Best of Contemporary Radio in 2008

Return to the radio listening page, or current picks

This page provided a quality radio program each week in 2008. A summary follows.

Week of 6-12 January 2008:

"Baby Primaries" on As It Happens from CBC Radio One

The US presidential primaries dominated the news this week thanks to the new winners in each major party and the failure of the polls to predict the winner for the Democrats. When the pundits have it wrong, it's time to look for another perspective--perhaps that of an actual baby. In a classic example of its quirky phone interview format, the CBC's As It Happens interviewed Darren Garnick, who was having his baby daughter Dahlia's picture taken with all the candidates. This amusing interview was about six minutes into the 28-minute segment of the program.

Listen to streaming Windows Media of As It Happens "Baby Primaries"

Week of 13-19 January 2008:

"Bill Cosby" on The Brian Copeland Program from KGO Newstalk 810

In my opinion, one of the most important talk show hosts on commercial radio is Brian Copeland of KGO in San Francisco. His autobiography, "Not a Genuine Black Man," frames his life of dealing with racism, depression, and other issues, making his perspective fundamentally valuable, and with only two hours per week (usually), his show tends to be very focused. Furthermore, because of his background in the entertainment industry, he tends to be able to get notable guests. Last Sunday, those guests were comedian Bill Cosby and Dr. Alvin Poussaint. Their perspective on the need for a new attitude in the African-American population made for lively talk radio.

Listen to streaming MP3 of The Brian Copeland Program "Bill Cosby"

Week of 20-26 January 2008:

"Martin Luther King Jr. Amnesia" on Free Speech Radio News

One of the highlights of Free Speech Radio News, almost since its inception, has been commentaries from Mumia Abu Jamal, a journalist on Death Row. No matter what one thinks of his case, his commentaries make it unsurprising that he was once a broadcaster. This week, on the holiday celebrating Martin Luther King, Junior, Abu Jamal made some interesting points about how we view what King stood for at the time of his death in this three-minute commentary.

Listen to MP3 file of Mumia Abu Jamal's Commentary "Martin Luther King Jr. Amnesia"

Week of 27 January-2 February 2008:

"Tom Cruise vs. Anonymous" on Search Engine from CBC Radio One

After an already-solid show exploring how the US presidential candidates continue to make increasingly effective use of the Internet, the CBC's 27-minute Search Engine episode this week ended with far more detail on the Tom Cruise, "Anonymous" and "Regime" controversy than I had even heard on other specialty technology shows. Search Engine is establishing itself as a must-listen show for anyone with an interest in the Internet.

Listen to MP3 file of Search Engine "Tom Cruise vs. Anonymous"

UPDATE: There was interesting follow-up to the Anonymous story on the February 8th edition of Search Engine

Week of 3-9 February 2008:

"Hillary, Barack and the Future of Liberalism" on To The Best of Our Knowledge from Wisconsin Public Radio

In a week in which the Presidential race in the United States narrowed and in which I was able to attend a caucus myself in Washington state, Wisconsin Public Radio provided a 53-minute look at what Democrats and liberals in general need to do to better present themselves to the rest of the nation. Included were perspectives from Drew Westin, Paul Krugman, Susan Morrison, and Randall Kennedy amongst others.

Listen to streaming RealMedia of To The Best of Our Knowledge "Hillary, Barack and the Future of Liberalism"

Week of 10-16 February 2008:

"Must Reading from Parag Khanna" on Open Source

It's about time I cited a podcast that never actually aired on a terrestial station (but should have). This one had questionable production values, but the topic was extremely compelling. Parag Khanna, Senior Research Fellow in the American Strategy Program of the New America Foundation, has made waves with recent articles including one in the New York Times hypothesizing that world will have three poles (China, the European Union, and the US) in the coming century and that the US is effectively no longer a hyperpower--or even a superpower. Christopher Lydon interviewed Khanna in a Watson Institute classroom at Brown University in Rhode Island, adding context to the writings in a 60-minute podcast.

Listen to streaming MP3 of Open Source "Must Reading from Parag Khanna"

Week of 17-23 February 2008:

"Ballard Denny's Landmark Decision" on The Conversation from KUOW

I almost didn't listen to this program. I've never been to the Ballard (in Seattle, Washington) Denny's and the topic sounded entirely too local to be of broad interest. The introduction, mentioning the fact that the building was an example of "Googie" architecture further made me dubious. However, the program turned out to be a Ross Reynolds classic, covering just about every viewpoint on historic preservation in the 53-minute program, driven by callers coming from all sorts of different perspectives. This is how to have a conversation on the radio.

