Oct. 7 2013 04:00 PM

Recommendations for news and politics, geekery, storytelling and British fare


    I haven't owned a car for half a decade and, consequently, it's been that long since I've devoted any attention to the radio airwaves. Whenever I do find myself scanning the dial—whether behind the wheel of a moving van or zipping around in a car-share—I'm repulsed by the station identifications and gold-bullion pitches, and I'm thankful that I've made the switch to a podcast-based aural existence. 

    A couple of years ago, I was sitting across from CityBeat's then-arts editor, Kinsee Morlan, when she proclaimed her obsession with podcasts. I opened my ear-to-ear canal and let all her recommendations pass cleanly through like parental advice about flu shots and retirement planning. That is to say, years later, I regret paying her suggestions so little attention. Today, I can barely make it through a dog-walk without something in my iPhone podcast queue. 

    Now's your chance to learn from my mistakes. Do yourself a favor and subscribe (all are available through the iTunes store): 

    News and politics

    Slate's Political Gabfest has become my end-of-the-week intellectual staple. Featuring Slate editor David Plotz (the contradictory one), senior editor Emily Bazelon (the SCOTUS-obsessed and ultra-liberal one) and chief political correspondent John Dickerson (the rational one), this is a thoughtful, 45-minute discussion of usually three current events, plus a show-and-tell "Cocktail Chatter" segment. The only downside is the occasional nepotistic segment highlighting a historical novel by another Slate staffer or, worse, a guest appearance by Bazelon's husband. 

    Still, the podcast is significantly more engaging than New Yorker: The Political Scene, which I reluctantly continue to download; its rotating guests always sound like they're performing a tedious, inconvenient chore, even though their podcast is never longer than 20 minutes. The other must-listen news podcast on my list is WNYC New York Public Radio's On the Media, which is just as often not about the media at all, but, rather, significant civil-liberties issues facing our country.

    Geek shit 

    Subscribers to "On the Media" will have noticed a series of mini-podcasts injected into the feed: TLDR, which stands for "Too Long, Didn't Read." This fall, I'm looking to these regular dissections of Internet trends to augment my regular ingestion of geek news. Mainly, I subscribe to Boing Boing's Gweek, but I also pick and choose podcasts from Wired's Geek's Guide to the Galaxydepending on who the guests are: It's just too long and too poor of audio quality to stream every week. 


    Obviously, This American Life (TAL)and The Moth are among the most popular narrative programs in the mix these days, but I prefer Wiretap, a weekly 27-minute radio show / podcast from the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation. Created by Johnathon Goldstein, it's a mixture of TAL-style first-person accounts, short stories, crowd-sourcing experiments and surreal conversations between host Goldstein and his agent, parents and "friends." I also endorse the Stanford Storytelling Project, which begins its new season with the start of the fall semester. 

    The British 

    My anglophilia naturally carries over into my podcasting tastes; I recently bought a T-shirt from the online store for The Bugle, a satirical news-jamming podcast from Andy Zaltzman and John Oliver (the Brit who filled in for Jon Stewart on The Daily Show this summer). But at least half of my downloads are from the BBC's podcast cache: Newsjack (political sketch comedy, which accepts open submissions), Drama of the Week(a weekly selection of BBC radio-theatre production), Huw Stephens (new music selected by the BBC-1 DJ) and BBC Confidential (an irregular program revealing the dark underbelly of history through secret documents as they're declassified by the British government). I also highly recommend downloading certain episodes from comedian Richard Herring's Leicester Square Theatre Podcast, including his epic interviews with Russell Brand and Stephen Fry. 

    Email davem@sdcitybeat.com or follow him on Twitter @Maassive.


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