Just how hard is it to find a good podcast?

And I don't mean the usual suspects cleanly edited by business-minded professionals: I mean the quirky and the amusing, the slightly odd and the informative. Something that stretches your normal listening habits. Being old enough to remember a time before the 'net (the 80s), I've developed two strategies for finding new and interesting radio programming:

The Random Radio Dial: For some reason, I am frequently awake at 4 or 5 in the morning. If the sky is clear and distant weather patterns are relatively stable, I can pick up distant radio stations on my AM dial. That means hours listening to Curtis and Kuby on WABC, Todd Wright AllNight on ESPN Chicago, even the monotonous WSB newsradio in Atlanta.

This strategy has some fundamental weaknesses, however. You can break the knob on the radio trying to dial in a long distance mono broadcast. The quality of AM radio today is a real damper as well. Why do all newscasters sound like they graduated from the Generic MidWestern White Guy School of Broadcasting, and why are they all reading the same AP morning hilites package? Also, relying on solar flares and rain patterns in the Carolinas is no way to program your audio habits.

The University/College Radio Station: The low power solution to the media oligopoly choking local radio markets. Sure, if you live more than ten blocks from campus, you may have to extend your radio antenna - out onto the roof and down the rain gutter. Then there are the endless requests for "listener support" and more volunteer help.

Oh - and the hosts are uniformly loopy. They may be experts in their field, but they drink coffee between sentences, make impromptu decisions to play the entire B side of Zappa's Sheik Yerbouti to cover a run to McDonald's - and then eat their Big Mac while conducting a phone interview with an agricultural reform activist speaking from a payphone in Poughkeepsie.

And who has the time to continually mark up the broadcast schedule (printed on thin newsprint in the back of the local alternative monthly) to reflect all the guest hosts, schedule changes, show cancellations (after one too many lengthy and beer-induced dead air episodes) and special benefit concerts?

Trying to reproduce this random subscription pattern has taxed my ipodder software - and transferred about 300 meg of lame programming to my hard drive. Thankfully, the pool of podcasts is still shallow enough that a tiptoe through Google is all it really takes - for now.

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