I’ve listened to podcasts more than music, recently. I’m not sure when the switch happened. My favorite bands are still kept up with, sure, but the majority of what I listen to walking on campus or driving around town are podcasts, which are essentially digital, iPod-friendly, 21st century radio programs. It was in the summer of 2005 when I first listened to the first episode of GameSpot’s The HotSpot, and I avoided going out and playing with my friends on the beach to do so. Years went by when all I really listened to were video game-related podcasts, but then I branched out into all the other dorky mediums I’m a fan of, but then I started listening to anything good I could get my hands on. In the effort to talk about good things and what I’m happy about (feh!), I may as well share some of my favorites. They’re long, because they’re radio programs, obviously, but if you have time to kill and a non-visual imagination, they’re pretty great.
I may as well start with the Mecca, you know? Giant Bomb spawned out of this little ordeal, and with it came the old podcast you knew and loved. What initially separates Giant Bomb from the pack is their ridiculousness in a field so very serious as talking about video games. A lot of sites think that the way to cover material is as dryly and “professionally” as possible, leaving no identifiable person for the listener to latch on to. Not only does Giant Bomb skirt that mindset, they live in its opposite. Their podcasts are long and rambling (2-3 hours normally, up to 4 on E3 shows), but they can still spend the first fifty minutes talking about hummingbirds of the Harlem Globetrotters, not speaking of video games at all. It’s incredible that all this silliness actually makes you take their video game coverage more seriously, because you can relate to them as human beings and not news-spewing robots. Strong opinions are held and they do have dedication to their statuses as professional critics, but that doesn’t mean they won’t talk forever about Thanksgiving food on the podcast released around Thanksgiving time. They’ll make you a fan of Deadly Premonition and TrackMania (and Persona, and Incredible Crisis, and Crusader: No Remorse), but along the way you’ll simply be a fan of Giant Bomb, too.
Let’s throw a bone to 1Up, the site bought by IGN that has seen a reduced staff every year but keeps making its content better and better. Retronauts is an on-and-off, occasional (though they’re on a schedule this time, they swear) podcast covering classic video game franchises in detail. The entire 1Up site, including the separate Retronauts blog posts, relies mostly on in-depth looks at or serious ponderings of games. They’re not dry by any means, but they’re invested as journalists. Listening to Retronauts will help you learn about video games in a historical context. The whole range of podcasts (including Games, Dammit! and the irregularly-released Active Time Babble) create the most entertaining textbook about the most entertaining subject.
“Shoot.” God, what an awful word. It’s fair to say that anyone over the age of, I don’t know, ten, has realized that professional wrestling is scripted. This is precisely the reason I love it. “Shoot” is that word for an off-script moment, an out-of-character remark. A whole market has cropped up for “shoot” interviews, where some sweaty chain smoker puts a poor quality camera in front of Tony Atlas or Jake Roberts, provides a bunch of cocaine, and says “Tell me everything awful about Vince McMahon, GO!” while the interviewee takes drugs and makes things up. That was the state of the “shoot” for a long time. Art of Wrestling doesn’t even use the term, though the interviews are cognizant of wrestling’s scripted nature. The program is hosted by Colt Cabana, underutilized indie darling extraordinaire, who simply sits down and chats with his hundreds of friends in the business. Nothing about the show feels malicious or spiteful. Colt himself is among the nicest people in the profession, and that rubs off on everyone. There are a lot of negatives in wrestling, some cleared up and some yet to be, but AOW is happy. The wonderful cast of characters from every promotion get rounded up, and in a week’s time you can go from listening to Kikutaro to CM Punk.
And here’s the one outside of my wheelhouse! Seriously, I was no expert on finances and the economy before I listened to this, but I am now! No, seriously seriously, this NPR show makes greater issues available in small, 15~ minute chunks that I can understand. It’s nothing like being a finances major, I’m sure, but it’s able to make sense of all those news stories you click past. The United States bailouts and Icelandic Kronas of the world are suddenly palatable, no matter how bad the news may be. I don’t care like I care about my dumb vidja games, but it’s the best possible way to stay informed.
Dana Snyder is the voice of Master Shake on Aqua Teen Hunger Force. He’s a funny guy made funnier because it’s his actual voice (basically). Ken Plume is…an entrepreneur? He’s at least one of those professional nerds who get to manage a website covering whatever the hell he wants. How I envy him. Anyway, the Snydecast really isn’t much more than a friendly check-in, with no topics highlighted before the call begins. The two met sometime, somewhere, and feel comfortable around each other enough to argue about anything and everything. They have a chemistry strong enough to propel a movie, I believe, but that would take something resembling a plot. Let me reiterate: These are so pointless, and can be so funny because of it. The show finally got on a rigid schedule starting in 2008, but fell off by the end of 2010. It’s a sometimes thing now, but with 175 episodes in total, there’s a lot to go through (especially if you care about in-jokes.) I’m only at 140.
The old Today in the Past John Hodgman recording was transformed into, in contrast to the Snydecast, a very specific view of a particular case. A defendant is charged by a complainant and Hodgman, alongside bailiff Jesse Thorn, will render a verdict. Hodgman is an eloquent man, basically the opposite of anyone else I have EVER MENTIONED. The cases from the common folk themselves provide the setup, and the host delivers the punch line. Every case is treated seriously and with respect, even when the entire 40-minute topic is over “My dad moos too much, tell him to shut up.”
Story podcasts often drag. While the idea of hearing an old man act out a short story seems positive (if you’re as warped as me), the execution ends up losing your attention by the end. The Moth has spoken-word stories rather than read literature, but it enraptures you with tales that are heart-breaking or hilarious, keeping your attention with a brief fifteen minutes. Longer form can end with greater effect, but only if you aren’t constantly pausing and forgetting everything you heard. The Moth gives it all to you up front.
Giant Bomb’s former sister site, Tested, has a podcast on technology as equally silly. Its personality, while not quite as rambunctious, tunes you in to the opinions of tech gathered in the nitty-gritty. When someone praises Apple, it’s much easier to ignore it, having spent two years listening to him #TEAMTAKESIDES rather than examine beliefs with curiosity. They’ll keep you up to date on all the latest smart phones you can’t afford (and will never have, because who is going to go through that many phones, geez, seriously?) and stop talking about that long enough to talk about bags full of raccoons. I have a signed poster on my wall. They’re pretty good at this.
While Japanese video games used to align with, or even dictate, the American market, they’ve fallen off and directly into a weird ravine and are now completely alone. How silly. There’s been a lot of talk about the Japanese gaming industry, where it’s at and where it needs to go, but little is said about the now-small releases from the land. 8-4, a translation company set in Tokyo, can speak for the nation’s games in a context unfamiliar to Western-ol’ me. When your San Francisco-based video game podcasts brush off that odd, classical RPG coming out for the PSP after all these years, 8-4 will tell you all about it. They’re doing God’s work.
I hope I don’t need to write a paragraph for you about This American Life. They’ve had a TV show and chances are will still be playing the second you turn the radio on. It’s not a story in that read sense, nor is it news in an always-current sense, but little windows into the soul. Ira Glass hosts a program truly important to all forms of media. It’s been going since 1995. I don’t know why you don’t know this.
I’d say something nice about the Mega64 Podcast, too, but what esoteric crap! (I can say: Go listen to NintenDownload X-press! right now. It’s imperative.) Keep in mind, I’m the nerd who actually added about a hundred more podcasts to my iTunes page, even if I don’t have the time to subscribe to and listen to them all. It’ll happen