Chatter: Podcasts

Growing up in a small farming town north of Seattle, I was only sometimes able to tune into NPR (National Public Radio). When I could, I was fascinated by the news, programs and stories. They always left me wanting more. When I finally moved to the big city (Seattle) in 1999, I binged on NPR. I couldn’t get enough! It was quite a few years before I was able to access podcasts off air, so until then I made sure to tune into my radio whenever my favourite shows were on (gosh, I sound so old fashioned! Ha!). I would time any car trips I had to take to coincide with my favourite shows, and would always curse my luck when I had to miss the beginning or end of a good show.

Eighteen years later I am still  fan, but I now take full advantage of the fact that I can listen to my favourite podcasts on demand. I listen to them when I jog, when I clean, when I’m in the bath, when I’m on my bike or the tube or a bus . . . I listen to them constantly. A good podcast can turn a crappy task or long commute into something that I actually look forward to.

Here are my top five podcasts. I do go through phases of listening to others as well, but these are the podcasts I return to time after time.

  1. This American LifeThis American Life is the show that got me hooked. I have been a fan of the show since 1999 and pride myself in having listened to every single episode (I’m pretty sure I have, anyway!). This American Life is hosted by super geeky hunk Ira Glass and features stories about average Americans who have an interesting story to tell. Stories range from two girls in a small town who were switched at birth (only one of the mums knew about it), to a man whose dreams were so vivid, he ended up jumping out of a hotel window during one of them, to a funny story about a mum leaving a rude message about the Little Mermaid on her son’s school voicemail. (Side note: one of my first conversations with my now husband was about that voicemail episode!) Each episode is about an hour.
  2. Stuff You Should KnowThe name of this podcast pretty much sums it up: it is about completely random topics that are good to know about. While the subject matter is always fascinating, it is really the hosts that sell this one for me. Unlike some podcast hosts who can be unnatural, too excited, or too cool for school, Chuck Bryant and Josh Clark are just chill. They are super knowledgable about even the most random subjects, and they both have a sense of humour that suites me perfectly. They deal with some pretty serious issues (I just finished two episodes on The Trail of Tears) but they find a way to still make me laugh (sometimes appropriately and sometimes innapropriately). Subjects covered range from bonsai, to grave robbing, to “How Vestigial Organs Work”. Episodes are all around 45 minutes.
  3. My Favorite MurderI always feel mildly uncomfortable when I tell people that this is my favourite podcast these days. I worry that they will think I’m creepy (’cause let’s be honest, the name is pretty creepy). But believe it or not, this is a true crime comedy podcast. The show is hosted by two women, Karen Kilgariff and Georgia Hardstark, and the entire show is just them telling each other about different murders (they each cover one murder per show). Well, about 3/4 of the show is that, the other 1/4 of the show is them talking about all sorts of random topics that are always completely entertaining in one way or another. An unexpected outcome of this show (aside from some amazing memes and fan art!) is that both Karen and Georgia so openly talk about anxiety and going to therapy that they have unintentionally normalised both these issues amongst their fans. I love that!You may need to give a few episodes a try before you really “get” this one, but once you do it can be really addicting. Episodes are about an hour and “Minisodes” (where they read “hometown murder” submissions from their listeners) are about half that.
  4. Dear SugarI can’t remember how I stumbled upon this podcast, but I’m glad I did. It is a hosted by friends Cheryl Strayed and Steve Almond who give advice to listeners who write in with their questions. It is basically an advice column in podcast form (which is no coincidence, because both Cheryl and Steve are former advice columnists). Their advice is always thoughtful and sometimes surprising, but I find it particularly fascinating that they have both had such rich histories that they can draw from for this advice. I was listening to an episode on cheating and was surprised when both hosts admitted they had cheated on former partners. I presumed that they were the ones giving the advice because they knew how to make good decisions, but it turns out that a lot of their qualifications come from having first hand knowledge about a lot of the issues that come up. So ignore the too long cheesy intro song and give this one a try. Episodes are about 40 minutes. (Side note: The female host wrote the book that “Wild” was based on. She was played by Reese Witherspoon in the film!)
  5. On BeingThis used to be on in the wee small hours of Sunday morning as I drove to my church gig at The National Cathedral in Washington, DC. It was called “Speaking of Faith” at that time, but has now broadened its title to more accurately represent the content. This is an absolutely beautiful podcast. The host, Krista Tippett, expertly interviews a wide range of guests wherein they discusses the question: “What does it mean to be human, and how do we want to live?” Guests have included the Dalai Lama, Maya Angelou, Desmond Tutu, Yo-Yo Ma, and Elie Wiesel as well as lesser known but equally fascinating guests. I don’t listen to this show as much as the others as I feel it needs more of my attention (and has been known to make me cry in public), but if you have some quiet time and are in a contemplative mood, this one is for you. I continue to think back on recent episodes I’ve listened to for weeks after as they are so beautiful and thought provoking. Episodes are about an hour.

I also have to shoutout my old friend Ross Matthew’s podcast called Straight Talk with Ross. If you like to laugh and are into pop culture then give this a listen. I must also shout out the Scummy Mummy’s podcast as they are super funny, local (to me) mums who candidly discuss motherhood. Hilarity ensues.

Lastly, after weeks of trouble with my podcast app on my iPhone, a friend (thanks, Lynn!) recommended the Overcast app which has been awesome. It probably does some cool stuff, but I just appreciate that it lets me download my favourite podcasts and then plays when I press play!

Are you a podcast listener? I would love to know what you listen to and why! Please share below!!


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  • Reply
    March 21, 2017 at 1:39 pm

    yes! I love listening to podcasts. My favourite is No such thing as a fish, but I also love the bbc comedies I’m sorry I haven’t a clue and In our time. And any Davis Sedaris via bbc!

  • Reply
    Martha Douglas-Osmundson
    March 21, 2017 at 5:14 pm

    Thanks so much for this, Bethie! I love having this info in one place!

  • Reply
    March 21, 2017 at 7:28 pm

    Sounds like we have similar tastes! In addition to This American Life and Stuff You Should Know, I absolutely love Radiolab (my all-around #1) and Reply All. Thanks for the other recs!

  • Reply
    March 24, 2017 at 10:03 am

    Gonna check out some of these! And also recommend ‘freakonomics radio’- fascinating & really well produced

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