Podcasts date back at least 15 years – and have been available to a wide audience through iTunes since 2005 – but they reached a tipping point recently when “Serial” exploded into the public consciousness.
Released last fall, “Serial,” a spinoff of “This American Life” that examined a single crime over 12 episodes, has been downloaded more than 40 million times, smashing previous podcast records and fueling a national obsession.
While “Serial” became a full-blown phenomenon – even inspiring its own “Saturday Night Live” parody – most podcasts operate on a far smaller scale. Nevertheless, many believe we are living in the golden age of the medium. The ease of production for this type of narrative audio has resulted in programming on a variety of topics from locales far flung and near, including Sacramento.
Jesse Drew, a professor of cinema and technoculture at University of California, Davis, and author of the book “A Social History of Contemporary Democratic Media,” describes podcasts as part of a category he calls “communications from below.”
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“Podcasting has been a vital and foundational aspect of subcultures, given that it is very accessible at very low cost and available on one’s own time frame. It allows bands, scenes, DJs and artists the ability to reach global audience at a minuscule cost.”
Comedians make up another subculture that has been enthusiastic about adopting the format. Before “Serial,” “WTF,” a podcast hosted by L.A.-based comedian Marc Maron, was one of the medium’s biggest breakout story. Comedy podcasts are alive and kicking in Sacramento as well, with both taped live and recorded-in-studio shows dominating a small-but-growing landscape.
Those interested in checking out local podcasts will find varying levels of professionalism and entertainment value. They range from unedited and rambling – with echo-ey mikes and audible phone intrusions – to a handful that are well-paced and even include niceties such as theme music. Here are five Sacramento podcasts worth a listen:
“It’s Funny Because” hosted by Keith Lowell Jensen and Johnny Taylor
Where to find it: itsfunnybecause.libsyn.com
Format: Weekly interviews with local and national comedians who talk shop about the funny business.
The interesting thing about “It’s Funny Because,” a podcast hosted by two of Sacramento’s best known comedians, is that it’s not always funny. Rather, it’s often a riveting and eye-opening dissection of the art and craft of comedy.
Jensen created the show out of a desire to promote the local comedy scene, and to counter a frustration he felt with radio jocks wanting him to “always be funny” during interviews.
“I wanted to create a format where comedians can talk about the great deal of work they put into what they do,” he said. “Hopefully, there is a big audience that is interested in the mechanics of it.”
Must-listen episodes: Episode 30 (with nationally known comedians Greg Proops and Jules Posner); Episode 34 (personal reminiscences about Robin Williams with Mike E. Winfield); Episode 7 (discussion about whether there is a Sacramento comedy “voice” with Ray Molina).
“Hooks and Stone: A Podcast” hosted by Anthony Van Hook and Melody Stone
Where to find it: hoooksandstone.tumblr.com
Format: Semi-weekly freewheeling conversations with an eclectic mix of artists, musicians and local movers and shakers. Part of the show includes the hosts or guests choosing a craft beer to drink and discuss.
While a relative newcomer on the scene (with fewer than 10 podcasts available for listeners), “Hooks and Stone” boasts professional production and savvy marketing, including a hipster logo featuring a beer mug and a microphone. This is no surprise, given that both hosts work at Capital Public Radio – Stone as a Web editor and digital content producer and Van Hook in operations.
Must-listen episodes: Episode 7 (with Tapigami artist Danny Scheible); Episode 3 (with TV host/underground wrestler/local musician Danny Reynoso).
“The Junior and Leo Show” hosted by Junior Bruce and Leo Zuniga
Where to find it: twomenandapod.podbean.com
Format: Twice-a-month interview show that’s heavy on comedians but also features guests such as poets and mixed martial arts fighters.
Aspiring comedians Junior Bruce and Leo Zuniga are Sacramento’s most prolific podcasters, with nearly 200 episodes that have 40,000 listens. While not lacking in personality, the hosts’ interview style is refreshingly deferential, bucking the trend of other podcasters who spend large portions of interviews talking about themselves instead of to their guests.
Must-listen episodes: Episode 150 (an emotional and profane interview with comedian Queenie TT); Episode 163 (with local celebrity Mark S. Allen); Episode 153 (with guerrilla artists Andru Defeye and Matt Brown).
“The Top 10 List Podcast” hosted by Sacramento Comedy Spot’s Brian Crall
Where to find it: www.comedyspotnation.com/top-10-list-podcast/
Format: A weekly live-panel podcast taped at the Sacramento Comedy Spot.
“Top 10” is similar to the popular (non-local) podcast Doug Loves Movies, hosted by comedian Doug Benson. Both are taped live in a comedy club with a panel of comedians, and both center around a nonsensical game with arbitrary scores being used as an excuse to get comedians riffing.
Crall said he is planning to aggregate other comedy podcasts on his website in the near future, including a new one called “One Up Show” with host Steph Garcia.
“The ‘One Up Show’ was a live show at the Comedy Spot,” Crall said. “It is very funny, but we felt it would make a better podcast. Steph Garcia gives three comedians a topic, like worst holiday. Each of the comedians tells a story on the subject and then she chooses a winner.”
Must-listen episodes: Episode 114 (celebrity deathwatch 2015); Episode 51 (best fast food items); Episode 101 (best gay and lesbian celebrities).
“An InExact Science” hosted by Lisa Cantrell
Where to find it: aninexactscience.podbean.com
Format: Once-a-month in-depth examination of a topic from a scientific viewpoint.
With only three episodes so far, this podcast, by Davis-based cognitive development scientist Dr. Lisa Cantrell, has set itself apart from the local pack with a vibe that’s similar to the popular NPR show/podcast “Radio Lab.” Cantrell said that while the show may stray outside of her area of scientific expertise, her knowledge of how research is conducted allows her to explore myriad topics.
“I understand intimately how we set up these studies and the kinds of conclusions you can draw from experiments – and what you can’t really conclude given confounds or limitations on what you can manipulate and measure,” she explained.
“I am hoping to share exciting data with listeners, but I also want the listeners to understand how studies are run and how scientists make the kinds of conclusions they make.”
Must-listen episodes: All three episodes – one on language acquisition and a two-parter on the origin of religious belief – are gripping. A show about Alzheimer’s disease and dementia is expected next.