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Inside Podcasting (Apr 3rd, 2017)

The "S-Town" podcast bridges the modern-day empathy gap between rural and urban America in humanistic fashion, argues Spencer Kornhaber for Citylab. The hit show traces reporter Brian Reed's follow-up investigation of a tip on a murder cover-up in Woodstock, Alabama (the "S**t Town" of the title). The tipster, John B. McElmore, is a local with major disdain for Woodstock, a disdain that may appeal to urban listeners who have allowed themselves to slip into condescending and dismissive attitudes about rural populations. Kornhaber argues that once the "touristic" element of the "murder in a small town" hook fades, the show becomes more of a character study of McElmore as well as a "sensitive portrait of oft-stereotyped places like Woodstock." – CITYLAB

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Bryony Cole's "Future of Sex" podcast focuses on the way new sex-tech advancements are rewriting sexual boundaries. Many of the innovations are coming from companies run by women. Cole, a ex-employee of Microsoft, saw the writing on the bedroom wall when it came to digital platforms and changing mores: "I made it my mission to uncover what the hell was going to happen to our intimate lives." The show debuted last October, and so far the host has spoken to a surprising number of major female industry leaders who are on the forefront of next-gen boudoir innovation: "Finally, we're talking about female sexual health and female pleasure where we've never really done it before. We have examples of vibrators that match to erotic literature on your iPad, or we have vibrators that look like beautiful necklaces or pieces that could be in a gallery." – MASHABLE

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This week's Billboard "Must Hear Music" podcast features a rundown of the best new albums released so far in 2017. It may seem early for such round-ups, but the second quarter of 2017 is indeed upon us, and with it comes the ranking of current pop-cultural touchstones. Among some lively dissent, albums from Khalid and Gabriel Garzon-Montano prove to be common choices from Billboard's three hosts. Releases from Laura Marling, Rag'n'Bone Man, and Stormzy rate mentions from at least one of the hosts, sometimes drawing mixed responses from the others. – BILLBOARD

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The new "Up First" podcast from NPR is a ten-minute distillation of the day's biggest news stories as featured on the "Morning Edition" AM radio series. “We will have been up all night sifting through all this myriad of news to find the smartest takes and the most important stories,” says Sarah Gilbert, EP of "Morning Edition." Looking to hook younger listeners, NPR is hoping that offering these updates on-demand will attract news aficionados who no longer get their info from traditional sources such as "core terrestrial radio." “We are very keen to pick up the next generation of news junkies," says Gilbert. – VARIETY

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Forbes profiles wrestler Chris Jericho, his three-year old "Talk is Jericho" podcast, and the booming Jericho Network empire. The show, which covers not just wresting but also the charming Jericho's other interests, including music and the supernatural, is among the most popular of all current sports podcasts. The show was born when Jericho got a call from fellow wrester Stone Cold Steve Austin, who had been doing his own podcast for a year: "Two weeks later I was up on the air, and I’ve been loving it ever since.” Jericho says he knew not putting his show in a box (i.e. covering more than just wrestling) was going to be key to the podcast's success. The expanded Jericho Network now features six separate series. – FORBES

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Fugees co-founder Wyclef Jean is featured on the new episode of AdAge and IHeartMedia's "Tagline" podcast. The talk focuses on the marketing of music and industry skittishness over political content. On the constant industry pushback against artists becoming overly politicized, Jean says, "You write 'Hips Don't Lie' and after you write this song you go...'Well, is this how I want to leave the earth?' I come from this place. I used to ride a donkey and so this is what I want the world to understand about me. So now you're fighting because your agents and everyone's like, 'Yo, dude. Don't go there. You're basically gonna lose it all. Like, do not. Stay away from politics. Don't go.' – ADAGE

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PODCAST SPOTLIGHT

"Hidden Brain" is an especially thoughtful podcast about the science of human behavior and the sometimes shadowy workings of our own brains. Host Shankar Vedantam has a palpable enthusiasm for his subject, the kind that can make the listener feel like he's been missing out on something endlessly exciting. And of course, when the topic is our innermost selves, there seems to be infinite wonders available to the curious. Recent topics have included scarcity and its relation to desire, the difficulty of changing false beliefs, and what it is that might drive young men to murder. The interview-based podcast lacks a lot of production bells-and-whistles, but there's something about hearing soothingly intelligent voices in rapt conversation that serves as a balm on at least this writer's soul (not to mention his drive time.)

The most recent episode, "Liar, Liar," features an interview with Duke University professor Dan Ariely, author of "The Honest Truth About Dishonesty: How We Lie To Everyone - Especially Ourselves." Vedantam expertly prompts Ariely to lay out a fascinating breakdown of human lying: what prompts us to lie, how we live with it, and why some people just never seem to do it. Ariely notes that while most of us assume that lying comes down to character ("Nice people don't lie"), his more sobering take is that the thing separating the honest from the dishonest is not so much character as opportunity. Not the most soothing thing to hear, but it carries the ring of truth. 

That said, the mysterious process of deciding whether to be honest is most cleverly (and most reassuringly) illustrated by Ariely via a conversation he had with a waiter one night. Before he even ordered, he asked the waiter what the best methods he might have available to skip out on paying. The waiter, of course, knew them all: pretending to go to the bathroom, waiting for a big party to leave and slipping out in their midst, sneaking down the back alley (classy move, that), etc. But when Ariely asked how often this kind of thing happened, the waiter responded "very rarely" and added that most people who leave without paying will call apologetically later that night to pay over the phone.

So the methodology of lying, the ins and outs of sneaky and self-serving behavior, are open and available to us all. Ariely's theories on how or why or when we choose to take those immoral (or at least unethical) short cuts makes for fascinating listening. Take my word for it, you'll feel like you've had your mind sharpened in just under thirty minutes. You may even have the shavings to prove it.

THE BASICS
Title: "Hidden Brain"
Episodes Available: 66
Episode Length: 30-40 minutes
Where to Download: NPR
Host: Shankar Vedantam

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