Five Places to Find Great Audio Texts On the Web

I listen to a lot of audio texts. On the train on my way into work. On one of my dog’s three 20-minute walks everyday. While I’m folding my laundry. While I’m cooking. On long drives. Every once in a while, I’ll commit to a nice long audio book (Dr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore was great!). But most often, I turn to podcasts. There is so much quality audio material out there that I just have to share some of it with you. Obviously, this list isn’t definitive. I myself subscribe to more than a dozen podcasts, and I’m listening to other stuff I find on the web all the time. In no particular order, I offer you five resources for absolutely great listening and/or thinking about audio production…

RadioLab.

RadioLab logoThe show’s homepage describes itself as “a show about curiosity. Where sound illuminates ideas, and the boundaries blur between science, philosophy, and human experience.” What I like most about the show is how inventive and experimental it is. The way the producers manipulate and weave together sound effects, conversations, metaphor, science, and commentary is truly stunning. I have to say that there’s really nothing else out there quite like it. The show’s hosts, Jad Abumrad and Robert Krulwich, strike a perfect balance between curiosity, fun, discovery, and storytelling. Given the show’s overt commitment to educating fascinating its listeners, it would be easy for the show to bear some resemblance to PBS or children’s programming. That couldn’t be farther from the truth. The subject matter and the complexity of the exploration firmly establish that this is a show for adults (and smart, supervised kids, too). Here’s an episode to get you started: “23 Weeks 6 Days.”

This American Life.

This American Life logoThe show’s site describes itself like so: “There’s a theme to each episode, and a variety of stories on that theme. It’s mostly true stories of everyday people, though not always. There’s lots more to the show, but it’s sort of hard to describe.” It is hard to describe. Mostly everyday people. Sometimes with ordinary stories. Sometime extraordinary. But there is no audio program in the country that demonstrates the power of storytelling. The use of theme across stories and an obvious attention to narrative skills are the main reasons why this is most popular podcast in the United States. Here’s an episode to get you started: “Harper High School, Part One.”

Public Radio Exchange.

Public Radio Exchange logoPRX.org describes itself as “an online marketplace for distribution, review, and licensing of public radio programming. PRX is also a growing social network and community of listeners, producers, and stations collaborating to reshape public radio.” More simply, it’s a repository for some of the best audio content available. From single sort texts to longer documentary texts to ongoing audio shows, PRX  probably has more absolutely stunning content than any other source. What it lacks in cohesiveness, it more than makes up for in its variety, accessibility, and the wonder of stumbling onto something you never heard coming. If you have a habit of losing hours at a time down the rabbit hole that it YouTube, you might want to be careful with PRX. Or bring a friend to keep your head about you. The experience can be overwhelming. Here’s a page for one of PRX’s more popular series to get you started: “The Moth Radio Hour.”

How Sound.

How Sound logoThese last two sites have a bit more to do with production than with consumption. How Sound’s tagline is: “The Backstory to Great Radio Storytelling.” The format is pretty consistent. Rob Rosenthal, the show’s regular host, usually begins by introducing a topic relevant to producing audio documentaries. They he offers and example of a text that has addressed the topic in a successful or innovative way. Often he manages to track down the original producer of the text he’s introduced, and interviews them about producing the text. The show is manages to remain understated and unassuming, despite the fact that it is essentially a showcase series. The analysis and behind the scenes explanation for production challenges and innovation are always fascinating and instructive. Here an episode to get you started: “The Loneliest Creature On Earth

Transom.

Transom.org logoThe show’s website offers its mission: “Transom.org channels new work and voices to public radio through the Internet, and discusses that work, and encourages more. Transom is a performance space, an open editorial session, an audition stage, a library, and a hangout. Our purpose is to pass the baton of mission and good practice in public media.” This site is rich with all sorts of different resources. Like “HowSound” mentioned above, the site offers several engaging and high-quality texts. But I think the most valuable resources that Transom offers are the process reflections of audio heavy hitters like Catherine Burns (The Moth Radio Hour), Sam Greenspan (99% Invisible), Andrea Seabrook (Decoding DC), and way too many others to mention. I also find Transom’s reviews of microphones, portable recorders, and editing software particularly helpful, as the reviews are always focused on Electronic News Gathering practices (interviews, etc.) instead of the recording and producing music. I’ve learned more about audio production from Transom than from any other sources. Here’s a re-issued classic text from Jay Allison called “The Basics.”

So that’s it. I’m running across great resources all the time, so I know there must be plenty more out there. Please feel free to respond to these or add your own. Use the comments below, respond to this link in FB, tweet it to your followers, or whatever it is you do when you’ve got something to say. Just don’t be shy about letting me know you responded somewhere. I’d love to see what other resources people know about out there

P.S. More programs I think are quite good: Grammar Girl, Studio 360, A Prairie Home Companion, 99% Invisible, The Moth Radio Hour, Moyers and Company, Fresh Air.

 

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