Best of Contemporary Radio

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This page highlights quality radio programs as they are heard.

Click for previous weekly picks from 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009, and 2010

26 December 2011:

"Hacking Toy Robots" on Marketplace Tech Report from American Public Media

There isn't a lot of new programming on the air during the last week of the year, but the Marketplace Tech Report aired new material on December 26th, and actually came up with a pretty topical and amusing broadcast. The four-minute podcast covered the hacking of robot toys and other non-traditional devices and ended with a hilarious reference to the Terminator movie franchise.

Listen to MP3 of Marketplace Tech Report "Hacking Toy Robots"

11 December 2011:

"Iceland Recovery" on The Sunday Edition from CBC Radio One

While most people think of Iceland as one of the disaster stories of the recent worldwide economic collapse, the nation has recovered better than most, and has taken a radically different course than the economic orthodoxy would have suggested. Presdient Olafur Grimmson discussed how he prioritized democracy over capitalism in a very thought-provoking interview with Michael Enright on the CBC's Sunday Edition that should be required listening for anyone working on digging a nation out of economic malaise.

Listen to MP3 of The Sunday Edition "Iceland Recovery"

6 November 2011:

"Hermeneutics" on God Talk with Brent Walters from KGO Newstalk 810

Brent Walters makes early Sunday mornings on KGO in San Francisco as valuable as a college course, not surprising considering that he is indeed a professor. His practice of looking at religious history in context and comparing it to modern practice always makes for informative and sometimes downright entertaining radio, and the second hour of this week's show had a great combination of prepared material on hermeneutics and insightful questions from callers to make it one of those shows that could be listened to over and over again.

Listen to MP3 of God Talk "Hermeneutics"

17 October 2011:

"Mark Blyth Going to School on Occupy Wall Street" on Open Source from the Watson Institute

Christopher Lydon has continued his series of worthwhile interviews under the Watson Institute at Brown University in podcast form, and one of his regular guests is the economist Mark Blyth. In this installment, I could hardly believe how much I agreed with Blyth--is that because I listen to too much Christopher Lydon?

Listen to MP3 of Open Source "Mark Blyth Going to School on Occupy Wall Street"

1 September 2011:

"Time Traveling on AT&T Deal" on Marketplace Tech Report from American Public Media

I've long been a fan of John Moe's ability to bring an unique perspective to his broadcasts, and perhaps the epitome of that came in today's Marketplace Tech Report, in which the idea of time traveling one year into the future was used to analyze the potential outcomes of the AT&T-T-Mobile merger situation. Add in a classic bit of Moe humor about Angry Birds in the final story on airline use of iPads, and it all makes for a dynamite four minutes of radio.

Listen to MP3 of Marketplace Tech Report "Time Traveling on AT&T Deal"

29 August 2011:

"What Makes Them Tick" on Out of Their Minds from CBC Radio One

The last episodes of CBC summer series are usually a mixed bag. Some are boring summaries of the previous nine episodes, some are the most forced topic of the series, and others bring significant insight and really pull together the series. In that latter category this year was the final episode of "Out of Their Minds" which was sometimes a difficult listen as various forward-thinkers were profiled, but the final episode should probably be required listening for anyone working on a technology start-up, as there was considerable insight into how inventors think and operate and what can go wrong in bringing their ideas to practical use in a 27-minute program.

Listen to MP3 of Out of Their Minds "What Makes Them Tick"

3 August 2011:

"Why the Market Tumble?" on The Osgood Files from the CBS Radio Network

Dave Ross has long been known for subtly introducing insight into broadcasts. Filling in for Charles Osgood, he started a commentary which started as simply an exploration of the irony of the stock market fall after politicians did what they thought the markets wanted them to do. By the end of the two minutes, though, he had likened the Tea Party to the Borg with a stinging jab at the President.

Listen to MP3 of The Osgood File "Why the Market Tumble?"

21 July 2011:

"Paying for Parks" on This Is That from CBC Radio One

Okay, the This is That crew has produced their masterpiece now. In 27 minutes of fake news, they managed to poke fun at the Rob Ford administration in Toronto with a piece on charging for the use of parks, brought in the western part of the country by claiming that Banff National Park was banning cougars, and skewered commuters with pieces on bus service in Wawa and a man bicycling on the 401 around Toronto. This is a classic.

