I listen to a lot of podcasts – I probably average two or three episodes a day. I don’t have a favourite genre, but I do love a well-told story. Here’s a roundup of my seven favourite podcasts from this year:
Wind of Change
Wind of Change was the podcast I didn’t know I needed this year. In this 8-part series, journalist Patrick Radden Keefe investigates a rumour that the song Wind of Change wasn’t written by the Scorpion’s frontman, Klaus Meine, but by the CIA. The podcast takes a deep dive into the tactics used by the US Government in the culture war against communism. I can’t decide if Wind of Change is more spy thriller or Cold War heavy metal history lesson. Crooked Media describe it simply as, “Spies. Secrets. Soviets. And tight leather pants”. This transcontinental caper was my biggest podcast binge of 2020. Tens across the board.
Nice White Parents
Nice White Parents is the latest offering from podcasting powerhouse Serial Productions (acquired by the New York Times earlier this year). Host Chana Joffe-Walt takes us through her years-long investigation into the New York public school system, exposing the ways that white parents act as a barrier to integration. I was blown away by this 5-part series. I hope the New York Times have the Serial team producing all their limited-series podcasts going forward.
Two Minutes Past Nine
BBC Radio 4’s Two Minutes Past Nine tells the story of the Oklahoma City bombing, the deadliest domestic terrorist attack in US history. Twenty-five years on, journalist Leah Sottile draws a line from bomber Timothy McVeigh’s extremist ideology to the rise of the far-right in the US. I’m a big fan of Leah Sottile and her reporting on extremism. If you like this podcast, you should also check out 2019’s Bundyville: The Remnant.
Floodlines, hosted by The Atlantic’s Vann R. Newkirk II, is an 8-part series about Hurricane Katrina, “one of the most misunderstood events in American history”. I had no idea the devastation wasn’t caused by the force of the hurricane itself, but by what happened after. Through a series of first-person accounts, Floodlines illustrates the human cost of the government inaction and staggering incompetence that led to New Orleans becoming submerged. I think this podcast has the best sound design I’ve ever heard, it’s truly spectacular.
Kill Switch, hosted by Felicia Anthonio, is a production of Access Now, Volume and the #KeepItOn Coalition. This 6-part podcast series documents a global threat to democracy: government-mediated internet shutdowns. The writing in this podcast is quite unique and it’s worth listening to just for the scene-setting at the start of each episode. You can check out my in-depth review of Kill Switch here.
Chameleon: Hollywood Con Queen
My favourite true crime offering of 2020 is Chameleon: Hollywood Con Queen from Campside Media. I find stories about con artists far more interesting than serial killers. This is such a bizarre and fascinating con. Hollywood hopefuls are offered the opportunity of a lifetime. They must fly to Jakarta, but it soon becomes clear (after parting with a few thousand dollars) that the promised job doesn’t exist. Josh Dean and Vanessa Grigoriadis take us through an international investigation with twists and turns, huge surprises and, after a few dead ends, a satisfying conclusion.
Canary: The Washington Post Investigates
Canary, hosted by investigative reporter Amy Brittain, is a 7-part series in which two women’s stories of sexual assault intersect. It was a difficult listen and probably isn’t for everyone, but the sensitivity in Brittain’s reporting was incredible. I cried while listening more than once.
What’s your favourite podcast from this year? Let me know in the comments.