I received the bulk of my information and entertainment in the second half of 2010 in podcast form — during the baby’s naps, nighttime feedings and playtime. I didn’t have much opportunity to read or watch TV, and haven’t seen the inside of a movie theater since May.
Podcasts are perfect, though. My favorite podcasts are generally about the length of a feeding (including 30 minutes of vertical “burp time”) and they are a wonderful media format. Well-paid pros make great content with high production values and elaborate research, and amateurs can geek out about their points of passion. So I’ve sampled a lot of podcasts, and here are my favorites, on the remote chance anybody cares.
Fareed Zakaria GPS: The only worthwhile show I have seen on a news network, Zakaria covers world news and politics. He is one of the smartest political commentators in the country, and he always makes me think. My only frustration with the show is that even Zakaria has to dumb it down a little bit to keep CNN happy. The show would often be more enlightening if he stuck to one interview or at least a single topic, but maybe I’m just too geeky and most viewers wouldn’t stick around for a full hour of Chinese monetary policy.
The Film Vault: I was a big fan of the late Scene Unscene movie podcast, and the Film Vault is a decent, if inferior, substitute. Two LA movie dorks choose the top five movies in a chosen category each week, and jabber about all things movie. I’m certainly no film buff, but it’s nice to live vicariously through people who have time to see movies. I always learn about a classic movie I haven’t seen, and it’s comforting that these guys are just “mainstream” enough to admit that “A Christmas Story” and “Love Actually” are their favorite holiday movies (I’m still bitter that one of my favorite pop-culture blogs, Videogum, panned “Love Actually” in its “Worst Movie of All Time” feature).
Frontline Audiocast: The best documentary show on TV posts a great audio-only version with added narration and audible identification of each speaker (the names that only show up on screen otherwise). This year brought excellent investigations of vaccine controversies, post-Katrina police shootings in New Orleans, the oil spill and more. I was disappointed with the “God in America” series, though. Even at six hours, I didn’t learn much.
Slate’s Political Gabfest: Three Slate writers spend an hour each week discussing national politics. I think you have to be a pretty big geek to enjoy the show as much as I do, but I’m pretty sure each podcast is more enlightening than the entire prime-time lineup of the three major news networks.
Sound Opinions: A guy who wrote the book on Wilco (literally) and another Chicago music geek jabber about rock music for an hourlong syndicated public radio show every week, and post it all online as a free podcast. They interview musicians, analyze classic albums, explore musical themes and review new music. As Martin Mull (I think) once said, writing about music is like dancing about architecture. Talking about music at least makes a little more sense. I love reading music magazines, but it’s also complicated because I always want to listen to the music I am reading about. At least the Sound Opinions guys can play the music they are discussing. Sound Opinions is from the same station as This American Life (see below), and both shows close with mocking Torey “Southside” Malatia, the CEO and chairman of Chicago Public Media. I really want to meet that guy. He takes a lot of grief from his underlings.
This American Life: I don’t need to say much about this show. It’s been the most popular podcast on iTunes for years, and was a hugely popular radio show for even more years. If you’re not already listening to Ira Glass and the crew, I’m not sure if I can do anything to help you.