An Obsession with Public Radio

by Lauren Kay Weber

Our Obsession with Public Radio

Years ago, I began a love affair with public radio on the back porch of a beach house in the Outer Banks of North Carolina one morning while waiting for my friends to wake up.  We had decided on a spur of the moment road trip one April weekend – which, yes, is far too early in the spring to have an enjoyable time splashing around in the water – and stayed in a family member’s summer home.  It was the kind of trip that we all needed so that we could brush some of the city dirt off of our shoulders and reconnect with ourselves.  That, and we thought the pictures would lend us some swagger on Facebook.

I remember waking up ridiculously early and toting my iBook out onto the back porch, along with a blanket (because, yes, it was just that cold).  I curled myself up.  I’m sure I fumbled around on Facebook a bit and maybe my email.  Pinterest hadn’t yet been invented, but had it, I’m positive that I would have spent hours scrolling until my index finger was raw from dragging down on the track pad.  I’m not sure exactly how I stumbled upon the website for This American Life.  Probably, someone far cooler and more informed than I had posted a link on Facebook.  But, maybe not.  I really don’t know.

I was hooked.  I started listening to my home NPR station, WAMU, pretty religiously… even the shows that I wasn’t in particular love with.  *cough* *cough* Diane Rehm.

When I peered into the future for which I hoped, I saw me and my husband listening to Wait, Wait, Don’t Tell Me on weekends and discussing the latest installment of RadioLab as we drove around town.  When I moved to Utah and found myself plunged into a dating pool that was, let’s just say, very different from that of Washington, DC, I felt like I had to give up that dream.  Turns out, no.  Josh is not only as much of an NPR freak as me – he’s more.  Who knew that was possible?

Tonight, in case you’re willing to try on some radio/podcast-goodness for size, I wanted to share my favorites for your perusal.

This American Life:  You’ve already heard my poetic waxing above about how I found the show.  Here are some of my favorite episodes:  “Very Tough Love,” the story of a rogue drug court judge (who was forced to resign in the wake of the release of this episode); “First Contact,” which includes a hilarious segment by Ira Glass about the cringe-worthy experiences of puberty; and “Parent Trap,” especially Act One, called “Letter Day Saint.”

RadioLab:  Gahhhhhh, RadioLab is so good.  So, so good.  This show has literally changed the way that I think about life.  Really.  Some favorites:  “Colors,” “Death Mask,” “Slow,” and “A 4-Track Mind.”  No explanation needed.  They’re all brilliant.  Listen.

Stuff You Missed in History Class:  Lately, this podcast hasn’t been as good, but there are some really interesting stories in the archives.  Some favorites (which, unfortunately, I can’t link to directly):  “Evliya Çelebi: World Traveler and Companion to Mankind,” “The Booth Conspiracy,” and “The Sisters Fox: They Talked to Dead People.”  Check out iTunes here, and scroll down to the 2011 episodes.

Interfaith Voices:  Maureen Fiedler expertly tiptoes into the religious lives of most sects in America, from atheists to Mormons, Catholics to Muslims.  Some favorite episodes include “Karen Armstrong’s ‘Twelve Step’ Program,” where a 12 step program for eliminating selfishness is discussed; “Why We’re Not the Same… and That’s Okay,” pretty self-explanatory; “Sen. Joe Lieberman Reflects on ‘The Beauty of the Sabbath’,” with very insightful comments from Joe Lieberman on the Sabbath (regardless of what religion you espouse); and “Chosen Peoples: America and Israel’s Sacred Bond.”

You might ask Why should I spend my precious time listening to people talk as opposed to, I don’t know, Ke$ha?  (That answer should be fairly self-explanatory.)  I have one answer, and that one answer is sufficient for my purposes:  I want to live a more thoughtful life.

Speaking of a thoughtful life, I wanted to also make one last podcast introduction.  (And, I’m hoping beyond hope that this isn’t seen as shameless self-promotion… but, if yes, so be it.)  My uber-wonderful husband started a podcast this past spring called In Reel Life.  His premise, I think, is as brilliant as it is simple:  he wants to answer the questions “Why do movies resonate with us so much?” and “What is it that keeps us coming back to them?”  His hypothesis?  We see ourselves in the narratives of the characters.  Accordingly, his podcast features a different movie theme that serves as a lens through which to view a corresponding personal narrative that follows.  My favorite episode thus far has been “Episode 3:  Rolling With the Punches.”  I would personally love it if you would take a listen.  … And then maybe like In Reel Life on Facebook.  (Word to the wise, we’ll be doing giveaways in the coming months!)

I just had a shocking thought:  what if Pinterest had been invented back on that April day and I had spent my time pinning instead of listening to perspective-broadening tales?  I shudder at the thought.