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I need more ears because I’ve discovered podcasts

I have a bit of a reluctant relationship with my iPod because of the opportunity costs associated with plugging my ears with sound while walking to work. If I listen to music I can’t listen to the morning unfolding all around me. I can’t listen to the Canada geese, who have definitely been up to something the past week or two. I can’t be fully balanced on the cusp of summer and autumn if one of my senses is otherwise occupied.

Lately I’ve been listening to podcasts on my iPod. Podcasts!

I stumbled upon the podcast collection on the CBC Radio site, so I loaded up my iPod with a bunch of podcasts. Now I can walk to work and listen to trippy stuff like this:

  • A documentary about this addictive stuff called paan which is sold at roadside stands in India and which is regarded as an unsavory but common habit. You chew it up and spit blood red juices all over the place. There are different kinds of paan – tobacco paan, sweet paan, viagara knock-off paan, opium paan. (Sweet paan, apparently, is not seen as unsavory.)
  • A show about the sex lives of young people with low mental functioning. (What would you do if your 6-foot-4, 16-year-old son suddenly, in a grocery store, loudly demanded “MOM, HAVE YOU EVER HAD A PENIS IN YOUR MOUTH?” and when you told him that you would talk about it later, in private, he started shrieking “NO MOM, TELL ME NOW IF YOU’VE EVER HAD A PENIS IN YOUR MOUTH!”)
  • A show about beat mixing, which is my son’s hobby. If I understand it correctly, you have two turntables, and you make a new piece of music by layering together two existing pieces of music, but you have to get the timing exactly right so the beats sound right together. I don’t think it’s meant to work with songs, but with instrumental techno kinds of beats.
  • An interview with a writer who laments ‘buffet Buddhism’ which is the western trend of taking the more palatable parts of Buddhism and leaving the more difficult or less appealing bits behind. For example, convincing yourself that it’s okay to give up your attachment to luxury objects rather than the objects themselves.
  • A documentary about the the zabaleen, who are the garbage entrepreneurs of Cairo. Garbage is not a public service in Cairo, a city with a population of 15 million people, and it probably has the highest recycling rate in the world.

It makes me realize there are a million fascinating things I’ve never even thought to think about.

I like listening to podcasts on my way to work, but if I listen to podcasts, I can’t be listening to the morning unfolding OR the music. Not only that, but I can’t experience that pleasant, lyrical, stream-of-consciousness thinking that occurs naturally when I walk to work unplugged.

I think the solution is to try to balance all three things: podcasts, music and Canada Geese, which isn’t as easy as it sounds for a creature of habit like me. Sigh.

Anyway. I’m looking for podcast recommendations, since I’ve barely scratched the surface of the podcast universe and I will most likely be plunging headlong into it for awhile.

20 comments to I need more ears because I’ve discovered podcasts

  • Jo

    I am slavishly devoted to two podcasts that update weekly: This American Life on NPR and another one called The Moth podcast.

    I like the CBC ones too. Talking Books is my favourite.

  • I’m a fan of “Fresh Air” on NPR, available as a podcast 5 times a week, I believe, each episode about 46 minutes long. It’s free from iTunes.

    I also listen to a lot of knitting podcasts and to several podcasts designed to teach (or refresh) French.

    I’ve found I listen to podcasts in lieu of watching TV many times, which is trading up, if you ask me.

  • I meant to add that I’ve listed and linked the podcasts to which I’ve subscribed in a sidebar on my blog. Feel free to hop over and check them out.

  • the ones you have already listened to sound fascinating

  • I have no podcasts to share, but I know exactly how you feel. I’ve recently discovered audiobooks and love them. I had been feeling really deprived because I hadn’t the time to read, but now I can do so while walking the dogs, doing chores (I sometimes have to look for chores to do just so I can keep listening), driving to and from work. Still, there are times when I stop listening so I can listen to the world around me. Usually it’s on my morning walks when there aren’t many people around and you can listen to the world waking up. Maybe you could settle for listinging on the way home, but not on the way to work (or vice-versa).

  • megabytes

    I’ve had paan! After dinner at Ceylonta one evening, the cashier offered me & my companion betel leaves on our way out. He cautioned that we shouldn’t chew them if we were pregnant. I’d never heard of it and thought it was akin to chewing caraway after an Indian meal, so we took it. Very trippy. Not sure I’d try it again. Even if it had no side effects, was always free and legal…

  • I like to listen to the npr podcasts while I’m knitting. I don’t have a television so I use the mp3 player to keep my mind busy as my hands knit.

  • sheila

    I’d been wondering about podcasts,they sound very interesting, but I don’t own an iPod (yet). I’m a little slow picking up on these new things. I can just picture my kids rolling their eyes right now. Mom’s a dork, she admits it.

  • J.

    I just found out about podcasts last week! I’ve fallen it love with the idea. I’ve also downloaded video podcasts (of cartoons I’ll addmit), it makes the bus ride to work more fun that’s for sure.

