I’ve received a grand total of one irritated letter about the show’s format over the course of 50 episodes. Not bad. Frankly, I’d expected a lot more casual listeners to be upset with the show’s complete lack of introduction, but this is the internet. Context is everywhere. There’s a description on the Boing Boing and Tumblr posts and one attached to each episode’s iTunes description.
From the beginning, one of the driving principles of RiYL was a conscious decision to buck the formatting foist upon the podcast world as shows made the transition from radio: the back announcing, the resetting, the overexplaining. If we view podcasts as simple extension of radio, we miss out on their value. Sure, I’m forever grateful for the ability to listen to the Radiolabs and This America Lifes [sic] of the world at my own leisure, but why do shows created specifically for this medium need be tied to old parameters?
I can name several podcasts I love, once I’ve made it past the first 15 minutes or so. For reasons that seem largely tied to old models, introductions are largely the realm of self-obsessed monologue. The idea here has simple: let’s dump people right into the middle of something.
Mark at Boing Boing began calling these “cafe conversations,” a description I’ve since totally taken to. Lots of times the interviews conducted for RiYL occur in the middle of literal cafes or diners or bars, bustling environments far away from the isolated eggcrate studios in which so many interviews are conducted. Once I finally hit on a mobile rig that worked well, I think the nature of the show really started to congeal. There are a number of phone interviews in amongst those early episodes, but after settling on a Tascam and two mics, I haven’t looked back.
There’s trimming happening, sure. The show’s editor Brian T can attest to the fact that you’re better off not hearing me explain the microphone set up to the guest at the top of every episode. On a whole, however, the flow and length are often pretty close to where we start out. Referring to online artwork, comics theorist Scott McCloud called the internet an “infinite canvas,” and I think that hold here. Server costs aside, I firmly believe there’s a place for long form conversations with interesting people.
There are plenty of places to get five minute soundbytes, but what the internet and podcasting affords us is the ability to treat an internet like an opportunity to eavesdrop on your favorite artist — or some other fascinating creative type who perhaps you’ve never heard of, but when they begin holding court on the stool next to you at the bar, it’s impossible to stop listening.
I’ll be the first to admit that the sort of free-flowing conversational interview that has come to define much of the show over the past 50 episodes doesn’t always work out. Not coming to the table with a specific set of questions has resulting in some interviews that didn’t quite go according to plan, but when things work out, it’s beautiful, with conversations taking you in direction you never anticipated when you sat down. Take the conversation with Scott Aukerman in which we discussed his writing the screenplay for A Shark’s Tale or this week’s Rhett Miller interview where a conversation about 9/11 yielded fascinating insight into the compulsion to create.
That’s the sort of stuff that makes this goofy little experiment worthwhile.
At the risk of negating all of those words above for the sake of a little contextualizing, I’ve decided to celebrate episode 50 by providing new listeners with a starting point. I realize that 50’s not a huge number when compared to many podcasts out there, but it feels like a significant milestone for someone who’s created and abandoned more podcast than most have listened to.
With that in mind, here are 10 personal favorites from among the 50, listed in alphabetical order by first name (so as to not play favorites amongst the favorites). Any should offer a reasonably good place to dive in.
Dave Allen: The former Gang of Four member discusses his journey from playing bass in one of post-punk’s most influential groups to becoming what he refers to as an “interactive strategist” and how to adapt in an ever-changing music industry.
David Cope: A former UC Santa Cruz professor who has been programming computers to compose classical scores since the 60s, this conversation touches on some fascinating implications of removing human beings from the creative process.
DJ Spooky: Conducted in the middle of Union Square in Manhattan, we discuss the importance of cities as the sirens and car horns create a symphony all around.
Jesse Thorn: My former college classmate and current host of NPR’s Bullseye opened up his podcasting studio for a conversation about sticking to your creative guns when the world doesn’t seem to want what you’re selling.
John Roderick: We sat down on The Long Winters’ frontman’s couch and just kind of let the tape roll on this one. Probably easier to list off what we didn’t discuss.
Karen Green: Columbia librarian Karen Green explains how she brought comic books into the ivy league university’s hallowed halls.
Marc Maron: Interviewing the interviewer about interviewing. Also, it was August in New York, so we naturally discussed the differences between LA and NYC.
Mark Frauenfelder: The Boing Boing boss and I sat down to discuss the role of curation in a world of woefully imbalanced signal to noise.
Martha Grover: Recorded in an empty Portland hotel lobby, the zinester discusses her parade of day jobs, battle with Cushing’s syndrome and how much our chemical makeup defines who we are.
Rodney Anonymous: When interviewing the Dead Milkman frontman, it’s best to just point the microphone and get out of the way.
Tim Stevens: My former Engadget boss and I sat down in a noisy Manhattan diner to discuss the state of technology journalism and that novel he’s been meaning to write.
And of course there’s episode 50 with Rhett Miller of the Old 97s, which just landed today. In the coming weeks, we’ll also be featuring interviews with Chris Hayes, Ben Harper, The Black Lips, Erik Friedlander, James Kochalka, Ultragrrrl and Peter Kuper, to name a few. Stay tuned! Oh, and you know, don’t forget to leave a rating on iTunes…