What’s in My Buds? Featuring PRX’s Josh Swartz

We’re kicking off a new blog series this week called What’s in My Buds?  The series will profile different members of the audio community, and allow them to tell, in their own words, what podcasts and shows they love to listen to. Our hope is to help our readers to get to know these people on a more personal level, and, of course, to get new show recommendations. Follow the series on social using the hashtag #PRXInMyBuds.
Our first entry comes from Josh Swartz, the PRX Remix curator right here at PRX.

From Josh:


I listen to a lot of audio each week. In fact, it’s quite literally my job. So I want to take a moment to invite you into my headphones and share some of what I’ve been hearing. Here’s my day*, wavelength by wavelength:

My alarm goes off at 7:20 a.m. to the sweet, silvery tones of Roman Mars’ voice – thanks, Radiotopia Ringtones! Then I jump on the train at 8:15. I’ve never been a morning person and I’m not a coffee drinker so by this point I need a pick-me-up. Cue Errthang, a variety show helmed by everything-man Al Letson. Poet, playright, comic book writer, former host of State of the Re:Union and current host of Reveal, Letson is an accomplished storyteller with a magnetic personality and Errthang is a perfect vehicle to showcase his talents. The show balances casual, lively conversation with highly-produced stories —a recommended substitute for caffeine.

Once I settle into the office I peruse the new stories posted to the PRX website. Two series have stood out recently: Scene On Radio and Cargoland.

Scene On Radio comes from John Biewen and the Center for Documentary Studies at Duke University. It promises to feature past student work in combination with new stories, with an emphasis on active tape or “capturing the sounds of life happening,” as the description reads, in lieu of studio recording. The first handful of episodes are part of a sub-series called Contested, which aims to look at the world through sports. But these aren’t “sports stories,” per se. Or, at least, that’s not all they are. Biewen takes a wide tack and places the institution of sports as the object of inquiry, exploring the effect sports have on identity, community, and society. My favorite is Episode 2: Friends and Basketball, about the extent to which camaraderie on a girl’s high school basketball team transcends race and class status. Listen through to the end —it’s worth it.

Cargoland is a radio and podcast miniseries from Lu Olkowski and KCRW’s Independent Producer Project about the changes facing the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach. Olkowski does a masterful job providing a glimpse into the world of the thousands of workers whose lives revolve around cargo shipping containers. Believe me, this is not an area I knew anything about prior to listening; I was not aware that shipyards were used for any purposes other than Hollywood’s favorite backdrop for extravagant dance-offs, nefarious activity, or third-act fight scenes. But Cargoland made me care about this world and these people and I hope you give it a shot. Episode 4: The Pirate instantly became one of my favorite audio stories of all time. I’ll leave it at that.

It’s 3 p.m. and there’s a lull. I’ve listened to a lot of audio so far and my ears and brain are tired. I need a break from the stuff that requires energy to focus and absorb information. Enter The World According to Sound. I think of this show as the weird baby cousin once removed of Everything Sounds. Each episode is a 90-second story about sound like you’ve never heard: a French flatulent artist, a language made entirely of whistles or, my personal favorite, an Italian pop song sung entirely in gibberish English. They’re short, they’re fun, and they’re filled with super bizarre noises. A much appreciated break from the heavy stuff. It’s after 5 p.m. and I head home. I’m walking and in need of something with a beat to propel me forward. But I don’t turn straight to music. Instead I hit play on Out Of The Blocks, a collaboration between electronic musician Wendel Patrick and radio producer Aaron Henkin for WYPR. The idea is to profile one Baltimore city block at a time. Patrick’s original compositions weave together individual stories from each block to produce a rhythmic, surprisingly moving, thoroughly engaging result.

I walk through my front door and settle in for the night. But I don’t ditch my headphones just yet. All the sounds of the day swirl around my head as I flip the mental switch from curator to producer. I get to work on my own podcast, Bandwagon, a show profiling the followers of a different cultural phenomenon each season. I’m currently producing a slew of episodes featuring stories from the Bernie Sanders Campaign. The latest is about an ex-marine leading a contingent of veteran support for the campaign. Also…a kazoo band.

So there you have it – a snippet of what’s playing inside my headphones these days. But there’s lots more! For further recommendations email me at josh.swartz@prx.org or just tune in to PRX Remix, a never-ending storytelling channel featuring all the shows mentioned above and many, many similarly great ones.

*This day is based on true events

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