Posted on June 9, 2011
Filed Under podcasting | Comments Off on Observations from Recent Podcast Listening
Here is a rundown of some podcasts that I’ve felt particularly strongly about lately, either positively or negatively. These are only my opinions and have a high likelihood of not matching your opinion. Please don’t celebrate too hard or feel too bad if you do one of these shows, or my opinion is opposite of yours. Everyone has their own tastes and these are mine.
Podcasts I’m Digging Lately
Time Subscribed: 1.5 years
I jumped into this show when it was in the early 30s of episode numbers. Because Marc Maron regularly puts out two episodes every week like a machine, it took a long time to catch up because in the time I listened to those 30+, he had published another 15 or 20. I’m close enough to the beginning to call myself a charter member of his listenership. This show has one of the better quality arcs I’ve ever experienced. The shows in the 150s are significantly better than those first 30. At first he was trying to be a bit more zoo crew with prepared bits, almost all of which were unnecessary. I much prefer just listening to him talk to people with as little artifice as possible.
He has an interesting strategy of taking older episodes offline and making them only accessible to premium subscribers. It seems to work for him and is upside down of many podcasters in that regard. Personally, I have 600+ episodes in my queue, which now is 19 days long added together. Good luck trying to get me to shell out for “special subscribers only podcasts”, which would just be another hour in my 450 hour backlog. Maron is doing good work and now using the hunger for that older work to monetize it. Apparently his audiences at his standup gigs are way up too, so good on him all around.
Random quotes I’ve liked from his shows:
Thomas Lennon: “Is Enya rich? She did the music for the Lord of the Rings soundtrack, so she must be. She’s got that sweet sweet hobbit money!”
Marc Maron: “C’mon Gallagher!”
Michael Showalter: “In a western what does it mean when the main character wears a white hat?”
Marc Maron: “He keeps his hats clean?”
Time Subscribed: 5 months
This is a program I learned about from the above WTFPod when she was a guest on his show. Jackie Kashian does a fun program and at this point where I have a huge and groaning queue, I’m always happy to hear one of her shows start. She interviews people – mostly but not exclusively other working comedians – about the stuff they are obsessed with. There is a lot of fun geek talk about many topics, some of which I’m interested in and some not but almost always it is a fun time. The one exception was the ghost episode. When her friends pulled out the “ghost finding iPhone app” I had to hit the skip button. Still, I dig it a lot and have since I started listening.
Pod F. Tompkast
Time Subscribed: 2 months
Following the chain, I found out about this show from the Dork Forest, which transitively means Marc Maron gets the credit I guess. Paul F. Tomkins does a monthly show with his own bits, recorded bits from his monthly live variety show, and phone calls with his friend Jen Kirkman. I frequently laugh my ass off when I listen to this show. I have not a lot more to say about this show other than that it makes me laugh.
Thrilling Adventure Hour
Time Subscribed: 3 months
Also via the Dork Forest, this show is a recreation of the golden days of radio. It has the distinction of being on both of my lists. There are a bunch of sub-shows in this one, and really what I’m putting as my favorite is the “Beyond Belief” shows, which are parodies of the Thin Man and similar series. The Frank and Sadie Doyle characters are completely unrepentant drunks who are also paranormal investigators. I really dig this series, mainly because of the performances by the above Paul F. Tomkins and Padgett Brewster.
Time Subscribed: 2 weeks
This one is the biggest surprise on the list. It came in via my AmigoFish prediction list. I had gone in and unrated many shows that I no longer remembered specifically which opened me up to a lot of new predictions. This show came in and I was pretty sure that I’d listen to a few minutes, hit skip, rate it low on AmigoFish and be done with it. To my pleasant shock, I enjoyed listening to it. It’s goofy, with a lot of the kind of music you’d hear in the filking room at any science fiction convention and sometimes has interviews conducted at various renaissance festivals. I’m not a filk fan nor a ren fest fan, but something about this show just calms me and I find enjoyable.
Good Clean Fun
Time Subscribed: 3+ years
I don’t remember exactly when this show started, but I’ve been listening since episode one. My favorite recent episode was the one from pre South By Southwest where co-host Jasper Borgman was lit up from one of the tech parties with open bar and a schwag bag full of stuff. Co-host Michael Butler completely freaked out at how hard it was to deal with drunk Jasper and it just made me laugh all the much harder. I’m friends with these guys but even without knowing them personally, this show has been one of my most fun weekly listens for over half of the podcast era.
Tell ‘Em Steve Dave
Time Subscribed: 1.5 years
This program is the only one on the SModcast.com network that I unreservedly love. I flirted with dropping the main SModcast program but relented and stayed subscribed. I’m at best a moderate Kevin Smith fan. I loved Clerks, Dogma, and Clerks 2; liked Mallrats and Chasing Amy; absolutely hated Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back and haven’t seen any of the rest. I just like listening to these New Jersey knuckleheads bust each other’s balls. I generally dislike multiple people banter shows, but this is one exception. The reason I almost dropped SModcast is the episode from their tour where Brian Quinn and Kevin Smith were together and I thought Smith was such a condescending dick to Q that I couldn’t take it (that and I hate their live episodes, which are ever more frequent.)
