Hours of entertainment, education and (possibly) life-changing lessons
Hello Darren, and welcome to your very belated birthday and Christmas gifts!
I may have come across as a pretty lackluster friend the past few months, and I deeply regret that. However, I’m hoping to make up for it now with this very personalised gift.
I have spent hours over the Christmas break, compiling the very best podcasts that the internet has to offer and distilling them into the mix you see below. I send this with love and dedication, from one man of learning and sounds to another.
Below, you can find the finest podcasts, with an episode of each embedded as a Spotify link. Simply choose your category below, choose your episode, and listen as you work, do mundane tasks or simply relax at home, outside or in the car. If you like what you hear, then there are dozens more episodes waiting for you by simply going to the podcast in Spotify.
One podcast is so good that it has a section of its own. That’s Reply All.
So, when you’re ready to begin, let’s start our journey. Click on the button of your choice and go!
All the Stories
The greatest true stories you didn’t even know you needed.
CrimeTown – “Divine Providence” + “The Wiseguys”
Welcome to CrimeTown – AKA, Providence, Rhode Island – where crime comes from 2 angles: the government and the Mob. These 2 episodes introduce you to both, and the 18 or so episodes thereafter will follow the threads as they meet and diverge, over 20 years of history. In addition to having the best theme music of any podcast (probably), the story contained herein is so well told and so fascinating that…well, when I visited the USA last year I purposely took a detour to Providence just to stand in front of City Hall, where it all went down.
99% Invisible – “Longbox”
Welcome to one of the most iconic and popular podcasts there is, hosted by Roman Mars (one of the most unique voices in podcasting). This episode is probably one of the top podcasts I have ever listened to. It’s the story of how one band’s iconic album led to a watershed moments for democracy, the environment and…learner drivers.
Radiolab – “The Buried Bodies Case”
When podcasts nerds are asked to give their top 5 podcasts, Radiolab usually features. Its high-production quality and long standing make it one of the most respected podcasts there is, and this very story is the reason I became enthralled by podcasts in the first place. Other podcasts like Serial and S-Town weave whole series out of one multi-faceted true-crime story, and are certainly worth checking out. “The Buried Bodies Case”, however, is a fascinating crime and legal story told in a single episode. If you like it, I strongly suggest looking into the Radiolab spin-off series about the historical cases of the US Supreme Court, called More Perfect.
All the Facts
From the mundane to the earth-shattering, get a little learning into you while you listen. If you weren’t interested in biology, politics or history beforehand, you will be after!
Slow Burn – “Martha”
The Watergate scandal is one of the defining moments of the 20th century, and has implications that reach as far as the present day. This podcast takes an unconventional approach to story-telling, looking at the affair from different, usually personal angles. So it’s not just the story of a corrupt ruler, but rather the stories of those who got caught up in his whirlwind of lies, who were implicit in it, or who fought it on the ground.
Radiolab – “Cell Mates”
We return to our esteemed friends at Radiolab for a journey through a miniscule, yet world-changing, subject: cells, and the first stirrings of life on Earth.
How did we get to where we are? Why did it happen just so? Experts weigh in and give a fascinating insight into what was and what might have been.
No Such Thing as a Fish – “No Such Thing as an Auction for Auction School”
After all this seriousness and earth-shattering non-fiction, you might very well be in the mood for something lighter. So, let me present one of the funniest podcasts on the internet: No Such Thing as a Fish. Each week, four researchers from the TV show QI gather around the microphone to discuss their favourite facts from the week. The hosts are very smart and very funny, which makes up for their also being very British.
I chose this episode simply because it’s the funniest of the most recent episodes but honestly, you could jump in on any episode you like!
All the Sounds
From music nerdistry to the art of recording, a couple of podcasts to feed our mutual addiction.
