When I was a kid, I would whine and complain if my mother put on talk radio in the car. The jingle that signaled traffic and weather together on News Radio 88 made me nauseated. I wanted to listen to the local pop station, but she was having none of it. “Just wait,” she said. “If you drive around long enough in the car, you’ll want to listen to people talking on the radio.”
Fast forward thirty years: the internet is invented, the internet via towers and magic waves floating through the air is invented, I have to commute forty blocks in New York City, then an interminable twenty miles in LA 405 traffic, then I move again and have kids, and have to get parent adult shit done like mountains of laundry and 700 20-minute trips across town for preschool pickup and , and before I knew it I become podcast-obssessed.
I have reached a point where I have to ration re-telling stories I heard on podcasts, stop recommending podcasts to people who don’t seem interested (WHY???? and HOW?? who ARE YOU???), and I have to keep myself from starting sentences with “I heard on this podcast…”
I gravitate towards interviews, personal stories, history, advice, humor, pop culture, parenting, and feminist-themed podcasts, but I’ve also found favorites about dating, tech, business, and self-help books. No matter the theme, I’ve thought a lot (er, too much. I’ve thought too much about this topic…) about what sets podcasts apart from other mediums:
- They feel personal. There’s something about a voice in your ear or in your car radio speakers that feels so much more intimate than watching Seth Meyers or reading an online article on Politico. And there’s something about the way people are given time to tell their own stories or the way hosts get to interact with their guests in audio that feels more unfiltered than in print or video. People can also be anonymous in a way that’s very particular to audio, like this shoplifter who recently told her story on Death, Sex, and Money.
- Serendipity. I probably wouldn’t read a 10,000-word article about how the sports bra was invented and by whom or how the founder of AirBnb failed before he was successful. Well, maybe I would, but the chances I would pick those articles and then make it all the way through an in-depth long form article aren’t great at this stage of my life. But when those stories end up on podcasts like 99% Invisible or How I Built This, where I know they’ll tell any story with the attention to detail it deserves, and where the voices of the guests are given the space to tell their stories in their own voices, I’m all in for whatever story they’re telling.
- PG-13-ness. As a stay at home mom, sometimes I can go a whole day without talking to another grown-up, and I definitely don’t often drop F-bombs or hear people talk about their down and out rock and roll lifestyles or the details of their sex lives. But put on a Savage Love during laundry folding/kid nap time or some WTF in one earphone while the kids zone out or point out all the squirrels in the double stroller, and I feel like I’ve reconnected with my raunchier side just enough to know she’s still there.
- Everybody-sort-of-wins time. This is another reason for my obsession that’s very particular to the medium of podcasting. I’m not into Pinterest art projects, I’d describe my decorating style as Costco furniture meets the “before” house on Property Brothers, and I once served my mother-in-law a legitimately raw chicken breast. But when I do literally any other task AND listen to a podcast in which I learn something, laugh at something, or both (like on By the Book and Stuff Mom Never Told You) I feel like a freaking superhero and am much more likely to continue doing the necessary tasks of adult life rather than put them off forever.