Looking for some good listening? These local podcasts are proving tech isn’t the only thing to talk about on the SF Peninsula.
Using the phrase ‘Silicon Valley’ in a sentence that doesn’t go on to include the words ‘Facebook,’ ‘Google’ or even just ‘tech’ might seem like something of a paradox — it was the tech sector, after all, that granted the nickname to the stretch of cities between San Jose and San Francisco.
But—as we’ve been saying ad infinitum—there’s so much more to the Peninsula than sprawling company campuses and eccentric CEOs sporting Patagonia vests. That’s obvious, of course, if you live here, but it might be harder to ascertain if you’re on the hunt for a good locally-focused podcast.
So we’ve opted to clue you into our favorite podcasts that go beyond tech: they delve into equity, economics, Peninsula lore and even the intricacies of everyday life in our stretch of the Bay.
Read up and take a listen…
State of the Human
This podcast from the Stanford Storytelling Project is about the human experience. If that sounds broad, it’s because it is, purposefully so: every episode focuses on a different thematic topic. The list of subjects covered is certainly one that’ll catch your eye: feeding, gathering, dying, mythologizing and naming are among its ranks.
The project itself is heavily student-involved; it launched out of Stanford University in 2012 with the intent of promoting the importance of storytelling skills, especially in audio format. Episodes are available all the way back through 2014, and typically run about an hour long — perfect for a commute (remember those?) or just one of those long pandemic walks (you know the type). Pick a subject at your leisure — there’s no need to listen in chronological order.
Why settle for a Macklemore-carved spork when you can aspire to a Wu-Tang-forged liquid sword?
For more than three decades now, Peninsula native Adisa Banjoko has been covering hip hop culture up close and on the ground level, dating back to when he scored an interview in 1988 — while a student at Pacifica’s Oceano High School — with none other than NWA’s Eazy E. More recently, Banjoko has packaged his many years of experience as a hip hop journalist into his Bishop Chronicles podcast, a weekly exploration of culture, philosophy and pressing social issues. Oh…and chess, too! You may recognize Banjoko’s name from his work spearheading the Hip Hop Chess Federation, which promoted the ancient game as a cultivator of strategy, communication and intellectual development for students.
Bishop Chronicles shot fast out of the gate in 2021 by featuring high profile interviews with the likes of actor John Leguizamo, hip hop legend the RZA and veteran Bay Area DJ Davey D (who gave a masterclass on the early days of hip hop’s evolution in the Bay). Better still, Banjoko has been out front on the issues of anti-Asian hate crimes and has quickly convened the kind of cross cultural conversations that we need to be having right now.
Copper & Heat
Now in its third season, this Bay Area-born podcast continues to build upon its outstanding insider insight into the restaurant industry, which rightfully earned the creators a James Beard Award in 2019.
Former Manresa cook Katy Osuna, with audio engineering assistance from her husband Ricardo, uses Copper & Heat to explore all aspects of kitchen culture, from gender and racial equity to tipping and mental health. She interviews fellow chefs, as well as counselors, community organizers and industry insiders for a behind-the-curtain look into the restaurant universe that is unsettling at times, but still always worthy of consumption.
The couple relocated to Portland, Oregon, last year, but for us, Copper & Heat will always be a local gem.
Hosted by married couple Marc and Blythe Musteric — a pair of self-described Silicon Valley communication gurus — this podcast offers communication tips for professional and personal success in a short burst format. Each 15-minute episode offers analysis of and guidance toward how to be a better communicator, no matter the context.
Amid the pandemic, the Musterics have offered sensible, tailored and intelligent advice through soundbites like “How to Stay Focused While Video Conferencing,” “Communication Secrets for Working from Home” and “Planning for your Post-Pandemic Re-Entry.”
Whether it’s been a goal of yours to use quarantine for self improvement or you’re simply worried you might have genuinely forgotten how to have an in-person conversation with someone outside of your pandemic pod, Communication Snacks is worth a listen.
If you’re a Peninsula resident and already count yourself as something of a podcast enthusiast, chances are you’ve encountered KQED’s Bay Curious: it’s incredibly well-produced, and subsequently hard to miss.
