Curated by Bishop Sand, creator of Qualia
Bishop Sand produces and hosts the podcast Qualia. He is also an educator and creative producer at Goat Rodeo, a podcast agency in Washington, D.C. In this collection, Bishop presents podcasts that take risks.
There is something very unsafe about these shows–they’re not ok settling for a good, polished product. These risks don’t always work: sometimes we should embrace convention. But for this collection, I’ve selected shows that take chances and push the podcast medium forward by taking risks.
In my mind, the risk can come from the sound design, subject matter, or format. I’m a sucker for shows that push boundaries in a couple of these categories, or even break outside the boundaries completely. If you’re a podcast lover, you may know the conventions: the knowledgeable host talking to the listener surrogate host, the narrator becoming part of the story, the same scoring hitting on the last word of thought to separate structures, etc.
Tomorrow’s World, for instance, is a little risky in that it pushes some interesting sound beds under explanations, drawing comparisons to Radiolab. But I think the show is especially bold in both its ambitious topics and a disregard for narrative in order to pursue the most profound ideas. Love + Radio used to scratch my itch for risky sound design under interviews. They even used music that had words in it! (OMG! THE HORROR!) Now, they’ve really pushed their subject matter to an incredibly risky place, where they could easily offend their listeners. But strangely, I want to simultaneously protect and punish their subjects–AND I feel both guilty and righteous in these desires.
I think there’s this natural drive to test the boundaries of your favorite thing. I set out to do that with my show, Qualia. My driving question for the series is, “How can sound, informed by science, push people to experience new ideas?” And I love pushing that question. When it works, you’ll get goosebumps. When it falls flat, you’ll feel confused. But either way, we’re always trying something we’ve never heard before in terms of format, content, and sound design–our first episode is even called “Risk,” taking listeners on a journey through decision-making in a risky situation. My tendency to take risks, as a listener and as a producer, drives the creation of Qualia and unifies the shows in this collection.
Our show constructs mental scenes for listeners in which they are manipulated to feel certain ways. It’s all informed by science and provides short explanations of how it’s being done along the way. I like to think of it as learning about your own mind by experiencing its quirks. The sound design and the format are all meticulously designed so that you can feel a risk… or a pang of empathy… or a blockade of reason.
The host, Tim Hinman, innovates in many ways: his way of conceptualizing a complete scene, his dynamic range in his sound design (he composes his mix to let you hear the subtle, tiny sounds that must be amazing for all the ASMR folks) and above all, he takes his time.
A show that immerses you in an explanation and then seamlessly leads you into larger ideas of science, life, and possibilities. After listening, I often feel the same kind of giddiness as I do after reading a good science fiction book.
An independent podcast that takes the listener and forces them to look at the dark and see more than just fear. The show often breaks sound design conventions to intentionally throw you off balance and most of the time it works in a lovely way.
Ok, so this show is kind of cheating. It’s a show about experimental sound. It’s my palate cleanser when I’m feeling drained and need to hear something completely different than a well-produced, good, safe show.
Love + Radio
I wish I could’ve been the cool guy to suggest this show to you before Radiotopia was a thing. But I feel obliged to still include them on the risky list because their subjects are so frustratingly edgy and yet unjudgeable that I spend days thinking about what my reactions mean.
This show’s sound design is NOT risky. However, Zoe’s interviewing style and show format definitely is. She reminds me of funnier and more caring Howard Stern, who goes out on adventures–seemingly up for anything. At times she is an incredible and insightful listener with a great interviewee. Other times, she lays into those on the other end of the mic when it’s a little meh.
The host, Eric Molinsky, experiments with blending fiction and non-fiction in some of his episodes. A few great examples of this would be the episode about Cthulhu and the urban vampires sequel.
Want to create your own collection of shows that dovetails with your area of interest? Add shows to your Smart Folder on RadioPublic, then inform the Podcast Librarian of your collection: firstname.lastname@example.org.