In no particular order except that #1 is truly #1:
No list about audio storytelling would be legit without This American Life. These are the masters and I can’t imagine a person who could listen and not be enchanted. I might not be able to be friends with that person. Ira Glass, an early-adopter of hipster eyeglasses, makes vocal ticks like hesitating feel sexy. Contributors like Sarah Vowell and Starlee Kine set the tone for the smart, introspective, funny tone of the show and their atypical voices changed the way we think of radio. Newer contributors like Mike Birbiglia and Tig Notaro are no less smart, introspective, and funny.
If you are new to TAL, my advice is to start with their classics. Their website has a “Favourites” list, among them “Notes on Camp” and “Babysitting”, among my personal faves.
2. The Moth
The inspiration for our very own This Really Happened, The Moth features some of the best live storytelling out there. Often dominated by big cultural names like Lewis Lapham or Simon Doonan, some of the most powerful stories are from regular folks just spinning a yarn. Try the one about the ex-NYPD officer Steve Osbourne on a stakeout gone wrong. It’s fantastic and his accent makes it even more so. Osbourne has become a Moth master and you can see a few of his stories on YouTube.
There is such beauty in StoryCorps. The StoryCorps crew travel across the United States with their mobile recording booths (an airstream trailer!) inviting regular folks inside to interview one another. Neighbours interview each other, children interview parents, grandchildren interview grandparents. One of the most moving pieces has a boy with Asperger’s syndrome interview his mother about difficult ideas with his own matter-of-fact staccato delivery. They talk about how it seems like people like his sister better and whether or not he has lived up to her expectations—tear-jerking stuff. It was made into one of their animated shorts, but the audio story alone is better.
After This American Life, mentioning Radiolab at a dinner party will get you instant street cred. Ostensibly a science show, Radiolab always ends up being about so much more. Audio innovator Jad Abumrad co-hosts with Robert Krulwich, a classic NPR voice, and the two play off each other deliciously. Sometimes they are surely not recording together, but the audio is edited to include recording glitches, retakes, and other audio ephemera. This one will make you rethink audio storytelling.
The Memory Palace is the brainchild of Nate DiMeo, who narrates the podcast and has a hypnotic voice that can sometimes make me too relaxed. It’s been described as a historical trivia podcast, but that makes it sound like a quiz show. Instead DiMeo sounds like he is talking to you, only you, telling you stories culled from history that bring them directly into your day. I find listening on a portable device and walking around the city to be a pretty magical experience.
This is a cheat because it’s not one of my favourites, but Marc Maron’s WTF podcast is well-liked. Maron went on CBC’s Q for an interview and told a story (it starts around 7 minutes in) about comedy legends Mel Brooks and Carl Reiner that is such masterful off-the cuff storytelling that I wanted to include it, if only for the pleasure of sharing a great story. Maron’s got chops.
Cowbird is the rather dimly-named brainchild of Jonathan Harris, who wrote this lovely and meandering autobiographic meditation on writer’s block that turns into a manifesto: http://transom.org/2014/jonathan-harris/
Cowbird is a site that lets people upload photos and attach audio or text or not. It is rather free form and therein lays its beauty. There are so many stories to explore, some good, some meh, but many are truly inspired. It can be hard to describe, but they are little moments or anecdotes. For example, if this isn’t the most vulnerable little story you have ever heard, I don’t know what is.
If you want to go digging on your own, Radiotopia is a brand new site that collects story-driven podcasts and puts them together in one spot. There are not that many up on the site yet, but Radio Diaries is definitely worth a listen.
This is slickly-packaged version of This Really Happened or The Moth. They have music, a studio-recorded intro, but basically the same structure as we do—live, on stage, no notes, and usually there’s a theme. The stories are not offered in separate tracks so you have to listen to the whole line-up in one sitting, but it’s fun!
Booyah. You didn’t think I’d skip this? Your very own carte blanche has some of the best stories from our live events up on this very site. I don’t want to be the one to toot our own horn, but these stories are great!
Tally Abecassis’ documentary films, on subjects ranging from collecting to taxidermy competitions, have played at festivals and television around the world. In addition to her film work, Tally produces radio documentaries and published Barbershops with photographer Claudine Sauvé. She is the founder, co-curator and co-host of This Really Happened, the popular live storytelling series.