I’m Wendy – avid podcast listener, passionate about storytelling, human person. I’ve been asked to make a shortlist of my favourite podcasts and I did not realize how tough the task would be. I listen to a lot of podcasts but I’ve managed to make a list of more-than-10 podcasts in no particular order. These podcasts are mostly story-based because that’s the format I enjoy; they cover different topics and different aspects of the human experience. I’ll recommend at least one episode for each podcast.
(Warning: some of these episodes will push your mind beyond the boundaries you are used to. This is why I listen to them.)
Let’s get to the list:
‘Strangers’ is about true stories. It’s one of my favourite podcasts ever. Lea Thau (creator and producer) tells stories and speaks to subjects about making connections, enduring heartbreak, dealing with life-changing illnesses, overcoming hardship and a host of other things. She’s extremely open, by extremely open I mean she did a whole series on Love Hurts where she calls her exes and speaks to them about her past relationships. You can tell she’s big on sharing.
Episode Suggestion: Sexistential, Love Hurts (all the episodes) and Love Hurts – One Year Later, and the most recent episode which features two remarkable stories about two different couples. The episode is called ‘A Special Broadcast from Strangers’.
‘This American Life’ is also very story-heavy. They’re not in the same format that ‘Strangers’ stories are though. They’re more current, and they cover a wider range of topics. Sometimes it’s more like investigative reporting in story format – they’ve also done feature pieces on all sorts of people. You never know what you’re going to get – sometimes the stories are so good and sometimes they’re just meh. I do like the general layout of their episodes though.
Episode Suggestion: Say Yes to Christmas (highlight of this episode is the improv comedy part)
Radiolab is about science. Scientific investigation to be exact but their findings are reported in such interesting ways. I absolutely love what they do with sound and sound effects. It’s like they create a picture with the way they use sound. They describe it as “a world where information sounds like music and science and culture collide” and that is absolutely positively the best way to put it. They combine all these aspects and make it into something understandable.
Snap Judgement is a bit like This American Life in the sense that they have hour long episodes of about 3-4 stories. It’s also like Strangers in terms of the way the stories are told. It’s amazing. They have the most amazing collection of stories. They have quite a wide reach and so they draw stories from other podcasts, from different parts of the world and in different formats. It’s very enjoyable. I can’t recommend specific stories (which I’d like to, with time stamps and episode references and dates, etc.) because I’m lazy so I will recommend whole episodes. When you get to the good stuff, you’ll know. Also, can I say that they seem to have the best real life spooky stories I’ve ever heard. Their Halloween episodes are always scary in the most delightful way. Their tag line is ‘Storytelling with a beat’ but I hardly ever notice the ‘beat’ part. That could mean that the stories are so captivating that it’s hard to focus on anything else, or that beat is merged seamlessly with the story or that there is no actual beat. I’ll let you decide.
Sword & Scale is my favourite true crime podcast. I listen to two true crime podcasts and the difference in quality is very noticeable. It’s very immersive – the team finds all sorts of audio/video information about the crimes that you almost feel like you shouldn’t be listening to. There’s an episode where a guy has a video diary where he documents his murder-suicide plans. It’s really chilling. It is absolutely not for the faint of heart, Sword & Scale does not hold back any details. The stories may haunt you.
Death, Sex and Money is about death, about sex and about money. Anna Sale is very much about asking her interviewees tough questions on these topics. She is so upfront without being confrontational or rude. She gets great answers out of them. Sometimes she’ll have the most candid conversations with celebrities and it will show you a completely different side of them that you did not know of.
Invisibilia is just great. It’s about invisible things that control human behaviour – that literally ranges from illness, beliefs, emotions, etc. They’ve been on a break since February 2015 (it’s a new show) but I don’t doubt that when they come out with new episodes it will be straight fire. It’s very explorative and then they find a way to give you facts and figures by combining it with storytelling.
Love & Radio is also about stories, but it’s hardly ever a two-person conversation. It’s just mostly the subject speaking on a particular topic or aspect of their life. Honestly I cannot tell you if all the stories are true because Nick van der Kolk takes a very non-intrusive approach to storytelling. You hear him in the beginning (sometimes) and that could be it. Or he comes in at the middle to talk about sponsors. And this approach almost makes it seem like the subject is speaking to you – I’ve found myself asking questions to the subject in my head because it’s so immersive and personal. Also, their stories and accounts are all the way out there. No joke, ALL THE WAY.
Criminal is the second true crime podcast in this list but the approach to crime story-telling is completely different from Sword & Scale. It’s a more complicated approach where they sometimes allow the subjects of the stories to recount their crimes and explain the whys and the hows and the whos. Sometimes the victims tell the stories. It’s a nuanced approach with very little attention to police reports, media etc. Needless to say, it’s amazing.
The Read is hosted by Kid Fury and Crissle, it’s basically a social commentary podcast with particular focus on black people, black issues and black excellence. They swear A LOT. Nothing is censored; they don’t hold back their thoughts. It’s a completely different experience listening to the NPR podcasts and listening to The Read. Somehow, The Read is the answer when you want honest conversation with as little political correctness as possible. The Read is where you go when you want to understand why you should not say ‘all lives matter’ instead of ‘black lives matter’. The Read will school you on the effects of black face and why it is such a hyper-mega racist thing to do. They will teach you, and they will insult you – they’ll do all this while entertaining you.
I also watch Kid Fury’s videos on YouTube and can I just mention that his descriptions and insults are some of my favourite things in the world.
Episode Suggestion: Future Support
You know what’s better than live storytelling? Well…a few things but live storytelling is amazing. The Moth creates a platform for people to come and tell stories live on stage then they’re kind enough to make these stories available for free in podcast format. They have a whole range of storytellers – writers, actors, singers, etc. The stories go from amazing to inspiring to surprising to slightly worrying and on the odd occasion you find a story that doesn’t move you one bit. That’s life though, isn’t it? I’m very fascinated by and interested in how it seems like the Moth Live events are a safe, judgement free zone for people to come and share all kinds of stories. I want to (need to) know how it’s almost like the atmosphere makes it so easy for people to come and tell such deeply personal stories to a bunch of strangers. It’s amazing really.
Episode Suggestion – Just listen to any of them.
The Heart is about sex, sexuality and identity. If you’re open to opening your mind even more then this is for you. You know the story about the 50-something year transgender woman living as a 6 year old? The one that went viral recently – I heard about it on The Heart first, months before it became popular. And they interview subjects and go far and wide for the most interesting stories that will stretch your mind beyond its limits.
Honorary Mention: Serial (Season 1)
If you haven’t listened to Serial Season 1, you should. It’s what got me into podcasts in the first place. It’s not the first podcast I ever listened to but it’s the first one that drew me in. There are many think-pieces and many speculations about Adnan Syed and everyone else involved in the story around the death of Hae Min Lee. It is a real life story told week by week where Sarah Koenig tries to find answers to the question of Adnan’s innocence. You should listen to all the episodes of Season 1.
As you can probably tell, none of these podcasts are Nigerian or even African. I can’t seem to find any that I really like and because of that I’ve been working on a podcast of my own called Agolo. I just think it’s important for someone to curate the wonderful stories of our people. There are nuances that we have that make our stories very exciting to listen to – especially when you have a lot in common with the storyteller. We’re still putting the episodes together and sorting recording but we should be up and running in a few weeks. When we’re live, you’ll hear about us. Hopefully.
And there it is! We hope you do start a few of Wendy’s podcasts. Also, follow her on Twitter!