Free to stream and download, podcasts are an exciting platform for storytelling (awesome sound effects, anyone?). In theory, there are probably more podcasts than you have time to listen to, so with plenty of them out there, where should newcomers begin? ANDY HUANG highlights three of her favourites.
*Interlude* A Short Note From A Sad Adult
Chances are, you will spend more time being alone than being with people, and that’s okay. In fact, it is not unusual for a large portion of your uni life to be spent alone: eating alone, drinking alone, studying alone, and waiting alone on the platform for that inevitably delayed and overcrowded train.
The key is to look busy – and cool – while you’re doing all these solo activities. But it’s hard to concentrate on that strategically bought Penguin classic with all the grumbling from squished, sleep-deprived (and probably sweaty) commuters on public transport. Listening to loud music can only distract you for so long, before one day, when you least suspect it, your eardrums burst.
Podcasts,on the other hand, entertain you with stories that don’t need to be listened to at full volume– they’re compelling enough that you don’t need to pretend to pay attention, and new episodes are sure to keep boredom at bay.
Here are three excellent podcasts to start you on your way to being a bona-fide audio-geek.
This American Life – Episode 504: How I Got Into College
Broadcast: Monday, 9 September 2013
As a podcast about ordinary people doing ordinary things (going to summer camp, babysitting children, trying to get a discount at a store), you’d imagine “ordinary stories” would be a hard sell. This American Life has been around for more than 10 years and is consistently one the top podcasts on iTunes, so obviously, it’s doing something well.
Each episode is framed around a main idea that connects each of the “Acts” (stories). In How I Got Into College, we hear about the misguided intentions and lengths parents would take to get their kids into a good school, plagiarising as punishment for plagiarism (as you do), and Emir Kamenica’s incredible story of how he got in to Harvard, which began with a stolen library book.
The Organist – Episode 10: Thundershirt
Broadcast: Wednesday, 8 January 2014
Unlike regular episodes – which feature a mix of radio plays, reviews and news stories – this one, the season finale, is a conversation between Lena Dunham and Judy Blume (who sounds like the greatest grandma, ever). The two chat about writing (otherwise known as fictionalising a book to be written about in a school report), feminism (yes, Miley and slut-shaming) and growing up, with Blume providing some wonderful quotes about… erm, the sexy stuff young people did to each other way back then.
When The Organist returns this year, it will be in a weekly (rather than monthly) format – all the more to anticipate and enjoy! Still, the archives are worth raiding. Previous cool friends contributors have included The Julie Ruin frontwoman Kathleen Hanna, Park & Rec’s Nick Offerman, Sarah Silverman and Jesse Eisenberg.
Welcome To Night Vale – Episode 1: Pilot
Broadcast: Friday, 15 June 2012
Imagine if Alan Partridge moonlighted as a beat poet, lived in Twin Peaks and read out public service announcements that could’ve been written by Stephen King. Welcome To Night Vale. This is one those podcasts you’ll want to be a part of from the very beginning. It’s absolutely mesmerising. Even the ads that ask you to kindly donate are creative, and every bit as dark as they are delightful and funny, from ransom calls to questionable curses.
Within a relatively short space of two years, Welcome To Night Vale went from obscure niche serial to a show that now rubs shoulders with the players like This American Life and Radiolab (another great radio documentary podcast). Framed as a community radio station in the fictional friendly small desert town of Night Vale, this is the kind of place where hooded figures, seedy government agents, angels and faceless old women who sift through photos of you and your loved ones, come to live. Here, weird is normal, if not oddly endearing.
In the pilot, a new dog park opens. Dogs are not allowed in the dog park. People are not allowed in the dog park. A beautiful scientist named Carlos – with this beautiful hair and his beautiful face – arrives in town (Why here? Why now? What does he want?). Also, don’t give Gatorade to your children. More, to be continued.