I listen to a lot of podcasts: Whenever I am on my bike, doing sports or anything around the apartment, editing photos or waiting in line. I put on my headphones and submerge myself in some radio story. Podcasts keep me entertained, updated, and, more often than not, amazed by the stories they tell and the emotions they conjur. As radio producer Alex Blumberg recently put it:
“What we love about audio is that it – more than any other medium out there – has the ability to create empathy on the part of the listener.”
But more than just a medium, podcasts have become an art form, and the number of talented producers making innovative formats is getting bigger and bigger. So has my list of subscriptions, which is why I decided to compile one of those popular year-end lists: My ten favorite podcast episodes of 2015. If you listen to podcasts already, you might have heard some of them before. I might also have recommended some to you, if you see me regularly. Either way, I want this list to be something you can use to catch up or discover some of the amazing audio content currently being made.
Mystery Show – Source Code
One of my favorite new podcasts of 2015. In it, host Starlee Kine tries to find the truth behind some obscure mystery. On its face, this episode is about the true height of actor Jake Gyllenhall, but it quickly veers off into a reflection of famedom and fandom, all held together by the charm and ideas of the producers.
Song Exploder – The Long Winters
An interview with John Roderick, creative force behind the band “The Long Winters”, in which he takes apart their song “The Commander Thinks Aloud”. A raw, emotional recounting of the story behind an utterly heartbreaking song.
Reply All – Shine on you crazy Goldman
This podcast is billed as “A show about the internet”, but it is really about the intersection of technology and humanity. It doesn’t get any more poingnant than here, where host PJ Vogt decides to experiment with small doses of LSD at work.
Radio Ambulante – Correa vs. Crudo
This show tells stories about Latin America in Spanish and thereby opens the window into a different world. I don’t know how they find their stories, but this one about a Ecuadorian man taking on his president with internet memes is in equal parts surprising, engaging, and shocking.
The Memory Palace – Notes on an Imagined Plaque to be Added to the Statue of General Nathan Bedford Forrest, Upon Hearing that the Memphis City Council has Voted to Move it and the Exhumed Remains of General Forrest and his Wife, Mary Ann Montgomery Forrest, from their Current Location in a Park Downtown, to the Nearby Elmwood Cemetery
Nate di Meo of the Memory Palace has been quietly creating this podcast about (American) history for years. This year, he went all in and started releasing regular episodes, each beautifully narrated and deeply moving. Di Meo makes the wonders and tragedies of history come alive.
Love + Radio – Bride of the Sea
The crazy story of an Irish man with Libyan roots, who, in the middle of an existential crisis, decides to join the Libyan rebels in the uprising against Muhammar Gadaffi.
Love + Radio – Thank you Princess
There are moments when you are listening to podcasts and wonder what people around you would think if they knew what was coming out of your headphones. This episode, an interview with a professional dominatrix, is very explicit and dives deeply into the human condition.
99% Invisible – The Calendar
Roman Mars’ podcast about the design decisions underlying our lives has become immensely popular over the past years. This episode shows you why: They take a look at the modern calender, an institution that makes very little sense.
Home of the Brave – Some Summer Stories
On this podcast, producer Scott Carrier plays old and new stories, each featuring his unique, intimate way of reporting. A radio veteran, Carrier has discovered podcasting as a way to do stories they wouldn’t let him do on the radio, and so he is perpetually on the move, reporting the aftermath of the earthquake in Nepal or the plight of refugees on Greek islands.
Radiolab – Galapagos
This island off Ecuador is where Darwin came up with the theory of evoluton. It is also the front line of conservationism, and sometimes that requires helicopers with machine guns.
Update: I cannot believe I forgot to mention the following – although I would struggle to throw anything out for it. Consider it a bonus episode.
This American Life – Burroughs 101
This American Life, the show that got me into podcasts, broadcast this BBC profile of infamous writer William Burroughs. Narrated by no one less than rock legend Iggy Pop and his raspy voice.