Regardless of what I do with other SModcast network shows, I plan on sticking with Tell Em Steve Dave as long as they keep putting out shows.
Time Subscribed: 2+ years
Even though I’m not in the demographic for this show that is mostly geared to creators of webcomics, some of my favorite insights about creativity itself and making a career out of one’s work have come from recent episodes of this show. If you are a writer, artist, cartoonist, knitter or anyone trying to combine their creativity with commerce, I recommend this show highly.
Podcasts I’ve Bounced Off Lately
Smodcast.com’s Plus One
Episodes Listened before Dropping: 3ish
I tried this out, and it’s Kevin Smith and his wife Jennifer Schwalbach bantering. On the shows I listened to, mostly Smith tries to steer the topic to sex and Schwalbach threatens to get up and walk out. I just couldn’t care less. If I wanted to hear spousal bickering, I can get plenty of that in my own living room. Some may like it but I just can’t hang with it.
Episodes Listened before Dropping: 1
This is yet another Leo Laporte show. I don’t know how many there are now, 50 or 75 I guess. At this point it would be hard to imagine an idea Leo has had for a podcast that hasn’t already happened. I listened to an episode where he and Tom Merritt had Cory Doctorow on as a guest and it was probably the least interesting interview with Cory I’ve ever heard. It might be churlish to suggest that Laporte has spread himself thin at this point. Who am I to critique the guy who has a zillion listeners and deeply committed fans?
He’s said nice things about me at various points in the early days of podcasting and I have nothing against him personally but it’s been a long time since I got anything out of any of his programs. I wish him well and hope he keeps on full steam for as long as he can but I’ve checked out as a listener.
Back to Work
Episodes Listened before Dropping: 3
I tried out a few episodes of this newish Merlin Mann podcast. There was a point where I really enjoyed Mann and his work but after a while I burned out on the sameness of his schtick over time. I listened to episode one all the way through and thought it was OK, episode two was more of the same and I skipped halfway through. By the third, I only made it a few minutes before I completely got tired of it. I also got tired of Merlin fawning over how good Dan Benjamin is as a podcaster when I couldn’t figure out what he does that is any better than the 10,000 other practitioners of the form. He seems like a solid yet uninspiring guy to me.
Much in the way that I can’t stand listening to You Look Nice Today, I just don’t find him as funny as he finds himself. I’m sure many people feel the same way about me, but that’s just how it is. I once enjoyed listening to his goofiness, now I just find it grating. Also, a personal productivity guru who announces he’s writing a personal productivity book in 2009 that will be published in 2010 and doesn’t have it out as of 2011 (Amazon says spring 2012 now for Inbox Zero) that serioously undercuts that whole being an authority on productivity thing.
Thrilling Adventure Hour
Time Subscribed: 3 months – I never dropped it
As much as I love the “Beyond Belief” segments, I really don’t much like several of the others. “Sparks Nevada, Marshall on Mars”, “Jefferson Reid, Ace American!”, “Amelia Earheart, Fearless Flier” just don’t do anything for me. I have yet to skip any of them (update: today I did skip a “Sparks Nevada” that really wasn’t working for me) but I have thought about it. If this feed were only “Beyond Belief” shows it would be one of my highest picks and if it was only “Sparks Nevada” I’d drop it in a heartbeat.
There are some interesting patterns in here. Several of my top picks are from working comedians. It seems like that field has really taken to podcasting as a medium in the last few years and made it their own. I suspect it is because comedians really have a lot of middlemen between them and their trade in their daily work lives, and they enjoy being able to do whatever they want to do on their own. That was my initial attraction to the medium in August 2004.
Also most of the shows that I don’t like are parts of larger networks by podcasters that do some shows, have success and then go off to do a shitload of different ones. In pretty much every case like that I’ve ever seen, the work gets significantly less interesting to me as the number of podcasts in the network grows. Kevin Smith has made SModcast and now SModcast Internet Radio (S.I.R. for short) his day job. I just can’t see listening to a streaming version of any of his shows. Being able to skip the 5 – 14 minutes of sponsor messages at the beginning of SModcast network shows is what makes them listenable.
Today, as in fall of 2004 what I prefer to listen to are unique, individual voices. The closer someone gets to a well-worn automatic shtick, the less interested I am which is why the podcaster-to-network fan out to producing many shows tends to lose me for all of them. My list grows and shrinks and turns over but I’m still subscribed to over 100 different feeds and still as deep in the medium as I ever was. At first I thought I listened to podcasts to “stick it to the man”, what I didn’t realize then was how easy it was for individual podcasters to convert to being “the man.”