Listen to MP3 of This Is That "Paying for Parks"

14 July 2011:

"Newf Helmet" on This is That from CBC Radio One

CBC summer series that come back for a second season seem to inevitably get better. Last year, I found the satire show "This Is That" almost unlistenable, but the writing is much better this year and their third episode actually rises to noteworthy status. In a 27 minute show, they make fun of Canadian tourism campaigns, child sports safety efforts in Newfoundland, and even claim a beer company is trying to trademark the Northern Lights. This is what a summer fun show should be.

Listen to MP3 of This Is That "Newf Helmet"

13 July 2011:

"The Evolution of Storytellers" on ReVision Quest from CBC Radio One

My favorite CBC summer show the past few years has been ReVision Quest, which brings a more light-hearted perspective to the decidedly grave issues facing aboriginals in Canada. This week's 27-minute episode on storytelling is a classic, with the best moment an elder's take Facebook.

Listen to MP3 of ReVision Quest "The Evolution of Storytellers"

28 June 2011:

"Why Do We Swear?" on Strange Animal from CBC Radio One

Amongst the most promising summer shows on the CBC this year in "Strange Animal," in which comedian Mike O'Brien explores seemingly bizarre yet very common human behavior. In the premier 27-minute show, the propensity to swear is explored in a reasonably scientific and mature fashion. I'm disappointed this will only be a five-show half-series, instead of running the entire summer.

Listen to MP3 of Strange Animal "Why Do We Swear?"

22 June 2011:

"Nathalia Petrovna Buchan" on The Late Show from CBC Radio One

In its first season, "The Late Show" did not impress me, but I started to become fascinated by the quality story-telling in the second season. Now, the show that explores the "art of living through the extraordinary lives of deceivingly ordinary Canadians" has hit a home run with 27 minutes on the life of Nathalia Petrovna Buchan. Gordon Pinsett's narration of an amazing storyline could not be better.

Listen to MP3 of The Late Show "Nathalia Petrovna Buchan"

23 March 2011:

"Tahrir in Toronto" on Metro Morning from CBC Radio One

Sometimes local programs offer surprising insight on world issues. Toronto's Metro Morning show on CBC Radio One felt that it could bring together discussion of events in the middle east, and it was one of the best programs I had heard on the topic, featuring great questions from the audience and a wide variety of middle eastern perspectives on the panel in a 90-minute program.

Listen to streaming media of Metro Morning "Tahrir in Toronto" Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3

12 March 2011:

"Burn the Boats" on The Age of Persuasion from CBC Radio One

Just when you think that stories of successful (and, for that matter, unsuccessful) risk-taking have been told to death, leave it to Terry O'Riley's team to find details of the Federal Express, Swatch, and even Casablanca stories that are rarely told. It adds up to a compelling 27-minute program that few people will walk away from without having learned something.

Listen to MP3 of The Age of Persuasion "Burn the Boats"

29 January 2011:

"Speed Bumps" on The Age of Persuasion from CBC Radio One

Terry O'Riley may make his living from advertising, but the host of CBC Radio's The Age of Persuasion may be doing his consumer targets a huge favor by revealing his trade's secrets. In this well-produced 27-minute program, O'Riley explains how pacing--especially "speed bumps" to slow things down--can make for effective advertising.

Listen to MP3 of The Age of Persuasion "Speed Bumps"

21 January 2011:

"Slow to React" on This American Life from Chicago Public Radio

This feature has in the past highlighted a number of more "topical" or news-based shows that have aired on This American Life. I feel like the core "cultural"-themed programs on which the show established its reputation had been neglected. This week, they produced a classic example of choosing a theme and telling stories from across American culture on that theme, "Slow to React." The stories involve cancer, love, pregnancy, and even rape--truly compelling radio in a 59-minute program.

Listen to streaming audio of This American Life "Slow To React"

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(C) 2006-2011 Lance Gleich - Last Updated: 26 December 2011