Ernest Hemingway once said, “I like to listen. I have learned a great deal from listening carefully. Most people never listen.” This quote puzzled me initially, because I reasoned that sound is an ever-present element of everyday life, thus listening is inescapable for all of us. Having thought about it some more, however, I believe I understand what Ernie means by saying that we never listen. I think what he is trying to say is that we hardly perform the act of listening on its own, as it is usually accompanied by another sensory stimulus. So, I have decided to create a list of my top five favorite podcasts as an incentive for you to listen more. All of these auditory delights, maybe with the exception of one, are worthy of being listened to properly and purely. According to Ernie, if you want to learn, you have to listen. According to me, if you want to listen to something good, you should listen to these.
This podcast was the first one I ever listened to. Out of the five listed here, this one is the most novelistic. This becomes evident, for example, in the fact that the episodes have a chapter-like structure. The narrator is Brian Reed, a senior producer at the public radio show, This American Life. Reed does not only narrate, but he also plays a significant role in the story itself. For him, it all started when more than three years ago he received an email with the subject line, “John B. McLemore lives in Shittown Alabama.” McLemore writes that he is an “old time listener” and hopes that the people at This American Life can help him solve two crimes that have taken place in his hometown. One of these crimes is a supposed murder case. Reed contacts McLemore and learns that he is not just your everyday man. Throughout the episodes, the listener discovers that there is not only more to the murder mystery, but also to McLemore himself. His character alone should be a reason to listen to the podcast, as he is funny, dark, depressing, caring, rude, private, public and brilliant all at the same time. Besides McLemore, however, Reed’s storytelling and voice are two other highlights of the podcast. Many of the characters in the story are not only vividly portrayed through recordings of their own voice, but also through Reed’s narration. His voice perfectly complements the intricate way in which the story is told, as it progresses through flashbacks, flashforwards and compelling cliff-hangers. Believe me, once you start listening, you will not be able to stop.
2.The Heart of It
Growing up in the age of YouTube, I know what it is like to spend hours behind your computer watching videos made by people you have never met, but who you still feel some kind of connection with. One of those people for me is Estée Lalonde. She started out by mainly making beauty and style videos and has now ventured out into the world of lifestyle and vlogging. She has also become more outspoken about her own political and social values. As she changed, her channel and content evolved along with her, but what has stayed consistent is her unique and inspiring voice. When she announced in July that she was going to start a podcast, I could not contain my excitement. The podcast is called “The Heart of It” and is produced by Radio Wolfgang, an independent online radio station that provides a plethora of auditory entertainment. The tagline of the show is, “Estée Lalonde explores subjects close to her heart, through the unique experiences and perspectives of her guests.” Each episode discusses a different topic, ranging from protest to identity. In the first tattoo-themed episode, Lalonde describes her experience of getting a tattoo and what that meant to her. She also talks to an inspiring artist who tattoos nipples onto women who have had mastectomies due to breast cancer. Although the topics are varied, there is a common underlying thread of female empowerment and that combined with Lalonde’s contagious curiosity makes this one of my favorite podcasts.
The television shows Sherlock, Broadchurch and The Keepers have several things in common. For example, they revolve around a murder mystery and have all been binge watched by me. Needless to say, I have a real affinity for crime narratives. Therefore, I thoroughly enjoyed the first season of the Serial podcast. It is about the murder of Hae Min Lee, a popular high school senior, in Baltimore, 1999. Six weeks after she was found dead, detectives arrested her boyfriend, Adnan Syed, for her murder. After a long and gruelling trial, Syed was eventually convicted and received a life sentence. Almost twenty years later, Sarah Koenig, investigative journalist and host of this podcast, decides to investigate the case and finds out that it has a lot of loopholes. Each episode of Serial’s debut season is dedicated to finding answers for questions that should have been asked in 1999.
Serial and S-Town share the same producer, however in style they differ significantly. Even though they both deal with stories that really happened, S-Town tell its story with literary techniques, such as metaphors and imagery, whereas Serial adopts a documentary-like style and generally steers away from figurative language. Because of this, as a listener, you feel like you are a part of the investigative team. Koenig and the other creators discuss their process and findings in depth and never shy away from the supposed unsolvable. In doing so, they inspire their listeners to think along with them and tap into their inner Sherlock. That is why I placed this podcast in my top five. Where TV-shows illustrate how detectives work, Serial makes you feel like you are one.
As a student of English literature, I am familiar with the process of analyzing a poem. You begin with the text and generally aim to figure out its meaning. In Versify, however, this method is completely turned around. The premise of the podcast is that one person shares a story from their life with a poet. The poet listens attentively and once the story is finished, turns it into a poem. This sounds like it could be a terrible idea, as there are many unpredictable factors to take into consideration. The main one is that the storyteller and the poet could be intimidated by the vulnerable position they are in and thus could close themselves off. Consequently, this could affect especially the poet’s work and lead to a superficial “Roses are red” scenario. So, it is fair to say that initially I was sceptical about Versify. Nevertheless the English student in me persisted, decided to give it a listen and was delighted by the multitude of moving words that came through the speakers. I listened to a black, blind and poor man’s journey to success being turned into verses with volcano metaphors. I also heard how the struggles of a female survivor of the 1994 Rwandan genocide were turned into phrases like “War like rain can drop a veil over one’s sight.” Instead of starting with the poem, the listener begins with the meaning. Because of this, the moment the poet recites his or her work is much more poignant and memorable. Versify highlights and enacts the main strengths of literature, namely its abilities to establish connections and evoke emotions. Two things the world could use a little more of at the moment.
5.The Late Show with Eve Blair
This one is not technically a podcast, but I wanted to include it anyway because I listen to this show most regularly. The radio programme is produced by BBC Radio Ulster and features mainly folk and country music. Eve Blair is the host and every Monday to Friday night she plays a selection of carefully picked tunes to wind down your day. Artists that she has featured include The Orphan Brigade, Randy Newman, Tracy Chapman, Dawn Landes and many more. All of the episodes are uploaded to the BBC Radio Ulster website so you can listen back to them whenever you want. It is the perfect accompaniment for studying, doing chores or having a relaxed night in. The show is also a great way to be exposed to new artists that you might have never heard of. So far, many of Blair’s picks have made their way into my own playlists.
Here are the links to all my top five favorite podcasts/radio shows. Go give them a listen.