Initially I don’t think I really understood what podcasts were (a radio show that’s not on the radio?), and I was reluctant to commit to anything that I’d have to follow basically on my own. But as podcasting became a more and more popular medium, I read more about it and decided to see if I could find any on Spotify that I liked. Eventually I worked out that due to my hatred of radio dramas it was probably best to go for factual, non-fiction podcasts (I tried Welcome to Night Vale and just couldn’t get into it). The first podcast I actually committed to was the QI one – No Such Thing as a Fish. This was familiar territory and I instantly liked the four QI elves that regularly feature on it – Dan Schreiber, Anna Ptaszynski, James Harkin, and Andrew Hunter Murray. It is a very easy podcast to get into, operating a little like a panel show but with colleagues and friends instead of paid comedians. It’s also interesting – not just quite but really – and I regularly learn new things. It often leads into a Wikipedia hole of some kind.
Knowing I loved the QI podcast helped me to find things that were similar, and work out what did and did not work for me – it’s strange how much the presenter’s voice and style of delivery can affect your listening experience. After trying out several, I’ve discovered a handful of podcasts that I love, and that I will definitely keep listening to:
Stuff You Should Know is my go-to when I don’t know what to listen to. It has been going since 2008 and there are literally hundreds of episodes, so it’ll take you a long time to get through them all – and there’s a new one every week! It is presented by Josh and Chuck from HowStuffWorks.com and one of my favourite things about it is their relationship – they have a nice back and forth and a relaxed, chatty style that’s very easy to listen to. Some of the topics are more interesting than others, but there’s something for everyone and I’ve learned a lot from this podcast. It also leads to Wiki-holes.
I’ve mentioned Lore previously – the stories it covers are just fantastic. Presenter Aaron Mahnke has a distinct style of talking that sounds like he is reading from a script, but it actually works quite well. He’s obviously trying to create atmosphere, and his storytelling is pretty good. He also make good use of creepy music, which I really like. The episodes are relatively short (20-30 minutes) so you can binge-listen quite easily. If, like me, you like weird stories and unsolved mysteries from history, this is the one for you.
I’m quite new to The Allusionist, and I still have a lot of episodes to listen to. It is ostensibly about language and etymology, so you get to learn about interesting words as well as the stories behind them. Just today I listened to Episode 41: Getting Toasty, which is about what happens to you when you live in Antarctica for too long and start to forget things – and why this is called ‘getting toasty’. Host Helen Zaltzman is also brilliant.
Another podcast I’m new to is In the Dark – but that’s because there have only been a few episodes so far. It is presented by investigative journalist Madeleine Baran, and tells the story of the disappearance of eleven-year-old Jacob Wetterling in Minnesota in 1989, which went unsolved for 27 years. Baran explains what happened and investigates how on earth the case remained unsolved for that long. It is made even more interesting by the fact that the killer confessed just as Baran was preparing the first episode.
Lastly, there’s Criminal. This is a podcast about crime in all its forms – sometimes violent, and sometimes more mundane, but it always tells a good story. My favourites so far have been Episode 25: The Portrait, about a man who murdered his whole family in 1929, just after they had a studio portrait taken; Episode 35: Pen & Paper, about courtroom artist Andy Austin; and Episode 38: Jolly Jane, about the murderous nurse Jane Toppan. It’s a very journalistic show, and isn’t at all sensational despite the subjects covered.
I’d love some recommendations of podcasts to listen to – which are your favourites?