Cast off

My relationship with radio is broken. Since slipping quietly out of the business I’ve largely stopped listening. I don’t apply my general habits to others so I recognise that I’m an anomaly. Radio is a great medium and means so much to so many, I’m just not one of them right now.

I know I will return to it but currently my listening is dominated by trawling through Spotify and a regular diet of podcasts. It’s been over a year since I wrote about the breadth and beauty of the form and, as a friend recently noted, the recommendation/discovery process for pods is unreliable at best. Note that I never usually call them pods.

Alvaro Serrano via Unsplash
A few that I mentioned previously are still staples – The Allusionist, Freakonomics, Ted Radio Hour, This American Life, The Untold - but, as I’m consuming up to ten episodes a week whilst commuting, I constantly need fresh blood.

Blood has been the basis for many of them. I’ve been a fan of the true crime genre for years and the plethora of podcasts focussed on unsolved crimes or miscarriages of justice have provided a fertile resource for my, often grim, entertainment. Among these you’ll find Someone Knows Something, Convicted, Up and Vanished, Murder In The Lucky House and many others. Some have more to recommend than others and the pace can sometimes drag but find a story that interests you and the narrative can keep you involved for many a long haul.

For dipping in and out and confounding expectations Criminal is essential. The stories are often surprising and it can occasionally take up to ten minutes to discover where or what the crime is. My ideal podcast is under 45 minutes and this one rarely fails, the stories are diverse and well told. In the longer form Crimetown reveals the murky underside of Providence, Rhode Island and the organised crime that infected all parts of daily life. Told largely by and through the protagonists, it is a multi-layered and intensely researched delight. The characters are vivid and entertaining in their complexity and depravity.

Jan Gonzo via unsplash
One of my recent discoveries is Sword andScale. Within one episode I was hooked, these are great stories extremely well told. The quality is several degrees above most other podcasts – luckily, I have almost 100 episodes to catch up on.

To a degree, I started listening to podcasts to try and broaden my mind, in search of self-improvement and different points of view. Hidden Brain scratches that itch perfectly. It has strengthened my interest in psychology and behavioural biases. Each episode is relatively short and self-contained. It has quickly become a favourite.

As it received so much attention on release and some 65 million downloads, I feel that I don’t need to mention S Town, but I still am. This is the pinnacle of podcast storytelling. Riveting, revealing, shocking, heart-breaking and somehow life-affirming. I found that I could identify with elements of the lead character, John B. McLemore, and yet at other times his life and worldview and mine were poles apart. It may no longer be possible to listen and receive the same shock I did – sans spoilers – but in its creation, delivery and legacy S Town may never be equalled.

Reality remains the focus. I did dip into fiction and story-telling with the often-gripping noir-horror of Alice Isn’t Dead but I lacked the patience to commit to more than one season. Though well executed, it grated after a while.

My drift away from radio may have coincided with the gradual erosion of great, maverick talent in the medium, people like Geoff Lloyd. Now departed from Absolute Geoff has two impressive podcasts on the iTunes chart with Adrift and Reasons To Be Cheerful. The former echoes his successful radio format in being co-hosted by Annabel Port and continuing many of the themes they explored as socially-aware social misfits with razor-sharp perceptions and wit. Their camaraderie and chemistry remains intact and they're able to indulge their own interests to a greater degree, as successfully as you'd expect. Genuinely warm and funny. Reasons is a real find and looks likely to become essential listening on a weekly basis. Lloyd co-hosts with Ed Milliband and it works far better than you’d expect. Three episodes in and the topics and discussions have been absorbing. Of all the podcasts listed this is the one most likely to adapt to television, if anyone’s bothered with that format these days.

Naturally these views are my own, no-one else wants them. Yours will undoubtedly differ but the range of podcasts available means that you’ll find something to love, if you know how and where to look.