from.
There are two broad podcast types that I follow. The first features themed or distinct episodes. Here, a guest or a theme/topic will last the entire audio length. This varies from the other type “Daily/ General Chat” that operates like a talk show. Take this example: I can quickly recall a good episode of Maron’s WTF based on a guest. I have a harder time remembering which episode of MvsW is which (although I can relay individual stories or jokes from an episode).
For today’s post, I’m going to stick with the themed/distinct shows, and I’m going to pick specific episodes.
All Songs Considered (NPR) – “The 90s Are Back or Whatever”
Music was my first blogging passion and still dominates a ton of my free time. NPR’s music crew have been crucial to expanding my music knowledge. The All Songs 90s episode was one of the first I heard, and it set a standard for the kind of music show I want to hear. There is warm chemistry between the hosts, and it doesn’t happen at the expense of the first-timer. Inside jokes are playful and draw you in (rather than creating isolation). (Related: if you like Bob Boilen, Robin Hilton, and Stephen Thompson here, you’ll probably enjoy most All Songs installments)
Also helpful: the music selection is incredible and diverse. Coming into the episode, I expected Radiohead and Nirvana. I didn’t remember Jeff Buckley. I didn’t know anything about Cornershop, or Lucinda Williams, and both came away as highlights of the show. Format also helps this episode. Songs are presented as clips with conversation around them, helping to guide new listeners into (and out of) tracks.
What Do You Learn Listening to All Songs? Above all else, the All Songs 90s show is a lesson in giving nuance and context. Each of the four hosts is allowed room to breathe, given space to present the depth to the songs they enjoy. That combines with the distinct tastes and personalities of each critic, meaning there’s breadth of selection. I hope Union Blue Radio can find that balance between conversation, chemistry, depth, and specificity that makes ASC great.
Runner Up ASC: Any of the year-end shows. These are also conversational, loaded with quick clips and chatter. I like getting a big sampling, especially when there’s (often) an impassioned bit of hype before the music.
Radiolab (WNYC) – “Colors”
Radiolab’s hard to describe. In a general sense, it’s a science-ish podcast that meditates on ideas or stories, and tries to expand your knowledge and awareness. Yes, I know: what you’ve just read is extremely vague.
A better way is to consider an example, and the oft-cited “Colors” episode is among my favorites. The showstopper is the rainbow segment. Here, the show asks, “What animal sees the best rainbow?” It’s a somewhat silly question that seems even harder on an audio production. How do you address color in an aural way?
The answer: use a choir. Yes, Radiolab bring in a choir with different voices (different notes) representing different colors (or different wavelengths). Very high and very low notes drive into exotic places, giving a broader sonic palette to match the visual palette. Ultraviolets (especially from the mantis shrimp) soar with sopranos to beautiful effect.
What Do You Learn Listening to Radiolab? Radiolab is the best sounding podcast, and their ability to tell stories with sound is unparalleled. The rainbow in “Colors” is the best single example, and they don’t stop there. Mentions of electricity happen with a curious fuzz, interview voices are faded in and out with narration in unexpected ways, field recordings are used liberally (and effectively). The production values are astounding.
This is a podcast worth simply hearing, even if you aren’t listening closely to the words. If you do listen, inquisitive hosts Jad Abumrad and Robert Krulwich will plant ideas in your mind. And soon you’ll start seeing the world in different ways.
Someday, I’d love to hear a sports podcast with the kind of sounds found in Radiolab. I’m not sure how that would work (either technically or in any placement sense), but it’s a dream to hold.
Runner-Up Radiolab: I also love the episodes “Time,” and “Buttons not Buttons.” I’ve yet to find a bad show in the bunch.
Comedy Bang Bang (Earwolf) – “Heynong Man”
Comedy Bang Bang is a zany, madcap comedy experience and such strong language still undersells how Scott Aukerman builds a twisted universe. Each episode is a riff between host Aukerman and his guests. Jokes build off jokes, characters and wordplay form from the slightest of sounds.
I’m not as loud a CBB supporter as Sam or Nick have been. They were the ones to point me at recent episode “Heynong Man” with guests Jason Mantzoukas and Paul F Thompkins.
Mantzoukas and Aukerman have instant chemistry and bounce silly ideas around the studio. It’s an acquired taste, but everything moves wonderfully. The quick wit and wild wordplay really grab my attention. Some choice cuts: “Hump up the jams,” “Should you perish, when you perish,” “This is a f***ing family show.”
That all eventually jumps into a mispronounced “hang on man.” “Heynong Man.”
“Heynong Man.” It’s stupid. It’s stupid! “It’s on like Donkey Nong.” There is no nuance! The words you read here are as dumb as they sound! Both men keep at it the entire episode, eventually bringing Paul F. Tompkins into the fold (in character as a janitor), using the titular phrase as a reset option. And eventually it becomes a laughing fit that you’re sucked into.
So What Do You Learn Listening to CBB? You realize that podcasts can be silly, and spontaneous, and fearless. Why not take a sidebar, and riff on an idea for a while? Why not see what kind of uncharted goof rests somewhere in your brainstem? What’s the worst that happens? You mispronounce a word and it becomes an instant classic episode.
Thinking about hockey podcasting: sports are supposed to be fun, they’re supposed to be an escape. We’re watching people in plastic armor gliding around on pieces of metal and hitting rubber disks. If you can’t laugh at the world while talking sports, then what’s the point?
Runner-Up CBB: Any episode with Andy Samberg is a treat. “Grounded Me@” is absolute mayhem, and you will get mad at “Hollywood Facts” … until it comes full circle and you adore it. Also good: Amy Poehler rap battles. The most recent one (a butter rap battle) is astounding.