Learning to Listen
Radio's charm has changed. It used to be both intimate and fleeting--and while it's still the former, we can now skip forward, select segments, go back, replay, tune in when we like and, importantly, we can easily share.
For a moment, I'd like to pretend we're in a cozy living room and I'm inviting you in to sit with me by the radio, in an old rocking chair, and enjoy some milk and cookies.
There's something special about closing our eyes and taking in a beautiful story, or allowing our minds to focus on the language of an incisive and stimulating debate.
For me, it started with audiobooks. I loved the way authors read their own stories. Over the years, as they've become increasingly accessible, I've fallen in love with a few really great podcasts.
As a seasoned listener, this is my attempt to lay out my best sample for skeptics. Modesty be damned (especially because this has little to nothing to do with me) I have converted many of my friends into avid podcast listeners, and I think I can get you, too, to hear this out.
If you're starting to explain why it's not worth it (you're too busy, you always listen to music, you think radio is boring)...shhhh. Turn your speakers to a comfortable level.
Here are a few greats.
As Ira Glass famously explains, every week they choose a theme and then bring you all kinds of different stories on that theme.
Most recently, the radio team produced an episode called Island Time, which took on several very difficult questions about relief efforts in Haiti. Months after the earthquake--and months after stories about reviving fading interest have themselves faded--this story grabbed me by the ears and affected me profoundly.
Among other things, they ask: why, after so many years and so much money, is this country getting poorer? What does it matter that so much Haitian artwork was destroyed? Why should anyone care if their mangos are bruised? How many would-be-heroes have left Haiti without finishing what they came to do?
It's so well done, and so important to pass on. This is the kind of journalism that really matters, and that we really need to support.
I know you'll want more after that one. The show producers have their own archive of favourites, but I'd like to add a few of my own:
- Mind Games: Who's playing. Who's being played? Does such a line exist in the first place?
- The Devil on my Shoulder: Sometimes something overtakes you... some mischievous or even sinister force that you simply cannot explain.
- Frenemies: A contemporary word that finally captures, in three syllables, that time old expression: "With friends like you, who needs enemies?"
- Rest Stop: Sometimes fascinating stories come from the most mundane places. Pull over and have a listen.
A podcasts that delves into the depth of human curiousity, dabbling in science, philosophy and the human experience.
- The New Normal: A peaceful society of baboons. A small-town mayor with breast implants. Floppy eared friendly foxes. You don't see that everyday. But maybe, just maybe, you'll start to.
- Parasites: The much maligned feeders that make ant's butts go red and turn cockroaches into zombies. They are disgustingly fascinating.
- Stochasticity: It's a cooler word for random, but it's also the difference between an ultimate design or a haphazard series of events.
- Sperm: Imagine what the first person to ever see sperm under a magnifying glass must have thought. Save our sticky souls.
FEATURE LENGTH PIECES
Here are a few longer-form pieces that are both enlightening and entertaining! Seriously, I learned more from these shows than I did in some of my undergrad courses.
Copyright in Canada (wait! hear me out!)
To paraphrase Duke law professor James Boyle, 25 to 40 years ago, ordinary people just didn't have to worry as much about violating copyright, and creators weren't so vulnerable to having their rights violated. "Back then" one could only infringe upon exclusive rights with things like printing presses and broadcast tower. Boyle explains:
“Fast forward 40 years and now it’s almost impossible for most of us to go through our day without creating copies...It’s as if we had a set of landmines that previously could only be set off by tanks and now suddenly they’ve been made more sensitive and individual footsteps can set them off.”
- Who Owns Ideas? on CBC radio's "Ideas" with Paul Kennedy
- James Boyle on Copyright and the Public Domain on CBC radio's "Spark" with Nora Young
Chasin' Ira Basen: Master of the radio series
I have to spotlight Ira Basen, a journalist who is capable of taking a really complex issue and breaking it down into a digestible series you that you just have to hear from start to finish. Here are two of his pieces that I highly recommend.
Spin Cycles: Spin, the Spinners, and the Spun
- Part One: A century of spin
- Part Two: The spindustrial revolution
- Part Three: Calling Dr. Spin
- Part Four: The Spin Doctor is in
- Part Five: Spinning War
- Part Six: Spinning into the 21st century
News 2.o: The Future of News in an Age of Social Media
Fabiola Carletti is a Toronto Star radio room reporter and graduate student at the UBC School of Journalism. She recently graduated summa cum laude from York University, having earned an honours double major in Professional Writing and Communication Studies. Her digital footprints are all over the internet, but you can learn more about her by reading her blog, or chasing her around on twitter.
Photo credit: "African Owl" By Bill Hails on Flickr.