This Week's Theme: Podcasts

From SUB Ry, Helsinki, it's Better Than Sliced Bread. I am your host for this segment, Jesper Simola. Some time ago, in the maybe not quite so distant past, one of the primary sources of entertainment for many people was the unassuming radio. These days, things are quite different. For most people, the radio is, at best, a source of background noise or something to pass the time with while you're in the car on your way home. Most people get their news from the web and their entertainment from more visual means. Yet, despite this, the core concept of radio lives on... But it does so in a new, more modern fashion. Audio-based, radio-style entertainment still exists but the way of the audio future is podcasts. In 2008, about 17.4 million people, or 9% of the amount of internet users in the United States of America, were downloading at least one podcast per month. By 2013, experts believe that this amount will more than double. Point being, podcasts are becoming more and more popular... And this is something that several enterprising individuals are very aware of. People have actually started using podcasts to elevate their status and fame in rather surprising ways. Take professional wrestler, Colt Cabana for example. Cabana (real name Scott Colton) is a professional wrestler working on the independent circuits meaning he doesn't have a contract working for the bigger promotions and therefore isn't someone who gets a lot of world-wide exposure through television. However, he's found other ways to get his name out there and one of these ways is podcasting. Throughout his many years as a wrestler, Cabana has met a lot of other people working in the same business and he decided to use these contacts and the podcasting format to create a show where he interviews different wrestlers each week about their own respective lives. Some are huge stars while some never quite made it to the big time but they all have stories to tell and, through their stories on his podcast, they've helped Cabana become a more recognizable name. In a similar fashion, Stephen Tobolowsky, an actor who you may or may not recognize by name but will most likely recognize by face, started doing a podcast in 2009 with the help of David Chen from (more on him later) called The Tobolowsky Files. It is, for the most part, simply a podcast in which Tobolowsky tells stories about his life. The pitch made by David Chen to Tobolowsky way back in 2009 was this: “Your stories are so good. I bet there are tons more stories where those came from. And I feel like if we don’t do something to preserve them, they’ll be lost forever. So, let me know if you want to do something to preserve them.” Since that initial pitch, the popularity of The Tobolowsky Files has increased to the point that there have been several sold-out live shows in theaters throughout the United States and, this past September, Public Radio International announced that they will now be producing a radio show based on The Tobolowsky Files.

The cost of making and uploading a podcast is relatively low compared to other ventures and, as seen in the above examples, can be an excellent opportunity for a performer to gain more widespread recognition. Many podcasts are completely fan supported and continue to thrive due to the generosity of their fans. For me personally, podcasts have become something for me to listen to while I cook or while I'm out and about in the world but they've also become a source of valuable information and stories that have raised my awareness about things that I never even dreamed about before. The popularity of podcasts in Finland is questionable... I can't personally think of many people that I know who listen to podcasts... But that's why I decided to write this article. I wanted to give you even an inkling of an idea about the possibilities and realities of podcasting, and to perhaps get a few of you as hooked as I am. With this in mind, I'd like to list three of my favorite podcasts, all of which deal with different subjects.

Rebel FM (video games) Rebel FM is the podcast that I've been listening to the longest; from the very beginning of the podcast as a matter of fact. Rebel FM rose from the ashes of another podcast hosted by gaming journalists and has changed somewhat over the years. However, two constants since the beginning of Rebel FM have been Arthur Gies and Anthony Gallegos; these two have hosted the podcast since the beginning and continue to do so. Along the way, two other co-hosts have joined them, namely Matt Chandronait and Tyler Barber.

Rebel FM, as you may have guessed, is mostly a podcast about gamers for gamers. Most of the hosts are gaming journalists and therefore actually have access to all kinds of games. As a result, there's both discussion about games that are just about to be released and even games that are over a year away from being in the hands of consumers. There's also pretty good variety to the types of games they talk about; Tyler Barber, for example, is especially interested in indie games and often talks about games that aren't covered by the mainstream press. On top of all of this, Rebel FM also reads letters from fans which has resulted in some strange situations. In one particularly bizarre case demonstrating the unpredictability of podcasts, the hosts started getting letters from their fans asking for advice with girls so, occasionally, Rebel FM has been a hotbed of relationship advice for lonely gamers.

