I can remember very vividly when I first started listening to podcasts regularly, like a lot of people, Serial Season 1 was my gateway drug. I listened to the radio when I was a teenager- a French radio station called Oui FM, which played an addictive mix of grungy American bands, French electro-pop and rock classics- but other than that and the odd Desert Island Discs, radio hadn’t featured in my adult life at all. Now I know that podcasts aren’t exactly radio- the way that we consume them episodically is very different, closer to television- but they share the same characteristics as radio and are often made by radio stations.
Serial was something extraordinary, one of the best storytelling experiences I’ve ever had. As each episode unfolded I held my breath amazed at how the line between fact and fiction, truth and uncertainty melted away. I have to admit that I haven’t quite found anything to match it yet, not even the second season or S Town, which I enjoyed but also made me feel a little uneasy because I was never sure whether it was too invasive. Anyway, Serial was enough to show me that podcasts could fit into my life in a completely new way and could bring me incredible stories, fascinating information and great conversations in a way that television and film couldn’t- without the complication of images. When I listen to episodes through my headphones or on the stereo, I find I focus in a different way. I feel like I’m sitting in on a great conversation with amazing friends or completely absorbed in story and the outside world fades away for an hour. It’s lovely.
I now have a strong list of podcast series that I listen to every week, I rarely miss a single episode from my core favourites. Freakonomics is one of those core favourites. Early on in my growing podcast addiction, it was suggested as ‘A podcast I might like’ based on my other choices. I dismissed the recommendation immediately…ridiculous manipulative ‘personal recommendations’…how little you know me.
I assumed it was about economics and economics seemed dull, needlessly overcomplicated, and completely removed from the real world. That may be true about most economic reporting but Freakonomics is not like any other reporting. The two show creators Stephen J. Dubner and Steven Levitt use economics as a starting point to ask huge questions about society, behaviour, history, and the future. With each episode, as Dubner interviews academics, journalists, scientists and regular people, I feel like I am sitting in on the best dinner party conversation or an incredible university lecture. I never fail to walk away feeling that exciting buzz of curiosity, like you used to get as a kid when you came across something entirely new and fascinating. I can’t think of a better way to learn about the world.