Host Olivia Allen-Prince weaves through broader questions facing American society (take this previous episode: COVID Could Impact Mental Health for Years to Come. Here’s How To Cope) but also unfailingly offers deeper dives into Bay Area legend and lore (episode: Is That a Ghost Freeway on the Peninsula? And Are Our Highways Filthier Than Ever?)
New episodes air Thursdays and typically run 10–15 minutes.
Tough Things First
If time is money, the budget-conscious among us might be a little anxious about asking for the bill after five minutes with Ray Zinn. Lucky for you, Zinn — the longest serving CEO in Silicon Valley (37 years at Micrel Semiconductors) — offers that up for free on each episode of Tough Things First.
For five minutes each episode, Zinn talks with guests about leadership, entrepreneurship and, most recently, Silicon Valley history.
We previously described Tough Things First in 2017 as “a weekly check-in with the managerial godfather,” and, yeah — seems that statement has very much stood the test of time.
The Future of Everything
This forward-looking podcast is hosted by Russ Altman, a professor of bioengineering at Stanford University. The theme of Altman’s episodes — which are produced in a casual, conversational tone — is ‘how.’ Altman talks with colleagues and experts (most, if not all, also within the Stanford bubble) about everything from how to get a good night’s sleep and how meme culture is reshaping photography to how artificial intelligence could change hiring and how robots perceive the physical world.
Altman’s bench of guests is incredibly deep and varied, and therefore make for no shortage of conversations (the kind you might have picked up pre-pandemic if you took to eavesdropping on a stroll around Stanford’s campus — or, say, in the conference room of a think tank).
As of 2021, episodes are released several times a month and run between 15 and 30 minutes.
San Mateo Focus & Only in San Jose
Both of these podcasts are produced with ‘by locals, for locals’ intent — though with slightly different angles.
Only in San Jose, hosted by self-described community activist and San Josean Ellina Yin, is a podcast “aimed at demystifying and democratizing the process of civic participation in local government,” what Yin describes as “ground zero of systemic change.” Season One, four episodes long, launched in the summer of 2020. Yin has so far taken on the city’s Planning Commission as well as the subject of campaign finance. We’re hoping she launches a season two; her goal is admirable, as is her style as a host. Episodes run anywhere from 15 minutes to an hour and 15 minutes.
San Mateo Focus, hosted by Judy Gordon and produced by Peter Radsliff, has more of a hyperlocal angle: episodes, which run between five and 10 minutes (“a shot of San Mateo”), feature everyone from recent San Mateo high school graduates and local business owners to the city’s historians and librarians. Other episodes have explored the history of Coyote Point, Hillsdale Mall and the region’s robust Japanese food scene.
Zip Code Economies
Zip Code Economies is the conversation you might imagine happening at the intersection of equity, diversity and economics. Fascinating, right? We think so too.
It’s also hosted by Mary C. Daly — the President and CEO of the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco, which produces the podcast. Daly, to our delight, is as competent a storyteller as she is an economist. Though the show traipses through different parts of the state and country, Daly often also keeps it local. A number of episodes, in fact, feature East Palo Alto, where Daly and a roster of community members and organizers take deep dives into the obstacles facing the underserved community there and how those community members are fighting to overcome them.
Episodes run between 15 and 30 minutes; Season 1.5, whose focus is hope and resiliency, began in late February.
If it’s got a Silicon Valley hook, Teddy Schleifer wants to talk about it — but only for five or 10 minutes. Schleifer, the host of Recode Daily, is a senior reporter with Vox, and it shows: with him at the helm, the show is smart, punchy and to the point. Of course, Schleifer isn’t exactly avoiding the tech sector in his episodes — some of the most recent feature a Tesla founder, Facebook and Google.
But Schleifer, who is often joined by his Vox/Recode colleagues on the show, isn’t just regurgitating the same old news about Mark Zuckerberg’s latest public statement or how the founder of this or that startup says they’ve set out to change the world: his angles are sharp and refreshing. This week’s episodes, for example, included an aspiring millennial philanthropist with some real giving power (“This 28-year-old billionaire wants to give away all of his money”), a look at the economics behind being a social media star (“How influencers monetize every aspect of their lives”) and looming tech supply chain shortages (“We don’t have enough computer chips”).
Episodes roll out daily — an added plus if you’re looking for a podcast to add to your everyday lineup.