WRITING WITH ONE HAND
For the past 5 weeks, I’ve become housebound, thanks to a broken left arm that won’t allow me to put proper clothing on the top half of my body. Poncho style tops cover me for my neighborhood walks and doctor visits, but going to art or theatre openings and being in crowds where the braced arm could be jostled just isn’t in the cards, till this thing either heals or requires surgery.
So reading has become my go-to (thank you Santa Monica Public Library and Elizabeth Ostrom, the friend who’s picked up the books I’ve put on hold and returned the ones I have finished), followed by streaming TV services. And then suddenly a revelation – I can finally explore the wide world of podcasts! Only one arm needed to click a link, and both ears still work!
Naturally, I asked the Facebook “hive mind” for my friends’ suggestions of favorite podcasts, and I decided I should begin by listening to those I already know, as I dive headlong into all those recommendations, and go on to discover treasures of my own.
Advantage? It’s audio! I can multitask! Well, as much multitasking as one arm will allow, anyway.
DELVING INTO PODCASTS
One thing you’ll notice is how many of the best podcasts originate as public radio shows or are created by public radio producers. My former employer, KCRW, is a prime example…http://www.kcrw.com/podcasts is a great place to start.
Almost all of the programs that are broadcast on KCRW become podcasts, like “Left, Right & Center,” the astute, weekly news round-up from across the political spectrum, “Press Play,” Madeleine Brand’s daily magazine-style show, Frances Anderton’s expanding franchise “DnA” (Design and Architecture). And anyone who’s a fan of Evan Kleiman’s outstanding “Good Food” will be thrilled to know they can hear it whenever they want to online.
Side note: when Steve Jobs first introduced the idea of podcasts at the World Wide Developers Conference, one of the excerpts he used as an example of “high-quality podcasts” came from Elvis Mitchell’s showbiz interview program, “The Treatment,” another ripped-from-the-radio show that is still being produced at KCRW and turned into fresh weekly podcasts.
Warren Olney’s “To the Point,” no longer on the radio, is now an original podcast, where the highly-lauded, multiple award-winning veteran broadcast journalist can go in-depth, without interruptive station time posts or promos intruding on his insightful discussions with public policy leaders about issues of current concern. If edification, responsible, balanced, civil conversation is what you want, this is the podcast for you.
“The Document” also originates as a podcast. Matt Holzman is creating a unique mashup, going behind the scenes of movie documentaries, mixing storytelling about the films and filmmakers into these intriguing feature stories, full of audio clips, interviews, and thought-provoking questions, that together will give you a deeper appreciation of the art form and tell an enhanced story in the bargain.
KCRW just announced the relaunch of the original “personal documentaries” program “UnFictional,” formerly an on-air show, now exclusively an online offering. If your taste runs to such programs as “This American Life” you will enjoy UnFictional.
The first two new episodes have dropped: the first about producer Bob Carlson’s good friend Randy, a young movie nerd from Los Angeles who in 1982, finds himself in Tulsa, Oklahoma, on the set of Francis Ford Coppola’s redemption film “The Outsiders,” thanks to a cosmic twist of fate – and a pair of mail-order shoes.
Episode two is a collaboration with a podcast called “The Heart.” Sharon Mashihi is a weirdo who refuses to conform to cultural standards. After years of living in the space between who she really is and who her mother wants her to be, she decides to confront her mother—on a cruise with a famous Iranian talk show psychiatrist.
UP AND COMING
KCRW’s program director Gary Scott tells me that there is an ambitious pipeline of projects intended for KCRW.com. “As with Warren’s ‘To the Point’ and ‘Left, Right & Center,’ we’re pushing now to build an audience outside of the broadcast. That does not mean we won’t be investing more in broadcast, but I’ve created parallel strategies to keep us building audience in both places.”
A music documentary series called “Lost Notes” (attention Charles Andrews!) will launch in April, and what sounds like a great idea, a set of stories by producer David Weinberg called “Welcome to Los Angeles,” follows in June.
Meanwhile, check out some of the special series already available, like “There Goes the Neighborhood,” longtime public broadcasting producer/reporter Saul Gonzalez’s 8-part series about LA’s identity crisis.
The quirky “Here Be Monsters” is a growing community of radio producers, artists, and listeners who are interested in pursuing their fears and facing the unknown. And alternative culture mag, McSweeney’s, is partnering with KCRW for “The Organist,” a weekly experimental arts and culture show.
There’s even a bilingual radionovela, “Celestial Blood” about love and secrets in the family of twins Sol and Mundo Lucero, narrated by Mexican actress Kate del Castillo.
And let me commend “Below the Ten: Stories of South LA,” an ongoing series featuring intimate stories about the people who live in the neighborhoods south of the 10 Freeway, including Watts, Jefferson Park, and Compton.
In upcoming weeks, I’ll dip my toe into podcasts about true crime, love, history and more and share my recommendations.
Sarah A. Spitz is an award-winning public radio producer, now retired from KCRW, where she also produced arts stories for NPR. She writes features and reviews for various print and online publications.