Podcast of the Week: The Memory Palace

The last couple Podcast of the Week recommendations have been kind of long. Now, let me offer you something short. The Memory Palace is a beautiful work. The episodes vary in length from a couple minutes up to a quarter-hour max. To while away a long car ride, or even a medium-length dog walk, they are useless. But to make you take a small, manageable part out of your day to stop, listen and think, they are perfect. As the title suggests, they revolve around memory and mostly forgotten figures, like aviator Harriet Quimby or singer Jane Froman.

The creator Nate DiMeo has one of those lovely, soothing, low-key public radio voices, giving these pieces a meditative quality as they ask us to remember — or really, discover — people who did remarkable things but have been mostly forgotten. It's like wandering through an old library or antique store with a knowledgable friendly guide.

This week, Slate has been marking podcasting's 10th anniversary with a lot of coverage including a list of the 25 best podcast episodes of all time (more on all that below in the links section). One of those 25 was an extraordinary personal episode of The Memory Palace called Origin Stories. It's longer than most of the episodes and I sat quietly in front of my computer and listened to every word.

Bonus Holiday Podcast of the Week!

The New York Public Library has put up a podcast of Neil Gaiman reading A Christmas Carol. Yes, please, and God bless us, every one! Note to parents looking at road trips in the next few days: This is an hour and a half long.

Podcast Press (un-Serialized, mostly)

With Serial's big finale this week, there's just way too much in way of reviews, analysis, etc. I'm going to collect it all in its own blog post, hopefully soon. Meanwhile, there's lots of other interesting stuff.

Past recommendations:


Podcast of the Week: This American Life

I agree. It's kind of shocking that This American Life hasn't been our podcast of the week yet. Well, now it is.

TAL is the show that's changed everything, public radio and podcasting-wise. It brought a new sensibility to public radio, which you can hear in almost every show out there. It inspired numerous podcasts, including the game-changer Serial, its first spinoff. It introduced us to David Sedaris, Sarah Vowell, David Rakoff, Dishwasher Pete and so many more. It lives up to its name, bringing you stories of life in America from the funny to the unexpected to the unbelievably important.

There are too many highlights to imagine in 541 episodes but I'll list a few, mostly recent but a couple from back in the day.

  • Listen to the current episode, Regrets, I've Had a Few. It's got a lot of good pieces but the best, in my admittedly biased opinion, is "Tattoos and memories and dead skin on trial" by Emily Hsiao. She made this story at the Transom story workshop. Which you can apply to right now. Trust me, if you're interested in podcasting or any form of audio storytelling, this is the place to go. If you can't take eight weeks to immerse yourself, stay tuned for other opportunities closer to home.
  • I mentioned this last week but I'll say it again: the TAL episode about Drugs — I Was So High — is really good.
  • Ever think about death? You should. Nancy Updike, one of the founders and most amazing writers/producers from TAL, spent time at a hospice and came out with this piece last spring: Death and Taxes.
  • Speaking of Nancy Updike, check out her reporting from the Green Zone in Iraq (remember that)? I'm From the Private Sector and I'm Here to Help.
  • A couple from the vault: This episode, Fiasco!, is one of my favorites from back in the day. But the one I think about most often might be First Day with its immortal segment, "Squirrel Cop."

Podcast press. As usual, much about Serial.

  • Sarah Koenig was on the Colbert Report! And it turns out Serial's last day and the Colbert Report's last day are the same day, next Thursday. The media universe is re-aligning.
  • Vox, which is one of my favorite news sources these days, asked a legal expert for an analysis of Adnan Syed's case. After this week's episode I am more sure than ever that Serial is going to end without a definitive conclusion. I will be really interested to see the reaction to that.
  • How does Syed's family feel about Serial? This piece in the Guardian lets you know. Generally, they say it's brought them closer together.
  • This is an older piece from the Guardian that I missed at the time but if you're interested in the whole Serial-listeners-on-Reddit phenomenon, it's good. I am torn between sympathy for the Serial producers who are taken aback at the Reddit attention and impatience, as in "what media era did you think we were in?"
  • Best Buy made a Serial joke on Twitter. Um, Best Buy?

A couple non-Serial links, just for form's sake:

Past recommendations:


Podcast of the Week: The Bugle

Podcast of the Week is finally escaping the public radio/news vortex to reach another formidable realm of podcasting: comedy. This week's recommendation is The Bugle.

I was delighted to learn about The Bugle last spring because I was very sad that John Oliver was leaving The Daily Show for his own show on HBO and because I still have not managed to persuade anyone I know to hand over their cable login info so I can get HBO Go. But it turns out that you can get Oliver -- for free! -- on this long running podcast (they just posted their 277th episode). It's a conversation with British comedian Andy Saltzman, of whom I had not previously heard but who it turns out is pretty funny in his own right. They just banter about current events, politics in the U.K. and the U.S. and whatever the hell they feel like. And it's funny. Take for instance, the most recent episode, which discusses daredevils from Nick Wallenda to some guy in Australia who decided to surf on a dead whale surrounded by sharks.

