Some stuff that you possibly have not heard

The most boring thing I do with any regularity is go to the gym. It’s fairly excruciating. Warm up; do various lifting exercises, making sure to work upper and lower body, back and front muscles; stretch; go upstairs and get on an elliptical machine for 27 minutes (25 minutes of cardio plus 2 minutes cool down).

There’s not much to think about — sure, there are a few cute guys, but you don’t want to get too lost in that kind of reverie in public — and the exercises themselves require basically the ability to count and a willingness to endure discomfort. My current gym-going streak is at almost three years, I think, with a few month-long gaps, and I’ve got the counting and the dealing-with-discomfort parts down. The boredom still gets to me.

My solution is podcasts. I will let you in on a secret that you may not be aware of: nobody listens to the radio anymore, just like nobody watches TV. We are all listening to podcasts and watching Hulu and Streaming Netflix. (I make an exception for WFMU, myself, especially as they seem to have put up their new transmitter in Manhattan and the signal is better here in Brooklyn. I realize most people just stream it over the internet.)

The great thing about podcasts is, they’re radio that doesn’t suck. And although I listen to them in the gym to get me through the interminable reps (“reps” is such a gym-ratty term that I’m embarrassed to use it) and excruciating cardio, you can listen to them as you clean the house or transport yourself to work. You can even play them instead of the dreaded NPR.

Speaking of the dreaded NPR, my go-to podcast is still This American Life. It’s still great, and it’s technically PRI, not NPR.

I used to listen to NPR’s Planet Money podcast, which was partly a TAL spinoff, but I got way too annoyed at the way they’ve been captured by the elite journalist’s fallacy that the high-status, centrist opinion on any subject must be right. If you need an example, you can track down their interview with Elizabeth Warren.

I’ve replaced Planet Money with the Savage Love Podcast, a bit of a guilty pleasure. We all know by now exactly how Dan Savage is going to answer any question, but I can’t get over the endless variations in the questions that get called in.

Back to NPR land, WNYC’s Radiolab is really fantastic. I was initially put off by what I saw as too-cute editing, but I’ve decided that the unusual production techniques are really smart and do a lot to enhance the storytelling. The topics are centered on science, but it’s hardly dry.

My Canadian ex introduced me to the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation’s Writers & Company with Eleanor Wachtel, a great interview program about literature. Wachtel is scarily well-read and asks terrific questions.

Browsing around on the CBC website, I couldn’t resist the Newfoundland and Labrador Fisheries Broadcast. It was definitely worth one episode; the one I caught (hah!) had two separate tales (hah hah!) of disputed fishing territory, something incomprehensible about government quotas, and a really nice feature about a beloved harbormaster who’d died.

I owe the final podcasts in my list to Stella, who suggested them to me last summer. The delicious popcorn of the group is the Friday Night Comedy podcast. Apparently there are two or three shows that rotate in this slot; the one to listen to is the News Quiz, which has a Danish lesbian as the host. (She sounds completely English but keeps insisting she’s Danish. I’m not sure I understand, but you have to know this fact to get some of the jokes.) The program is like NPR’s Wait, Wait, Don’t Tell Me, except it’s actually hilarious.

Then there’s In Our Time. Host Melvyn Bragg gathers three professors to discuss some topic, usually history or science or philosophy. They race through it at a pace that only hyper-intelligent Brits can maintain, and by the end, if you’ve managed to hang on, you feel a tremendous sense of having learned something that you may or may not remember in a week. The latest program, about Boudica, was one of the best I’ve heard. In Our Time is always advertising for Thinking Allowed, a vaguely similar program about social-science research that’s hosted by a man with a woman’s name. I’ve only listened to one episode, and it was quite good.

So there are my main podcasts. What am I missing?

3 responses to “Some stuff that you possibly have not heard”

  1. S Gfree says:

    Thanks so much for this. Podcasts are what also get me through the horrors of the gym. I’ve very recently become a Radio Lab podcast junkie, and I love TAM, but since I took the free option, I only get one episode a week.

    The others that I’ve listened to at the gym are Stuff You Should Know, which is pretty good, and Speaking of Faith (okay, I’m a sucker for Krista Tippett). But I can’t wait to check out some of your recommendations.

  2. S Gfree says:

    …and back to Radio Lab. For anyone who hasn’t listened to the show, I highly recommend downloading the particular show about zoos and forwarding to the final story (an interview with Dr. Alan Rabinowitz). Who could imagine that a story about setting up a jaguar wildlife preserve could be so incredibly moving…

  3. Tim says:

    Playing racquetball with Parrish is what gets *me* through the horrors of gym. I used to ride the stationary bike, but that is SO DULL! I would be able to catch up on my magazine reading, but jeepers give me a competitive racquet sport any day.

    As to podcasts, I really want to be the kind of person who remembers to listen to them, but just about every time I’ve downloaded one I say to myself, “Well, I can listen to this any old time now.” Of course, then I don’t.

    The one thing that I do recommend, however, is that anyone and everyone listen to Henry Rollins’ show on KCRW. Seriously, people, he is so funny AND he plays amazing music. He’s all over the place — freakout jazz, soul, punk, gamelan, whatever. To my mind, too, he can make any kind of music interesting to almost anybody. He pre-announces every set in its entirety, giving information about all the artists and the tracks (in a very straightforward, enthusiastic way, never condescending), then ALSO back-announces every set. Each set is 3 songs, tops, so you never get confused. His show is the only reason that J-Man and I decided to re-up with KCRW, having lapsed for a few years. It’s on Saturdays from 6-8pm Pacific, but they archive every show for a week. Not sure if archives are podcasts or streaming, but wow, so worth it.