A Podcast Playlist for Uncertain Times
Like many other students here and across the country, in the last week I went from looking forward to everything second semester senior year had to offer to adjusting to the new reality of this pandemic. I said goodbye to friends as they left Oberlin, cried a lot, had my last in-person class of college, and am now trying to settle into the routine of self-quarantine. Despite all the fear and change, I have also been immensely grateful for everything Oberlin has given me and for the incredible community here that has time and again gone to great lengths to care for and protect each other.
In times of uncertainty such as this one, there is always one consistent source I turn to for comfort: podcasts. Listening to my favorite old podcast episodes has gotten me through every major change and challenge in my life, and they have also been a central part of my time at Oberlin from the beginning. Back in high school, I wrote my Oberlin application essay about how listening to This American Life influenced my worldview as a child. Since then, I spent a Winter Term creating a podcast series interviewing Oberlin alumni at the Kendal Retirement Community and have co-hosted and produced the radio show and podcast The Weekly with several other Oberlin students. Most recently, I helped plan journalist Alex Blumberg’s visit to campus—which ended up being a pretty perfect finale to my short senior year.
Since everyone is suddenly home with more free time than usual, I thought I would share some of my all time favorite podcast episodes to commemorate how meaningful audio journalism has been to me during my time at Oberlin. I would also like to note that Oberlin sends an astounding number of alumni into the podcasting industry—every single one of these shows has an Obie working on it in some capacity, which I find amazing!
This American Life
This American Life is my absolute favorite radio show and podcast. I’ve been listening since I was eight and have heard all 696 episodes at least once, and many far more times than that—they’re just so well reported and told. Each week, the show centers around a theme and includes stories from different reporters and contributors on that topic.
For more serious stories that discuss difficult topics with equal parts honesty and grace, some of my favorites are Five Women , The Problem We All Live With , and Tell Me I’m Fat . Seriously though, you cannot go wrong listening to This American Life; every episode is a masterpiece.
Reply All is officially a show about the internet, but on a deeper level it is about how people interact with each other in surprising, beautiful, and often confounding ways through technology. The podcast is both hilarious and very well-reported. Every episode winds up being some kind of adventure that always takes an unexpected turn.
The show also has a segment called “Yes Yes No” in which the hosts of the podcast explain a tweet to their boss, Oberlin alum Alex Blumberg. I find the segment is endlessly entertaining and usually text three or four people immediately after listening so we can discuss and laugh together. My favorites are The Year of the Wallop , Apocalypse Soon , and Friendship Village .
Heavyweight is such an odd, touching gem of a show. Every episode, host Jonathan Goldstein stumbles his way through helping someone resolve an unsolved problem from their past. This podcast usually manages to make me both laugh and cry in a single episode; it is so perfectly quirky and always well-written. A few of the best ones in my opinion are Beverly and Van , Jimmy and Mark , and Isabel.
I’ve been listening to Radio Lab almost as long as I’ve been listening to This American Life, so this podcast always makes me super nostalgic. Also, fun fact—both hosts are Oberlin alumni and we interviewed both on the radio show I work on! Radio Lab is brilliant in that it combines science, storytelling, and really creative sound editing. A few of my favorite episodes are Things , Football , Colors , Los Frikis , and Oops .
The Moth also makes me seriously sentimental. The premise is that people tell true stories live on stage with no notes and the podcasts are recordings of these stories. As someone who loves going to live Moth events, these stories remind me of being in a crowded room of strangers spending a night listening to each other’s life experiences—which is a nice memory to think about in the current time. There are countless fantastic stories from this podcast ranging from absurd to serious to nail-bitingly terrifying. I tried to pick a few of each for this list. Open Adoption and The Apron Strings of Savannah are tear-jerkers. The First Elf is hilarious, as is You’re So Screwed (which is also not for the faint of heart). Kidneys and Commitments and On the Road to Jericho are emotional and funny at the same time.
In times of fear and worry like the one we are in, my belief that storytelling is one of the most powerful forces for good in the world strengthens. These podcast episodes—which believe it or not represent a very narrowed down list of my favorites—have brought me joy, comfort, and companionship in times of need and I hope they can do the same for others.