By far, my favorite podcast is This American Life. If I were stranded on a desert island and could only receive one piece of media regularly, it would be TAL. If by chance you aren’t familiar with this show, it’s a weekly radio show by Chicago Public Radio. It’s kind of a documentary magazine format with different stories all revolving around a theme. The stories tend to be personal stories, sometimes told by the participants, sometimes a reporter will edit together different materials, mostly interviews. At times the stories are funny, at other times the stories can be deeply moving. They are almost always interesting.
Every week, the latest episode is available for download free of charge. Also, if you are online, you can listen to their entire back catalog of shows, going back years. Older shows can also be downloaded for 99 cents from itunes.
One of my favorite episodes of recent memory is episode 355, The Giant Pool of Money which was a great dissection of the sub prime mortgage mess, told through individual stories from every link in the chain from home buyers all the way up to Alan Greenspan. This show, made in conjunction with NPR News, spawned another one of my favorite podcasts called Planet Money.
Planet Money is a blog and a podcast, updated several times a week. Sometimes the material from the podcast becomes stories on NPR and sometimes they end up on TAL. They take the time to really explain all kinds of things associated with the great financial clusterf*ck that we find ourselves in. If you want to understand credit default swaps, collateral debt obligations, the difference between a crisis of insolvency and a crisis of liquidity, or just how the Geitner plan really plans to handle those toxic assets, this is the podcast you should be listening to. The nice thing is, even if that all sounds awful to listen to, you will likely understand and enjoy their podcast.
Next on the list for me is Fresh Air, another public radio show, this one is a daily show of mostly interviews of authors, politicians, actors, filmmakers, musicians and policy makers. Terry Gross is an excellent interviewer, often coaxing out particularly interesting angles on the subject matter. The bulk of a show is usually devoted to one interviewee which gives the subject a lot more time to get his or her points across.
Radio Lab is a fairly new addition to my list. It feels a lot like This American Life except that it concentrates mainly on topics in science. Similar to TAL, they pick a particular subject or theme and explore it using various interviews and storytelling techniques.
Last, but not least is the Slate’s Weekly Gabfest. This is a weekly show featuring Slate writers who talk about the weeks bigger political stories. It might sound a bit like the Sunday morning talking head pundit shows, but it’s charm is that it’s much less formal and self important. It much more resembles the kind of private discussion you might be a part of with coworkers or friends.