Podcasts for the Holiday (and any other) Season

As we enter the final stretch for 2012—making our way through exam time, getting ready for the holidays (convincing ourselves that we will have a relaxing time with friends and family but knowing that holidays are often busier and more stressful than we like to admit)—we are setting our minds to pleasant distractions. We have compiled a list of favourite and (almost) never fail podcasts to amuse, bemuse and inform during long holiday drives, while cooking (or cleaning) for festivities, or when taking some personal time at the gym. (I much prefer podcasts to music while working out. It’s a great opportunity to catch up and as they require added concentration it’s easier to tune out the world around me. The only drawback is that I occasionally laugh out loud, or burst into tears, while on the treadmill. Thank you, Ed Gavagan!)
(on twitter @TheMoth)

This American Life
The godfather of all podcasts. The Mount Everest of radio documentaries. Produced by NPR and led by host Ira Glass, the This American Life team, including David Rakoff, Jonathon Goldstein, Starlee Kine, David Sedaris and Sarah Vowell, tells stories on a particular theme (usually in three parts) that examine the many facets of life, living, politics, culture, art and, well, just about everything under the sun. From the heart breaking to the hilarious, TAL presents stories that are unique and stirring. If you’re not already a fan of TAL, this is an opportunity to hear true stories about cloned pet white bulls, Jack Hitt’s building super who may or may not have been a hit man in South America and recovering from a break up by consulting Phil Collins. I fear that my description makes this podcast sound a bit flippant but the truth is that it is hard to capture and explain. It’s probably best to listen and make your own way through the episodes.
(on twitter @ThisAmerLife

University Affairs: BiblioTech
This podcast about emerging technologies for academics is produced by University Affairs Magazine and Rochelle Mazar, UTM Library, University of Toronto. Mazar discusses new technology tools and software available to academics, including courseware, cloud storage and twitter. Because Mazar is a working librarian, she can speak from personal experience and provides thoughtful analysis that is helpful for anyone considering these options.

Another must-hear NPR radio program and podcast. This is a science program that takes a very lateral approach to their selected topic. Take, for instance, the episode on parasites. They discuss the connection between John D. Rockefeller, capitalism and the hookworm and one man’s quest to cure his allergies (and don’t get me started on the marvels of Toxoplasma Gondii because that one sort of blew my mind). Hosts Jad Abumrad and Robert Krulwich use the art and sounds of radio to its fullest, creating a program that is insightful, often funny and a listening pleasure. I highly recommend the episodes on stress, famous tumours and the infamous War of the Worlds radio broadcast.
(on twitter @wnycradiolab)

This podcast is largely devoted to sports (not that there is anything wrong with that) but there are topics here that even non-sports lovers will enjoy. If you haven’t yet visited the Grantland website, do yourself a favour and peruse the latest (and one of the greatest) all-things-pop-culture site. Essentially, it’s Friday Night Lights come to life.
(on twitter @grantland33)

Big Ideas
You will find many UofT instructors on this podcast (produced via TVOntario), including finalists for the Best Lecturer series. Nick Mount, Department of English, winner of multiple teaching awards, including the President’s Teaching Award and the 3M Teaching Fellowship and fiction editor for The Walrus, has a regular feature on literature.

The Bowery Boys
If you’re at all interested in New York City history, this is the podcast for you. Greg Young and Tom Meyer, two amateur historians, research and report on topics that interest them, including Peter Stuyvesant, Robert Moses, the first apartment building, the Brooklyn Bridge and 127 other topics (and counting). The hosts are well-informed, informal and endlessly curious about their city. They don’t pretend to be experts in the field but merely interested and willing to share what they’ve discovered. The Bowery Boys blog fills in even more details (and images) and they provide a number of links to resources.
(on twitter @boweryboys)

Sound Opinions
For the music lover (and by music lover, I mean modern pop music; the rock, the hip-hop, the punk) who likes to talk about the rock as much as they like to listen to the rock. Jim DeRogatis and Greg Kot, two Chicago journalists, have been hosting this program for over a decade. They have an encyclopedic knowledge of music and musicians and the program is not limited to one genre of music. They review albums (or CDs, or whatever you’d like to call them), interview musicians and writers and discuss trends and news items. If you are curious about new music, or would like to discover something new, Sound Opinions is a great place to start.