Magazine article The Spectator

Radio: Kate Chisholm

Magazine article The Spectator

Radio: Kate Chisholm

Article excerpt

My resolution this New Year is to get to grips with podcasts, to brace up and embrace this new aural wonderland stuffed full of sound stories, experiments, features, adventures. They've been around for a decade, and there's now hundreds of thousands of them, lurking in the web, hoping for someone to stream or download them. But where to start? What will be worth listening to, and not a waste of time, or just a bore, or even worse nightmare-inducing (there's nothing like stories told on radio for creeping insidiously into the mind)? How do you find just what you want to listen to amid this babel?

The easiest place to begin is the BBC's own podcast site, Seriously... which gathers together its own selection of BBC programmes in specific categories. Delve further inside and you will find the podcast archive, which has specially curated collections of programmes, chosen by radio experts like Piers Plowright, whose most recent documentary for Radio 4 was Stepping Stones in which he revisited sounds that meant something to him (such as the petrol-fumed burr of a Morris Minor or sploshing through pondweed-filled water), each episode a haunting, magical classic of its kind. But my mission is to venture deeper into the outer regions of this new audio world.

There's a lot of rough stuff out there, edgy voices, scratchy sound, awkward pauses, and what might sound intriguing is often really disappointing. RISK! , for instance, a collection of podcasts that claims to tell 'true tales, boldly told', had the appearance of something worth spending time with but before I'd had a chance to get hooked we were given an advert for an American website selling stamps online (American podcasts dominate the market, feeding off the long history of American radio as a storytelling medium but with no corporation to match the BBC's range of schedules). Meanwhile at Snap Judgement -- 'dramatic tales, killer beats and the edgiest new talent in storytelling' -- I gave up after a few minutes, put off by an advert for ice-cold beer.

Limetown , though, which features in the top 100 of popular podcasts, had the same compelling, immersive effect as Serial , the investigative series that went viral last autumn alerting the world to the story of Adnan Syed who was imprisoned in the USA for the murder of Hae Min Lee. Limetown is told episode by episode and as if it were a documentary but in fact it's a creepy story made up by two guys, Zack Ackers and Skip Bronkie, who met while at film school in New York. …

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