Listen to streaming MP3 of The Conversation "Ballard Denny's Landmark Decision"

Week of 24 February-1 March 2008:

"Laughter" on Radio Lab from WNYC

Radio Lab, one of the best-produced shows in radio today, is back for another five-episode season. Hosts Jad Abumrad and Robert Krulwich took on the topic of laughter for 59 minutes of informative and entertaining radio, including such topics as what other animals laugh, the psychological effects of laughter, and why laughter can be so contagious.

Listen to streaming MP3 of Radio Lab "Laughter"

Week of 2-8 March 2008:

"Analyzing the Spin" on The House from CBC Radio One

In a week in which the continuing race in the US Democratic party Presidential primary dominated the news, one of the more interesting insights came from an unlikely place. About 14 minutes into the weekly 48 minute recap of Canadian politics known as "The House," David Skillicorn of Queen's University weighed in with what his computerized spin-detection algorithm told about the candidates in the US presidential race. While this segment might surprise some, the rest of the program was solid as well, including US ambassador David Wilkins talking about the recent leaks that may have affected the campaign and some interesting Afghanistan coverage.

Listen to streaming RealMedia of The House "Analyzing the Spin"

Week of 9-15 March 2008:

"Deception" on Radio Lab from WYNC

As much as I would not have minded ignoring the story of the week (Eliot Spitzer), it was an interesting coincidence that this week's podcast of Radio Lab was entitled "Deception." Over the course of the 59-minute program, hosts Jad Abumrad and Robert Krulwich told stories about catching liars, what's different about pathological liars, and the power of self-deception. I'll leave it to the listener to evaluate whether Spitzer falls under the latter category, and whether this very ability was why he was governor of New York in the first place (listen to the show; it'll make sense).

Listen to streaming MP3 of Radio Lab "Deception"

Week of 16-22 March 2008:

"Cuba In Our Ears" on Open Source

One of the things I most miss about the late Mike Webb was that he would often just spend an hour or more of his talk show talking about a rock-era artist, playing not only the artist but also forerunners that clearly influenced them. A show much along the same lines was Christopher Lydon's conversation this week with Ned Sublette, making clear how the Cuban "cha-cha-cha" influenced "Louie Louie" and "The Duke of Earl" in this 44-minute program. There should be more intelligent discussion of popular music on the radio.

Listen to streaming MP3 of Open Source "Cuba In Our Ears"

Week of 23-29 March 2008:

"Rick Steves" on Speaker's Forum from KUOW

One thing radio can do well that this feature has done little to highlight is bring a small local event to a broad audience. Programs like the National Press Club, City Club of Cleveland, and the Commonwealth Club of California have been providing such a service by bringing speeches delivered to a single room of people to a national audience. A significant such program this week came from KUOW's Speaker's Forum 53-minute program. Travel writer Rick Steves spoke at the University of Washington-Tacoma last week, focusing on drug policy but really making a much broader statement about public policy differences between Europe and the US, a message not often heard in the United States.

Listen to streaming MP3 of Speaker's Forum "Rick Steves"

Week of 30 March-5 April 2008:

"Threenie" on As It Happens from CBC Radio One

April 1st is often my favorite day in radio. This year, there were several good stories, including a CBC Metro Morning feature on extending the height of the CN Tower, and a Marketplace story on the IRS sending merchandise instead of a refund. The clear winner this year, though, was a story on As It Happens from the CBC. The claim was that the five dollar bill would be replaced with a three dollar coin, prompting a full onslaught of response from people who either didn't check the calendar or have been too jaded by the Canadian Mint. The original segment was in the last six mintues of the first half-hour segment of the program; two follow-ups were five minutes into the first half-hour and the last ten minutes of the second half-hour the next day.

Listen to streaming Windows Media of As It Happens "Threenie"

The next day was just as good, listen to streaming Windows Media of Talkback about As It Happens "Threenie", and listen to streaming Windows Media of the Canadian Mint response to As It Happens "Threenie"

Week of 6-12 April 2008:

"Dumbing Down, Smartening Up" on To The Best of Our Knowledge from Wisconsin Public Radio

I've long been outspoken about critical thinking skills in the United States, and author Susan Jacoby has come up with a slightly different take on the situation, describing the problem as "anti-rationalism," the rejection of objective evidence. While this idea alone might capture my interest in this 53-minute Wisconsin Public Radio show, the staff of To The Best of Our Knowledge did an excellent job of weaving together interviews with George Saunders and Andrew Keen as well to create a cohesive show. Ironically, this was the very best of intelligent radio.

