Podcasts I love: The Night Air

I hope you know more stuff today than you did yesterday, because today's podcast I love is going to grab your mind and take it on a journey through The Night Air.

This incredible podcast comes to us from Radio National in Australia, and they describe it as "an audio adventure in which ideas, sounds and music are remixed around a new theme each week." They also call it "a listening experience" which would seem super pretentious to me if I didn't already listen to it and agree fully with that description. The best way I can think to describe it is "the lovechild of Joe Frank and This American Life, babysat by William S. Burroughs."

I discovered The Night Air pretty much by accident, just grabbing things that looked interesting from the Podcast directory in iTunes…

Imagine that it's July 2005, and you're sipping on an Anchor Steam next to the pool at the Mirage in Las Vegas. You've just busted out of your first World Series of Poker, but you're staying in town for a few days to play in another event. This is what you see when you look around:

Half of the pool area is populated by beautiful twenty-something girls in tiny bikinis that make me wonder why they bothered to put anything on in the first place. The other half is populated with middle-aged men and their unfortunate wives who may as well be wearing housecoats. Throw in a few frat guys unsuccessfully trying to put the moves on the aforementioned beauties, and it makes for great people watching.

You remember that you have this new Podcast on your iPod, so you lay back on a lounge chair, and listen to Islands. For the next 40 minutes or so, Las Vegas vanishes as you go on a journey: "Whether caught in the crosshairs of an exact latitude and longitude or existing somewhere in a faraway place of the mind, islands seem always on the horizon of fantasy. Tonight we venture to and fro' seeking, as Captain Cook once said 'a convenient situation' where we might trade commodities and replenish our stocks for journeys new. Way off the coast of Prosaic we fetch up on the shores of Speculation Island."

I was utterly and completely captivated. I didn't even realize that my beer had gotten warm, so after quickly correcting that egregious error, I played another episode, Holes: "Is there such a thing as a bottomless hole? Do they go on forever? Do some holes have a will of their own, durable, transient, and just waiting to stave you in? This Night Air is full of holes: architecture, the body and reminiscence. We fathom a suite of works about emotional absence and gutted structures; and finally see what's at the centre of a donut."

Each show combined interviews with music and soundscapes to create something unique and remarkable. I was hooked, and I've made countless commutes endurable by leaving my body on the train and letting my mind go wherever The Night Air takes me.

Unlike all the other podcasts I've featured this week, The Night Air truly must be experienced to be appreciated. I could tell you about it until I used up all my English, and it would still be inadequate. The audio archive doesn't go as deep as it once did, so you can't listen to Islands or Holes right now, but I wil direct you to a recent episode called Once Upon A Time. "Are you ready? Then I'll begin: Once upon a time there were fairytales, stories, fables and myths … distorted and passed down from generation to generation—some you remember and some you think you remember. This show re-tells many of them—as well as the art of telling the stories themselves—which lived on, and on, and on, sometimes happily, sometimes not but, of course, always ever after."

I hope that week's brief guide to some podcasts that I love has been informative and useful to you. I enjoyed writing these entries, so I made a new category here called Things I Love, which I plan to use for sharing…wait for it…things that I love, like board and video games, movies, beers, blogs, and other, um, things that I love in the weeks and months to come. If enough people are into it, I may even do a week of reader requests.

Until next time, here's a podcasts I love roundup:


60-Second Science

Driveway Moments

Stuff You Should Know

The Night Air

11 thoughts on “Podcasts I love: The Night Air”

  1. I just got a new iPod for Christmas and I really was wondering what sort of things I should put on it. Up until now all of my podcasts were about gaming. Thanks for suggesting a few different ones to add variety to a somewhat one-flavored menu.
    I appreciate it, thanks!

  2. Have you checked out the Radiolab podcast (from WNYC)? I adore it, and based on your descriptions of Stuff You Should Know and The Night Air (both of which I just subscribed to), I think Radiolab may be their long-lost lovechild.

  3. Thanks for all your recommendations. You have introduced me to several cool things with your links, such as lifehacker, twitter, flickr, xkcd, and now the podcasts. You have introduced me to a whole new world, greatly appreciate it. Keep it up.

  4. First off, thanks for this The Night Air rec – I loved the fairy tales sound-collage and really look forward to checking out more. Great idea for a podcast and great production value.
    Secondly, I wanted to leave you a note on Dancing Barefoot, which I just finished reading this morning. I thought I’d leave it on one of your older blogs so as not to hi-jack another blog’s comments thread with something entirely different, but alas the comments are closed on the DB blogs I found.
    Not only did I really enjoy it, but my godmother, with whom I was quite close growing up, just passed away and we just ended the week of funerals, wakes, and house-moving, etc. I had a quite-similar (and still fresh in my head/ on my heart) driving-to-her-house-the-last-time and saying goodbye and very much appreciated your putting ‘Houses in Motion’ together. That expressed a lot of what had been going through my head, and I had a good cry, which I needed.
    I read Just a Geek about a month ago and remember some of the excerpts from there, but the whole book is really well put together. Vegas Squarepants is a classic. Kudos to your friend Ben, as well – great illustrations and they really worked well with the text.
    I guess I’ll have to read Happiest Days next. Or listen to it, rather – I like the idea of the audio footnotes / asides, etc. I sound obsessed, Haha – I’m not going to boil your bunny, I assure you, but I’ve become a huge fan of this site and your writing lately, so just wanted to publicly express my happiness with it all. I hope we get more of it soon.
    And lastly, a friend gave me a copy of a War of the Worlds performance from the nineties with yourself, Leonard Nimoy, Dwight Schultz et al. I enjoyed it but had trouble “finding” you in the cast. (I was driving, so I didn’t have the liner notes on hand) Once I could look it up, I saw you played “the commander.” I assume that’s the guy in the bomber plane near the end of side one? That was you? I was quite impressed – I’m really critical of New England accents, being a Rhode Islander myself, and you nailed it quite well. I didn’t even recognize you. Kudos – the WWdotNet community would enjoy it!
    Holy wordy post – sorry everyone! Rock on.

  5. Thanks for the Radio National link Wil.
    I always knew there was good radio on my doorstep, but until now I didn’t bother to listen to it.
    iTunes Australia has a free podcast of The Night Air which I am now subscribed to, but no back issues. I am on the lookout now….someone in iTunes suggested one called ‘Stars’, and anything with a name like that will always get my attention.
    Now if only I could find it.

  6. Hey Wil,
    Really great to hear of your poolside listener experience of our podcast. Wow, what happens when the parents go out and its just you and William S Babysitter…
    We do our work in the hope that it can open up a space for your imagination. Our remixes attempt to leave room for the listener to be the final producer of the story. sounds like you really had some good ones. Thanks for your positive feedback, it is great to hear.
    We are sorry that our shows don’t get archived for longer, this decision may get changed one day, your feedback and comments from others here help build the argument for it.
    Meanwhile subscribing to our podcast feed is a good way to keep a stock of audio adventures on your mp3 player.
    Cheers John Jacobs
    Producer: The Night Air

  7. Where is WNYC’s Radio Lab on your podcast list? Or is that too obvious? I did a search of your site and you once mentioned the interview with Carl Sagan’s wife, so I know you’ve heard it. For the geek, Radio Lab is like heaven. I never want it to end!
    Hey and cool beans on the previous comment from the producer of The Night Air.

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