We’re in the midst of a podcast renaissance, with every conceivable flavour and subject matter on offer. While mega-hits like Serial are commanding all of the headlines, there’s so much ear candy popping up right and left. In fact, there’s frequently more content than our schedules and attention spans can handle. Podcasts are starting to face the same problems as the much-touted ‘golden age of television’ – a shortage of listening time, coupled with a fear of missing out.
Here’s my list of five binge-worthy podcasts that are easy on the ears and engaging on the brain. Each show passes a certain threshold of good production, innovative ideas and format, and the ability to not put their audience to sleep. All have been tried and tested over the long term, and pass certain benchmarks for audio staying power.
Meticulously crafted, edited and refined ad nauseam, Startup takes the best of This American Life’s radio legacy and centres it around a fascinating new world. Each season, Gimlet Media’s flagship podcast taking us into the inner workings of births (and possible deaths) of newly emerging businesses. The latest season sees producer Lisa Chow at the helm, bucking the typical white guy narrative.
Soundbite: There’s a Vancouver connection! Startup’s most recent episode, at time of press, features non-other than Kitsilano-based Pirate Joe’s.
Dungeons and Dragons like you’ve never heard it before, Hello from the Magic Tavern is improv at its finest, geekiest moment. Each episode is led by three boon companions: Usidore the shouty wizard, Chunt the shape-shifting wisecracker, and Arnie, the average earthling who tries to contain all of the madness. Hello works because every episode builds on the mystical land of Foon, but in a cheeky, we-know-you-know way that both reveres and mocks staid fantasy traditions. At 60 episodes and counting, Hello is achingly easy to dive into, but with enough of a hit to keep you coming back for more.
Soundbite: Sweet, sassy, sweary talking flower, Flower, owns all.
When host Anna Sale’s catchily-titled podcast first appeared exactly one year ago, I thought the world didn’t need yet another show on relationships. Happily, I was dead wrong. DSM asks all of the tough questions you rarely broach with close friends and family, and features interviews with both celebrities and ‘normals’ alike. At the heart of it, Sale’s empathetic and non-judgemental style allows us to listen in past social barriers, and honestly answers the question: “How are you really doing?”
Soundbite: Inaugural interview with soul legend Bill Withers is still the golden standard, and shows DSM’s power in getting past the celebrity and bringing people painfully, intimately into our ears and hearts.
Clocking in well under 30 minutes, Song Exploder says just enough without going overboard. Songwriting is an enigma for most of us, and the podcast lifts the veil by letting artists and musicians tell the story themselves. Covering songs from a variety of genres, it’s a refreshing way of discovering new music and discovering just how your favourite tunes got made.
Soundbite: Game of Thrones. Game of Thrones. Game of Thrones. One of the most famous episodes sees Emmy-nominated songwriter Ramin Djawadi breaking down exactly what went into the legendary theme song.
Lore podcast is the creation of supernatural thriller novelist Aaron Mahnke, and has quickly found an avid download base. Mahnke delves into the origins of ghost stories, tying together bits of history and social context without ever losing the sheer eeriness of his chosen subject matter. In a lot of ways, Lore embodies the perfect rags-to-riches podcasting story; Mahnke has announced that “Lore is becoming an hour-long anthology series from the producers of The Walking Dead.”
Soundbite: Lore’s Broken Fingernails episode chillingly examines legends of people being buried alive.