Your Podthinker humbly submits that this is the best time to be alive, ever. The list of reasons why the 2000s rock stretches toward infinity, but surely the average consumer's ability to listen to radio from across the globe at their leisure rests nowhere near the bottom. As recently as the turn of the millennium, filling up an MP3 player with hours upon hours of a "programme" like Radio New Zealand's This Way Up [iTunes link] and then listening to it whenever and wherever would, especially as an American, have been unthinkable. No longer.
First, an apropos rule: smaller countries' national public media organizations will, for the most part, create more fascinating content than those of larger countries. (Call it the "Podthoughts Law of Inverse National Media Goodness". Just rolls off the tongue.) Note that the size referred to is of population rather than square mileage, so whereas Great Britain's BBC, serving a nation of 58 million, puts out some genuinely cool stuff but too often gets mired in its own tics, psychodramas and entrenchments, Canada's CBC, serving a nation of 34 million, plays it much more laid-back and experimentally, which is all to the good. And when populations reach, oh, 300 million, well, er...
In any case, New Zealand, a nation of fewer than five million, can get just about as quirky as it likes. Which is not to say that This Way Up is some sort of festival of eccentricities, but it does provide certain bits of content not made readily available by larger national broadcasters. While ostensibly a program about "the things we use and consume", it's really more in the get-out-there-in-the-world vein of public radio that could always use more mining. Host Simon Morton goes around to unusual places (at least by my Yank standards) and chats with the inhabitants. Recently, he's been to a toy swap meet [MP3] (those old dudes really love their die-cast cars), a bustling food market [MP3] and an old-school rubber plant [MP3]. The show seems to allot more time (and thus depth) to Morton's explorations than would be typical on other stations, resulting in a solid feel of engagement with the world.
But the title isn't Simon Morton's Peregrinations; there's more to it that simply the exploratory pieces. The show broadcasts for two hours each week, and each of the five-or-six-ish segments gets handily uploaded as a separate podcast. The best part about the non-excursion features is how eminently practical-minded they are, which is a quality decidedly lacking in the programs put out my some larger public media carriers one could name. When not buying food on the street or discussing Matchbox '69 Chargers, Morton's getting the downlow on which laptop to buy [MP3], figuring out how best to consume leftovers [MP3] or shopping for refrigerators [MP3]. Such pragmatism refreshes. (There's even an ongoing series on how to do one's own beekeeping.)
Naturally, This Way Up also cranks out a share of garden variety hey-would-ya-look-at-this public radio pieces, though smaller than its fair one. (Admittedly, some of them, like the one on the anarchic availability of medicine in Mexico City [MP3] and another on Japan's essentially vestigial legal defenses against the Yakuza [MP3], aren't bad.) Above all, the program makes your Podthinker want to visit New Zealand — so who's up for a Kiwi Max Fun meetup?
Format: assorted public-radio culture pieces
Running since: Oh, a long time, surely
Duration: 2h per week of 3m-30m segments
Frequency: variable, typically weekly, though a new schedule is in the offing
Archive available on iTunes: ~10 weeks
[Remember the not-that-reverent book club podcast Podthinker Colin Marshall mentioned a few weeks back? It's now a thing. Get him at colinjmarshall at gmail or discuss Podthoughts on the forum here. Submit your own podcast for the next by-Max-Funsters column here.]