In my most recent Book Wrap Up, I mentioned my recent re-addiction to podcasts. I say re-addiction because, I when I first downloaded iTunes in 2003, I was hooked on podcasts like crack. My favourites at the time were Jim Harold’s Paranormal Podcast, Hometown Tales (which sadly isn’t around anymore), The Seanachai (defunct too) and Chicken Fried Radio (which also isn’t around at the minute, but it’s also how N and I met… that’ll be another post). Then I just sort of fell out of love with them. Other than those three I couldn’t find any I really enjoyed and when Hometown Tales went on hiatus, The Seanachai ended and CFR stopped making regular episodes, there wasn’t anything left for me.
A few months ago, I was reading an article on something (I forget what now) and the podcast This American Life was mentioned. I thought it sounded interesting so I downloaded an episode (a rerun of a 2001 episode called ‘House on Loon Lake’) and was hooked once again. Since then, my book tally has suffered but my brain has been filled with so many incredible stories and interesting factoids that, frankly, I don’t feel like I’ve missed out on reading very much.
So without further rambling, here’s what I’m currently hooked and bingeing on. You can click on the each logo or picture to be taken straight through to the show’s website where you can find out how to download episodes and explore content.
This American Life
I’ve already mentioned This American Life, but it’s worth mentioning a thousand times over. Hosted by Ira Glass, This American Life showcases different true stories based around a central theme. As one of the most downloaded podcasts and also consistently ranked in the top 10 on iTunes, one listen will show you why. The quality of storytelling and investigative journalism are very high and, as the show has been running for a long time now, the format runs like a well oiled machine. Expect fantastic and engaging stories every Monday. You can go back and download old episodes from iTunes for a small fee or you can stream them for free on the website. I’d highly recommend the This American Life app which allows you to download five episodes at a time for offline listening. It’s the first and only app I’ve ever paid for, which should tell you something.
Serial is a spinoff of This American Life, so if you listen to the show knowing only that, you know you’re in for an amazing ride. While This American Life is a different set of stories every week, Serial is what it says it is—a true story told in a serialized format. For their first season, Serial are investigating a murder trial from the late 90’s. Then high schooler Adnan Syed was accused and found guilty of his ex-girlfriend’s murder. But is he really guilty? Even host Sarah Koenig (producer for This American Life) doesn’t know for sure. Serial is tremendously popular, spawning debates and commentary on blogs, social media and even national news outlets. It’s one not to be missed, and you need to listen from the start. Serial comes out every Thursday (and I keep refreshing my feed every few minutes until it comes up).
When Alex Blumberg (former producer for This American Life and co-founder of the podcast Planet Money) decided to quit his job and go it alone as an entrepreneur, he knew he had to record everything. StartUp is a behind the scenes look at just what it takes to start your own business—from finding investors to the search for the perfect (and unregistered) name. The fact that they used a clip from South Park in one of the recent episodes only makes me love this podcast more. StartUp is available for download every other week, but at the moment not on a particular day of the week. It’s like a nice little surprise.
Moving away from This American Life and others in its ilk, Radiolab is one of my favourite things of all time. Not just favourite podcast—things. Radiolab isn’t just something you listen to—you experience it. I don’t really know how else to describe it. Radiolab satisfies my inner geek and covers all the things you want to know about as well as the stuff you had no idea you’d find fascinating. They do full length, hour long episodes as well as ‘shorts’ which run around half an hour. Hosted by two brilliant guys, Jad Abumrad and Robert Krulwich, Radiolab is everything radio should be.
If you’re looking for a starting point to jump in at, any episode will do, but I’d highly recommend ’60 Words.’ Their breakdown of the 60 words used in the Authorization for Use of Military Force, signed into law by George W Bush in the hours after 9/11, is one of their most popular episodes and is a fantastic introduction.
I could binge on Radiolab all day, every day. New episodes are out around once or twice per month.
Criminal is relatively new to the podcast world. They’re only 11 episodes in having started at the beginning of this year, so they’re still finding their feet. Phoebe Judge hosts this monthly podcast which takes a look at criminals, victims and everything in between. Because this is a new venture (and everyone involved has day jobs!), episodes are short and really, that’s my only complaint. Clocking in anywhere from 15 to 20 minutes at a time, I’d love them to get some longer episodes in. That being said, it’s also kind of nice to have something to listen to that’s short and punchy. From wannabe counterfeiters to letters to a serial killer, Criminal brings you stories you don’t get to hear about on the news or online. Criminal comes out towards the end of every month.
Criminal is a part of Radiotopia’s current Kickstarter campaign. With $400,000 they want to take three new podcasts under their umbrella, meaning more episodes of Criminal! For more info on the campaign, click here.
Everything is Stories
I’m not going to lie—I downloaded the first episode of this podcast purely based on the name (much as I did with Chicken Fried Radio all those years ago). Everything is Stories. How cool is that? Another new kid on the block in the podcast world, Everything is Stories is only eight episodes in but so far has packed a wallop. I’ve yet to listen to all eight episodes but I’ve listened to the first three and I know the rest will be just as amazing. There’s something almost hypnotic about the show, about listening to people tell you their story… whether they’re a cameraman for the tv show COPS or a faith healer in Peru. Everything is Stories brings you tales from the underground, the down and out, the fringes of society and, possibly, sanity. They’re definitely a podcast to watch out for. At the moment it looks as if they’re releasing an episode every other month (the main reason I’ve not binged on the few episodes there are) so you’ve still got time to jump on the bandwagon.
Oh goodness—I can see this one’s going to be a total addiction a la Radiolab. NPR have been running the show since 2012, so there’s a long list of episodes to date which I’m sure will keep me happy. My introduction to Snap Judgment came last week while listening to the Halloween special while riding home on the tube. I do scare fairly easy, but normally only when I’m by myself and not packed like a sardine on a train but, as I closed my eyes and listened to the various chilling tales (one from Louisville, represent!), I felt myself getting genuinely creeped out and dreading going back to a dark and empty flat. With great storytelling and with their very dynamic and engaging host Glynn Washington, it’s easy to see why Snap Judgment is a crowd pleaser. They even cull through listener stories for inspiration! Snap Judgment is a weekly podcast (thank goodness).
Here Be Monsters
Another one chosen based on the name—and another successful choice. Here Be Monsters is on its third season and offers up stories on a monthly basis on the weird, the out of the ordinary and the unknown. It’s quite a trip and, like Everything is Stories, it’s very hypnotic. Here Be Monsters is another short podcast ranging from around ten to fifteen minutes long but episodes are immersive and engaging. With few bells and whistles, Here Be Monsters is just plain amazing storytelling in its simplest form. You won’t want to stop listening. Here Be Monsters comes out once or twice each month.
I can’t tell you how much I’d love to work, volunteer or research for any of these shows. Dream job for sure.
So, what podcasts do you listen to? I’m constantly looking for new shows to try out so suggestions are welcome! All I ask is that they’re engaging, masterful works of storytelling that you can’t stop listening to.
If you’re one of the producers or hosts of any of the shows I’ve listed, feel free to get in touch–I’d be really interested in doing a Q & A piece on you, the show or anything else you’d like to talk about! Nothing like a free bit of publicity, eh?