consume me: this american life

March 29, 2009

My first foray into the wondrous world of American public radio took place shortly after the purchase of my iPod and the beginnings of my  iTunes podcast subscriptions.  I knew nothing about this world, save for an imagined similarity to the CBC and an assumption that it was about as boring as the majority of PBS’ televised programing.  You know, not necessarily boring topics, but made in a very standard, old-people-friendly sort of way.  I wasn’t hugely interested in this, but I decided to check out one show that I had heard of a few times anyways.

That show, of course, was This American Life.  It gripped me immediately.  The show’s format is an hour long collection of stories, generally three or four with an occasional episode consumed entirely by a single tale.  These are usually non-fiction, but told in such a way as to create a real narrative arc complete with strong characters and an engaging voice.  Some are highly produced field pieces, where the producers go spend time with a group of people and edit the tapes into a complete story.  Others, such as David Sedaris’ (the author of Naked, Me Talk Pretty One Day, and his most recent When You Are Engulfed in Flames) semi-regular pieces, are simply a story read aloud, often with some scoring to heighten the emotional impact.  Similarly to The Moth, these can be touching, funny, or simply interesting, although they’re put together much more tightly than The Moth’s ‘live and without notes’ tales.

The stories are grouped by themes, with each episode exploring a central idea.  Some recent episodes explored a worst case parenting situation (Didn’t Ask to Be Born)‘human’ resources, or what happens when we switch to our secondary plan in life (Plan B).

It comes out once a week, and is definitely worth listening to.  They also have the entire archives of the show on their website, with an excellent favourites page giving a strong introduction (and a direct iTunes link).

Oh, and it has won awards.  Because that is all that matters.

Next: Radio Lab

Previously: The Moth, Search Engine, Podcasting

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consume me: the moth

March 18, 2009

So I completely failed at the whole week of podcast reviews thing.  Alas, life tripped me up and left me sufficiently distracted to ignore my blog.

But now I’m back!  With a review of another of my favourite podcasts: The Moth.

There isn’t much more I can say to describe The Moth than their own brief description at the beginning of every podcast: “true stories told live without notes.”  These stories are selected entries from their storytelling evenings held in New York, LA, and occasional touring shows across the States.

Most are stories of regular life, the kind of stand-out moments we all repeat over and over again in our favourite personal anecdotes.  Some of these are told by celebrities or successful writers, some by random folks who’ve clearly never stood on a stage before.  The Moth is extremely hit or miss, with the occasional overly trite attempt at a tearjerker or the more common semi-successful comedic writer trying too hard to be funny.  These misses are usually just boring – but at a maximum of 15 minutes I never feel too put out.  However, when The Moth hits, it does so very hard.  Episodes like Jack Hitt’s recent “Slumlord” story, a story which slowly and intricately builds to a hilariously satisfying conclusion, make it all worthwhile.

While The Moth isn’t always great, it has enough excellent moments in its weekly updates (one 10-15 minute story a week) to make it a definite keeper on my podcast list.  If you subscribe, be sure to delve into the archives (which unfortunately only go back a few months) and download the aforementioned “Slumlord” story.  This alone, I’m fairly certain, will convince you to stick with The Moth.

The Moth (and a direct iTunes link)

Next: This American Life

Previously: Search Engine, Podcasting


consume me: search engine

March 10, 2009

CBC’s Search Engine was the very first show I started listening to, way back before I had an iPod or had even discovered the magic of subscribing to podcasts on iTunes.

Search Engine is a look at how society, politics and culture are informed and influenced by technology.  For example, host Jesse Brown was instrumental in spreading awareness of Bill C-61, which would have overwhelmingly bowed to US industry pressure (while simultaneously ignoring Canadian consumer/creator interests) to cripple our capabilities to consume and create media how we want.  Recently he has taken up the issue of the privacy issues of the RFID chips being implanted in Driver’s Licenses across Canada.

Originally Search Engine was a full CBC show – half an hour every week, produced by a team of people, each episode covering a few different issues with varying correspondents (though Jesse was still at the helm).  It was cancelled in June 2008, after less than a year on the air.  An overwhelming response on Facebook and a letter writing campaign to the CBC convinced the powers that be to bring it back, although without a space on the radio.  Search Engine is now just a podcast, and is put together solely by Jesse.  Episodes vary from 10-20 minutes on average, and generally just features one story or interview.  Jesse also travels throughout the world of CBC Radio, doing features on the intersection of technology, politics and culture for a host of other shows.

Jesse takes on these subjects – subjects that I find fascinating, but I fully realize many don’t – with his own unique tone.  He approaches them in a light hearted, humorous way that makes often drearily boring subjects (such as copyright legislation) interesting to the everyday Canadian.  He also constantly calls out to his listeners for story ideas or information, and skillfully creates the feeling of a community through his weekly podcast.

A great introduction to Search Engine is his mini radio essay on the absurd internet phenomenon that was Zeitgeist: The Movie (link leads to the Search Engine show, not the silly movie.  I wouldn’t link to that).  Also fun is his interview with Jim Prentice, formerly the industry minister, where Jesse gets hung up on a few minutes in after a series of non-answers from Prentice.

The show is an excellent way to keep up with current technology related issues in Canada, and although the scope and production value has fallen significantly since its transition to the current podcast-only format, it remains one of my favourite weekly shows.  Check it out (direct iTunes link here).

Next: The Moth.

Yesterday: Podcasting!

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consume me: podcasting

March 9, 2009

Most of what I do with my time, in case anyone who reads this either a. doesn’t know me or b. can’t discern this out of what I write, is consume various media.  Recently I’ve cut back  on TV (after a horrible few weeks of feverish adolescent lust for the absurdly addictive Heroes I felt it necessary for my sanity), I’m not reading many novels at the moment, and I haven’t put much time into games (save for a few, which I’ll write about later this week).  I’ve also – shockingly – almost entirely cut back on reading my various sites in an attempt to spend less time sitting in front of a computer.

So with all of these things playing a minimal role in my life, where does my near-boundless appetite for consumption sate itself?  Radio.  In the form of podcasts, of course.

This all started with my first iPod several months back, the transition from an old 30 gb Creative Zen to my current 16 gb iPod touch requiring some downsizing of my bored-and-boring music collection.  I cut 25 gb out, got some new music, and still found myself needing something new.  So I started clicking on podcasts in iTunes, downloading whatever looked interesting and deleting most after a few listens.  Some of the ones I liked led me to others, and those to others, most of which in turn got culled in short order.

But some stuck, and I now have an excellent collection of podcasts large enough to fill almost all of the moments left empty by the absence of other media.  Throughout the next week I’ll be writing about these shows; the ones that really capture my attention and keep me coming back to listen.  Check back here for links, reviews, suggestions, and downright evangelical plugs for my favourite podcasts.

Tomorrow: Search Engine.

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