Ways of Hearing – “#1 TIME”
I came across this podcast whilst catching up on the below-mentioned 99% Invisible and this episode captivated me. It’s the story of the relationship between sounds – particularly recorded sounds – and time, and it’s told by an ex-recording artist who knows his stuff. Ultimately, after a few episodes, I would come to disagree with some of the host’s fundamentals and give up after – but I have a feeling you and he might see eye to eye and there’s no disputing his mastery of the subject and intriguing insights into the practices and products which we take for granted.
Every Little Thing – “Bowie’s Last Years”
I don’t know how deep into Bowie you are anymore, but who doesn’t love him? Moreover, who wouldn’t want an insight into how he crafted his final years into a grand tapestry of life and art or – if that’s too esoteric – who wouldn’t want to hear Niles Rodgers reminisce (in great detail) about the creative and recording processes which preceded and surrounded the Let’s Dance era?
Every Little Thing – “The Voices Hiding In Your Favourite Movies”
The story of how one iconic movie opened up a whole new mini-industry built around making movies sound authentic. For nerds like us, very little of this podcast will come as a surprise. But it’s fascinating to hear the history – and especially the process – of this corner of the recording world.
20,000 Hertz – “The Wilhelm Scream”
If you enjoyed the Every Little Thing story about voices in movies, this episode of the aurally-obsessed podcast Twenty Thousand Hertz is a perfect follow-on, focusing as it does on one iconic sound you may or may not be aware of.
Even if you didn’t enjoy the topic, I’m sure you’ll find an episode of this podcast that you love. The hosts take a fine tooth comb to the sounds most of us – even audiophiles like you and I – take for granted. You’re sure to find something you love.
Yes-Yes-No – “Antifa Supersoldier Spectacular”
The first episode in our Reply-All odyssey is an introduction to the idiosyncratic segment titled Yes-Yes-No. In this segment, the 2 hosts try to break down a tweet brought to them by their producer-boss. The 2 hosts are internet experts and their boss is not; when their boss brings them a tweet (which is often politically-connected, and which 90% of us would find obscure) he doesn’t understand it, but they usually do. So, when asked the question, “Do you understand this tweet?” the producer will answer “no” whereas the 2 hosts will answer “yes”. Thus Yes-Yes-No is born.
The resulting conversation is not only funny on occasions, but is always well-researched, and gives a fascinating insight into contemporary events.
I spent a long time choosing the best introductory episode for you, only to realise that there is no perfect episode. So I decided to show you the most recent – and therefore most topical – with a little English joke thrown in. That features in the second tweet. The first tweet is shown to the right.
Yes-Yes-No – “The Grand Tapestry of Pepe”
Now that you are (hopefully) au fait with how Yes-Yes-No works, we go to the best. In this fascinating deep dive, the 2 hosts and their boss break down this tweet and, in doing so, hold a magnifying glass over the entire alt-right movement, and the darker sides of the society today. Or, rather, 2016. This is a little dated.
Yes-Yes-No – “Earth Pony”
After that, you might need a more light-hearted episode, so now we’ll mix things up a bit.
Introducing Jason Mantzoukas – comedian, podcast host and unashamed social-media neophyte. Skip straight to the section beginning from 12 minutes 28 seconds and get ready to (hopefully) chuckle unceasingly.
One of the 2 featured tweets – see right.
Yes-Yes-No – “The Russian Passenger”
I could go on for several more episodes about Yes-Yes-No, but I figured Hey, if you’re still here after 4 episodes, you can probably find them yourself. So let’s finish with a story – a cautionary tale. It’s easy to forget the importance of keeping your shit secure when you’re online. Let’s face it – a huge amount of us have the same password for everything we log into – and it’s usually a stupidly simple password.
Starting with the story of how producer-boss Alex Bloomberg somehow took an Uber ride in remote Russia without him knowing, the Reply-All team weave a wonderful horror story which takes months to unravel. If you’re interested enough by this story, see how it unfolds in later episodes Beware All and Return of the Russian Passenger.