  • sheila

    About the “buffet Buddhism”: my son-in-law is Thai and hearing about Thai-style Buddhism has shown me that the tendency of people to pick and choose their tenets is not just a western one.

  • I second the This American Life recommendation, heartily. You can download the latest few from the web site,, but you can also get entire seasons from You have to pay, but $15 for about 25 hours of fascinating radio is totally worth it, in my books. I’ve been listening obsessively for months.

    I like CBC’s White Coat Black Arts, DNTO, Search Engine. There is so much good stuff out there that I have to resist the urge to hid in the bathroom away from my children just to listen.

  • Thanks so much for the recommendations – I’m going to check them out.

    Toni and Donna Lee – that’s a great idea about listening to them while knitting. The only time I turn on my tv is when I’m knitting, and I only listen, I don’t watch. This would give me more podcast-listening time AND I could get rid of my tv altogether.

    Megabytes – I’ve never been offered paan at Ceylonta! I’m going to ask them for it next time. (When you say “trippy,” what exactly do you mean? Hmmm?)

    Sheila, you don’t need an iPod – you can listen to them on your computer while doing other stuff. (Insert rolling eyes here.) (I’m kidding!)

    Justmakingitup – oh, thanks for telling me about I hadn’t heard of it before – I’ll check it out.

  • I lurves CBC – well some of it anyway. I really enjoyed “Revision Quest” this summer. Didn’t catch all of it – only parts whilst sewing. I hate things in my ears. I’ll have to check to see if RQ is on podcast.
    I also listen to Lileks’ Diner podcasts but only because I like reading Lileks and sort of feel obliged to click on a Diner when he does one. He is normally at
    but this week, he has been covering the Dems at
    Fun stuff.
    Speaking of NPR, I also like the way Lileks skewers Garrison Keillor on a regular basis.

  • Payton

    I LOVE This American Life (and have a friend who judges people on whether or not they like it too). It’s the greatest radio show in the world. CBC Radio 3’s R3-30 is another great podcast.

  • megabytes

    By trippy I mean almost halucinogenic. Very spacy, floaty & disconnected. Definitely a drug, not just an after-dinner digestive aid. So be careful…

  • Nik

    I find most podcasts are painfully dull and ordinary, so I lean towards more oddball stuff. I did the This American Life. I tried CBC. I’ve mostly abandoned NPR. The following is my list of faves, in no particular order:

    1. Sick and Wrong. Two guys search the internet for bizarre and disgusting news stories, and then compete to see who has the best one. The audience votes for the winner. There are about 140 episodes available for download. I started at the beginning and I’m now at #75. And I can’t stop.

    2. Distorted View Daily. Tim Henson, your host, is sick and goofy, and makes fun of everyone. He has a FREESIDE version of the show, and for $5 a month you get bonus and extended shows. I signed up six months ago, and haven’t regretted it at all. Tim is hilarious — and insane. If cum farts and vomit make you snicker, in a guilty way, welcome to this show.

    3. The Savage Love Podcast. Did you know sex advice columnist Dan Savage has a podcast? People call in and he tries to answer their questions. He’s acerbic and wild and well worth listening to. I’ve listened to every single episode.

    4. Do you know about They’re an amazing radio station out of New Jersey. And they have a lot of podcasts. Mostly music ones. Good stuff. Strange mix.

    5. You Look Nice Today. People sitting around and talking can be so dull. But listening to these guys have made me laugh so hard I’ve cried. Too bad they don’t post shows more often.

  • James

    Yep, you’ve got it pretty much right about mixing… there’s a pitch fader on each turntable which adjusts the platter speed, thus slowing or speeding the song so you can match both (or more) tracks to the same tempo.. you can listen to a song on the headphones to get it properly beatmatched before you bring it into the mix.


  • I listened to the most recent episode of This American Life and really liked it. I’ll check out the others too.

    Megabytes – that’s what I thought you meant!

    Nik, that strikes me as a very nikkish list, so I’ll check those ones out too. Thanks!

    James, ha ha, you’re such a smartass. (We’ll talk about it later, okay?)

  • Must also suggest This American Life: it sets the standard for radio.

    Other ones I enjoy:
    A Prairie Home Companion. The News from Lake Wobegone is the best bit; you can download the entire show or just the Wobegone stuff. Garrison Keeler is simple an excellent story teller.

    Oh, and speaking of story tellers, CBC’s Stuart Maclean (The Vinyl Cafe) can also tell a good story.

    Also Car Talk (from NPR as well) while I’m doing the dishes.

  • Dear Lord, the podcast site at the CBC is so, so dangerous. Once I have all three kids in school, I imagine that this is what I will be doing all day — listening to podcasts and buying beautiful things I really don’t need on Etsy. If you’re able to resist the podcasts for occasional listening to the outside world on the bus…you’re a much stronger woman than I am!