As holiday roadtrips grow imminent, it’s time to plan how you’ll while away the hours you’ll spend in transit. Here at Flavorpill, we’re stocking our iPods with playlists for every time of day, part of the country, and state of mind. But listening to music only goes so far when you’re craving good conversation and your shotgun rider has fallen asleep (or you’re taking the bus or plane solo), which is why we’re filling up on brain candy in addition to ear candy. Below the jump, browse through the engrossing, educational, and entertaining podcasts we highly recommend for the road.
This American Life
The ultimate in podcasts, WBEZ’s This American Life and its long-time host Ira Glass have been celebrated national favorites since the show debuted in 1995. Each of TAL’s hour-long weekly episodes typically features between one and five segments that fit a single theme. These vignettes take various formats — readings, reports, interviews, oral histories, conversations — and cover all areas of the world and all time periods. What they have in common is their exploration of interesting and often obscure stories, from the world’s slowest car chase and Brazil’s money lie miracle to the best elucidation of the Sandusky-Paterno controversy we’ve heard so far.
Stuff You Missed in History Class
HowStuffWorks.com’s history podcast explores just what it promises to — historical gems you don’t remember or, more likely, never learned about. This is not the sixth-period American Revolution outline you intentionally slept through. It’s an exploration of the obscure, multi-faceted, often whimsical, finer points of history that have shaped medicine, politics, and culture in unexpected ways. One of their episodes was the inspiration behind our recent gallery of the world’s first mug shots. And that’s just a glimpse into the treasure trove dug up in this show, as well as its futuristic correlative Stuff From the Future and contemporary counterpart Stuff You Should Know .
NPR’s Planet Money is a discussion of all things economic, presented in a way that’s compelling and decipherable to the non-economist. For the newcomer, it’s a perfect introduction to both our complicated macro-economic state and personal-finance best practices; for the seasoned checkbook balancer, it examines a slate of nuanced, historical economic phenomena that serve only to entertain.
Dan Savage didn’t foresee literary fame or syndication when his friend asked him to be a doll and scribble out a sex advice column for the Seattle paper The Stranger back in 1991. Since then he’s become one of the foremost LGBT commentators of his generation, his take on straight sex from a gay perspective and candid, unrestrained discussions of sexual ethics appearing in publications across the country and Internet. Available via podcast since 2006, Savage Love attacks the sex questions you’ve wondered about, never wondered about, and were too embarrassed even to wonder about, and in doing so contextualizes the states of sexuality in contemporary America.
If you like the intellectual yet conversational style of Slate’s articles, you’ll enjoy listening to three of its contributors, Stephen Metcalf, Dana Stevens, and Julia Turner, sound off about pop culture every week. What’s nice about their cultural coffee klatch, as opposed to the magazine’s articles, is that we hear each issue filtered, in real time, through three opinionated critics, rather than a single authorial voice. Additionally, while snark, reference, and argument are all in the game, the writers manage to keep a decidedly impromptu and friendly feel to their conversations that has us ready to chime in with our own opinions.
The Moth Radio Hour
Committed to the preservation of the age-old art of storytelling, The Moth started by organizing non-fiction storytelling events in New York, but it has since spread its reach with a Peabody Award-winning storytelling podcast. The Moth’s stories are funny, sad, enthralling, heart-warming, terrifying, tender, cruel. They’re not made up. They’re probably embellished. They’re told by people from all walks of life, passing time and entertaining through humanity’s oldest form media. Most importantly, they’re good stories.
The Sound of Young America
Jesse Thorn has an incredible ability to attract huge names to his show. Even more impressive, he gets his guests — celebrities, icons, it-boys, and experts like Dan Savage, Das Racist, Aziz Ansari, Louis CK, and Judd Apatow — to open up and feel comfortable both shooting the shit and getting into the meat of their work and public image.
Charles Hodgson’s language lovers’ podcast Podictionary looks at the etymologies of slang terms, idioms, and unassuming English words we use every day without regard to the histories they carry. In each episode Hodgson uncovers the surprising cultural, economic, social, and historical records documented in the few letters that make up a single word of his choosing.
Hosted by film critics Adam Kempenaar and Matty Robinson, Filmspotting features interviews and movie reviews that provide a much more in-depth analysis of contemporary cinema than the average capsule movie review. Kempenaar and Robinson go beyond plot summaries and look at the film world interconnectedly, through the lens of trusty cinema buffs, and with a scholarly yet light approach.