The early promise of podcasting was that we'd be blown away by how many great amateur broadcasters there were out there, people with talent and ability who lacked only access to the mainstream media. Podcasting, like blogging before it, would set these spirits free!
I probably don't need to tell you that the reality is a tad less inspiring. Listening to a bad amateur (or professional for that matter) podcast is a little like being stuck talking to the most boring person at a party.
But don't despair. Here is an example of an absolutely terrific podcast that justifies the hype. And yes, it's from someone who's never done radio before. It is, without a doubt, the best indie podcast I have heard to date.
It's called Fly With Me (Web site here; iTunes link here; new Yahoo! feed here), and it's produced by Joe d'Eon, a pilot for a major airline (he prefers not to say which one). It's a nicely produced look behind the cockpit door, as we hear from pilots and flight attendants about the highs and (often, these days) lows of working in the airline industry. Like any good window into a subculture, it makes us feel like we're getting an unauthorized peek behind the scenes. And yes, in case you're wondering, flight attendants do remember us when we act like total jackasses.
D'Eon always has his recorder going, and you'll hear cool things like a bunch of pilots gossiping on their in-flight radio channel. He organizes his monthly episodes by themes. One of my favorites is "Early Departures," about how turmoil in the airline industry is causing pilots to retire prematurely. D'Eon tags along with a more senior pilot on his last flight as captain. It's very moving. There's also one called "Fear," which includes conversations with passengers and pilots about fears of flying.
My first thought on hearing these thoughtful, funny, thematic shows was that it reminded me of This American Life. Sure enough, "I'm a big fan of Ira Glass," d'Eon told me when I called him up. OK, but there's a big difference between liking Ira Glass and being able to do what he does. So, did d'Eon get some professional help? Nope. "[I] tried the best that I could to copy what [Glass] was doing." The result is much more than a copy—it's a template for other aspiring podcasters.
(Click here for MP3 audio of my interview with d'Eon.)
However, as much as I heartily recommend Fly With Me, I will confess that it depressed me a little. You see, as someone who's worked in radio for two decades, I thought I had developed and honed a unique set of skills. Joe d'Eon has disabused me of that fantasy. And yet I will never be able to pilot a commercial jet. It just isn't fair.
While I nurse my bruised ego, you can check out this week's Slatepodcast offerings:
Oct. 14: Reporters and Apple, Sittin' in a Tree ( Slate piece)
Oct. 13: Get Your Ice Cold Beer!( Slate piece)
Oct. 12: Fighting the Flu With Kid Power( Slate piece)
Oct. 11: $30K in Rancid Meat, But At Least the Cat Survived ( Slate piece)
Oct. 10: Casting the First Stone at Miers ( Slate piece)
And you can reach me at Podcasts@slate.com. (E-mail sent may be quoted unless the writer stipulates otherwise.)