#67 Go wide
Step back to see the bigger picture.
This week: podcasts that zoom out on news, history, and the unfathomable sprawl of space.
London Compass Radio
This indie gem is released at vast intervals, but worth the wait between instalments. Its premise is broad and mysterious, promising stories "from London to everywhere". In practice, that has brought us three, largely first-person, stories: one about a pair of shipwreck hunters; one about a witch who knits; and one, the stand-out, about a man's struggle for life after he collapses during a friendly game of football. Told in the voices of those who witnessed it, the scene is constructed in elaborate detail - the sort of detail one only acquires in significant, flashbulb memory moments - and invites us to consider the fragility of the everyday and the fallibility of the body. Reminiscent of Everyone Else, London Compass turns its clear eye upon unusual characters, and through them shows us to ourselves. New episodes every few months (!), the most recent in February.
Gateway episode: Paul Without Paul (6 Oct 2016)
The work of the Columbia Journalism Review has never been more relevant, so we're glad to have The Kicker in our listening schedule, where it's quickly found a permanent home. Episodes feature staff members, contributors and occasional guests in discussion, doing what the CJR does best: analysing the news about the news. Previous episodes have debated whether a Breitbart editor should have been invited to speak at a CJR event; examined the habits of Trump's hapless press secretary; and questioned Facebook's approach to fake news. Produced in-house with a minimum of fuss and some light editing, its informative, intelligent voice outweighs occasional technical mishaps. Near-weekly episodes are available back to November 2016.
Gateway episodes: A Breitbart editor walks into a journalism conference (9 Mar 2017) / Spice, Spice baby (17 Feb 2017) / Avoiding Trump's trap with "alternative facts" (25 Jan 2017)
Scene on Radio, Seeing White
We've been repping this show from the Centre for Documentary Studies since way back. Helmed by legendary radio-maker and teacher John Biewen, it's a consistent source of finely-crafted stories that aim to scrutinise the world around us. We're glad to have the opportunity to mention it once again, this time in praise of a fascinating new series, Seeing White. Issues of identity and race in America have been a preoccupation for the show since its inception, but this series takes a wider lens than ever before, asking fundamental questions about the construct of race itself, and specifically the fraught notion of Whiteness. Biewen and guest host Chenjerai Kumanyika, a professor of cultural studies, look to history to ask how and why Whiteness was invented, how it has been used to exclude and wield power, and how it has evolved all the way to Trump's America. This is not the first time since November that we've dubbed a podcast "timely", but it has never been more true than in this case. Catch up with the first three parts now.
Gateway episode: Turning the Lens (Seeing White, Part 1) (16 Feb 2017)
Adorable astrophysicists and bosom buddies Dr Amanda Bauer and Dr Alan Duffy tackle life, the universe and everything - but mainly the universe - in this brand new podcast from the Australian national broadcaster. They aim to break down the terrifying vastness of space into accessible bite-sized science, and have succeeded in doing so over three half-hour episodes to date, about the moon, stars, and our Solar System. Their nerd-banter is effortlessly winning - they aren't at all jaded about their own profession, so their learnings are proffered with genuine wonder - and slick production by Joel Werner lifts this to the next level. Eye-opening and mind-expanding.
Gateway episode: 001 A giant lump of rock and iron (16 Mar 2017)
From: Radio National
This show aims to take the edge off our current crisis-mode reality (see also: coral bleaching; Syria; fascist surges; antibiotic resistance) by reminding us that our forbears also used to think the end times were near. Though we can't help but point to the evidence that this time the end times really do sorta feel like they're coming at us from every angle, it's reassuring to recall that people used to think the Walkman was a harbinger of humanity's doom. This is a podcast about the dawn of new technologies and ideas and the skeptics who turned out to be dead wrong about them. Four meaty episodes have transported us to the beginnings of recorded music, the launch of the aforementioned Walkman, the early days of the automobile and the oft-evoked 'good old days' - which turn out never to have existed in any present. Episodes are deeply researched, featuring expert interviews and clips, and hosted with flare by Jason Feifer, editor-in-chief of Entrepreneur magazine. New episodes bi-monthly.
Gateway episodes: Horseless Carriage (3 Mar 2017) / The Good Old Days (13 Nov 2016)
Reveal / Richard Spencer's cotton farms
Everyone Else / Pigeon
London Review of Books / From Medusa to Merkel
Terrible, Thanks For Asking / Are you up?
Earshot / Murder in a small town, Part 2
Breakdown / Season 3, Episode 1: Predator, MD