However, the podcast is not without faults... It's an laid-back and often hilarious podcast but it's also not always the most professional podcast which can lead to some frustrating moments. One host is particularly intrusive at times, feeling the need to make repetitive and unnecessary comments like “that's hilarious!” and “that's so funny!” even when it really isn't. In addition, it's sometimes difficult to keep track of what game the hosts are talking about because they usually mention the name once and then don't bother to mention it again. This is especially frustrating because sometimes I find myself becoming interested in a game only after they've been talking about it for a while by which point they most likely won't repeat the name again. Spoiler haters should also beware as they also aren't always particularly careful about spoilers for games that are over a year old; they seem to think that people should have played the game by that point already (an assumption that I disagree with).

Despite these problems, the podcast is pretty informative and is, in general, a pretty fun and easy-going podcast.

/Filmcast (films) The /Filmcast (pronounced “slash film cast”) is the official podcast of and is a bit similar to Rebel FM. Typically, the show begins with the hosts talking about what they've been watching before occasionally discussing film-related news and then concluding with an in-depth review of a recently released theatrical movie. The podcast, hosted by David Chen (mentioned above in relation to The Tobolowsky Files) with Devindra Hardawar and Adam Quigley, is a lot more professional than Rebel FM and often features guest hosts, some of whom are actually in the film industry. All three hosts are journalists and appear to be very knowledgable about film-making; more often than not, it is a joy to get their informative insight into films. Unlike Rebel FM, David Chen makes sure to mention the name of each film before and after every discussion which immediately makes the podcast more accessible and professional. The in-depth review of a film at the end of each podcast is especially well done because, and this is something I really appreciate, they have a clearly marked separate section for spoilers about the film. During the non-spoiler section, they still manage to have an interesting and in-depth conversation about the film but it is in the spoiler section that they can really start to analyze the film if needed. Another great thing about the podcast is that the hosts do occasionally differ in their opinions and this usually leads to some insightful discussion.

At the same time, the podcast also manages to be really funny and the hosts share a great chemistry with each other. Yet, it's still not quite my favorite podcast... That honor goes to...

This American Life (stories) Yes, this is without a doubt, my favorite podcast. Hosted by Ira Glass for Chicago Public Radio, This American Life is funny, informative, surprising, and occasionally heart-breaking as well but never leaves me feeling anything but uplifted. Each week, there's a different theme and stories related to this theme. These themes can differ so much that it's almost impossible to predict what the next theme will be; they range from such things as stories about animal sacrifice to middle school; Loopholes, Americans in China, sins, amusement parks, psychopaths... The list goes on and on. Most of the time, each episode contains several different stories each related to the same theme and these stories can differ immensely from each other even in terms of the format. Sometimes, they have a story consisting of interviews with real people, and other times they have a story told by a single person. Occasionally, they have a stand-up comedian, and ever so often they even have a story told in rhyme. Yet the common ground between most of these stories is that they are all true. Occasionally they even dedicate a whole episode to just one story as they recently did with their episode “Little War on the Prairie”, which was about the US-Dakota war of 1862, a conflict that resulted in the mass hanging of 38 Dakota Indians. Whatever the case, the stories are always interesting.

If all of this sounds potentially pretentious, worry not. Ira Glass, the host, sounds like one of the most humble people you could ever meet and the show is often genuinely funny and heartfelt. These are real people, just like you and me, and real stories about American life that are nevertheless completely universal.

Listen to this podcast.

In fact, just listen to a podcast. It doesn't have to be any of these and it doesn't have to be related to these topics. Search for one that will suit you because I guarantee you that there is almost certainly a podcast out there for your topic of choice. The world of podcasts is ever expanding and with each one that is released, the world becomes more and more connected while continuing to feel bigger than ever before.

Podcasts: Rebel FM: /Filmcast: This American Life:


It's Time To Say Goodbye

Photo of the Month, December 2012