PRX Podcast Garage: Five Things with Jody Avirgan

Five Things is an ongoing live series at the PRX Podcast Garage hosted by Julie Shapiro (EP, Radiotopia). The series invites some of today’s most talented and successful producers, artists, writers and thinkers to share five things —audio, visuals, books, objects or something else entirely — that have shaped their creative practice over time, and inform how they approach work today. In short: interesting people share cool stuff they love.

For the second installment of Five Things, we welcomed Jody Avirganhost of the FiveThirtyEight politics podcast, producer of the upcoming Thirty for Thirty documentary podcast from ESPN, ultimate frisbee enthusiast and champion of sesame sticks and dried mango. Watch a video of the conversation and recap Jody’s Five Things below.

#1: Video for Dress Sexy at My Funeral, by Smog

“This is my favorite YouTube video of all time. It happens to include one of my favorite songs of all time, but more than anything it’s a random captured moment of peace that gives a window into a stranger’s life. If you read the comments you learn a tragic coda. I’ve never really brought myself to look into the life of Calab, but I’m grateful for this moment.”

#2: “On Leadership”, a book by legendary basketball player and coach, John Wooden

Five Things“This book sometimes slips into corporate-CEO speak, but there’s a lot of wisdom here. I’ve learned more from sports than almost anything. Two ideas in particular stick with me. One is the idea of “competitive greatness,” which is basically another name for “grace under pressure.” I think that your capacity to learn and perform under pressure is far more important than talent or skillset. The other thing I love about Wooden is his focus on process over outcomes. Winning/success is almost a byproduct, and afterthought, of doing all the steps along the way with attention and enthusiasm.”

#3: Lord God Bird, by Long Haul Productions and Sufjan Stevens

“A Five Thingsbeautiful radio piece that listens as much as it talks. I love how it just goes to a place and sits. It’s un-narrated, which I don’t think people do enough, and it’s full of great moments. It’s also incredibly indulgent! Take an indie rock singer, have them write a song about a bird, make it over 10 minutes? Why not! But there’s a valuable lesson here, if someone’s going to let you get away with a piece like this, go for it.”

#4: “The punctum”, from Roland Barthes’ Camera Lucida

Five Things“The basic idea here is that some art is full of all the perfect elements of content, composition, execution… but still somehow lack that thing that “shoots out of it like an arrow.” Thinking about this taught me to be strategic about trying to create these moments in my work. When you have something that you think can be a punctum, make sure you’re getting out of the way and letting it do its thing.”

#5:  Picture on the Wall, by Phyllis Dillon

Just one of my favorite songs from what I think is the best moment in musical history: 1960s Jamaica. I love that many of the early reggae songs were soul covers, which is a reminder that every artist, even the ones we think of as sui generis, starts out as a deep fan. Fandom is a perfectly good place to start – it’s kind of the only place to start. So, copy the stuff you love.”

Honorable Mention

The Charles Mingus CAT-alog for Toilet Training Your Cat

One More Thing
Five Things

Prompted by Julie, Jody also shared responses to a call out on the What’s the Point podcast for listeners to track, visualize and illustrate a week’s worth of podcast listening via postcard.

Next Up for Five Things

March 22nd: Jenna Weiss-Berman (podcast producer, co-founder of Pineapple Street Media, former director of audio for BuzzFeed).

About Jody Avirgan
Jody is the host of the FiveThirtyEight politics podcast. His next venture is a series of sports-related audio docs under the “30 for 30” umbrella, coming spring 2017. Before ESPN, he was at WNYC’s Brian Lehrer Show, did reporting for the WNYC newsroom, and went on air and asked you for money during the pledge drive. He’s worked with On The Media, Radiolab, 99% Invisible, Marketplace, Studio 360 and many more. On the side, he hosts the comedy and storytelling show Ask Roulette, where strangers ask each other questions live on stage. He lives in Sunset Park, Brooklyn. Find him online at @jodyavirgan and

About Julie Shapiro
Julie Shapiro is the executive producer of Radiotopia. From 2014–15, she was the executive producer of the Australian Broadcasting Corporation’s Creative Audio Unit. In 2000 she co-founded the Third Coast International Audio Festival, where as artistic director, she prioritized innovative audio and a cross-pollinating international listening culture. Shapiro has taught radio to university students, presented at conferences all over the globe, and produced stories for the airwaves and podcasts in the US and beyond. You can find her on twitter @jatomic.