99% Invisible

I have an on-and-off relationship with 99% Invisible. It’s short—sometimes as short as 10 minutes, though generally more like 20—and having to constantly turn on the next episode can give me the feeling of always needing to flip the record. For this reason, I tend to listen to several episodes in a row and then not listen for a while. The show focuses on design, which often means architecture but can also refer to the history of the hashtag, the birth of hip hop in a New York City blackout, or urban planning for cities that were never built. Like many shows, 99% Invisible uses a combination of interviews, sound recordings, music, and narration to tell a story that’s centered around a theme or question. But this podcast constructs an atmosphere as much as it writes a narrative, guiding listeners through a space and recalling the sensation of touching, seeing, hearing, and smelling the world it’s describing. It’s a palpable experience delivered through an immaterial form. 99% Invisible is a single-host show that manages to keep it interesting—probably because host Roman Mars guides us through an episode’s narrative in a way as curated as the designs he’s discussing. In addition to hosting the podcast, Mars was one of the co-founders of Radiotopia, and 99% Invisible was one of the founding shows. Even for those with little expressed interest in design, this podcast is worth a listen.

Style: Narrative, Interview

If You Like: Fugitive Waves, Criminal, Invisibilia, Radio Diaries, Reply All

Favorite Episode: Episode 153, “Game Over (R)”

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