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Radio Playlist


I came across a cool idea by Frank Chimero, preserved by Liz Danzico: the text playlist. It is:

“the best writing on the web I come across. I take this list and revisit and reread it every 4 to 8 weeks. You could almost consider it a playlist of text: it’s very select (I artificially limit it to 10-15 articles), I typically read them all in one sitting, and the order and pacing is very purposeful. Most revolve around what it’s like to be making things in 2010, and a lot of the people that I respect the most have pieces in it. It’s almost a pep talk in text form. I visit it when I’m down, when I’m lazy, when I’m feeling the inertia take over.”

I love this idea, and am going to adopt it myself. But instead of text, it’s going to be primarily radio based. I already have an unofficial list I keep to play for interns or new employees so they have a sense of just how amazing audio storytelling can be. It’s the stuff that’s blown my mind and pushed me to experiment with new ways of producing. It’s the stuff that I’ll listen or refer to whenever I’m feeling complacent in my own abilities. Most of it will be actual radio pieces, but some of it will be audio workshops or even text and video interviews with radio people- any maybe other fields.

My plan now is keep the “official” list of 15 on my site at I’ll add good stuff I come across on my currently stagnant Pinterest account, revise the official list every few months and publish it on my blog. Hopefully other people will find it interesting and discover great radio producers, but even if they don’t, it will be helpful to me.

The current list (March 2013):

This American Life is hands-down one of the greatest examples of storytelling, period, ever. Producer/host Ira Glass had done lots of great talks, lectures and interviews, all of which are worth watching, but this one is the most distilled and introduces many of the themes he comes to elsewhere. These are videos, but you don’t really need to watch them- works fine as background audio.

Speaking of This American Life, this remains one of the most compelling hours of radio I’ve ever heard. You will be glued to listening this- or you have no interest in human stories.

Whereas the previous choice is about telling one great story over an hour, this is about how to tell lots of great stories in mere minutes. Completely made me re-think what’s possible in a short period of time.

RadioLab is the Beach Boys to This American Life’s Beatles, the show that does sonic experiments that spur everyone on to even greater heights. There are many interesting episodes that use sound to demonstrate cerebral concepts, but the second part of this episode- about a woman stuck in a loop, reliving the same few seconds over and over again- is my personal favourite.

And, hey, here’s a talk one of RadioLab’s producers gave on how they go about constructing such amazing soundscapes. Worth watching.

OK, if This American Life is the Beatles and RadioLab is the Beach Boys, Love + Radio is the Hendrix: blowing everyone’s mind by completely turning noise on itself while still maintaining a masterful grip of the basics. This is the only thing I have ever listened and the immediately listened to again- and then immediately listened to again.

It took me a while to find this one, because I thought it was a Planet Money episode. The reason I thought this is because Planet Money, a show that breaks down complex economic topics into entertaining radio, got its start on these sorts of episodes of This American Life. Whenever I’m trying to figure out how to present a complex story on the radio, I think “What would Planet Money do?”

I don’t know who made this or what show it aired on, except that it was from within the CBC. It was used as an example of how open people will be to telling you things if you only ask. And holy cow- are they ever. Just amazing.

How Sound is a great introduction for anyone making radio, because it’s literally a radio teacher sharing and deconstructing great radio pieces. What stands out for me is the ethical dilemma the radio producer faces when telling personal stories- it rings true for me, and I’ve come back to this episode a number of times when mulling these things over.

This introduced me to a completely different narrative style.

State of the Re:Union is a great example of how to capture the character of a place, fast. And this episode has moments that are as compelling as arresting as anything I’ve heard.

The introduction to this is one of the most beautiful things I’ve heard.

This is a fantastic workshop on the strengths and possibilities of both audio and radio, and it’s given me lots to think about.

Spark is the first non-music radio show that I subscribed to on a podcast and listened to religiously (CBC Radio 3 was the first one period). I love the cinema verite style it uses to introduce some of its clips and the way it incorporates guests and listeners into the credits. This episode is kind of randomly chosen- it won an award, it’s good, but really I just listen to Spark for inspiration.

Like Spark, Q is one of those regularly-occurring shows that I can count on to be consistently good. I’ll admit I wasn’t a fan at first, but at this point Jian Ghomeshi is one of the best hosts and perhaps the best interviewer out there. I don’t try to copy him, but I do try to draw from him for my own presentation style.

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