Podcasts: Sound Opinions

Thanks to a day job that is the definition of mind numbing, I have developed quite the addiction to podcasts as a matter of pure self-preservation. One can only look at spreadsheets for so long…

Podcasts just don’t seem to be quite so ubiquitous as blogs. I don’t know if they just haven’t caught on with people, despite the fact that they are everywhere, or that they are just viewed as too nerdy and should be treated like a dirty little secret.

No matter the reason, I’ve discovered a few that I think deserve some attention. Many of the shows I listen to are rather big time — within the realm of podcasting, at least — but most of them maintain a DIY aesthetic that can trick you into believing that you’re in on something underground.

My first featured podcast is Sound Opinions from Chicago Public Radio. This is rather appropriate since public radio has latched onto podcasting like no one else by making regular programming available for download.

Hosted by Greg Kot and Jim Derogatis, Sound Opinions launched in December 2005 as “the first ever rock and roll talk show”. Kot is the long time pop music critic at the Chicago Tribune and published Wilco: Learning How to Die in 2004. He’s also written for Rolling Stone, Blender, and Entertainment Weekly.

Jim Derogatis is the pop music critic at the Chicago Sun-Times and has published several books, including two personal favorites, Kill Your Idols: A New Generation of Rock Writers Reconsiders the Classics in 2004 and Let It Blurt: The Life and Times of Lester Bangs, America’s Greatest Rock Critic in 2000. He is also well known within the Lester Bangs fan community for being the last person to interview Bangs before his death in 1982.

This show isn’t what those unfamiliar with public radio would expect. They keep the show fun by using samples of films like Almost Famous, School of Rock, Airheads, and Empire Records. The pair are admitted geeks, so they aren’t trying sound cool. They don’t grovel to the critical darlings, but that’s to be expected. Derogatis was once fired from Rolling Stone for giving Hootie and the Blowfish a bad review. They don’t come off as pretentious or contrived, and while they don’t stick to any set musical genre, they have a decidedly pop sensibility. So don’t go in expecting a didgeridoo or anything.

Every show follows a set format; news, which usually features a short interview, a featured interview, a review, and a Desert Island Juke Box pick, generally relating to the rest of the show.

Most recently the news portion included a discussion and brief interview with Jill Sobule on her new fan funded album and label. As part of their Grammy coverage, Bob Newhart, winner of “Best New Artist” and “Album of the Year” in 1961 was interviewed on the Grammy’s and being, in Derogatis’ opinion, “the coolest Best New Artist winner ever”.

Featured interviews have included Butch Vig, Girl Talk, Steve Earle, for discussions of current projects and the state of the industry. Vig paid a visit specifically to discuss the digital era and the effect on the industry.

Typically, only one album is reviewed per show, giving it proper attention, instead of being lost in the shuffle of everything else. Their answer to the “thumbs up, thumbs down” rating system is “Buy it!,” “Burn it!” or “Trash it!”

They are sometimes known to have themed shows. Most recently they devoted an entire show to the soundtrack, even allowing listeners to call in and recommend their favorite soundtrack. Ever the music geeks that they are, there was a discussion of score vs. soundtrack and references to more forgettable films.

There was also a food themed show, featuring an interview with celebrity chef and Travel Channel host Anthony Bourdaine (who has a podcast, by the way). For the rest of the show they featured songs with food references.

No matter the subject matter of the show, they go out with listener feedback. Listeners can call in to leave audio comments for the show including any feedback they have on past episodes.

Quick Stats
Name: Sound Opinions
Hosts: Greg Kot and Jim Derogatis
Company: Chicago Public Radio
Show notes: Very thorough, includes Flickr, downloads, etc.
Avg. run time: 1 hour
Genre: Music/Talk
Play music: yes




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