This is especially recommended for Anglophiles who want to get more British humor, especially topical/political humor (why they don't play more of the funny stuff on BBC America is beyond me -- I love Star Trek: The Next Generation and all but there are so many treasures in the BBC library!). Do you like Veep/In the Loop/The Thick of it? Ever seen an issue of Private Eye? Are you a Steve Coogan fan, especially in his brilliant Alan Partridge persona? Do you prefer the original Manchester-set "Shameless" to the well-meaning but pale-by-comparison American version on Showtime? Do you know what "taking the piss out of" means? Then this show is for you.

On a side note, it turns out you can get extended excerpts from Oliver's new show, Last Week Tonight, on YouTube and I highly recommend it. He does honest-to-God journalism in an engagingly funny way. Especially recommended: the piece on the Miss America pageant, the piece on drones and the season finale with the salmon gun. OK, that last one doesn't count as journalism but it is hilarious.

If you haven't listened to podcasts, you can do so on your smartphone (podcasting app on iPhones, Switcher on Android, on your computer via iTunes or Soundcloud, or at individual podcasts' websites.

Podcast press:

Past recommendations:



Podcast of the week: Radiolab

This week's podcast recommendation is not as old-school as the BBC from a couple weeks back. But it is a little bit old school in that Radiolab is a show that was created for the radio, ie. to be played over the air. But podcasting provides you the opportunity to listen to it whenever you like, with some extras thrown in. If you are a person who still likes to get their radio from the radio and you're in the WLRN listening area, btw, the show airs at noon on Saturdays.

Radiolab is the creation of two brilliant but very different minds. Robert Krulwich is a science reporter who was in on the beginnings at NPR. He visited for a day at my Transom Story Workshop last spring and played for us some hilarious tape of him and Susan Stamberg doing economic news as a vaudeville routine, along with a lot of other cool stuff from his career. Jad Abumrad is a composer-turned-radio producer who is so brilliant he received a MacArthur genius grant in 2011.

Krulwich and Abumrad, along with their team of producers, investigate stories usually about science although their portfolio has recently been expanding. The combination of their strengths -- Krulwich's in reporting, Abumrad's in sound design -- as well as their intellects leads them to some fascinating inquiries presented ways that are most definitely not old school. One episode from last spring that everyone in the Keys should listen to is called Kill 'Em All. It's about mosquitoes, including genetically modified mosquitoes like the ones that could be released in the Keys as soon as next spring. And it includes a visit to the Brazil lab of Oxitec, the company that would handle the Keys release. It also includes an interview with science writer David Quammen, who expresses some reservations about this idea. Quammen, by the way, is one of the best science writers working today. If you are curious about ebola and how it spreads, read his most recent book, Spillover. If you are curious about life on this planet, read his masterwork, The Song of the Dodo.

But before you do that, give Radiolab a listen, on the air or on your phone. The easiest way to get podcasts is through the podcast app on your smartphone. You can also subscribe on your computer, via iTunes or Soundcloud. If you don't want to do any of those things, you can listen to a podcast via its website, on your phone or computer.


Previous recommendations:



Podcast of the week: 99% Invisible

After last week's old school recommendation -- a compilation of BBC World Service reporting -- this week we're going to turn to one of the hottest new podcasts on the interwebs. 99% Invisible is a model for the new mode of podcast production. It isn't distributed as a radio show, though stations are more than welcome to buy episodes and air them. It has been supported and expanded by several Kickstarter campaigns. And it uses nontraditional editing and sound design to tell its stories, while keeping them immensely appealing and comprehensible.

The show describes itself as being "about design, architecture and the 99% invisible activity that shapes our world." In practice, this has hugely broad interpretations. So it's not a show about people who draw, say, buildings or chairs (though those certainly qualify) -- it's a show about how humans interact with and shape our environments. History comes into it a lot -- host Roman Mars has a special affinity for plaques, which I love. The most recent episode, Good Bread, tells the story of Wonder Bread and white bread in general ... revealing a lot about American social history in the 20th century. Some other episodes I particularly enjoyed: Castle on the Park, about a former cancer hospital in a grand building right on Central Park, and Monumental Dilemma, where I learned the story of Hannah Duston, a Haverhill woman who was captured by Native Americans and escaped ... after killing her captors.

99% Invisible is the flagship show for a PRX initiative called Radiotopia -- which is currently conducting a Kickstarter campaign that has already exceeded its goal ... but is worth supporting anyway, even with a tiny contribution, just to show the breadth of support for the radio revolution.

If you don't already listen to podcasts, the easiest way to do so is via a podcast app on your smartphone. If you don't have a smartphone or don't want to do that, you can subscribe via iTunes or Soundcloud -- or just go to an individual podcast's website and listen there.

Previous recommendations: