Maybe you were raised on public radio or maybe you found it later in life. For me, growing up in a house with one small TV that got turned off right after Mr. Rogers but a radio in every room, public radio was as regular a part of life as breakfast or time-out. But whether you were indoctrinated as an infant or found NPR commuting to work, you’re on a public radio Tumblr, so you probably love it as much as I do. You might not look like the stereotypical public radio listener, and you may not even own an actual radio, but if you are reading this, I suspect that for you, like me, public radio is the most consistent source of information and entertainment in your life. I can’t imagine my life without it, especially now that I work in public radio, a literal dream come true (and I mean “literal” literally. Sometimes my dreams are narrated by Zoe Chace.). But I didn’t always work in a place where I get to talk about public radio all day, and before I started this job, I spent a lot of time annoying coworkers and friends with my constant chatter about the latest from public media—apparently not everyone wants to stand around the water cooler with someone who begins every conversation with, “Sooo did you hear this thing on NPR…?” But rather than catching up on The Bachelor instead of changing the conversation to Radiolab, I decided to change the people around me instead. I started a list of the shows that I think are most likely to make converts out of non-listeners, and that’s what this Tumblr is.
For the list below, we turned to the people behind the headphones—some of whom you’ve probably heard of—and what follows are the stories public radio reporters, hosts, and producers think are so good, so compelling, so likely to make you laugh or cry or both at once, that even your uncle who would rather hear an hour of static than a three-minute news update won’t be able to stop listening. Send this link to the non-listeners in your life, and when they start asking if you caught All Things Considered yesterday, don’t say “I told you so,” just nod and smile and be glad for great radio.
—Katie Herzog, Web Producer, WFAE
"A feat of production, storytelling, and wonder. Just thinking about the final turn is so affecting. As I type this, it’s making my chest hurt."
—Ben Calhoun, Producer, This American Life
All Things Considered: Why Chaucer Said ‘Ax’ Instead Of ‘Ask,’ And Why Some Still Do
“I get a huge kick out of Shereen Marisol Meraji’s work. It’s smart, it’s playful, it’s funny. In the piece, Shereen delves into a common stereotype of black vernacular: pronouncing the work ‘ask’ as ‘ax.’ She waded into sticky territory to dig into the history of this word and found that even Chaucer used ‘ax’ as ‘ask.’ But maybe the best part of the story is when Shereen gets Keegan-Michael Key and Jordan Peele to riff off-the-cuff.”
—Kat Chow, Digital Journalist, NPR’s Code Switch
This American Life: Book of Job
“This is my favorite radio piece of all time (in fact, I just listened to it again last night as I was drifting off to sleep). It was the piece that made me want to do radio. Scott Carrier is pretty much the master, in my mind.”
—Sean Cole, Independent Producer
Gwen Mascai: Ode to Marriage
“I love this piece because it is simple. Direct writing, one piece of music, and one brilliant sound effect. Gwen seamlessly pulls off humor without sounding like she’s trying too hard.”
—Hillary Frank, Host/Founder, The Longest Shortest Time
Fresh Air: Fresh Air Remembers Maurice Sendak
“I used to do the web stuff at Fresh Air. I got to hear Terry interview Maurice live, which means before it was cut, and then my coworker Sam Briger made it into a magical piece of radio. I sat at my desk with my head down on my keyboard and cried. It makes you think about life and death and living—and dying—in a magnificent way.”
—Melody Kramer, Digital Strategist, NPR
Kelly McEvers: Diary of a Bad Year
“This piece by Kelly McEvers provides a deeper insight into the psychology of war reporting than I have ever heard before. It is thrilling, heart breaking and beautiful. Recommended listening for anyone who appreciates great radio, and required listening for any person who is planning to report in a conflict zone.”
—Sarah Kramer, Producer, Radio Diaries
This American Life: Mapping
“I love how simple this piece is. In simply drawing our attention to all the white noise—refrigerator hum, the computer drone, the faint buzz of lights—that invade our spaces, and pointing out that the tones or chords these appliances make might literally score our existence (either toward the minor, major, frightening), we get a changed world.”
—Lulu Miller, Reporter/Producer, NPR Science Desk
David Isay: Ghetto Life 101
“This is old school public radio but the kind of public radio that revolutionized what we do. David Isay is the genius behind Ghetto Life 101. He handed microphones to two boys in Chicago’s roughest housing projects and asked them to record their lives and thoughts. The result is a masterpiece radio art. It will move you to change the way you think about the world and it is a template for so much of the best radio you hear day in day out.”
—Guy Raz, Host, TED Radio Hour
Memory Palace: Dig Set Spike
"The Memory Palace is something that could only exist in audio, and could only have come from public radio. It’s stories from history told in such a captivating manner that I can’t even describe it here, you just have to listen. This episode is about some Nazis in an American prison camp, and their perplexing plans to build themselves a volleyball court."
—Jesse Thorn, Host, Bullseye
All Things Considered: Aid Begins To Work Its Way Into Haiti
"Jason Beaubien’s reporting from anywhere is always awesome, but the time reporting on the earthquake in Haiti made him cry on air is legendary. What was supposed to be a big picture update for people back in the States became a much more intimate look at one child’s suffering—but it still conveyed so much. I also personally witnessed Jason bring his wife a pastry the other day, so I know his humanity is not an act."
—Rachel Ward, Producer, Morning Edition
Many thanks to everyone who helped make this happen. Check back next week for the second installment of Listen Here: A Public Radio Playlist.