Listen to streaming RealMedia of To The Best of Our Knowledge "Dumbing Down, Smartening Up"

Week of 13-19 April 2008:

"John Zogby" on Buffalo City Forum from WNED-AM

As another week of tiresome political coverage of the US presidential primary passed, it seemed like a good time to turn to actually informed analysis, that of pollster John Zogby. Zogby spoke this week at the Buffalo City Forum, bringing up topics that should make both Democrats and Republicans concerned and bringing up points not heard often enough, like the world citizen nature of young adults, in a 60-minute speech and question and answer session. This was yet another example of broadcasting's ability to bring a speech to a much larger audience.

Listen to streaming Windows Media of Buffalo City Forum "John Zogby"

Week of 20-26 April 2008:

"Michael Scheuer" on the Gene Burns Program from KGO Newstalk 810

KGO has had a slough of good talk radio programming of late, ranging from an hour on priest abuse on God Talk to a discussion of who should hold the weekday 10 pm-1 am slot on the station hosted by Gene Burns. Burns, who has been in talk radio for over 40 years and is truly one of the best and most listenable hosts in the business, also had a very good hour this week talking with former CIA analyst Michael Scheuer. Besides being a good 53-minute example of a quality commercial radio interview, Scheuer offered an interesting analysis of how all three presidential candidates are being dishonest about what is happening in the middle east.

Listen to streaming MP3 of the Gene Burns Program "Michael Scheuer"

Week of 27 April-3 May 2008:

"Wake-Up Call" on The Takeaway from WNYC/PRI

It is widely discussed within the radio industry that young people are not listening. There have been an increasing number of attempts to attract a younger audience and a surprising number have surrounded public radio morning shows. Bob Edwards, the original host of NPR's "Morning Edition," was removed after nearly 25 years in 2004 in an attempt to "freshen up" the broadcast. This apparently did not work, as in 2007 NPR launched an alternative morning show specifically targeted at younger listeners, called "The Bryant Park Project," and WYNC, PRI, the BBC, and the New York Times announced they were teaming up to produce a show with the same charter, "The Takeaway." As far as I am concerned, the "Bryant Park Project" was and is a disaster. I found it banal and a waste of time, neither informative nor entertaining, when I listened to its debut, and while it might have been a bit more informative when I sampled it again in February, I still had little use for it. This week, "The Takeaway" went on the air, and I am pleased to report to that I have found it different. It airs plenty of hard news, with an interview with Zimbabwe's ambassador to the UN in the debut show and discussion of the Democratic primary later in the week stand-out segments. Yet, it does have a different sound than normal public radio, with sound effects around actualities, greater use of "mash-up" audio, and conversation between its hosts and with its newsreaders and interviewees. This show just might accomplish what it was chartered to do. After a week of listening, I am increasingly getting the impression that broadcast veteran John Hockenberry (whom I have enjoyed since he did "Heat" on public radio), is coming off as the character-filled (read "weird") co-host and Adaora Udoji is coming off as the serious, smart co-host--and I rather like having the woman be the voice of authority. The Monday show was chosen as pick of the week because of its use of Bob Edwards in the opening and in several sounders, a nice nod to the tradition of public radio morning shows that this show is trying to advance. While I will personally return to listening to the CBC in the morning, this was a debut worth noting.

Listen to MP3 of The Takeaway "Wake-Up Call"

Postscript: The Bryant Park Project aired for the last time on 25-July-2008. The Takeaway survives, at least so far, and picked up many of the other show's affiliates.

Week of 4-10 May 2008:

"Josh VanHouten" on My Vermont from Vermont Public Radio

Radio can be a forum for establishing local identity and differentiating an area from the rest of the world, even in an era of syndicated programming on both commercial and public radio. Vermont Public Radio has a variety of local programs, including its short-form commentaries called "My Vermont" which air twice daily. While traveling through the state this week, I found a two-minute commentary by Josh VanHouten to be a good introduction to the area through which I was passing.

Download MP3 of My Vermont "Josh VanHouten"

Week of 11-17 May 2008:

"On Spygate" on Gil Santos Commentary from WBZ-AM

One of the clear radio highlights of living in Boston was the gem that is WBZ Newsradio 1030. While I believe its format has been in decline on both the talk and news sides, it still employs many exceptionally talented broadcasters and engineers who prove their worth on a regular basis. One of the stalwarts of WBZ is morning sports anchor Gil Santos, whose noontime commentaries were a staple of my lunch hours. While visiting this week, I caught this two-minute commentary on the Patriots Spygate scandal, a typical Santos perspective.

