Smart People Talking

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When I launched my podcast way back when, I posted new episodes every three weeks, which was absurd. I should have known that there was no way to keep up that pace, and I didn’t. I haven’t posted a new episode since sometime in 2021, although have some scripts ready to record. Honesty compels me to report, however, that after spending many hours in front of a microphone each week, doing so after hours or on the weekends is less attractive than it used to be. So I’m not sure when, or if, you’ll get to hear those.

What happened to my podcast is actually a common phenomenon. Some start with the intention of telling a story, tell it, and are done. But thousands of others start, go on for a while, and then peter out. There’s even a word for it: “podfade.”

I may not be much of a podcaster anymore, but I am definitely a podcast listener. When I’m in the shower in the morning, or puttering around the house doing chores, I am usually listening to smart people talking about stuff they know a lot about. My preferences are not derived from anything like a systematic exploration of the podcast environment; most are shows somebody mentioned on Twitter that I checked out, enjoyed, and subscribed to.

—My favorite is We’re Not So Different, which the hosts describe as “a podcast about how we’ve always been idiots.” Medieval historian Dr. Eleanor Janega and co-host Luke Waters discuss topics in medieval and early modern history in a remarkably erudite fashion that is at the same time often straight-up hilarious. In a December 2021 episide, they answered a question I sent in about how news was disseminated in medieval times.

—Since the pandemic, I’ve spent a lot of time with medieval history. I struggle to enjoy American history anymore, as I watch us frittering away the ideals our country was built upon and wasting the sacrifices of the people who built it. Bow and Blade, in which medieval historians Michael Livingston and Kelly DeVries discuss battles, sieges, and other military matters from the medieval period, is a good escape from modern madness.

—My own podcast, which featured me just talking in relatively short segments, was inspired by Becoming Lincoln, which featured journalist Brian Lyman, just talking in relatively short segments, about the rise of Abraham Lincoln from Indiana farm boy to national figure in the 1850s. Although I have been a low-rent Lincoln scholar for years, the show taught me a lot that I didn’t know. There have been no new episodes since just before COVID in 2020, but I continue to hope for more.

The Distraction is hosted by Drew Magary and David Roth of Defector. It’s ostensibly about sports, but like Defector itself, it often goes far beyond sports in a way that makes perfect sense. The Defector staff provides the show with a deep bench of guests, but some of the best episodes are those with Drew and Roth just talking.

—In my travels around the country over the last few years, I heard a lot of mediocre sportscasters, and they made me appreciate how absurdly spoiled we are in Wisconsin, with Wayne Larrivee on Packers radio, Matt Lepay on University of Wisconsin radio, and Bob Uecker and Brian Anderson on Brewers radio and TV. Fans of Wisconsin sports will naturally dig the Larrivee and Lepay Podcast, although a recent episode with Chicago White Sox and Fox Sports play-by-play guy Jason Benetti might be of interest to even non-sports fans. Benetti is not your average media guy.

—To drag things back to the ostensible subject of this website: Let It Roll is the masters-level education in music history that I have mentioned before. Host Nate Wilcox covers an absurdly broad range of topics, from 1800s minstrelsy to EDM, from field hollers to opera, and he’s assembled a great roster of guests to discuss them.

The Internet has ruined discourse and made a significant percentage of the population functionally insane, yet somehow, it also managed to birth the concept of podcasting. Somewhere, there’s probably going to be a show about whatever arcane thing you’re into. If you have a favorite, tell us about it in the comments.

3 thoughts on “Smart People Talking

  1. spinetingler

    I have also found myself listening to a lot of podcasts, though mine are generally a lot more low-brow than your choices: Conan Obrien Needs a Friend, Fly On The Wall (Dana Carvey and David Spade explore SNL history), David Tennant Does a Podcast, and a long-running series that explores week by week the escapades that took place in a semi-obscure wrestling promotion of the 70s in Tennessee.

    Also, Have Yourself an Easy-Listening Christmas remains on my flash drive for year-round listening.

    One complaint to podcasters: if you don’t make it downloadable I’m not listening.

  2. Leo Edelstein

    Thanks! Very enjoyable Larrivee and Lepay chat with Jason Benetti, one of my fav young baseball play by play guys. Most refreshing: Larrivee and Lepay ask questions, then shutup and listen. Don’t interrupt. They sound cool and collected, not helter skelter.

  3. Mitch Winder

    As a White Sox fan I’m quite familiar with Jason Benetti. If there were ever an announcer to cheer for it would have to be him. His presence and delivery behind a microphone is already light years ahead of his 39 year-old boyish face, not to mention his contemporaries. To see him perform on television will make you smile. But then to see him outside of the booth in total command of his cerebral palsy will make you cheer. The kid is already good. And he’s headed for being great. My only wish is that I’d love to hear him do some radio. He has that unique ability to tell a story. Much like a Vin Scully or a Jack Buck. TV tends to sterilize baseball announcers. Radio tends to celebrate them. Benetti is the rare talent today that needs to be celebrated.

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