In Our Time: The Best Show You’re Not Listening To

Philco Radio

If you’re a regular visitor to CultureSonar, chances are you’ve either had the moment or will soon. It’s the moment when you wish you’d taken the time in college to learn more about subjects that weren’t part of your major. Well-known options like One Day University or The Teaching Company’s Great Courses series offer some fairly high-end ways to pursue “lifelong learning.” For those whose interests are more eclectic (and whose budgets might be tighter), a helpful alternative comes in the form of a podcast.

Melvyn Bragg is something of an institution in the UK, thanks in large part to the long-running arts and culture showcase The South Bank Show. In the course of over 30 years, Bragg presented episodes focusing on everything from Stephen Sondheim and k.d. lang to Douglas Adams and Terry Gilliam. A similar broad range of topics characterizes his current BBC radio series In Our Time, available in America as a free podcast.

The format of the show is as simple as it is winning. Bragg assembles a panel of experts to discuss a particular subject and asks some questions to keep the discussion moving productively. Most critically, he demonstrates the trait that separates great interviewers from the merely good – he knows when to stay out of the way. In this way, Bragg ensures that no topic is beyond the show’s scope.

Just a sampling of recent installments includes the invention of photography, the discovery of penicillin and the novel Tess of the d’Urbervilles. Radio seems to be the last mass medium where audiences are still willing to embrace civil conversation on matters of substance (certain strands of political talk radio notwithstanding), and In Our Time makes the most of that opportunity. At a time when willful ignorance is increasingly the norm, the value of this free podcast can not be overstated.

Don Klees

Photo Credit: Public domain image of Philco Radio.

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