Download MP3 of Gil Santos commentary "On Spygate"

Week of 18-24 May 2008:

"Apologies of the Week" on LeShow from KCRW

In an average week, I take in a lot of news programming, from a variety of sources. Yet, somehow the satire show produced personally by renaissance man Harry Shearer often finds items that I find worth knowing that I haven't heard elsewhere. This week, such items included a misremembering by President Bush of when he gave up golf, an accusation against Dr. Phil, and an apology by Barack Obama that I otherwise heard only on the CBC. These were presented during the 53-minute "LeShow" program's regular "News Outside the Bubble," "News of the Warm," and "Apologies of the Week" features, and there was a nice "Clintonsomething" satire episode mixed in as well.

Download LeShow "Apologies of the Week"

Week of 25-31 May 2008:

"Piracy of Video" on The Tech Guy with Leo Laporte

Technology shows are always difficult to do for a general audience, but Leo Laporte has been doing technology on the radio for nearly two decades, most notably on KSFO, KGO, and KFI, and he knows how to provide information without overwhelming novice users or sounding like too much of a geek. A classic example came during the third hour of his syndicated show this Saturday (the three hours condense to about two in the edited audio file), which I had the pleasure of listening to on flagship station KFI. A caller asked about putting digital movies on an iPod for his wife. Leo's explanation of the legalities and realities of the situation were the best of technology talk.

Listen to MP3 file of The Tech Guy "Piracy of Video"

Week of 1-7 June 2008:

"Obama and JFK" on Weekend Edition Saturday from NPR

Scott Simon's Saturday "Simon Says" commentaries on NPR's Weekend Edition Saturday are often the most insightful words I hear in a given week. This week, as Senator Barack Obama secured the presidential nomination of the Democratic Party in the United States, Simon's long political memory and knowledge of Illinois politics combined to provide a perspective that I hadn't heard over the course of the week in this three and a half minute commentary, not a small feat considering the attention that the two top candidates received over the course of the week.

Click here and follow the "listen" link to listen to Weekend Edition Saturday "Obama and JFK"

Week of 8-14 June 2008:

"Lincoln Chafee" on the Ronn Owens Program from KGO Newstalk 810

During my stay on the west coast, I've been listening to more of KGO Newstalk 810 out of San Francisco than I usually do, and have been reminded why this station is so highly regarded in commercial talk radio. I actually haven't had much opportunity to listen to Ronn Owens, but this is a year in which he may finally gain entry to the Radio Hall of Fame, and he was one of the few local hosts to get better ratings than Rush Limbaugh at the heights of Limbaugh's popularity. However, while this hour does provide a good example of a Ronn-style political interview, the main reason I have chosen it is for his guest, former senator Lincoln Chafee, who has an interesting story to tell, even if I think it has best been told on Open Source (listen to that interview here).

Listen to MP3 of the Ronn Owens Program "Lincoln Chafee"

Week of 15-21 June 2008:

"Jim Prentice" on Search Engine from CBC Radio One

The purpose of this page is to highlight quality contemporary radio. I was so impressed with the very first episode of CBC Radio's show about the Internet, called Search Engine, that it appeared on this page. The show has continued to be a weekly highlight. This week, it featured an interview with Canadian Industry Minister Jim Prentice, and I felt he didn't come off very well in an important discussion of copyright issues. Listen to the 27-minute show and form your own opinion. However, the disturbing thing is that this will be the last broadcast Search Engine. Jesse Brown will instead contribute Search Engine-type stories to other CBC shows without a specific staff. I'm suspicious of this move since it appears to mean a decrease in resources for the topic, and will be watching the situation, including a continuing podcast, quite carefully in the fall.

Listen to a MP3 file of Search Engine "Jim Prentice"

Week of 22-28 June 2008:

"Episode One" of Alien Nation on CBC Radio One

The arrival of summer means the arrival of summer shows on CBC Radio One, and after one week, while I think the overall crop may be weaker than in previous years, there are a few gems. One of these appears to be Alien Nation, a show about a mother (Judith Mackin) trying to understand her teenage son and his generation in general. I expected this show to be too personal to be interesting, but it appears that instead this 27-minute episode is instead a classic example of the intimate nature of radio--personal things that would not work on a stage can work coming out of a speaker.

Click on the second clip with Flash Player installed to hear the full Alien Nation "Episode One"

Week of 29 June-5 July 2008:

"Modern Man" by George Carlin on LeShow

This was a good week for comedy on the radio, with the Capitol Steps' Fourth of July Special and a good episode of CBC's "The Irrevelant Show." My favorite piece, though, was aired on LeShow. The recent loss of comedian George Carlin has brought out the tributes, and Harry Shearer chose what may be Carlin's best recent work, the four-minute tribute to a modern man.

Listen to streaming RealMedia of George Carlin's "Modern Man"

Week of 6-12 July 2008:

"David Sedaris" on As It Happens from CBC Radio One

Regular readers know that I am not a big fan of interviews of people on book tours, in no small part because I usually end up hearing them at least four times. David Sedaris, though, is not just any figure in radio; in many ways, he served to define the genre of culture programming done most prominently by This American Life. Furthermore, as the CBC pointed out, he is one of the few authors to have made his name in radio first. Guest host Maureen Brosnahan did a great job of having Sedaris recount how that happened, and along the way, Sedaris offered an interesting perspective on the art of radio in this 24-minute interview.

Listen to streaming RealMedia of As It Happens "David Sedaris"

Week of 13-19 July 2008:

"Punchline Obama" on The Current from CBC Radio One

It's an interesting point that Barack Obama simply hasn't provided much material for comedians, even if his supporters have. Guest host Jim Brown and comedians Aron Kader, Greg Proops, and Baratunde Thurston provided an interesting discussion of the topic in this 22-minute segment, and even managed to actually be funny at Obama's expense for a few moments.

Follow this link and then hit the "Listen to Part One" button to hear The Current "Punchline Obama"

Week of 20-26 July 2008:

"The Reserve" on Revision Quest from CBC Radio One

One of the more unusual ideas for a summer show on the CBC this season has been that of "Revision Quest"--trying to tell the story (including the contemporary state) of First Nations and other native peoples using humor. Host Darrell Dennis and staff have made the concept work, as demonstrated by this week's 27-minute program on the "Reserve," featuring a fake Public Service Announcement to shed some light on history as well as an interview with an academic.

Click on the "July 22nd" clip with Flash Player installed to hear the full Revision Quest "The Reserve"

Week of 27 July-2 August 2008:

"30th Anniversary Extravaganza" on the Dave Ross Show from KIRO-AM

One of the best talents still working in radio today is Dave Ross of KIRO in Seattle. I have had the privilege of being able to listen to essentially his entire career at KIRO, from his days on the afternoon news to his contemporary talk show and commentaries. The station devoted his show one day this week to a retrospective, and those who have also heard him over the years will appreciate all three hours. Everyone, though, will probably learn from the 36-minute clip from the second hour with Harry Shearer, "the Aliens," and several former producers offering insights into what has made Dave Ross so successful.

Listen to MP3 of the Dave Ross Show "30th Anniversary"

Week of 3-9 August 2008:

"Post-Postmodernism" on To The Best of Our Knowledge from Wisconsin Public Radio

This week's choice might sound like an antidote to the string of comedy-based recommendations of late, but that is not really the case. In the course of approaching the topic of postmodernism and potentially post-postmodernism, To The Best of Our Knowledge takes on Christian Lander of "Stuff White People Like" fame and the fictional rock band "Monkey Bowl" as well as Salman Rushdie in this 53-minute program.

Listen to streaming RealMedia of To The Best of Our Knowledge "Post-Postmodernism"

Week of 10-16 August 2008:

"Free Stuff" on Revision Quest from CBC Radio One

To me, the clear winner amongst the CBC summer shows this year is "Revision Quest." Consistently funny and informative each episode, Darrell Dennis is managing to tell the story of just how messed up native relations have been in Canada without making it depressing. This week, he tackled the idea that First Nations are entitled to "Free Stuff" in Canada in this 27-minute show--and guess what, he couldn't find anything.

Click on the "August 12th" clip with Flash Player installed to hear the full Revision Quest "Free Stuff"

Week of 17-23 August 2008:

"Protests in Beijing" on The Current from CBC Radio One

With all the attention aid to the Olympics, too little attention has been paid to the broken promises of the Chinese government. Perhaps the worst of the broken promises has been their pledge to allow protests during the Olympics. CBC correspondent David Gutnick actually tried to apply for a permit to protest this week, and in this 22-minute segment of The Current, he told the story of what a farce the process turned out to be.

Follow this link and then hit the "Listen to Part One" button to hear The Current "Protests in Beijing"

Week of 24-30 August 2008:

"I'm Not Who You Think I Am" on Mashup from CBC Radio One

One of the CBC summer shows that I had awaited eagerly was Mashup, touted as a look at the challenges of multi-culutral life in Canada. In general, I found the series to be uneven, but the very last show turned out to be an excellent half-hour of radio. The opening segment of host Geeta Nadkarni walking around Montreal with her husband discussing how she was perceived by her "own" community again showed how radio as an intimate medium can work, and over the course of the show the grand themes of the series about the Canadian experience of combining cultures came out in force. Even the closing mix of different peoples' descriptions of their backgrounds was a nice cap to this 27-minute program.

