I’ve been sampling the wonderment that is an iPod nano for the past couple of months now. Young Brook’s hand-me-down is now full of Steely Dan, Def Leppard, The War of the Worlds, Flogging Molly and assorted other musics (yeah, okay, fine, including John Farnham). Bu the really great thing about it, especially combined with its iTunes master application, is podcasts. The iTunes service will track podcast feeds via XML and RSS and will automatically download the latest shows of any podcasts I subscribe to. I can take them with me in the iPod and catch up on subjects of interest during my lunch hour, all without bothering Vickie with any annoying voices or accents.
So what am I subscribed to?
Well, to start with, I’m tracking two podcasts based on American Public Media’s radio shows. The first is The News From Lake Wobegon, an excerpt from the weekly radio show, A Prairie Home Companion. If you’ve seen the Robert Altman film of the same name you’ll have a good idea of what this live-broadcast country variety show is like, especially the performances of the show’s host, Garrison Keillor. The man is intelligent, witty and phenomenally well-read, and on top of all that he has a wonderful, deep, very warm speaking voice. His Lake Wobegon monologues aren’t represented in the film, but each is at least ten minutes long, and details the goings-on in a fictional Minnesota prairie town where the ends of the emotional spectrum are “acceptance and resignation”. They’re always gently hilarious and often touching, and I’m positive that Garrison does each and every one almost entirely off the cuff.
By the way, Australian listeners can catch a version of A Prairie Home Companion abbreviated for international broadcast and renamed Garrison Keillor’s Radio Show, on ABC Radio National every Sunday at 7PM. If you’ve missed any of them, you can find them here.
Garrison also hosts a daily, five-minute show called The Writer’s Almanac, where he examines the lives of literary and artistic figures whose birthdays fall on the day of the show, as well as important events in the history of the art world. He ends each show by reading a poem, and that wonderful voice embodies the chosen poems fantastically; between Vickie and Garrison I’m developing a serious interest in poetry. If you’ve not heard this show before, I recommend going to the Writer’s Almanac website, going into the archive, finding the page for the week beginning July 16th, scrolling down until you find the entry for the Sunday, July 22nd broadcast and listening to it. The poem, “Acceptance Speech” is just fantastic.
The rest of my subscriptions are rather more geeky. My most recent subscription is the Bungie Studios “Hilariously Regular” Weekly Podcast, so named because between the first and second of the weekly shows there was a gap of nine months. Naturally, it’s mainly oriented around the development of the soon-to-be-released Xbox 360 game, Halo 3, but the three hosts and their guests are pretty well spoken, keep the show lively and always have interesting insights into the game development process to offer without spoiling anything for those of us who want our Halo 3 experience as unsullied as possible. It'll be very interesting to hear what they turn their shows to after Halo 3 comes out.
Then there’s The Dungeons & Dragons Podcast, hosted by David Noonan and Mike Mearls. It says a lot that I’m actually subscribed to this podcast that offers advice and insight into a game I’m not greatly interested in, mainly as it doesn’t really offer what I’ve found I really want out of an RPG session nowadays. Noonan and Mearls let their enthusiasm for their hobby and profession (they’re employees of D&D’s parent company, Wizards of the Coast) show through in their podcasts, but don’t go overboard. Entertaining and informative, and even gets me thinking about finding a D&D game to join.
Have Games, Will Travel is a general tabletop gaming podcast. Its single host, Paul Tevis, is an avid player of RPGs, board games, wargames and anything else that needs a tabletop to play in, and he reviews the product that he’s played very clearly and ably. I think a single-host podcast is a bit tricky; banter and discussion draws more of the hosts’ personalities and opinions out of them, and even a good presenter can come across a little flat by comparison. Paul is a very good presenter, yet even so I’m not in as much of a hurry to listen to him as I am the D&D guys. Still, it’s nice to listen to a hobbyist podcast that’s more broad focus than just tabletop RPGs.
Speaking of which, there’s The Durham 3. These lads are New Jersey gamers who get together to game and hang out, and they usually record a podcast in the meantime. They’re the diametric opposite of Paul Tevis, in that although they’re always clearly spoken, they’re loud, enthusiastic and sometimes a bit lewd (iTunes gives their podcast the “Explicit” tag). Their podcasts rarely go longer than ten minutes and are fun to listen to.
Finally there’s probably my favourite podcast, The Sons of Kryos. Again, it’s RPG-related, but it’s very much about practical advice for the people at the gaming table, ephasising the actual act of playing oner the on-paper rules. The hosts, Jeff, Judd and Storn, cover a broad range of topics, with regular sentences such as “GM’s Tools” and “Good Sentences”, but one way or another, their advice often comes back to, “Talk to your players.”