Not long ago I got into listening to podcasts. I'd discovered I enjoyed audiobooks, as long as the narration was decent, but as I delved further and further into the depths of the iTunes store, into those dusty online back rooms where they shove the free podcasts, I discovered a host of great stuff that I had never heard of before. I ran into Dan Carlin's Hardcore History, then came across The Leviathan Chronicles, and after that I met up with Mr. Garrison Keillor, and found the brilliant folks at This American Life.
Each one of these podcasts has been incredibly engaging and enlightening. Hardcore History deals with history the way only a very few (and the best) of my old teachers took on the subject. The Leviathan Chronicles was an eye opener. Though the writing wasn't as polished as it could be, and the odd anachronism or historical mistake that momentarily pricked at my willing suspension of disbelief, the sheer aural feast this podcast provides puts most modern radio dramas to shame. It is true theatre of the mind, with the same speed, intensity and action packed pace of the Bourne movies. Fans of Lake Wobegon need no introduction to Garrison Keillor, though I would point out that if they enjoy that kind of humor, then they will also enjoy CBC's The Vinyl Cafe. And when fiction, comedy, or ancient history are not in order, This American Life really seems to be able to delve into the complicated and complex issues of the day and illuminates them, making them understandable to the average Joe on the street.
As of late, I find myself filling up my wee iPod shuffle to the brim with these podcasts, listening to them on the way to work, at the gym in the afternoon, on the way home, and whenever I'm sent out of the house on a mission to procure milk, bread, or anything else that Command General Better Half thinks is needed. I used to queue up the news online, waiting for The National and CTV News to load, but as of late I find the stories flat, the in depth analysis lacking, and little to really hold my attention. Forget watching CNN International, which is mostly back to back Quest Means Business, or promos for something or other Cristiane Amanpour did lately. If I'm in the mood for watch the news with an ironic smile, I might turn on Fox News, but I can only stand up to 20 minutes of that at a time. Plus, you can't really take TV with you, let alone watch any while driving. But podcasts? Pdcasts can come from anywhere, and can go where you go.
And that's where the genius lay. Ten years ago, I could never have tuned into the BBC Radio 4 Friday Night Comedy's "The News Quiz." To say the least, Canada was outside of the BBC's broadcast radius. Even today, with time shifting and 1,000 channel cable packages, it would still be hit or miss whether I could tune in, and even if I could, I couldn't take the show with me. But with podcasts, the very best the world has to offer, from comedy, to news, to stories, can be had by anyone, anywhere.