Click on the "August 26th & 28th" clip with Flash Player installed to hear the full Mashup "I'm Not Who You Think I Am"

Week of 31 August-6 September 2008:

"Arresting Journalists" on The Conversation from KUOW

I was extremely disappointed in the media this week. Protests were not well-handled at either convention of the major US political parties in the past two weeks, but the arrest of well-known radio host Amy Goodman provided an opportunity for the media to actually do some reporting on what was going on. Near as I can tell, nobody did anything. Not Fox, not ABC, not CBS, not NBC (even MSNBC), not NPR, not PBS, not the BBC, not the CBC. The story was likely much more nuanced than reported on shows affiliated with the same network as Goodman (Pacifica), though they at least gave it significant air time. Besides Free Speech Radio News, I only heard coverage on KUOW's "The Conversation" from Seattle, which interviewed Goodman about 45 minutes into this 52-minute broadcast that mostly focused on vice presidential politics. Couldn't this at least have been reported somewhere else?

Listen to streaming MP3 of The Conversation "Arresting Journalists"

Week of 7-13 September 2008:

"A Bird that Knows Beethoven" on Quirks and Quarks from CBC Radio One

A bird that knows Beethoven's fifth symphony? Or did Beethoven copy the bird? Probably not the latter, since the Rufous-and-white Wren lives in Costa Rica as described in the season premiere of Quirks and Quarks. This 53-minute program also included a good description of the Higgs Boson, but that short audio clip of a bird sounding like Beethoven about 32 minutes into the show was worth the whole experience.

Listen to streaming MP3 of Quirks and Quarks "A Bird That Knows Beethoven"

Week of 14-20 September 2008:

"Truth Telling in the Media" on Midday from Minnesota Public Radio

Minnesota Public radio often airs excellent forums that have occurred at the University of Minnesota, and this week the Midday show played an important one from the Humphrey Institute. Representatives of and talked about their efforts to categorize political speech, and what they have found in the McCain and Obama presidential campaigns in this 54-minute program. Their comments about the impact of their sites on the media in general and the campaigns themselves were especially interesting.

Listen to streaming Windows Media of Midday "Truth Telling in the Media"

Week of 21-27 September 2008:

"Reach Out and Smear Someone" on Free Speech Radio News

Free Speech Radio News often covers stories that other organizations don't bother to address. In the past week, news items have run on the ecological impact of a proposed dam in Patagonia, changes to San Francisco's sanctuary laws, and Hindus attacking Christians in India. In a politically focused week, they ran Ralph Nader's take on the debate commission, a story on potential voter suppression in Wisconsin, and the pick of the week, a feature on Push Polling that I heard nowhere else.

Listen to MP3 of Free Speech Radio News "Reach Out and Smear Someone"

Week of 28 September-4 October 2008:

"Another Frightening Show on the Economy" on This American Life from Public Radio International

One of the obvious questions asked during the ongoing financial crisis has been "What choice do we have; is there an alternative to the proposed $700 billion bail-out?" Few have asked the question, and even fewer have presented a coherent answer. It turns out there is an option that many economists favor, called a "stock injection"--and the best explanation I've heard not only of the crisis in general but of this alternative has been on This American Life. Producer Alex Blumberg and NPR's Adam Davidson (who also collaborate with the Planet Money podcast) demonstrate how to break down complicated concepts on the radio--and deliver the good news that "stock injections" WERE authorized as an option in the revised bill that passed on Friday in this 59-minute program.

Listen to This American Life "Another Frightening Show About the Economy"

Week of 5-11 October 2008:

"The Biology of Ideology" on Quirks and Quarks from CBC Radio One

With elections looming in the United States and Canada, it was hard to avoid a political feature, but an unexpected one stood out. On the Canadian science show Quirks and Quarks, Dr. James Fowler, an Associate Professor of Political Science at the University of California-San Diego, described how political thoughts and activities may have a genetic component, in this nine-minute segment.

Listen to streaming MP3 of Quirks and Quarks "The Biology of Ideology"

Week of 12-18 October 2008:

"The Great Schlep" on Search Engine from CBC Radio One

One of the more interesting phenomena of the 2008 Presidential Campaign in the United States is the Great Schlep, an Internet-based movement to get young Jewish people to convince their elders in Florida to vote for Barack Obama. This is actually serious, as demonstrated by Jesse Brown in the Search Engine podcast, a piece also prepared for the broadcast Sunday Edition program.

