Ah, the California drought. Something… about… the California drought. Your date asked you a cutting question about the water resource use on the West Coast and now he’s staring at you, expecting an intelligent response, and all your knowledge is crystallized from the last time a professor forced you to analyze a journal article.
In an ideal world, we’d all be reading The New York Times cover-to-cover every day and helicoptering into Afghanistan on the weekends to interview ground troops about what’s really going on. Well, I’m sorry, ideal world. I love The Times and I didn’t even buy an issue when one of my dearest friends was on the cover. I find Afghanistan fascinating but I haven’t even been to Connecticut to visit my pregnant college roommate.
What, then, do we insanely busy New Yorkers have time for? Podcasts.
Serial dragged this amazing medium into popular awareness, but we podcast geeks had already been attending live tapings for years. You can listen to a podcast on an over-air conditioned express bus. You can listen to a podcast while frantically shoving an under-toasted bagel in your mouth on the way to work. You can listen to a podcast while angrily texting an ex. No longer having time to pour over journal articles doesn’t mean you can’t stay informed.
So! What are the best podcasts to listen to to round out your knowledge base? I’m so glad you asked. Be ye forewarned: there’s a lot of NPR coming your way.
Might as well start with the gold standard. Radiolab is meticulously edited, exhaustively researched, and fascinating. The one constant of the show is hosts Jad Abumrad and Robert Krulwich, whose endless wonder at topics such as viral evolution, human perception of color, and drone surveillance acts as the representation of the stunned audience. This program has one multiple awards (Peabodies, a MacArthur grant) and it shows. Start anywhere- every single episode is a gem.
TED Radio Hour
A couple of years ago I tried listening to wildly famous TED Talks in their podcast audio-only format, and found it extremely disappointing. A speaker would reference the face of a pig having an orgasm (I remember this specifically) and I’d think, “now, how am I supposed to imagine that?” Ted Radio Hour is different. Host Guy Raz interviews TED speakers about their talks, getting into more detail that takes the place of the image-dependent content that had to be cut for the podcast. Give a listen to The Unknown Brain for some of the magic and then call me in a few days when you’re caught up.
Stuff Mom Never Told You
Part of the How Stuff Works family of podcasts (I also recommend Stuff You Should Know), Stuff Mom Never Told You is a female-focused podcast that tackles issues as seemingly trivial (I loved the high heels episode) to more pressing topics (the episode about sexual double standards, one of their most popular episodes, bare-facedly tackles slut shaming.) Hosts Cristen Conger and Caroline Ervin share an easy rapport and willingness to open up about their own connections with the topics which makes these episodes come alive. Check out their website and pick an episode by category!
Terry Gross hosts this Peabody-award winning podcast with a voice and interviewing manner so calming you’ll want to pour yourself some camomile tea in the middle of a sweltering R train. Gross is the ultimate interviewer: well-researched, insightful, and empathetic without turning the conversation ceaselessly back to herself (something I hate about some other interview podcasts, such as Chris Hardwick’s The Nerdist). As a comedy fan, I especially like the in-depth interviews she does with some of my heroes like Jon Stewart and Key & Peele.
A recent member of the NPR family, this podcasts somehow manages to overcome its mushy, non-specific mission statement (“explores the intangible forces that shape human behavior – things like ideas, beliefs, assumptions and emotions”) to make one of the most fascinating pop science/psychology/human interest podcasts I’ve ever heard. In their amazing pilot episode, hosts Alix Spiegel and Lulu Miller examine the evolution of psychology in a way that changed the way I examine my own thoughts. If you’re not already listening, check this one out immediately.
Great! Now that you’re an avid listener of podcasts, that conversation about the California drought suddenly doesn’t seem too daunting! You remember a great Ted Radio Hour episode on the topic of finite resources and before you know it, the conversation’s going great and you’re fantasizing about being married with two kids on the way. Or maybe not, since that episode about the child-free movement made it sound pretty great… although that Louis CK interview on Fresh Air made it sound really fulfilling…
Either way, you’re a podcast nerd now. Sorry and you’re welcome.