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Podthoughts: The Big Ideas

Vital stats:
Format: elucidation of oft-name-checked but thinly understood ideas
Episode duration: 9-20m
Frequency: monthly, almost

My brain has filed Benjamen Walker, host and producer of WFMU’s Too Much Information, as one of our time’s major public radio martyrs. Yes, the man seems alive and well, but public radio martyrdom doesn’t require literal death. He can go on breathing, eating, sleeping, and working, making intricate audio pieces for which people express great admiration on the internet; he simply must symbolize the bizarre thanklessness of crafting fine sonic media. When Bill McKibben wrote a piece for the New York Review of Books on just this phenomenona couple years back, he quoted Walker directly:

[Too Much Information is] good enough that 240,000 people have downloaded some of the twenty episodes he’s made so far. That’s a lot of people, but it’s zero money, since podcasts, like most websites, are by custom given away for free. Walker’s previous show, a similar effort called Theory of Everything, was widely promoted on the Public Radio Exchange, and six public radio stations across the country actually paid for and ran it. “I think I made $80,” he says. “If I thought about it too hard, I would just quit. It’s much better not to think about it.”This brings to mind Memory Palace creator Nate DiMeo’s alternately encouraging and debilitatingly discouraging article on public radio production. Walker commented with a j’accuse against stations willing to pay for digital consultants, brand consultants, and “content executives” instead of, uh, content. A bold declaration, you might think, although I personally would have tossed in an indictment of stations’ badly limiting and increasingly shameless tendency to pander to, and only to, listeners’ fear of having their ignorance exposed at the office water cooler. No surprise, then — or not so much of a surprise, anyway — that Walker’s latest high-profile project comes not in collaboration with a traditional public radio outfit, but with the British newspaper the Guardian. Together they bring you The Big Ideas [RSS] [iTunes], a podcast on just those.

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