Listen to streaming MP3 of Search Engine "The Great Schelp"

Week of 19-25 October 2008:

"Liberal Common Sense" on the Dave Ross Show from KIRO-FM

As liberals (or should we say socialists?) seem to be on the ascendancy in the United States, there are surprisingly few voices that can construct a logical liberal policy argument. Dave Ross, of KIRO-FM (they seem to be phasing out 710 AM in favor of 97.3 FM) in Seattle is one of those rare individuals. In this 38-minute "hour", pay special attention to his handling of a caller named John about twenty minutes into the broadcast--it was one of the best justifications for a progressive tax structure I've heard in a long time.

Listen to streaming MP3 of the Dave Ross Show "Liberal Common Sense"

Week of 26 October-1 November 2008:

"Halloween" on the Dr. Dean Edell Show

While heading in to the Bay Area on Friday, I had the opportunity to listen to Dr. Dean Edell live on his flagship station, KGO Newstalk 810. While his affiliate list may be bolstered by being in a package with Rush Limbaugh, there is no question that Edell stands on his own as a very listenable host who handles callers well. Friday's show demonstrated how Edell can build topical interest to medicine through tie-ins with Halloween, and how he can handle esoteric questions from a caller in his 53-minute program. Dr. Dean Edell represents the best of specialized-topic commercial talk radio.

Listen to streaming MP3 of Dr. Dean Edell "Halloween"

Week of 2-8 November 2008:

"Who Do You Think You Are?" on This American Life from PRI

The charter of "This American Life" is to capture American culture, so where else could one turn in such a significant week to capture the moment? Ira Glass and company did not fail, putting out a show that includes perspective on race in America, the late Studs Terkel on the Depression, and other tales around the theme of challenging privilege in this 59-minute broadcast.

Listen to streaming MP3 of This American Life "Who Do You Think You Are?"

Week of 9-15 November 2008:

"The Masked Avengers" on C'est la vie from CBC Radio One

The CBC provides a nice window on francophone Canada for anglophones weekly on the radio. Hosted by Bernard St-Laurent, the cross-cultural program C'est la vie tries to bridge the cultural divide that can exist in Canada. This week, the program focused on the Masked Avengers who pranked Republican vice-presidential nominee Sarah Palin during the final week of the campaign. It was especially amusing to hear them compare their various pranks, including Britney Spears, Bill Gates, and Jacques Chirac as well as Palin. The contrast between Gates and the other pranks was particularly revealing in this 23-minute program.

Listen to MP3 of C'est la vie "The Masked Avengers"

Week of 16-22 November 2008:

"How It Happens" on As It Happens from CBC Radio One

There really could be only one selection this week. As It Happens, the flagship program of CBC Radio One, celebrated its 40th anniversary on Tuesday. The "phone out" program has survived longer than I have been alive for not just one reason, but many. Their quest to get through on the phone to newsmakers often leads to amazing interviews, and their sense of humor--unmistakeably Canadian--comes through regardless. The 84-minute, three-part 40th anniversary show, besides having some significant old clips and stories, focused on how the show is put together--the tales from the producers and the writers were particularly notable. For anyone interested in radio, this show is a must-listen.

Listen to streaming Windows Media of As It Happens "How It Happens" Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3

Week of 23-29 November 2008:

"Fiscal Update Crisis" on The House from CBC Radio One

While it is still possible that the current political explosion in Canada following Thursday's Fiscal Update may amount to nothing much, within two days it appeared that the government might fall and two rival left-wing parties might form a coalition. Understanding how this could happen seems to have been best handled by the show chartered with tracking Canadian politics, CBC's The House. In a 48-minute program, it summarized what the issues are, and how they may be resolved in the most cogent form I have yet heard.

Listen to streaming RealAudio of The House "Fiscal Update Crisis"

Week of 30 November-6 December 2008:

"Going, Going, Going Gone" on To The Best of Our Knowledge from Wisconsin Public Radio

As I try to ignore the "war on Christmas" at this time of year, I look instead for things that we all have in common, and To The Best of Our Knowledge provided such a nugget this week. I never thought of it this way before, but post "peak-oil" and other environmental disaster scenarios represent a "ecological apocalypse" similar to religious visions of apocalypse according to Colin Beaven. A variety of views on eco-revolution were presented in a 53-minute program.

Listen to To The Best of Our Knowledge "Going, Going, Going Gone"

Week of 7-13 December 2008:

"The Chipmunks Song Slow" on As It Happens from CBC Radio One

The holiday season is upon us, and it is, of course, a time of traditions. Leave it to the CBC to fully investigate one holiday tradition--the Chipmunk Song. Yes, the Canadians found out that the voices of the chipmunks were indeed sped up--and decided to let us hear what it sounds like at normal speed. The piece begins about 20 minutes into this 24-minute segment of the show, and if this doesn't provoke a hearty ho-ho-ho, I would assess that maybe your funny bone is a few sizes too small.

