A listener’s guide to great local podcasts

Classy, informative programs -- all downloadable for free

| Feb 24, 2010

It is our good fortune to have podcasts of three extremely high-quality radio shows available — all of them highly professional, commercial-free and very enlightening about what’s happenin’ in Boulder, Denver and beyond.

At this point many a commentator would insert the obligatory paragraph explaining “what’s a podcast?” and how to use them. Alas, it’s been my experience that, when confronted with techie terms like “podcast,” the eyes of nontechies quickly glaze over (read: my wife). The odds of their suddenly rushing to become podcast listeners are nil. Hence, those people can stop reading at this time. Buh-bye.

Now we can talk.

1. David Sirota’s morning of politics. First on my list of highly professional local radio shows available in podcast form are the reliably progressive news, interviews and commentary on David Sirota’s Monday-through-Friday radio show airing from 7:06 to 10 am on KKZN-AM760. Sirota is a nationally prominent leftie who has a syndicated newspaper column and appears regularly on MSNBC (more about Sirota on his blog).

David Sirota

We’re indeed lucky to have him as a fixture on local radio. Even more fortuitously, it’s easy to subscribe to a daily podcast of his three-hour program stripped — as is usually the case with podcasts of radio shows — of all commercials, traffic reports and on-the-hour newscasts. Like the other podcasts listed here, it’s free.  

Owing to Sirota’s national prominence and contacts, he hosts an amazing array of prominent national and local media figures and politicians plus (the inevitable) book authors — usually compelling, often spectacularly good even by national-radio standards. He’s great at appraising the importance of, and filling in the nuances of, the day’s political stories, both national and local. It’s also fun to hear him do battle with right-wing callers, whom he occasionally lets on the air only so he can deftly slice up their all-too-predictable misstatements of fact, muddled thinking and general stupidness.

Since Sirota correctly assumes that his early-morning and drive-time audience isn’t with him throughout the program, there can be some repetition of what’s on his mind on a given day. The occasional book-author interview may not be up your alley. But that’s part of the beauty of podcasts: fast-forward.

You can subscribe to Sirota’s podcast by typing his name into the iTunes Store, or by copying this link into any podcast-playing software. (Aside: For Sirota in print, you can subscribe to an RSS feed of his syndicated column.)

2. KGNU’s Morning Magazine. Radio station KGNU (88.5 FM in Boulder County, 1390 AM in Greater Denver) has gradually built up a powerhouse morning news program that begins at 8 am and runs through 8:30, 9 or 9:30 (depending on the day) Monday through Friday (see their program schedule).

Maeve Conran of KGNU
(Boulder Express photo)

Their news department, co-directed by the veteran Joel Edelstein and the tireless and Irish-accented Maeve Conran, assembles an amazingly diverse, high-quality package of locally focused news reports and interviews bearing the distinctly progressive viewpoint of KGNU, a station that has achieved considerable stature among the nation’s community radio stations. Although nationally prominent journalists and political figures sometimes appear, the focus in primarily local. And, ever since KGNU opened a satellite studio in Denver and fired up an AM signal there in 2004, its programming has had a much less Boulder-provincial focus, delving deeply into Denver and Colorado political and economic topics as well, with considerable attention to the plight of those hard-pressed in these crisis times.

Although KGNU’s Morning Magazine podcast isn’t in the iTunes store, you can find its address (and that of many other KGNU programs) either on the “Listen” page of KGNU’s website — which also has a direct link for playing the current day’s program — or simply by copying the link kgnu.org/rss/MorningMagazine.xml into iTunes or another podcast player (on iTunes, go to “Advanced” then “Subscribe to Podcast…”).

3. Rick Barber. His program airing nightly Monday through Thursday morning from 1:06 am to 4 am on KOA radio (850 AM), Rick Barber is a national legend among talk-show hosts, partly because of the his skill and erudition, partly because his radio station blasts a 50,000-watt signal to most of the Western U.S. (lamentably, that “blowtorch” power is used to blast out Rush Limbaugh and other fascistic “conservatives” during the day).

Rick Barber

Barber is an oddity: well-read in everything from ancient history to current events, Barber hosts top book authors plus audience-pleasing regular appearances by such luminaries as Al Lewis, (long-time Denver Post business columnist now employed by Dow Jones but still published in the Post twice a week), and the savvy, LA-based current-events columnist John Curtis.  

Other recurring guests talk about computers, travel and, yes, even psychic readings. Given his audience size, Barber can have his pick of the authors-doing-radio crowd. Thus, he hosts both best-selling authors and authors who’ve written about weighty topics — historical and even theological — that obviously interest Barber, who only sometimes hides his Inner Egghead.

Through the wonder of podcasts, Barber’s nightly shows can be downloaded (again, without the ads and newsbreaks) and listened to at an hour other than the Night of The Insomniacs when it airs live. He’s available through iTunes, or by using the RSS feed www.koaradio.com/podcast/overnight.xml.

Savoring podcasts

Podcasts can be a lively companion on hikes, at the gym, or at bedtime. I line up a few of my favorites in an iTunes queue and broadcast them around the house from my computer, using a $70 C.Crane FM transmitter, and listen on a lightweight, beautifully designed, $55 Sangean pocket radio that goes to bed with me. I have high-quality information and entertainment to lull me to sleep. Should I weary of podcasts, I can also switch over to Colorado Public Radio‘s all-night feed of the BBC (90.1 FM and 1340 AM in Denver, 1490 AM from their strong Boulder transmitter, and on many other local “translators” around the state).

Somehow, these talk shows lulls me to sleep fast, taking my mind who know where, and drowning out any insomnia-inducing ruminations of my own. Using this method, I only actually hear a fraction of the high-quality podcasts I download. But isn’t that true in general of the firehose of content coming our way now that we’re well-on into the Information Age?

This story also appeared in slightly different form on Bob Wells’s blog on Huffington Post Denver.