This week’s “In the Mix” column is about music podcasts, so for synergy’s sake, the corresponding picks are all nonmusic podcasts. I’ve avoided big names like Serial and S-Town that you’ve already heard or at least heard of, and left out Karina Longworth’s Hollywood history pod You Must Remember This, which it seems like all my pals have devoured but I haven’t listened to yet.
The J.J. Redick Podcast. The Sixers’ three-point specialist is a renaissance man of sorts with a post-retirement career in broadcasting if he so desires. His interviews with scrappy teammate T.J. McConnell and the Celtic’s Zen marvel Kyrie Irving are illuminating, as are chats with Arsenal soccer great Thierry Henry and Chicago chef Grant Achatz. The recent standout is with Philly filmmaker M. Night Shyamalan, who turns out to be a basketball whisperer with ideas about how to apply Greek philosophy to winning in the NBA.
Threshold. I binged this podcast hosted by radio producer and intrepid journalist Amy Martin last summer while tooling around the Wisconsin and Montana Big Sky country where the buffalo roam, or used to. “When you start out talking about bison, you end up talking about America,” Martin says, and Threshold is an immersive exploration of the nation’s history with the hulking, even-toed ungulates, which numbered 50 million in the U.S. when European settlers arrived and which had been slaughtered to such a degree that only 23 were left in 1901. It digs deep into issues about conservation and politics and the relationship of the U.S. government to native populations both animal and human, while never losing a sense of wonder about the majestic beasts.
Memory Palace. Nate DiMeo’s long-running history podcast has a spectral, dreamlike quality as the writer — who wrote for the NBC sitcom Parks & Recreation — gives life to stories inspired by a wide range of people, places and things, whether it’s the 1938 58 home-run season of the “Hebrew Hammer,” Detroit Tigers slugger Hank Greenberg; the sad lot of Edwin Booth, the Shakespearean actor whose career was ruined when his younger brother assassinated President Abraham Lincoln; or DiMeo’s own childhood home. Maybe the best thing about “The Memory Palace”? It’s short, with most episodes under 10 minutes.
Joe Frank. I didn’t know Joe Frank died in January until I was scrolling through an episodes list of the excellent WNYC-FM podcast “Radiolab” and found a tribute to the public radio pioneer by Jad Abumrad called “The Voice in Your Head” that includes an interview with This American Life host Ira Glass that credits Frank as a chief inspiration. Frank was a West Coast pioneer whose dark, obsessive one-of-a-kind radio shows were regularly heard on left-of-the-dial Philadelphia public radio stations in the 1980s and 1990s. The intoxicating, can’t-turn-it-off style of storytelling to which contemporary pods aspire was developed to transfixing effect by Frank decades ago. There’s a treasure trove at JoeFrank.com
In Our Time. A BBC program hosted by Melvin Bragg focused on history and the history of ideas features erudite British people talking about Frederick Douglass or fungi or Sun Tzu and the Art of War or cephalopods or Russian poet Anna Akhmatova or Emily Bronte’s Wuthering Heights. Bragg — no relation to Billy — does have the Charlie Rose habit of obnoxiously interrupting his interview subjects before they can get their answers out, but he’s much better informed than his disgraced American counterpart.