There are literally thousands of podcasts out in the world, far more than I could comfortably listen to. You’ll also find lots of places like The Timbre that attempt to battle through the firehose of new and upcoming podcasts to curate a regular pick of podcasts worthy of your time.
Some of these are probably the usual suspects, so if you’ve got some other ideas please let me know
We’ll start with what some have said is the podcast that spawned a podcast renaissance, Serial. Now in its second season the show began in 2014 telling one story over multiple weeks. Whilst this is not a new idea, it was something quite new for podcasting. Especially in journalism. Although it smashed records, Serial is important in other ways. It’s important because its creators turned to podcasting, rather than radio to tell the story.
Serial was created by producers at This American Life, a public radio show from the states that has been dominating the podcast world for the past 4 or 5 years. So, much producers in places like Australia are worrying it’s changing the dynamic. Back to Serial, season one told the story of Adnan Syed and his 1999 conviction for murder. It trawled through the evidence bit by bit, weaving interviews with a first person narrative from producer Sarah Koenig. Something about is captured the imagination. Maybe we all love a good crime story, but it helped that it came from a credible source of stories and was well produced.
Love & Radio
Love and Radio is a difficult one to pigeonhole and I think that’s the idea. Like Serial, Love and Radio is a podcast that emerged from the same Chicago public radio group and its lead station WBEZ. In both cases the podcasts offer something that uniquely podcast-like and certainly not something you’d want to rush to put on primetime radio. Like Serial the production is excellent and award winning. The stories can be a little uncomfortable to listen to, but that’s the idea. As producer Nick Van Der Kolk says here it uses the much more intimate relationship of podcasting;
We couldn’t get away with this kind of thing on the radio – we just throw people in the deep end and let them flounder
It’s another podcast from America, I’m afraid: Radiolab is one of the leading lights in the field and has probably turned more producers onto the format than anything. Created as a radio show about science by the New York station WNYC Radiolab moved slowly but surely online, as it suited their highly nuanced production style. Over the years they’ve moved away from being purely a science show and take on wider stories, but always ones that make you stop and wonder where the heck they found it.
Like the 2 podcasts about Radiolab is also impeccably produced. They really spend a long time making sure every word, every edit, every mix is perfect. The montaging is stunning, almost to the point you don’t realise they are flipping from narration and actuality. It sounds like a conversation but it means you need to listen. You have to pay attention.
I often hear Radiolab on the radio, and I — it’s — look, let’s just be honest, it’s annoying on the radio. The radio is across the room. You’re trying to do 12 things. The kids are running back and forth. It’s really hard to listen casually to it, because then it just zooms by and you miss something.
I feel like we are actually now more a podcast than we are a radio show. I do not know one 20-year-old that has a radio. It’s being redefined. It’s not the box on the mantelpiece anymore. It’s our phones and our devices and whatever the next three versions of that will be. The radio will live on that in some way (Jad Abumrad)
Abumrad is one of the producers of the show and you can watch the full interview the quote above is from here.