NPR – Not just for nerds anymore

June 18, 2009

When I was a kid, my dad used to drop me off at school before heading to work. And the one only radio station that he would listen to? NPR. Back then, I would whine and complain about the nonsensical ramblings, interrupted only by the distint three-bell tone which separated the news from traffic and weather. I didn’t understand why he – or anyone – would listen to this instead of the new Hammer or Ace of Base song.

Not much had changed, until recently. I was perfectly content with hearing Jamie Foxx croon about how its all about the a-a-a-a-alcohol and Kings of Leon whine about their sex on fire. But music gets repetitive – especially given how often radio stations play the same songs again and again and again and again and again. So instead, I made an effort to educate myself during my 30-45 minute commute to work each day. At first I tried  learning a foreign language, which worked in the mornings but would be life threatening on the way back home after a long day of work. Something about repeating “ni shr mei guo ren ma?” ten times in a row doesn’t keep you awake. However, it led me to NPR. And NPR saved my life.

NPR isn’t just about news. In addition to business, world, and local news, there’s also personal stories, musicians, and many other segments which are broadcast throughout the day. Each hour is devoted to a different show, so there is quite a bit of variety, much like any TV channel. Mornings are devoted primarily to business and world news – “All Things Considered” and “Morning Edition” – while afternoons have arts and interesting stories – “Fresh Air” and local station programs. And you will find shows you look forward to.

In terms of detail, NPR is between reading an article and watching coverage on TV. It’s detailed, but still manages to entertain through interviews and visual descriptions.

In addition to listening over the radio, many NPR shows can also be downloaded as podcasts, including local shows from other cities. My favorite, by far, is This American Life (based in Chicago). Each episode revolves around a theme, then stories and narratives are then used to give insight to this theme. This show is oftentimes the best hour of my week. A good financial podcast is NPR’s Planet Money. The show offers a unique perspective on financial news – the hosts act as detectives who interview politicians, economists, lawyers professors, corporate executives, and others in order to better understand what is going on. Their ongoing coverage of the TARP program and auto industry bailout is second to none. This show is both detailed and comprehendable (unlike most coverage out there). Best of all, the half-hour program is great during a lunch break.

So I lied – NPR is still for nerds. But if you find yourself tired listening to T-Pain for the tenth time that day, switch it over to FM89.X (the last number changes based on the city you’re in) and you might hear something you like.


Further Enrich Your Life Through Podcasts

April 17, 2009

It is pretty common these days for people to try and broaden their knowledge in different topics through Googling, looking at Youtube how-to videos, Wikipedia, blogs, etc.  But another resource I’ve tapped into is subscribing to podcasts.  It is amazing how many people regularly podcast content for free for your listening pleasure.  And there are a lot of really good ones that are guaranteed to enlighten you in any topic you may be interested in.  Here are a few thoughts on how to get started and how to make subscribing to podcasts useful for you.

First, some of you may still be asking, what’s a podcast? According to wikipedia, a Podcast is “series of digital media files, usually digital audio or video, that is made available for download via Web syndication.”  Someone who runs a podcast will typically record and broadcast an episode regularly, and thanks to many free programs out there these days, these episodes can be made available to us as soon as they are broadcasted.  It is common for people to download these podcasts, load them into a media player (such as an iPod) so they can conveniently listen to these podcasts anywhere.

There are many ways that people manage and discover podcasts.  There are different “podcast catchers” out there, as well as websites with lists of different podcasts to subscribe to.  Usually these podcasts are in the form of an “.xml” feed.. it works similarly to an RSS feed.  The address for that feed is what you want to enter when asked what feed you would like to subscribe to.  When a new episode is available, the podcast catcher will see it in the Podcast feed and download it.  I personally manage my podcasts through iTunes because I find it very easy to search for podcasts in the iTunes store, subscribe to them right away inside iTunes, and then listen to them.  Another customizable setting that is worth noting is the “auto delete” setting.  By default, a podcast program will usually auto-delete podcasts after a certain number of days, or after they are played.  I like to have control over which podcasts I keep and which podcasts I delete, so I usually select whatever option it is that never deletes podcasts episodes.

Whatever you’re interested in, there is probably a podcast for you to subscribe to.  For me, I’ve listened to and watched podcasts about topics ranging from personal finance, the stock market, the economy… to food, fitness, health… to discussions about the environment and living an eco-friendly lifestyle, to free music lesson series, free “personal trainer,” workout music… I even subscribe to my favorite morning show so I don’t miss out on the fun topics they discuss at 6am when I’m still sleeping.  The possibilities are endless.  Just search for a topic you’re interested in and start subscribing!