A world of podcasts

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PLUGGED IN There's a podcast for everyone, from world news to science to interviews by Oprah. (Illustration:

It wasn’t until maybe six months ago that I had any idea what a podcast was. Sure, I’d heard of the “digital audio files” when friends talked about what they’d listened to on NPR’s funny, current events quiz-cast Wait Wait... Don’t Tell Me! or the addictive, reporter-told murder story they followed on Serial. But mostly I’d just smile and nod, secretly thinking I would never listen to a podcast, probably because I wouldn’t have been able to access one – on my computer? on my phone? – if I’d been paid to do so.

That all recently changed, thanks to Misha Laird, a friend and the yoga program coordinator at The Houstonian Club, who is something of a podcast whiz. She showed me exactly what to tap on my iPhone to set up my podcast app so I could start listening to the modern equivalent of radio shows, just on my own schedule. Misha then showed me how to “subscribe,” so that new episodes would be delivered to my phone, and then she set me up with two of her faves: 10% Happier with Dan Harris and Fresh Air.

“I was bamboozled by my learning curve at first,” Misha says. “But eventually it started to make sense.” I have to agree – podcasts aren’t quite as intimidating as I’d thought. And there is something exciting about being able to listen to really smart people talk about any subject you can imagine, all on demand.  

River Oaks resident Karen Terrell started listening to podcasts because her friends were talking about TED Talks. “They were learning a lot and greatly entertained. So I slothed through – it wasn’t that intimidating – and downloaded a lot of podcasts on my phone. I’ve been-there-done-that with the morning shows of movie star interviews.” When asked how she finds podcasts that interest her, Karen says, “NPR or The New York Times might mention, ‘You might be interested in this podcast.’”

In addition to podcasts, Karen says, “I have really gravitated toward books. I like to listen in my car. Even if I don’t get every detail, at least I know the books people are talking about. OverDrive and Hoopla are library apps that are free. You borrow books, and if they’re all out, you can put them on hold.”

In my own slothing around, I learned that my sister Julie Walter has become a podcast junkie. “I listen in the bathroom while I’m getting dressed. I especially like Freakonomics.” (She’s an econ major.)

I asked Julie how she manages to find time to listen, and she said, “I do it at one-and-a-half times.” Meaning, she clicks the number at the bottom left of her screen so that the podcast plays at 1.5 times its original speed. “Two is too fast for me,” she says. You can also slow the speed down to half-time with the same click.

Misha says, “When everything is so contentious, I appreciate the world podcasts create. You listen, and you feel like these people are friends. Everyone has a story, and that’s what this is all about.”

Some of Misha’s favorites:

Wait Wait... Don’t Tell Me! and Ask Me Another, both from NPR: “These are games, and they are just hysterical,” she says. “These clever, quick people I went to school with at Rice are now all on this!”

The Daily from The New York Times: “One 20-minute news story a day.”

Tara Brach and 10% Happier with Dan Harris: “Know more about meditation.”

This American Life: “I usually start out having no interest in these stories, then I can’t put them down.”

Fresh Air: “Phenomenal interviews!”

On Being with Krista Tippett: “Oh my gosh…just listen!” The Atlantic says, “If you can’t be bothered to meditate or read literature, make yourself more attuned to the emotional energy of the people around you by giving On Being an hour of your time each week.”

Living Homegrown: “Reminds us of ways to connect with nature and traditions.”

Awesome Etiquette with Lizzie Post & Dan Post Senning: “Required listening for my kids because it’s everything I didn’t teach them. I cannot say enough about this – it’s so relevant and should be required listening 30 minutes a day!”

Science Friday: “Fascinating.”

How I Built This from NPR: “I had never heard of Kendra Scott [the jewelry designer], and then I heard her story and now she’s my best friend!”

Planet Money from NPR: “Everything about money.”

Hidden Brain from NPR: “Fantastic people connecting with other fantastic people.”

Tips and more podcasts

So where to start? There’s a “podcast” app that comes with smart phones. Just open it up and get going. Alternatively, some people like to start on their computers or iPads – “the screens are bigger,” one older woman says.

A few tips from Misha: Use the “Limit Episodes” feature, so that old podcasts go away and new come in. This way your phone won’t get bogged down with hundreds of unlistened-to podcasts. “It’s just like the newspaper used to come every day, and if you didn’t read it, they would pile up,” she says. And use the queuing feature. “If I’m going out for a walk or cleaning the kitchen, I don’t want to have to stop and find my glasses to figure out what I’m listening to next. By queuing, one episode runs into the next.” To queue, click on an episode, then on the circle encapsulating three dots at the top right of the screen. Then click “Play Next,” and you’re set. If a podcast really makes you say, “Wow,” and you just have to share it, you can do that. There are three dots at the bottom right of the “Playing Now” screen. Click them, and hit “Share,” then text or e-mail the episode to a friend.

Other noteworthy podcasts for 2018:

Armchair Expert: Actor, writer and director Dax Shepard’s brand-new offering. “I love talking to people,” he writes. “I am endlessly fascinated by the messiness of being human. I invite you to join me as I explore other people’s stories. We will celebrate their work and successes, but more importantly the challenges and set-backs that ultimately lead to growth and betterment.”

Ctrl Alt Delete: Host Emma Gannon – author and former social media editor of British Glamour – talks to famous and not-so-famous guests about work, social media and career, encompassed by “their relationships with the Internet.” Named a “career-changing podcast” by Marie Claire, a “top 20 podcast to download” by the Times and “editor’s choice” by iTunes, multiple times.

Dear Sugars: Hosted by Cheryl Strayed and Steve Almond, it’s been lauded as “one of the smartest, most compassionate advice columns out there.”

Ear Hustle: Written, produced, and recorded by inmates at San Quentin State Prison, Ear Hustle airs visits with prisoners that shed light on real life behind bars.

Freakonomics: Conversations with with Nobel laureates and provocateurs, social scientists and entrepreneurs.

Good Life Project: Inspirational conversations on living an engaged, purposeful life.

HBR IdeaCast: From the Harvard Business Review, thought leaders in business and management come together in what Inc. calls “one of the smartest listens out on the market today.”

How Did This Get Made?: Answers the question we’ve all asked after seeing a truly bad movie, or one that is “so bad that it’s amazing.”

Where Should We Begin: Psychotherapist and author Esther Perel records sessions with real people working through marital issues of sex, fidelity and attachment.


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