Five podcasts for your weary, midterm-ridden mind
The mid-quarter blues can get even the best students down, and with only precious few hours in the day, it’s often difficult to take that much needed break. Movies and TV shows take up a lot of time — and reading for pleasure? Well that’s simply not done on the quarter system.
Podcasts, however, are a great alternative for the multitasking student. They don’t take much time and don’t require full attention. So for the student that’s just about had it with midterms but doesn’t know where to turn, try some of these podcasts on for size. (All the following podcasts can be found online or on iPhone’s Podcast app.)
- This American Life (1 hour)
By now it’s assumed that most people have heard of Ira Glass. Those who haven’t: it’s time to get with it. While you were doing whatever else, America’s favorite bespectacled uncle has been taking over radio airwaves. Although the show has evolved over time, it has always been organized around a weekly theme. You would think that a weekly show that has aired for 20 years would run out of themes, but it hasn’t. The most recent episodes, “I thought I knew you,” “Something only I can see” and “The Poetry of Propaganda,” show that clearly, this isn’t your run of the mill broadcast journalism.
Glass is often seen as the leader of the radio revolution — out with hard news that just tells you what happened and where, in with long-form feature journalism that tells you the story behind the story. This American Life gives you documentary storytelling that guides you through issues of national concern. Episode recommendation: “Same bed, Different Dreams” (556) and “I’m from the private sector and I’m here to help” (266).
- Snap Judgment (1 hour)
A more recent podcast, Snap Judgement, premiered back in 2010 after founder Glynn Washington won the Public Radio Talent Quest. The rest is radio history. Snap Judgment seeks to tell a cinematically produced narrative that focuses on the trials and tribulations felt by the first person narrator. Though every good story gets to the “big picture” (and snap is no exception), snap focuses on the craft of telling — so that although the majority are non-fiction stories — the program feels almost like a play. It’s almost like a really great Hollywood director telling a story around a campfire. Snap has also ventured into the realm of fiction a lot more than other radio programs, and has superb audio chops to bring a mixture of prose and dialogue to life. Episode recommendation: “Tin Man” and “The Proxy.”
- Fugitive Waves (varies, shorter episodes range from 10 to 20 minutes)
This program is brought to you by the Kitchen Sisters, Nikki Silva and Davia Nelson. Silva is a museum curator and Nelson a casting director, both of which seems to influence their unique sound. Most listeners will agree that their flow is smooooooooooooth (extra o’s required). The heavily layered sounds seem to capture a time and place, almost like an audio snapshot into a community. They do NPR reporting as well, which looks into the lives of specific individuals, but these are often juxtaposed with their signature soundscape montage that seems to take the profiles a step beyond standard journalism.
The Kitchen Sisters also have a series called Hidden Kitchens which, in their own words, “explores the world of unexpected, below the radar cooking, legendary meals and eating traditions — how communities come together through food.” Episode recommendation: “Tupperware” (a cool montage of a tupperware party). Though it was one of their first, it seems to capture the essence of what they do so well: provide a window into an interesting cultural trend.
- The Truth (varies, about 10 to 20 minutes)
Another cinematic go-to, The Truth, will give you a movie for your ears. Unlike the previous podcasts listed which only touch on fiction, the main aim of “The Truth” is all fiction, all the time. It is a radio drama of the 1950s, if they switched out the weird cowbell props with a soundboard and composer — there is no prose and no stage direction. The Truth consists of super short and digestible one act plays that really span a wide range of topics. This isn’t a show that focuses on bringing you journalism, these episodes are like the shorts that you see making the film festival circuits: short, punchy and hopefully with a narrative twist. If you need a study break but you don’t want to look at your screen, this should be your go-to. Episode recommendation: “Starburst.”
- Welcome to Night Vale (20 to 30 minutes)
This is a bi-monthly long-form narrative podcast that is, in some ways, a parody of radio altogether. It’s complete with the monotone announcer, the overworked interns and the weird radio callers. However, the town is set in a sort of supernatural reality that, as co-producer Joseph Fink puts it, “a town in that desert where all conspiracy theories were real.” The interns die, cats float past the studio, there is a faceless old woman, etcetera. You won’t understand it, but you’ll love it. Episode recommendation: “Pilot,” — It’s best to start at the beginning. You can find it for free on iTunes.
Written by Anna Nestel — firstname.lastname@example.org