If you’re a podcast fan, you already know that they’re a great way to make a long drive fun. If you’re new to the genre, prepare to be introduced to a world of entertainment. The right podcast may actually have you looking forward to the cottage drive.
Podcasts have been around for a dozen years or more, but it’s really just in the past few years that their popularity has exploded. If you’re new to podcasts, it’s easiest to think of them as radio shows that you can listen to on demand. In fact, many of them are radio shows: CBC Radio and National Public Radio in the US make many of their shows available in podcast format, allowing listeners to access the shows whenever they want, and letting broadcasters reach audiences far beyond the reach of their airwaves. This American Life from NPR is consistently one of the highest-rated podcasts; from CBC, check out Under the Influence or Q. If you want to catch up on news from a distant town, you can also get the local morning programs for stations from St. John’s to Vancouver.
Podcasts are ideal for commuters, including those of us who do the Friday and Sunday hauls to and from the cottage. Picking some audio story-telling for the car with family is a different matter than choosing something for your personal listening, though. For starters, you need something that can be enjoyed by just listening to one episode. Long-form journalism that unfolds over several episodes (such as the truly superb S-Town) or narrative fiction (Welcome to Nightvale, for example) can be fascinating, but they’re best enjoyed on your own.
Here are some of our favourite podcasts that are appropriate for shared listening.
If you like tales from the recent past, check out Malcolm Gladwell’s Revisionist History. The author of Blink and The Tipping Point and many other books and essays digs into stories of things he feels were neglected or misunderstood. Among the best episodes are King of Tears (about why country songs are so sad), and The Big Man Can’t Shoot, which examines why so many people – including basketball star Wilt Chamberlain – choose to do things in an ineffective way.
Science and nature fans have plenty of excellent material to choose from. Ologies shows just how much fun science journalism can be, as science nerd Alie Ward dives deep into the worlds of different scientists, or “ologists.” Her delight is infectious, whether she’s talking about areology (the study of Mars) or malacology (slugs and snails). Quirky and fun, but a bit sweary if you’ve got youngsters in the car.
RadioLab is ostensibly a science podcast, but with frequent forays into politics and society. Beautifully produced at WNYC Studios, it uses creative audio and frequent music to dive deep into such questions as whether plants can think, which creature can see the most colours, and the nature of gender.
If music is your passion, there is a massive array of choice. Switched on Pop examines how pop songs are created, using music theory to understand everything from Despacito to Cotton-Eyed Joe. Song Exploder does something similar, but does it by having the musicians and producers discuss the creative process behind one of their songs. If you’re looking for the best new music, NPR’s All Songs Considered takes its title seriously, and goes from pop to rock to electronica to jazz to modern orchestral in search of the week’s best new released.
Foodies should check out The Fridge Light from CBC, which examines the things on our plate. Where does tilapia come from? Why do North Americans like white meat more than dark? Is there such a thing as gourmet tofu? It’s all here. The episode on yeasts even has a Muskoka connection, with brewers from Gravenhurst gathering yeast in the forest.
This is just a sampling of the thousands of podcasts available. Find the right ones, and you may just find yourself looking for an excuse to pop into town – a drive that’s just long enough to fit in one more short episode.