I have great friends and a fantastic relationship with my family. I talk with these people all the time. But if there’s one additional guiding voice in my day-to-day, it’s that of Kai Ryssdal, host of American Public Media’s (not NPR!) Marketplace and co-host of my favorite podcast, Make Me Smart. I listen to Kai on two podcasts on a daily basis. He’s a fantastic reporter on a great team, and the Marketplace show helped me write my undergraduate capstone, informs my understanding of the economy – which is separate from the stock market – and is just generally a great program.
I like him best on Make Me Smart, where, unburdened by the structure and FCC oversight of the radio, he tears into the news of the week with the nuanced understanding of a veteran reporter and the absolute exhausted tenor of a man who served his country in the military, the foreign service, and then as a longtime journalist and just cannot fathom the depths of low people – especially political figures – continue to fall to.
The very first episode of Make Me Smart I listened to would turn out to be unbelievably prescient – in it, former co-host Molly Wood tells Kai about a story she’s been keeping an eye on, a virus in China no one is worried about that she correctly identifies as a major threat and likely pandemic. Since then, I have listened to every episode – as Covid got worse, as the economy collapsed and people began to die – but then also as we saw signs of improvement and hope and people working together.
Molly and Kai – and their expert guests – taught me to understand the tools and levels that epidemiologists use to track disease, how an mRNA vaccine works, and so much more. I spent a good part of Covid volunteering at a Community Kitchen serving lunches, listening to their show on the way to and from shifts, inspired by their profiles of braver health care and front-line workers to try to do something.
That show helped me understand the pandemic and get through lockdown – and when we got out of the worst of it and I had my shots and I was applying for jobs, I hoped that the constant coverage I was hearing about a hot job market and people quiet quitting because demand for them was so high and all these other things that suggested I might finally get a job out of college might come through.
This is my only gripe with Kai and Molly and Kimberly Adams and the rest of the team – they failed to account, when making a podcast listened to by millions – that I wanted a job, and have not been able to get one, because…reasons? I really don’t know, and maybe I’ll call in and they can tell me.
But even now, unemployed and burning cash on a graduate degree I don’t really want, I still turn to Kai and the marketplace team to help me better understand the world. Listening to the show and following his Twitter held me accountable when I got swept up in partisan politics and forgot that Joe Biden standing in front of marines in giant red lighting delivering a political speech was in fact, not cool.
I don’t even know why I wrote this. I have not been assigned any “When I grow up” one-pagers, and I’m sure as hell not flying helicopters. But thanks, guys. Keep up the good work.