Garth Mullins is a Canadian radio producer, broadcaster, and podcast host. He’s also visually impaired. For that reason, I called him up to find out what podcasts he thought had the richest sound. Figuring he might be able to pick up on certain sonic elements that others take for granted, he agreed. But, he adds a caveat: “It’s kind of like asking, ‘What kind of movies does a sighted person like to go to?’ Christmas movies? Animation? Transformers? It’s a pretty big range.” Still, Mullins came up with a solid list of great-sounding ‘casts, for newbies and aficionados alike.
When I ask Mullins what podcast might be on the level of Academy Award-winning for production, this WNYC science standard is the first thing out of his mouth. “Jad Abumrad is one of the producers there and he has a background in classical music composition,” he says. “And he loves death metal. So, he uses that talent. He has a light touch. It’s important to not score it like it’s a blockbuster Hollywood film, where they’re hitting you over the head with violins.” That’s one way to explain why the MacArthur Foundation dubbed Abumrad a straight-up genius in 2011.
Mullins mentions this one — which is hosted by Craig Shank and George Drake Jr. — and it’s not surprising why: It’s a podcast dedicated to sound. “Real scenes and field recordings are great,” Mullins says. “They need not be antiseptic. A little noise or wind in the mic can let you know where you are.”
Rolling Stone’s Tim Dickinson told us about his love for this design podcast, too. Here’s something host Roman Mars does not do: “Simply turning on the mic and putting up an unedited podcast with lots of mic handling noise and background noise will make me switch off almost instantly,” Mullins says. “It’s the audio equivalent of inviting a guest into your kitchen that is piled with garbage, dirty dishes, and food that’s gone off.”
This historical podcast, hosted by Nate DiMeo, excels in is storytelling. “The less eyesight you have, the more bad recordings will stand out. But I understand the world in stories — narrative,” Mullins explains. “My imagination does not conjure up the visual. Not maps, not faces, not numbers, or words. So podcasts that do a good job on storytelling are really my favorite. No amount of production values can compensate for a badly edited piece or poor story construction.”
Song Exploder gets high marks, sonically, out of the gate: It features musicians picking apart their tunes. “I particularly like radio and podcasts with a diversity of voices. Different accents, cadences, dialects, from different parts of the world — not just public-radio speak,” Mullins says.
Mullins loves these two podcasts by the Kitchen Sisters and recommends “anything” by the NPR producers Davia Nelson and Nikki Silva. “I’m particularly interested in how you use score, how you use field-recorded sounds, how you use archival sounds, even how you use effects,” Mullins says.