Podcasts are lifelines for all those times when you just need something to fill your ears and your brain. Bringing something to read on your commute is admirable, but it’s never going to work if you’re crammed into an early-morning train and there’s no room to breathe, let alone lift your arms to hold a book. Podcasts can fill gaps when it’s slow at work, or you’re preoccupied in the evenings, and your hands are busy. You just want something to listen to.
Unchain yourself from Audible and turn the TV off, because podcasts are booming right now. This is a list of six amazing podcasts I’ve been listening to this month, including some current hits and some revisited classics from years gone by.
If you haven’t seen the work of Jolyon Rubinstein and Heydon Prowse, I don’t know if we can be friends anymore. They’re the brains and public face behind the exciting political satire show The Revolution Will Be Televised from 2012 and have since been scything through a saturated field of political pundits and talk-show hosts to produce this informed, intelligent and viciously funny podcast.
It’s one of few interview format podcasts that I listen to, because the hosts are at the very top of their game, bringing guests on board who are varied and intriguing. A mixture of comedians, politicians and cultural give broad appeal without becoming your typical bland chat show or panel show. The hosts are divergent in their own opinions and genuinely challenge guests on philosophical and political ideas.
Best Episodes? Ken Loach; Romesh Ranganathan; Caroline Lucas
Everything I didn’t realise I wanted from a History podcast. Made by some of the people at Plymouth University, this is an excellent podcast featuring a varied selection of ‘microhistory’ episodes. Covering the history of things like hair, needlework, zombies, or even the paperclip, the podcast translates huge amounts of research into an easily-digestible segment which explains the hidden stories behind everyday topics.
History podcasts often pander to preconceived ideas about what ‘public history’ should be- Tudor Kings and Queens, Regency Balls, and War after War after War. If it’s not Napoleon, then it’s Anne Boleyn; Naval Battles, or Austen. Easily gendered, easily marketed and boring. These episodes really are unexpected.
Best Episodes? Bookcases; Perfume; Christmas
How do I begin to explain Welcome to Night Vale? It’s an epistolary story, told in the form of twice-monthly radio news updates from Cecil, the mouthpiece of a weird and fantastical town called Night Vale, somewhere in the US. It encompasses all kinds of mythology and lore, mashes it together with American Gothic motifs, stirs in some general creepy internet ideas, and heavily sprinkles diversity and representation all over the top.
The people of Night Vale are explicitly welcoming (read: celebratory) of LGBTQIA* folks, there are characters with disabilities (who aren’t punchlines or figures of sympathy), there is huge racial diversity among the voice cast and characters, and generally speaking this is one of the most rewarding and positive podcasts out there. You get some voice over pros, some celebrity cameos (Wil Wheaton and Mara Wilson just keep coming back), and amazing original background music. Every other line is like poetry, a kooky Tumblr quote waiting to happen. Try it, because it’s weird and warm and wholesome. Plus, how many podcasts make you tell people that your favourite character is ‘Old Woman Josie’?
Best Episodes? The Woman From Italy; Antiques; A Story About You.
This podcast is something that you really have to commit to- you need to be prepared to learn everything about the topic at hand over the span of several hours, because this is a podcast that thrives on exacting historical detail. Scott Philbrook and Forrest Burgess are most famous for their episodes on the disappearance of Amelia Earhart, but they’ve trekked through quite a lot of other history-mysteries to offer quite firm conclusions and fresh insight to decades-old questions.
Their best work came in the ‘Tamam Shud/Somerton Man’ episodes, which involved interviews with academic researchers, tracking down suspects from a cold case, and eventually revealing genuinely new information and conclusive theories about one of the internet’s favourite weird stories and urban legends.
Best Episodes? Dyatlov Pass: Oak Island Money Pit; Amelia Earhart Vanishes
My caveat for this one, is that it’s still new to me and there’s a few things that make this the odd-podcast-out in the list.
Firstly there’s a slightly bizarre opening theme song and a really conspicuous ‘American’ tone to this, which isn’t bad, just very present. That said, the episodes are well put together and funny. The podcast is presented by a married couple, a clinical professional and her husband, and the detail that the pair bring is a revelation. They are sensitive and well-informed, aware of their contemporary mindset and potential biases.
This is best seen in the episodes I’ve found most interesting, which focus on ‘Conversion Therapy.’ Sydney and Justin carefully weave together a narrative that incorporates a long duree history of sexuality and lots of detail about the period in the twentieth century that sexuality and gender were moved into the medical sphere.
Best Episodes? Conversion Therapy; Fluoride; Space Medicine
This might actually be my favourite history podcast. It has been going for years and there is so much to listen to. The hosts, Holly and Tracey, are cheery and professional speakers backed up by amazing research skills. While there are some annoying sponsored content breaks the podcasts are generally really easy to listen to.
One of the best things about this podcast is the hosts’ steadfast faith to covering lesser-told stories. They have been very vocal in the past about the complaints that they “‘only’ talk about women” and the fact that this podcast is speaking to the people history class didn’t quite reach. There are so many episodes that focus on women, LGBTQIA* figures and communities, people of colour on a global and individual scale, and disabled people in history. The episodes tend to be fairly narrative, giving you the background facts and then pursuing a loose microhistory approach by connecting together grander themes and modern perspectives that produce a rounded bite of knowledge in a short amount of time.
Best Episodes? Sir Christopher Lee; The Mysterious Disappearance of Agatha Christie; Emu War of 1932; How Tulip Mania Worked
Do you have a favourite podcast that is missing from my list or something you think should be featured on this blog next time? Are you making a podcast that you really want to talk about? Email me your recommendations at firstname.lastname@example.org or find the blog on facebook, twitter, and tumblr.