If you were to click the first option on the GPS, Fairfield University is roughly 3 hours from my front doorstep. There’s just one problem with that first route — I detest highways. This isn’t any bother to me, as when I set my GPS to “Avoid Tolls and Highways,” my journey automatically becomes a sight-seeing expedition.
I used to fill the hours moseying around single-lane roads lined with beautiful trees with music. But listening to the same playlist on repeat got old quickly and time dragged on. When I discovered podcasts, I would intentionally keep driving, circling around my destination to hear the end of the story.
My passion started with “Crimetown,” a Gimlet media production that plays like the audio of an HBO show, showing us the life and times of Buddy Cianci, the colorful former mayor of the (mob infested) city of Providence, Rhode Island. It was a story that I hadn’t heard before. I didn’t know until yesterday, Thursday the 27th of September, that he was also a Fairfield Graduate. My knowledge of the mob began and ended with the name Al Capone. But, “Crimetown,” tells the story in a way that is riveting. It tells the story of Cianci, a young lawyer and anti-corruption candidate who was subsequently indicted for racketeering. In the process it paints a picture of Providence in the 1970s and 80s through interviews of mobsters, politicians and journalists; with a “narrator” to pull all of the pieces together.
Sometimes this excitement isn’t needed or wanted on a long trip through the woods. Often, I just want to sit back and learn about something new or innovative, hearing the soothing, soft voice of Guy Raz hum through my ears. That’s where the “TED Radio Hour,” comes into play. I’ve always been a fan of TED Talks, but there’s often something missing from the short nine minutes the speaker spends on the stage. I’ll watch a talk and wonder how all of this comes about: How did two college students end up running the relief efforts of their hurricane destroyed town? How did a music major end up studying ants? The “TED Radio Hour” provides these needed backstories.
Each “TED Radio Hour” episode is titled with a category, such as “Organization.” The episode title might lead you to believe that there will be a discussion on spring cleaning. But instead, Guy Raz, the host of the show, interviewed a woman who connected the organization of ants to the way a music piece is composed. Or, in an episode titled, “Attention Please,” he interviewed a Norwegian TV Station that streamed a view from the deck of a ferry for over five days and an 18-hour fishing expedition, with great success. Then discussed why so many people viewed these two programs in a world that seems to be obsessed with fast-moving media content.
I sometimes have to join the general population in the fast-moving content sector if I’m driving back from somewhere and the road around me is starting to darken. It is at these times when I start to feel sick of driving and am in a desperate need for something hilarious, that is where Australian comedian duo, Hamish and Andy, come in.
Before they started their podcast, “Hamish & Andy,” Hamish and Andy hosted a National Radio show in Australia where they would take callers and song suggestions. Then, on their breaks from radio, they would film a TV series called “Gap Year,” where they’d visit lesser known areas in different countries, trying to find what people in each country actually do with their free time. The duo quickly built up a following as Hamish provides “High School Boy” ridiculousness and Andy is always there to smooth things over, making everything the two of them do hilarious.
The podcast, though not as good as watching an episode of “Gap Year,” makes me cry with joy. What makes them special is their unique segments. Last week, for example, they brought in people with weird talents. There was a guy who could flip to any page of a book and feel what page number it was and a girl who could look at a food and just know how long it would need to be cooked in a microwave.
Podcasts are a tricky media to create, as they can so easily verge on complete boredom. “Crimetown” uses news accounts and interviews as well as a narrator to tell Cianci’s story in a way that makes you feel the polyester suits and smell the cigar smoke in the small office building somewhere in Rhode Island. The same lifting feeling occurs when listening to the “TED Radio Hour,” as the speaker’s voice seems to echo around your car, speaking directly to you, giving you the inspiration to do something great with your life. Or the way you feel as though you’re sitting at the same table as Hamish and Andy, your stomach muscles contracting from laughter, as a guest tells you he once taught a fly a trick.
All this great storytelling makes you pause before you get out of your car. It makes you check your watch and then look out into the parking lot at the party you’re supposed to be attending and say, “I’ve got time,” as you relax back into the leather seat and hit play on the rest of the episode.