The best medium? Radio!

By Caitlin Kelly


Do any of you listen to the radio?

It’s my favorite medium, by far.

On a recent visit to Paris, (my husband having insisted on us taking a taxi in from the airport), we had a good hour to listen to the cabby’s choice — and discovered our new favorite station, TSF Jazz. It’s fantastic, and a much better mix of music than my New Jersey jazz station, WBGO, which tends to include far too much talk.

We listen to it at home in New York now, streaming it on-line and I had the most unlikely pleasure of recognizing a friend’s voice on TSF singing Bei Mir Bist Du Schoen, a new release by the Hot Sardines, a New York based eight-piece band that specializes in 1920s and 1930s music.

(Here’s their current tour schedule, still in the U.S.; they hit England for six shows in May, then Berlin, then Calgary. Go!)

Few things make me as happy as listening to the radio, maybe a holdover from my teen years growing up in Toronto, (a good town for radio), and the glories of the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation.

The CBC's logo
The CBC’s logo

When I moved to the U.S. in 1989, I started listening to National Public Radio and its panoply of shows: All Things Considered, Studio 360, (my favorite, a weekly review of culture), the New York talk shows of Brian Lehrer, (I’ve been a guest a few times), and Leonard Lopate, The Moth, This American Life and Radiolab.

In New York, where we live, I listen faithfully to WKCR, the college station of Columbia University — and love starting a frigid winter’s Saturday morning listening to their reggae show, then Across 110th Street, which features R & B and funk. In the afternoon, I might switch to WNYC and the Jonathan Schwarz show, which is four hours of the American songbook.

A favorite is John Schaefer, and his WNYC show New Sounds, which introduces me every single time to bands and types of music I’ve never encountered.

I tune in most days to WFUV, which stands for Fordham University’s voice — Fordham is the Jesuit university in Manhattan, and FUV offers a mix of rock, folk and blues.

We also like WQXR, New York’s only classical music station, although they play far too many warhorses and waltzes for my taste.

When I can make time, I’ll tune in to BBC World News, which runs here in New York for a full hour, from 9:00 am ET; I often hear many stories there, and in more detail, than I read or hear from American media.

I love sitting still and just listening.

Here’s a long (3,000 words) but terrific piece from Canada’s National Post about the rise of podcasts — with lots of great recommendations to try.

Here’s a list of 40 great rock and roll songs about the radio, from a Toronto DJ.

Have you got a station or podcast recommendation to share?


26 thoughts on “The best medium? Radio!

  1. i love radio too. here i listen to the local ann arbor station, where the dj’s are truly into their music and understand it and play their favs, sometimes whole album sides, in-studio interviews, acoustic brunch on sundays, etc. also our local university of michigan npr station, both fantastic.

      1. wqkl (107.1 fm) is the adult album alternative station. my favs are martin bandyke’s show (6-10am m-f) and rob reinhart’s ‘acoustic brunch’ (sat 6-8am and sun 8-10am). both are wonderful and my local npr (wuom 91.7) comes out of the university of michigan.

  2. I love the radio and listen to a lot of NPR shows. This American Life is my all-time favourite! I also like The Moth, WNYC’s Radiolab, PRI’s Movie Date and A Prairie Home Companion (love hearing about Lake Wobegon and its residents). Did you listen to Serial? I downloaded it faithfully every Thursday and was gripped by it, along with millions of others!).

  3. I enjoy listening to the podcasts of the BBC’s ‘From Our Own Correspondent’, and I like to listen to BBC Radio 4’s ‘Today’ programme when I wake up (although it’s a few hours old by then, airing at 6am in the UK!). I’ve also got into NPR/WNYC since I moved over here. I’ll check out some of your recommendations too!

  4. debra

    up here in Toronto, we still have the good old Q107, CFNY…now called The Edge….CBC Saturday morning show (before 9:00 am) and a great little independent called Indie88 on 88.1. Two of the best DJs ever, Dave Marsden (Marsbar) and Ivar Hamilton from the old CFNY days can be heard on…but online. There’s a campaign afoot to get Dave back on CFNY where he created “the spirit of radio”. Hopefully a bit of Toronto nostalgia for you, Caitlin. 🙂

  5. Funny you should mention TSF Jazz radio station. I listen to it regularly here in Paris, especially at night. Last night I was in the kitchen cutting up some chicken breasts for a curry dish and an amazing rendition of SUMMERTIME came on the radio. It was so good I stopped what I was doing and jotted down the name of the musician – Gene Harris, famous jazz pianist in the Ray Brown Trio.

    As for the BBC? Here’s the URL to BBC Radio 4, available all over the world –

    And my personal fave, BBC Radio 4 Book Club run by James Naughtie, where authors and readers discuss books. There’s a great Donna Tartt interview, as well as lots of other authors (see their archives)

  6. I can see why you would listen to the radio while traveling. I prefer podcasts–a lot of them NPR-based. But I also listen to Zencast, a series of weekly Buddhist lessons–very calming.

    1. Actually, the title is Broken Together— a song that can be enjoyed on different levels by different age groups. And a resounding YES!!! to NPR for its diverse, thought-provoking, thoroughly entertaining programming, especially when one’s traveling by car.

  7. Well, NPR really hits the spot with long drives. And, usually, I don’t want to get out of the vehicle when we get “there” (wherever it happens to be) because there’s a fascinating interview I want to enjoy to the end. It’s that good! Stay safe on your travels to and from teaching. You must really love it, or you wouldn’t do it!

    1. Thanks…They call them “driveway” moments as you sit in the car to hear the end of it.

      I do love my teaching job. I only make that drive one day a week so it’s not too bad.

  8. I used to love radio. When I first got out of the Army at Fort Hood, TX, it was the radio station here in Austin (#KROX) that got me connected with music I liked and a social life. I’m pretty finicky about music, and usually metal, classical and a bit of grunge are all I’m up for, with a touch of Celtic folk thrown in. An odd mix, I guess, but it satisfies my musical appetite. The station’s website was great, and had a message board that allowed me to meet up with local people, and that’s where i met a bunch of amazing friends, three of my roommates, and my ex-wife.

    Over the last few years though, radio has really let me down. Austin, that claims to be the “Live Music Capital of the World” has turned into a place that just doesn’t like variety. The only thing marketed here, really, is a variety of hipster-approved listening that just doesn’t appeal to me. I love my hipster friends, but their music makes me gag just a little. The radio station has kept up with the times, sadly. I no longer hear my favorite bands such as Disturbed, Slipknot, or Five Finger Death Punch. Instead, it’s a steady stream of bland hipster tunes that make me want to gouge my eardrums out.

    The station’s saving grace is the weekly heavy metal show, No Control. The station’s sound tech is a hardcore metal fan, and he gets to cleanse the airwaves once a week with new metal that is just awesome.

    I occasionally listen to NPR, but the format irritates me. All Things Considered always feels rushed and I just don’t feel connected to the medium like I do online sites. So, I use the USA Today, NYT, Austin American Statesman and a few other websites for my news. Once I find something I’m interested in, I read the whole story, then google more info about the story in question. SO much better than the one-sided discussion with the radio. Plus – then I can listen to Sepultura to help cure my rage as I read something new that some politician has screwed up in an ignorant manner.

    1. Booo. How frustrating.

      I find NYC radio (!) very disappointing — only one classical station and 2 or 3 decent college stations and then all pre-programmed junk. Streaming online once you find a station you like is a good option — we now listen to TSF Jazz from Paris a lot.

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