Roderick on the Line Listening Guide

Where to start and what to know when diving into Merlin Mann and John Roderick’s weekly podcast.

To celebrate the release of the 250th episode of Roderick on the Line, I put together a listening guide for those who are new to the show. If you’re already a fan, who knows, maybe you’ll rediscover some of the great episodes.

What Roderick on the Line Is

Roderick on the Line is a ​weekly phone call between two long-time friends–John Roderick and Merlin Mann. It’s unscripted and often without a set topic. Somehow they always manage to talk about something interesting, which I still find amazing.

So if there’s no topic or theme at the core of the show, then why would I want to listen to it?

Well, at the core of it, Roderick on the Line is a podcast about telling stories. John and Merlin are both smart and clever. They’ve lived pretty different lives, but they share some common interests and a sense of humor. They also disagree about a ton of stuff. The secret sauce is that they’re curious and reflective and actually listen to one another.

What You Need to Know

How the Show Works

Merlin calls John and they talk. That’s it. It’s not produced like an NPR show. What’s in the show is in the show, and most episodes are an hour long, give or take.

The title of each episode comes from a quote said during that episode. Going into an episode you’ll see a title, like “Cat Butt Was Real”, and have no idea what it means. But when you listen to the episode and they say the title, it has a very memorable impact.

The show notes for episode contain “The Problem,” which is often an issue or thought that arises naturally during the conversation. Similar to the title, it’s a lot of fun to know the theme without any context and see how they get there.

John Roderick

John Roderick

John Roderick is the singer of the indie rock band The Long Winters. He grew up in Alaska and has lived in Seattle for a long time. Alaska, Seattle, and music all tie into the show. John’s well-traveled and can talk about anything for a seemingly infinite amount of time.

His band, The Long Winters, make some solid tunes. Here’s one of my favorites:

John has the deep voice and is the one who talks a little slower.

Merlin Mann

Merlin Mann

Merlin Mann is a writer and broadcaster. He hosts a handful of different podcasts and used to write a blog called 43 Folders about doing your best work. His writing is strong, just like his personality. If you enjoy Roderick on the Line, I think you’d enjoy reading Merlin’s writing.

Prior to writing and doing podcasts, Merlin worked in the world of software development. He lives in San Francisco and hails from Florida. Merlin’s more tech savvy​ than John, but he’s not at all a Silicon Valley tech jerk.

Merlin has the higher voice of the two and talks quickly​. (You’ll catch on quick.)

Where to Start

With 250 episodes, it’s difficult to know where to start. Luckily each episode is independent and stands on its own (“evergreen” as John and Merlin say). You can pick any ole episode and enjoy it without having listened to any others.

But if you’re looking for some suggestions, here are my favorites.

My Favorite Episodes

Recurring Themes and Topics

Even though each episode stands on its own, there are some recurring themes and references. These should help you out if you’re ever a bit lost.

John’s Walk Across Europe

When John was younger he walked across Europe. This is the source of many stories, and they’re all fascinating. John wanted to write a book about it, but it never ended up happening.

The Bell

Whenever Merlin or John make a particularly funny or powerful point, one of them will ring a bell to accentuate that point. Merlin often uses it as an editing point to drop in an ad read.

Parenting

Merlin and John are both parents. I am not a parent, but I enjoy hearing their experiences and perspectives on parenting, and how it relates to their lives.

World War II

It’s safe to say John and Merlin are both obsessed with World War II. The earlier episodes often veer into WWII, and I love it all. I enjoy history, but it’s not something I actively seek out these days.

Music

They are both very into music. John is a professional musician, and Merlin used to play in a band. The music they talk about most is 70s, 80s, and 90s rock, and, specifically, The Beatles. While their taste in music isn’t a perfect match with mine, I enjoy listening to it. It’s exposed me to some great bands too.

Why I Love It

It’s funny, sweet, educational, and insightful. It’s listening to two people who are self-aware and just the right amount of egotistical. Once you start listening, you’ll tie together what John and Merlin talk about into your own life. Because the show is so personal, it connects on some real levels.

If you enjoy Roderick on the Line, John and Merlin both have other shows that are worth listening to as well:

  • You Look Nice Today – Easily the best comedy podcast. Merlin, Scott Simpson, and Adam Lisagor riff on life.
  • Back to Work – Merlin chats with Dan Benjamin about productivity and work, more technical than Roderick on the Line.
  • Road Work – John chats with Dan Benjamin, similar in style to Roderick on the Line but with its own unique take.
  • Do By Friday – Merlin, Max Temkin, and Alex Cox take on a weekly challenge.

Remember, keep moving and get out of the way.


A big thank you to Brian Cobb for contributing to and editing this guide, as well as introducing me to Roderick on the Line.

Author: Brett Chalupa

day: software developer, night: comic artist & writer

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