Hidden Gems of Public Radio

Continuing our celebration of public radio, we bring you a list of some fantastic, but perhaps underappreciated, public radio programs. Hopefully you'll find something new to listen to!

By Sarah Wright

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Hidden Gems

If you're a public radio listener, chances are you're familiar with some of the most popular programs on the radio, like Fresh Air, This American Life, Talk of the Nation, Morning Edition and All Things Considered. These programs are great, and if you're a regular listener, you might have come to look at them not only as a source of entertainment, but as a way to learn new things as well. If you're looking for some new-to-you educational radio programs, there are plenty of options out there. Here's a list of some programs that are less well-known than their classic counterparts.

Planet Money

Planet Money is an interesting example of the ways public radio is adapting to incorporate new media. It's not actually broadcast as a regular show - instead, radio producers from the Planet Money team appear regularly on NPR and PRI shows like Marketplace, All Things Considered and This American Life. The Planet Money team also produces a semiweekly podcast and a blog that is updated regularly.

As the name implies, this program focuses on economics, and provides some useful insight into the often-confusing world of economic news. For example, Planet Money devoted quite a bit of time to explaining toxic assets, even going so far as to purchase their own toxic asset, which they named Toxie. This is just one example of the way that this program manages to tackle an important subject, handling it with an excellent balance of humor and seriousness.

Living on Earth

Distributed by PRI, Living on Earth bills itself as a 'weekly environmental news and information program'. This award-winning show has been around since 1991, and covers environmental science topics from around the world. The shows are composed of several segments that focus on different current events and trends relating to the environment. Some past show segment titles include 'Sustainable City Gardening', 'Mastodon Found in the Rockies', and 'We Like Lichen'. Living on Earth is broadcast all over the U.S. - check your local public radio schedule to see if it's carried in your market. If you can't tune in on the radio, you can visit the Living on Earth website to listen.

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City Arts and Lectures

City Arts and Lectures is broadcast on more than 170 public radio stations across the U.S., but its primary function is as a lecture series that takes place in San Francisco. The broadcasts consist of recordings of the lectures that happen as part of the series. If you're interested in watching them in person, you can get tickets to attend the lectures at the Herbst Theater in San Francisco. City Arts and Lectures has featured famous names from all different kinds of artistic areas, including comedians like Fred Armisen and Tina Fey, writers like Gary Shteyngart and A.O. Scott, actor Clive Owen and professor Brian Greene. If you live in San Francisco, you can listen to City Arts and Lectures on local public radio station KQUED; if you live elsewhere, check your local public station's schedule to see if this program is included.


WireTap often qualifies more as 'entertainment' than 'education', though you can argue that with each episode, you are learning important cultural lessons about our Neighbors to the North. That's right - WireTap is a Canadian public radio program, but its popularity on the air in that country, and as a download here in the U.S., has caused some American public radio stations to add it to their schedules. WireTap is produced by Jonathan Goldstein, author of books like Ladies and Gentlemen: The Bible. As a writer, Goldstein seems to have made some good connections with fellow writers, and the show often features fiction by writers like scientist David Eagleman.


Produced by WNYC, Radiolab is a program that is becoming increasingly popular. Because of its growing popularity and exposure, it's not exactly a 'hidden gem', but it is a must listen for all public radio enthusiasts who are looking to learn a thing or two from their broadcast entertainment. And entertainment it is - this show is in turns touching, funny, shocking and inspiring. Edited in a unique style, Radiolab focuses on science themes, with show titles like 'Words', 'Famous Tumors', 'Parasites', 'Diagnosis' and 'Laughter'. Listening to Radiolab even once puts you in serious danger of having a new science fact to quote at parties.

Do you love public radio? May 3 is Public Radio Day, and we marked the occasion with a brief history of informative, non-commercial broadcasting.

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