Change of plans! Since a lot of the podcasts I listen to are pretty stylistically similar (either NPR-style non-fiction or your standard conversational round-table), I’ve realized that trying to talk about what makes individual episodes unique without just summarizing the content would be pretty difficult and would probably result in a lot of repetition.
Instead, I’ll be highlighting the podcasts themselves. Each week, I’ll write aboust a podcast I enjoy and link to a few particularly good episodes.
Let’s get started!
Outside/In from New Hampshire Public Radio is a podcast “about the natural world and how we use it,” as host Sam Evans-Brown describes it, and it’s the best nature-centric podcast I’ve come across.
The BBC’s Costing the Earth is okay, but only because its old, European-style radio conventions aren’t as in-your face as Deutsche Welle’s Living Planet, whose shouting announcer makes you feel like you’ve just tuned into a 90’s Australian T.V. broadcast. Michigan Radio’s The Environment Report is good for bite-sized environmental news updates (and is probably worth listening to in its own right), but that makes it naturally less compelling listening than longer shows. And don’t get me started on PRI’s Living on Earth.
Whoops, I got started. Here was my experience with that show:
I listen to an episode. I’m not a big fan. I unsubscribe. I subscribe again several months later to give it another chance. I hit play.
Cheesy jazz music plays.
Steve Curwood, the host, enthusiastically announces that recovery from hurricane Harvey will take lots of time and teases some stories. The bad jazz music continues to play beneath some sound bites.
Steve says “STICK AR-AAAAAHHH-OUND.”
Steve continues dramatically summarizing Harvey’s damage. Steve introduces a reporter, welcoming her to the podcast. She responds:
“Thank you, Steve. Glad to be here.”
At this point, Steve tries to make a funny joke:
“Yeah, I guess at this point though, maybe the show should be ‘Living on the Water’ for you, huh?”
Steve did a bad job. You’re being insensitive, Steven.
Later, after Steve interviews the journalist in a weird, detached tone of voice that makes you think maybe he’s some sort of alien who doesn’t know how to talk to people like a normal human being, I stop the episode.
I try another, thinking maybe it was just a fluke. After a segment about the worth of national parks, a Mary McCann hosts a segment called “BirdNote.” She enthusiastically describes bird calls. You can hear the uncomfortably big smile on her face.
With that same spooky smile, she concludes the segment with this awful, tried, stupid, no-good, very bad pun:
“Now that’s somethin’ to crow about!”
So, uh… Yeah… Anyway…
But Outside/In isn’t like Living on Earth. In fact, it’s the opposite. It’s very, very good.
Most episodes of Outside/In focuses stories. Ironically, this is basically all that sets it apart from the rest—well, that, its more casual, NPR-style tone, its high production value, its aesthetically appealing logo design and its tasteful music and sound mixing.
The other podcasts I’ve mentioned mostly focus on issues. They try to make their listeners want to listen based on the content of the news, alone. Maybe that’s why they amp up their “radio voices” so much—so they can try to make things interesting that aren’t.
Outside/In takes environmental issues and distills them down to human stories. And that’s why I think it’s so good. In my experience, if you want someone to care about the environment, you have make them love it. Throwing scary facts about the dying planet at people won’t do anything if they don’t care about the planet they’re hurting in the first place.
Outside/In makes takes all the little things that make the Earth fascinating and nurtures them into their own little stories. It shows listeners the kinds of cool adventures there are to be had in the natural world.
My favorite episode, hands-down, is called “Lime and Tobasco.” It’s about two turtle conservationists who figured out how to collaborate with turtle poachers in Mexico in order to prevent the turtles’ extinction. It’s a super compelling listen, and, as I’ve said on Twitter, the story itself is a really cool example of conservation without colonialism.
The episode perfectly exemplifies the show’s knack for storytelling. I’ll admit, the first four minutes are a little slow, but stick with it. It’s got smooth editing, natural-sounding host and reporter narration and well-chosen sound bites. If you’ve got a spare half hour, give it a listen.
But yeah. I love this show.
Here are some more links to a few really good Outside/In episodes:
Join me again next week for another podcast spotlight!