In a Pandemic, Podcasts Have Become My Refuge and My Classroom

My friends and acquaintances often ask me how I find time to listen to so many podcasts.  Full disclosure, I’m currently subscribed to 39 podcasts…and NO, I do not listen to every single episode of every single one.  But I do like each and every show, and I like to know what content they are producing.

But as we’ve been forced to cordon ourselves from the world for this period of time, podcasts have become both my refuge and my classroom; both a source of education and information, as well as entertainment and solace.

I listen to a large array of podcasts, some of them on super serious topics, and some of them purely for fun, like Podcast 99, which is a show dedicated to chronicling and discussing the Fyre Festival of the 1990s, Woodstock 99.  I’m so fascinated by the subject matter (I turned down a ticket and car seat from a friend to attend Woodstock ’99 and still have not decided whether that was the best move I ever made or the worse) that while Podcast 99 has not yet reached it’s conclusion, I also have listened to the Luminary produced Break Stuff: The Story of Woodstock ’99 which is only eight 40 minute episodes.

However, some of the podcasts I listen to dig deep into pertinent topics and offer a vast array of insight and thought, like the most recent episode of The Bitter Southerner, entitled “Can The South Be Redeemed?”  I was especially intrigued by the episode because as explained in the episode notes, it included an interview with Congressman John Lewis, whom we unfortunately lost recently.  I was super intrigued as to what Congressman Lewis would have to say on the topic, and so I dove in. I can say without reservation that this episode of the Bitter Southerner was the best podcast episode I’ve heard in 2020, and possibly in the last few years.  I highly recommend giving it a listen. Their website also published this wonderful article on “The Way of John Lewis” by Cynthia Tucker

From there, podcasts have helped me to better understand and cope with life during COVID-19.  One of the first podcasts I stumbled upon on the subject was Keep Away Corona, a pod started by 5-year-old Albie Gill, who is also a fellow Chicagoan. You get to hear the thoughts and feelings of a 5-year-old learning to navigate this new world, which is equally insightful and endearing, and his theme music is absolutely infectious, pun intended.

Recently, I heard an amazing episode of Radiolab that attempted to tackle the question of what long range effects will this period of time have on American society?  They explored that question by looking back at the flu pandemic of 1918 and exploring some of the lasting effects of that event. On a similar tangent, the podcast This American Life did an episode entitled The Reprieve, in which they looked at the mental and physical effects that the explosion of COVID-19 cases had on a hospital in Detroit, that found itself filled almost to capacity with COVID-19 patients.

In tackling other issues floating around right now, Radiolab did an equally insightful episode that explored the behind the scenes story of the Confederate Battle Flag being removed from the Mississippi state flag, and the long process behind it.

Of course, sometimes I just want to escape, or just be entertained. You’ve likely not been able to escape all of the excitement of Hamilton coming to Disney + recently, and I will say that I actually watched the premier of it with a small group of friends at a backyard outdoor showing of the film.  Well, I love to dig into things, and learn all I can about them, and the podcast Twenty Thousand Hertz revisited an amazing episode they did on the sound design behind the musical.  Also, little known fact:  The host of Twenty Thousand Hertz, Dallas Taylor, and I, performed together many years ago in the Cavaliers Drum & Bugle Corps.

This American Life also dropped a revisited episode that I actually remember listening to originally about 5 years ago, called 129 cars, that explores the car selling industry and what it looks like on a day to day basis.  As Ira Glass says in the opening, “It was way more chaotic than we expected.”

Finally, prior to going into quarantine, I was just re-entering the dating game.  One of my favorite podcasts on the topic is an independent pod that comes out of Los Angeles entitled “You’re Such a Catch.”  It’s a fresh exploration of dating and everything surrounding it, from online dating apps to the insecurities that come with entering in a new relationship by a charming young lady named Erin Ramsey.  If you are, or are not dating, I definitely recommend it.  It’s open and honest, and Erin has a masterful talent for creating intimacy in the podcast medium, which is a skill that even some of the most well-known or well-versed in the medium lack. Erin and I have been able to explore the loneliness of this time together, as well as find hope in the fact that this is only a snapshot, and that eventually the world will be able to come together again, and break bread, and find fellowship in actual physical company.

In some ways, podcasts make my stress more palatable.  When I want, I can directly engage in the sources of my stress (isolation and Covid-19), and at other times, I can escape into a world of fantasy and entertainment, each one of my choosing to suit the particular mood I’m in at any given time.

Are podcasts for everyone?  Yes! You don’t have to be podcast mad like me though; start with one, and go from there.  I often find that when I turn friends on to podcasts, they’re much like Pringles…you can’t just have one.

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