Podthoughts by Colin Marshall: “Critical Thinking”

Posted by Maximum Fun on 22nd November 2009

After two weeks abroad thinking many thoughts but none of the Pod variety, your Podthinker now gladly returns to the podcast beat with a rejuvenated mind and freshened perspective. Or something. One bright new insight includes the fact that, while we can thank the medium of podcasting most for making possible thousands of homebrewed programs that wouldn’t otherwise have reached ear one, it’s also been a serious boon to smaller-scale radio producers and their fans.

Take, for instance, WFMT, a Chicago station devoted to classical music, folk music and the arts more generally. A few years back, if one lived outside of Chicagoland and wanted to hear its programming — and it’s quality programming indeed — one would have had to stream it, hearing nothing on-demand. A few years previous to a few years back, one would have had to up and move to that alternately freezing or scorching (but bustlin’!) midwest burg. Neither are optimal solutions. (Okay, so they offer some material in syndication and via satellite, but you get the drift.)

Fortunately, WFMT is one of those radio stations that’s wised up to podcasting, and thus offers some of its shows free for the download to whoever, whenever, wherever. (It’s also something of a rarity, doing this as not a public but a commercial station. If you can believe that.) Your Podthinker’s favorite WFMT show, Critical Thinking [iTunes] [XML], is one such offering.

A series of conversations about the arts hosted by “critic at large” Andrew Patner, the program covers an impressively wide swath of cultural ground given that it sounds like a smallish-scale operation. WFMT’s overall slant toward classical music does mean that most of the episodes are given over to classical and whatever else the public has come to call “classical,” but the discussions aren’t pitched at so rarefied a level as to exclude those less hardcore about the stuff. Though Patner seems to prefer chatting with conductors, including the Frankfurt Opera’s Erik Nielsen [MP3] and the Oakland East Bay Symphony’s Michael Morgan [MP3], he and his interlocutors don’t just sit there chuckling at compositional jokes — they play even to an audience who might be irked by the very notion of compositional jokes.

When Patner strays from classical territory, he invariably wanders into other, similarly interesting subject areas, such as the work of Charles Darwin [MP3], Hebrew poetry [MP3] and the great British writers [MP3]. On other shows, he provides his own commentary on the Chicago arts scene and even reads aloud some of his favorite poems.

What your Podthinker ultimately finds most attractive about Critical Thinking is its aesthetic, which combines the sharpness of conversation between people who most certainly know what they’re talking about with the intimacy only radio can well and truly provide. It might be called an act of space creation, if we’re getting high-flown. The end result comes out quite a bit like KZSU’s Entitled Opinions, but with a much harder musical bent. So if you like that program, chances are you’ll like this one; if you like that program and enjoy spending time in the realm of classical music, you’ll grab it and not let go. And to think, us non-Chicagoans wouldn’t be hearing it precisely when we want without podcasting.

Vital stats:
Format: cultural (especially classical-musical) conversations
Duration: 5m-60m
Frequency: somewhat more than weekly
Archive available on iTunes: last 158

[Got a podcast to suggest for Podthoughts coverage or any other sort of question and/or comment for Podthinker Colin Marshall? colinjmarshall at gmail.]