Tag Archives: podcasts

Why I broke up with RadioLab

I posted last week about the podcasts I love. Many people responded that they loved RL. I used to be in that camp. I haven’t talked that much about why I broke up with them, but I did mention it. One of my friends asked me why, so here is my response.

Part I:

In the fall of 2012 I was walking to meet a friend for lunch and listening to the episode “The Fact of the Matter.” Then the segment Yellow Rain came on. I remember hearing Robert Krulwich interrogate Eng Yang and his niece, Kao Kalia Yang, and I was on the verge of tears at his questioning.

Shortly after the episode aired, Ms. Yang wrote a response, specifically about how she and her uncle had agreed to participate because they believed they would finally get to tell their story and be believed. Instead, they were badgered and not taken seriously, diminished. I urge you to listen to the episode and then read Ms. Yang’s response. She had a further follow-up.

Part II:

In March 2012, This American Life produced an entire episode retracting the Mike Daisy Foxconn story. At the time I thought it was overkill. Why was Ira bending over backwards? I didn’t understand.

Part III:

sunset behind the mekong

I’d spent the winter of 2011 in SE Asia. I visited Laos. I learned not only about the Hmong people, but how Laos got the worst of it during the Vietnam War era. Everyone was carpet bombing the fuck out of them. They have more unexploded ordinances than any other country in SE Asia and it would take centuries to clear all the bombs if anyone was doing any actual clearing. This was not something I’d learned in high school or college history classes.

Part IV:

So after having traveled to Laos and hearing TAL’s retraction, I expected a similar level of respect from Radioplab. Instead, their response disheartened me. They weren’t interested in facts, or the truth, as they said. They had destroyed my trust. Why couldn’t they believe the Yangs? I wrote an email to the show, telling them they had broken my trust. They never responded to my email. They dug in, got defensive, and didn’t see how they’d harmed the Yangs.


I had learned some fantastic things from Radkoplab, but I’m still heartbroken about the treatment of the Yangs. On a piece about facts and truth, they couldn’t see their own errors or admit they had fucked up and done harm. I’ve tried to listen a few times since the fall of 2012, and each time I just get really sad and also don’t know what to believe from their story. I can learn about the things they cover in other places.

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Podcasts I Love

In no particular order:


Risk Show

Hosted by Kevin Allison, the tag line is “true stories you thought you’d never dare to share.” While there are plenty of stories about sexual adventures, there are other stories that venture into darker/forbidden territory as well. Trevor Noah’s story about his mother is a recent one I recommend. I was also incredibly moved by Marcy Langlois’ story surrender, about recovering from tragedy.

The Moth

This is the first storytelling podcast I heard. So many fantastic voices and stories. I often replay them later for my girlfriend. Top hits include:


Produced by Lea Thau, who was the first producer on The Moth. She interviews different people on the theme of what makes them feel a stranger. I always find these stories touching, even when the people’s experiences are so different from my own. For a start, try American Mormon-International Mr. Leather. Or start anywhere, really.

nigella pod


Nerdist. Chris Hardwick interviews people from the entertainment industry with a nerdy and/or comedy slant. Recent interviews I enjoyed: Cameron Esposito, Lily Tomlin, and Jon Ronson.

My mom just tipped me off to Crybabies, which is about the things that make people cry. Susan Orlean and Sarah Thyre are fabulous. I’ve only listened to a few, but Guy Branum’s ep was great. Notorious RBG. I say no more.

On Being is hosted by Krista Tippet. I don’t listen regularly, but she gets the most amazing people, like Mary Oliver. I did listen to her recent episode with Amy Ray and Emily Saliers, the Indigo Girls, who have been such a formative part of my own adulthood.


State of the Re:union is no longer producing new episodes, but it is excellent. Al Letson explores different places across the country through a specific lens – often race, but not always. Pick a place you know, or one you don’t, and learn more amazing things about this country.

And a few more as I run out of steam for you.


Design Matters with Debbie Millman
99 Percent Invisible with Roman Mars. Go listen to the episode about lawns. Also, Roman has the best voice to put in your ears.


Infinite Monkey Cage from the BBC
Sawbones: a marital tour of misguided medical history

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From the Panama Canal to Angkor Wat

leaving the locks

For those of you who know me, you know I am an avid podcast listener. Most of the podcasts I listen to are story oriented, but a few lean toward education. I just learned about the podcast Stuff You Should Know, and they did an episode on How the Panama Canal Works.

Among other things, I learned that a river was dammed up to create a lake to get boats over the continental divide. There was fantastic discussion about the impact of disease (i.e. Yellow Fever) and how knowledge changed over time so workers were getting killed by industrial disaster instead of disease. Don’t ask me why I’m saying this in such a chipper manner, because of course I think killing people in the name of building something like this is horrifying.

My favorite thing about the episode, however, was toward the end, when they mentioned how vessels are charged by weight to go through the locks. I was wondering if they knew about a certain human who swam the locks, and lo and behold, they did! They mentioned Richard Halliburton’s traverse.

I don’t expect many of you to recognize Halliburton’s name, but growing up his name was said with a sort of awe. He was the first adventure travel writer and we read about his exploits in his Book of Marvels and discussed them with my father many times. As a matter of fact, his writing impelled my father to drag our sorry asses many places around the globe. Two years ago, I finally got to return the favor when my father met me in Cambodia to explore the ruins of Angkor Wat.

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