Podcasts – An Alternative To Bad TV

Rightly or wrongly, I was rather quick to blame a recent spell of forgetfulness on an assumed wasting away of what Hercule Poirot would call my “little grey cells”. I suspected immediately it was partly influenced by our current evening television scheduling for in the main, prime-time TV being what it is (or rather what it has become), I felt certain it was having an adverse effect on my cognitive abilities. Today’s frightful concoction of reality shows and soap operas all blended together within a barrage of overtly annoying advertisements meant that while watching TV, my brain was completely surplus to requirements. Yes, I needed my eyes in order to see the characters on the screen and my ears to hear the steady stream of flapdoodle emanating from their mouths, but my brain? Not needed at all. So rather than forcing my precious cerebral matter into temporary dormancy for a few hours every evening as I sit glued to my TV, why don’t I let it go out for a walk by itself, around the park or along the seafront perhaps? At least it’d be getting some exercise.

Obviously this wasn’t a viable possibility but nevertheless, drawing a line firmly in the sand, or in this case, the living room carpet, I decided to try a little experiment and to abstain from regular evening viewing for as long as I could. And to help me achieve this incredibly far-reaching goal, I finally took up the advice given to me about a year ago by a friend who commented that I must surely get tired of listening to the same music on my iPod day in day out and why didn’t I listen to a podcast instead? At the time, I had no idea what a podcast was but having delved and explored, I became enlightened and learned that a podcast is simply a digital episode of a programme, any programme, be it old or current radio broadcasts or a series of discussions or informative dialogues from anyone who wants to share something with the rest of us. And six months on, I’ve become a rather avid podcaster, or is a podcaster the person who records a podcast? Perhaps I’m a podcastee then. I don’t quite know. Oh dear, this terrible withering of my brain! Oh, beware all you who sit in front of your HD TV flat-screens from dawn ’til dusk, beware the degradation of your cerebral cortexes. Anyway, I’ve become an avid listener of podcasts and I’m feeling rather confident that the atrophy of my encephalon has reduced considerably, nay perhaps even reversed such has been the steady curve of my learning.

I’m truly astonished at the amazing selection of listening material available online and I virtually guarantee that if you can think of a subject, any subject at all that has ever been discussed by human beings since they stopped their cave-painting in favour of a civilised confabulation around the evening fire, it’s highly likely there’s a podcast covering it. Politics, philosophy, music, current affairs, education, sports, science, cooking, entertainment, it’s all there and the best part is, it’s all free!

My personal favourites at the moment are found in the history category. For some reason, I can’t learn enough about the past. Perhaps it’s because I’m getting old and as my future gets shorter its significance lessens and so I find greater comfort in looking back, who knows, but I’m thoroughly enjoying learning all about the Second World War in one particular podcast, the history of England in another and an extremely entertaining and interesting selection of historical topics (usually people and events) from around the world in another. Compared to the (mostly) colourless and irksome voices from the television, these podcasters (note to self: investigate to see whether that is the correct noun) with their great passions for their subjects are inspired listening and I’m seriously considering putting the TV on eBay.

But won’t you miss the dramas and detective shows? I hear you ask. Not at all, I reply and I’ll tell you why. Because among these great online libraries of digital recordings can be found the types of show of which you speak. And to mention just two of my favourites – The Adventures of Philip Marlowe and Richard Diamond, Private Detective – both radio detective dramas from the 1940s and ’50s and both an absolute thrill. You can find all manner of others too if you look, Sherlock Holmes and Sam Spade among them as well as westerns like the Long Ranger and Gunsmoke.

I find it immensely rewarding listening to thespians of fine vocal ability acting out these stories while unseen studio hands create precise sound effects to bring life to their make-believe scenarios; their efforts really do install perfectly vivid images in my mind, the way that good story-telling should. It’s interesting too to listen to these old shows and to remember that the past generations who had nothing more to bring entertainment into their homes than the modest radio, a Bakelite tabletop set perhaps, would have considered them compulsory listening as they sat around comfortably beside the hearth and tuned in for the weekly instalment of their favourite characters. It doesn’t take much for me to picture a gentleman of similar age sitting comfortably by the fireside, slippers warming his toes and pipe smoke yellowing his moustache and Brylcreemed hair.

Another added bonus to this form of programming is that you don’t have to be sedentary all evening to enjoy it which means you can put the kettle on or get the washing in whenever you so desire, not at the prescribed time dictated by an ad break. If you are like me and are partial to a gentle stroll in fair weather then your podcast can engage or amuse you as you wander which is to my mind, making very good use of time. Now whilst I am not opining that all TV is hopeless – certain well-produced dramas are well worth sitting down to as are numerous documentaries and wildlife programmes – I am saying that I’ve realised (hopefully just in time for my cerebrum) that it’s far too easy to simply sit in front of the “box” all evening and to let the controllers of our national broadcast stations fill our minds with all sorts of intelligence sapping nonsense.

Maybe now I’ll even join the ranks of those listeners dedicated to The Archers.