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The New Golden Age of Radio

By Franklin D. Roosevelt Library Public Domain Photographs, via Wikimedia Commons

Scott Desavouret, Co-Editor-in-Chief

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We are living in a new Golden Age of Radio. Okay, maybe it’s not as central to our lives as it was in the ‘30’s and ‘40’s, but podcasts and the internet have redefined our relationship with radio. We now have more and better audio content than at any other point in history. Atop this, the on-demand structure of our media allows us to consume audio at any time. Driving to work? Listen to a Podcast! Cleaning your house? Listen to a Podcast! Working a mindless job? Listen to a Podcast!

Let’s back up for a moment and look at what a podcast is. In the broadest sense a podcast is a digital file that you subscribe to and download. It can be audio, video, or text. People commonly use iTunes to manage their free subscriptions, but there are other apps and software that can be used. It is like DVR for internet content.

Now, what this means in the practical sense is that podcasts have become the best way to listen to National Public Radio (NPR) and other public radio sources. Eight of the top ten podcasts are currently public radio shows. For the record, NPR and public radio in general are not quite the same thing. “Would You Like To Know More?”

Aside from the traditional audio content, there has been an explosion of podcast-only audio shows. There is a staggering amount of variety, quantity, and quality to the podcasts out there. Religion, politics, video games, pop culture, history, comedy, sports, music, and pretty much everything else ever are all covered. These shows range from highly scripted and edited to completely off the cuff, and everything in between.

Of course, this trend of amateur audio creation is part of the much boarder trend of content production across the internet. YouTube and other services gave us easy access to video. Blogs allowed everyone to write. Photo sites let us look at each other’s food. Now there are several sites popping up to host podcasts. The barrier to entry has also dropped for all of these different activities. Anyone with a smart phone can pretty much create and consume all of these types of media.

Audio, however, is unique in the sense that we listen while doing other things. I personally listen to up to six hours of podcasts every night while working a job that doesn’t require a lot of thought. Most of my friends also listen to a wide variety of programs, far more then anyone did just a few years ago. This is important because we can learn at a time when we are only somewhat occupied. Instead of just picking up trash and cleaning bathrooms, I am also learning about racial disparities in school punishment or the history of World War I.

There has also been a recent trend of podcast networks being created. There is, of course, NPR, which is the standard for high quality informative radio. Then you have radio stations like WNYC that produce public radio shows, but also shorter podcasts like TLDR.

Another popular network is Maxiumfun.org. It features all sorts of interesting angles, viewed through a comedic lens. One of their shows, Bullseye, even made the jump from podcast to proper radio. Slate.com has a wide variety of intelligent discussion shows, and they recently joined a new network called Panoply. It includes Slate, Popular Science, The New York Times Magazine, Huffington Post, and many more.

With so many amazing options, it can be difficult to decide what to listen to, so I will offer a couple of personal recommendations.

This American Life – A variety of stories told each week around a theme. It can range from funny or painful personal tales, to in-depth investigative journalism. It is almost always the most compelling thing I listen to each week. Everyone in the world should listen to this show. There are far too many episodes to recommend, so I’ll just go with a story about prisoners preforming Act V of Hamlet.

On the Media – A brilliant look at news, journalism, and media; a weekly hour long show that analyzes how news is covered and commonly pushes back against the many misconceptions our 24 hour news cycle spits out. A highlight is a story about US citizens being detained at our northern border.

Sawbones – A comedy show about medical history. If you want to learn about the four humors, tobacco, and grave robbing, this is a great place to do it. The episode on medical cannibalism is one of the best things you’ll ever hear.

Lexicon Valley – One of the more unique offerings from Slate.com. Lexicon Valley is a show about language. Some shows pick apart specific words, while others take a boarder look at language rules and trends. A good one to check out is about African-American English. It is both a scholarly take on the subject, and looks at the political fallout from trying to define it as Ebonics in the ’90’s. Super interesting.

Those are a few places to start for anyone looking for interesting, entertaining, and educational audio content.

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The New Golden Age of Radio