Listen to streaming Windows Media of As It Happens "The Chipmunks Song Slow"

Week of 14-20 December 2008:

"Race" on Radio Lab from WNYC

The new season of Radio Lab has arrived, and as always Jad Abumrad and Robert Krulwich demonstrate how to make complicated topics accessible and teach their audience about topics to which they might not otherwise pay attention. This week's podcast dealt with race, describing that there is some limited connection between genetics and race that can be used in DNA crime tests, and an interesting perspective on stereotyping from Malcolm Gladwell in this 59-minute program.

Listen to MP3 of Radio Lab "Race"

Week of 21-27 December 2008:

"Scenes from a Mall" on This American Life from PRI

Considering how few purchases I have made, I have spent an inordinate amount of time in malls across the continent in recent weeks. Since this is a broadly shared experience, Ira Glass and the This American Life team headed to the mall and collected a variety of interesting stories, from a salesman who kept trying to sell to his girlfriend too long to infighting amongst Santa Clauses to what those that watch the security cameras see. This 59-minute program was a great example of topical story-telling.

Listen to streaming MP3 of This American Life "Scenes from a Mall"

Week of 28 December 2008-3 January 2009:

"Politics Takes a Holiday" on the Capitol Steps Radio Show

A whole year cannot pass without citing the best of political satire, especially when it involves a "Little Plumber Boy" named Joe, a "midnight raid on Georgia," and a new Lirty Dies, the "Load to the Erection 2008" (wip your flords and you'll figure it out). The 59-minute program presented the best in sketch comedy.

Listen to MP3 of the Capitol Steps "Politics Takes a Holiday"

Yearly Summary for 2008:

By Form:

  1. Long Form (49)
  2. Short Form (3)

By Genre:

  1. US Public Radio (23)
  2. Canadian Public Radio (17)
  3. US Commercial Radio (8)
  4. Canadian Podcast (2)
  5. US Podcast (2)

By Producing Station/Organization:

  1. Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (19)
  2. KGO-San Francisco (4)
  3. Wisconsin Public Radio (4)
  4. WNYC-New York (4)
  5. KUOW-Seattle (3)
  6. WBEZ-Chicago (3)
  7. Harry Shearer (2)
  8. KIRO-Seattle (2)
  9. Open Source Media (2)
  10. Pacifica Reporters Against Censorship (2)
  11. Capitol Steps (1)
  12. Leo Laporte (1)
  13. Minnesota Public Radio (1)
  14. National Public Radio (1)
  15. Vermont Public Radio (1)
  16. WBZ-Boston (1)
  17. WNED-Buffalo (1)

By Distributor:

  1. Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (19)
  2. Public Radio International (8)
  3. National Public Radio (4)
  4. KGO-San Francisco (3)
  5. KUOW-Seattle (3)
  6. KCRW-Santa Monica (2)
  7. KIRO-Seattle (2)
  8. None (2)
  9. Pacifica Radio (2)
  10. Premiere Radio Networks (2)
  11. Capitol Steps (1)
  12. Minnesota Public Radio (1)
  13. Vermont Public Radio (1)
  14. WBZ-Boston (1)
  15. WNED-Buffalo (1)

By Program:

  1. As It Happens (5)
  2. To The Best of Our Knowledge (4)
  3. Radio Lab (3)
  4. Search Engine (3)
  5. This American Life (3)
  6. The Conversation (2)
  7. The Current (2)
  8. The Dave Ross Show (2)
  9. Free Speech Radio News (2)
  10. The House (2)
  11. LeShow (2)
  12. Open Source (2)
  13. Quirks and Quarks (2)
  14. Revision Quest (2)
  15. Alien Nation (1)
  16. Brian Copeland Program (1)
  17. Buffalo Speaker's Forum (1)
  18. C'est La Vie (1)
  19. Dr. Dean Edell Show (1)
  20. Gene Burns Program (1)
  21. Gil Santos Commentary (1)
  22. Leo the Tech Guy (1)
  23. Mashup (1)
  24. Midday (1)
  25. My Vermont (1)
  26. Politics Takes a Holiday (1)
  27. The Ronn Owens Program (1)
  28. Speaker's Forum (1)
  29. The Takeaway (1)
  30. Weekend Edition Saturday (1)

Return to the radio listening page, or current picks

For maintenance concerns about this page, contact

(C) 2006-10 Lance Gleich - Last Updated: 17 April 2010