The Awesomeness of Podcasts

I have become completely and overwhelmingly obsessed with podcasts.

(As a side note, how on earth is the word “podcasts” not in the Google Chrome dictionary? This technology has been around for a while, people! What’s with that?!)

I can’t honestly recall how it started. I remember years ago trying to listen to a podcast that promised to help me learn to speak Italian. This was in the time before smartphones – or, at least, before I had one – so I’d download it on iTunes and load it onto my oh-so-cool iPod Nano, use the scroll wheel to fly down the list of everything else I had on there, then listen to it intently. There was no 15-second rewind button. No efficient way to subscribe. And for all of its good intentions, I barely listened to it, so it didn’t really teach me Italian at all (mostly, I think, because of the tedious process of staying up-to-date with the lessons. The audio quality wasn’t that great either.).

Wait wait wait – this started even before the Italian podcast. How could I forget my first-ever podcast experience, MuggleCast? This one I’d listen to every week in high school, then discuss with a friend. I remember enjoying it but fell off the bandwagon somewhere along the way. Then it was the Italian podcast. Then another hiatus, until I happened upon Freakonomics Radio.

This I distinctly don’t remember. Maybe someone in school mentioned it. Maybe I saw it on iTunes and decided to give it a go. Maybe I wanted to reestablish faith in podcasting and it led me to explore the options available to me and I picked that one. In any case, I do know that sometime around my last year of college I became interested in podcasts again. Davis listened to one too (EconTalk, I think it was). I remember long drives together, listening to Steven Dubner and Steven Levitt explain how economics works in the real world. One of our favorites was the interview they did with Tyler Cowen about the economics of food.

I remember having quite a backlog of Freakonomics podcasts to listen to, and that made me really excited. They helped me survive the many road trips I took that year, up north to visit Davis or back home to see my family and plan our wedding. They kept me alert and made time whiz by. So when I caught up completely, I felt really sad and kind of out of luck. How would I ever find another show that I loved so much?

If only I had known that was just the beginning.

After we moved to Seattle, I mentioned (offhandedly, I think) that I had caught up with Freakonomics Radio to Davis’ friend Nathan, who, upon hearing that I enjoyed consuming audio media, proceeded to spew out a long list of the podcasts he listened to. Luckily for me, he has great taste, and I quickly became hooked on This American Life and RadioLab. From there it’s just spiraled to this crazy point of obsession. I also love the spin-off shows that have begun, like Serial, Invisibilia, and TLDR. But I feel like my craze for podcasts increased even more when I started listening to StartUp and Reply All from Gimlet Media.

Gimlet Media is, as its podcast’s name suggests, a start up that a former producer of This American Life and Planet Money began. The podcast walks its listeners through the process of starting a business – but not in a “Step 1 + Step 2 = Profit” sort of way. Sure, it talks about the pieces and everything it takes, but it shows the emotions and the real people bits that other media doesn’t seem to cover. The listeners hear the anxiety in the host’s voice when the company can’t decide on a name and the thrill when it gets funded faster than anyone thought possible through crowdfunding. Everyone who helps to create this show (and Reply All, Gimlet’s other production) has so much enthusiasm and drive and love for podcasting – it makes me love it so much.

Which leads me to my kind of crazy idea. It’s caused me to start thinking about what it would be like to help with a production like this. I have that drive – the desire to create something so beautiful that it brings joy to people’s day, something that listeners anxiously look forward to each week, something that can cause the audience to think and to pause and to wonder at the world. I want to help with this so bad. I want to interview people, to create stories and write scripts and string thoughts together to produce a magical piece of art. I want to give others the excitement I feel when I realize it’s Thursday and there’s a new episode of Serial waiting to be listened to. I am willing to do whatever I can to help with this – even the seemingly mundane things. I can transcribe the interviews. I can take copious notes during brainstorming sessions. I can even go get everyone else coffee.

I think one reason this appeals to me so much is that it combines two things that I love – outside of listening to podcasts directly, that is. One of these things is talking to people. I can’t really put into words how much I love people. There’s a part in a course that Alex Blumberg (Mr. Gimlet/StartUp/former This American Life) teaches where he talks about getting to the true, authentic person underneath the “walls” we all have. He describes these embarrassed chuckles he’s gotten in interviews, these hesitations that show the audience that the interviewee is human, just like them. And I love things like that. I love having that kind of connection with people, of getting past the “hi, how are you” to the deep, interesting stuff. The other thing that I love is the story. I love writing things, especially just about thoughts of somewhat small moments. The way the sun hit the leaves on my walk home today, for instance. Or something I overhear in passing that makes me laugh. Usually moments like this put a smile on my face and make me think about the world a little differently, and I love bringing that to other people. I feel like podcasting is a way for me to combine these two passions, sort of.

Maybe it’s irrational. Maybe I’ll get over this aspect of my obsession in the next few weeks. Or maybe this is something that will stick with me, something that I suddenly feel called to do. Only the future holds the answer. But for now, I’ll keep listening, keep enjoying, and keep learning as much as I can about podcasting. I’m so grateful for the smiles, tears, and hours of listening entertainment that it’s given me so far and I’m excited to see what’s next.


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