In Praise of Podcasts
When I lived in Chicago, I was an NPR addict. I listened to it all day at work and most of the time at home. Morning, afternoon, evening. You could always find my radio on and playing 91.5.
Moving to Ireland made me become a daily Newstalk listener. It was a good, albeit imperfect, substitute. Whenever I had the chance, especially if I was cleaning or baking, I'd listen to NPR online. Weekend Edition Saturday, Fresh Air, Wait Wait Don't Tell Me, On the Media...It was like importing a little bit of my past into my new life.
Moving to the Middle of Nowhere put a crimp in my Newstalk lifestyle. I can't get decent reception on my walkman, either in the house or out on the road. I have managed to find a configuration at work that allows the station to come in decently and I'm sure my co-workers think I'm a bit strange. The station comes in best if I put the walkman on the top of my in-tray on my left, have the headphone cord come up over my left shoulder and have the earbud separator behind me, instead of the more typical in-front configuration.
But for my runs, I was doomed to listen only to music. Music provides a good accompaniment when I'm in the mood to run, providing pacing and timing for me. But when I don't particularly want to run, it helps to have the distraction of stories to focus my mind.
Enter the podcast, a phenomenon I realise is not new but one that I was ridiculously slow to embrace. The fact of the matter is that I didn't like the word at all. My personality is such that I often issue summary judgments against things based on arbitrary and flimsy reasons. I fully admit it's illogical to refuse to watch The Bridge on the River Kwai because of the whistling, but I have nonetheless taken agin' the film.
My acceptance of podcasts snuck up on me. It started with Peter's Mac laptop, which I inherited to use for dial-up in the dark weeks before broadband arrived in our house. He'd downloaded the contents of his sister's Ipod, which included some podcasts. Since I couldn't listen to NPR online and I couldn't get reception for Newstalk, desperation forced me to listen to the podcasts for distraction while cooking. The selection wasn't great – NASA, some guy called The Naked Scientist (because he stripped science bare, not because he podcasted nekkid), and the annoying Chris Moyles' show. I know what rock-bottom sounds like – rock-bottom is listening to Moyles interview David Beckham because the alternative is listening to a guy tell you how to create a submarine experiment in your kitchen sink.
Broadband arrived to save me and I had a take-away lesson from my dark, desolate podcast days – if those guys had podcasts, then chances were shows I love might have podcasts. It was time to find out. To my delight, NPR has oodles of podcasts. Some of them are just compilations of stories from different shows, so if you've heard the show, you've already heard the piece. But a few shows are podcast in their entirety (including Fresh Air and This American Life), so I've taken to filling up my Shuffle with podcasts for my runs.
I am willing to admit – I was wrong about podcasts. (But I am still not conceding ground on The Bridge on the River Kwai.)