May 26 2015 04:42 PM

The best of the best voices to pound on your eardrums


Before I get into it, first some personal news. 

Usually at the beginning of fall each year, I devote an entire column to the new podcasts that pounded my eardrums over the summer. This week, I'm moving this column up several months because, by the time autumn rolls around, this column will have ended. 

It's not as tough a choice as I anticipated. It's been two years since I left San Diego to join the Electronic Frontier Foundation in San Francisco. Each column since has been increasingly more difficult to write. I'm working on an unbelievable amount of fascinating issues as a full-time Internet freedom activist. I sometimes struggle to find fascinating issues related to the Internet to write about where I don't have a conflict on some level. 

Even just recommending podcasts, I'd be remiss if I didn't disclose that several of my coworkers just saved podcasting as a medium by busting the so-called "podcasting patent" that a trollish intellectual-property company has been using to shake down podcasters for bullshit licensing fees. As you can imagine, separating my personal views from my employer is becoming less and less tenable. 

So, the next No Life Offline column will be my last, at least until I decide to revive it yet again eight years from now. Thanks for reading. 

Audio Cartels 

Podcasts are undergoing a whole new phase of growth. For years, podcasts have largely been stand-alone shows, either recorded out of someone's garage or introduced as a peripheral product attached to another news magazine or TV show.

Now, however, we're seeing the rise of podcast cartels. The Earwolf Podcast Network was one of the progenitors of the model, but now Slate has bundled all of its podcasts under the Panoply umbrella, Gimlet Media has just launched its third podcast, and many of the public radio affiliates have begun re-conceptualizing their shows as podcast packages (such as Radiotopia) rather than just syndicated radio content. 


Podcasts are also becoming a format where female and minority voices are enjoying new prominence. The iTunes charts don't really support this claim, so I have to admit it may be due to my own bias: In the last few months I have actively sought out media generated by voices other than my own. 

Sarah Koenig's Serial and Lulu Miller and Alix Spiegel's Invisibilia are probably the two most significant podcasts of the last year. Since they've both reached the ends of their seasons, now is the perfect time to go binge-listen. As for ongoing shows, I'm addicted to Panoply's DoubleX Gabfest, a regular panel show featuring Noreen Malone, Hanna Rosin and June Thomas, which was one of the first media outlets to find a crack in Rolling Stone's now-discredited feature on campus rape. Criminal, the podcast by aptly-named Phoebe Judge, provides a new take on the real-crime genre, while Manoush Zamorodi's Note to Self is pushing the envelope of tech reporting by combining compelling mini-documentaries with ongoing interactive exercises to help listeners improve their productivity. 

But if you're only going to listen to one episode of a podcast today, I must recommend #46 of On the Media's now-cancelled spin-off, TLDR, in which reporter Meredith Haggerty faces off with Silicon Valley pundit Vivek Wadhwa. Haggerty retracted an earlier podcast in which she attacked Wadhwa about his seemingly inconsistent views on women in the tech industry, without seeking comment from Wadhwa himself. Once she gets the mea culpa out of the way, the conversation becomes exhibit A in the case to expose institutional misogyny in the tech sector. 

On the subject of minority groups in America, Panoply's new podcast, Our National Conversation about Conversations About Race, hosted by Baratunde Thurston, and featuring Raquel Cepeda and Tanner Colby, follows the same format as the other "Gabfest," titles but with a lot more personal passion about the issues. Four-and-a-half episodes in, and I feel like this is the most important podcast on my device, as protests over police killings rock the country. 

ER in Space 

I guess, in a way, all those podcasts I just mentioned are vegetables in my podcast diet—delicious, deep fried and candy-glazed vegetables, but healthy perspective-expanding listening nonetheless. So, let me wrap this up with a bit of dessert. 

EOS 10 is a full-cast, science-fiction, audio comedy series dreamed up by former CityBeat contributor Justin McLachlan (full disclosure: he also published a mini-collection of my short stories and CityBeat's flash-fiction anthology). Following the misadventures of a medical crew on a space station, the show isn't just alien penis gags (though there are a few), but an emotionally engaging narrative that deals with issues of drug addiction and alcoholism. I love it so much, that I'm now a (small) supporter of McLachlan's Patreon campaign.

So, I'm paying a couple bucks for EOS 10 each month so you can get it for free. Don't squander my generosity. 

Email or follow him on Twitter @Maassive.


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