The art of audio storytelling is thriving today — as much or more so than in the heyday of radio in the 1930s and ‘40s. There are podcasts to suit every taste, including politics, history, music, and comedy, and people are listening to them while driving, commuting, jogging, and relaxing. However, there are so many out there that it may be difficult to choose. We asked the staff at The Verge what their current favorite podcasts were. Here they are — try them out and see what you think.
This is Branchburg
A wonderfully absurdist pseudo-documentary about people in a small New Jersey town called Branchburg, written and performed by Brendan O’Hare and Cory Snearowski. The first episodes include a noir narration from the bitter last milkman in Branchburg, announcements from a post office that asks people to please put bowls of soup in proper packaging. From Abso_Lutely_Productions.
This documentary podcast looks for “a question the internet can’t answer” and tries to find an answer. Former Verge reporters, video directors, producers, and audio engineers Billy Disney, Adrianne Jeffries, Regina Dellea, and John Lagomarsino chat about weird stuff they’ve tripped over and how they researched. For example, a recent second season episode looks at an internet petition over the firing of the manager of a North Carolina Biscuitville restaurant. From Select Works.
Perhaps it’s the loud chaos of our current political scene, but a lot of attention is being given lately to Fred Rogers, the thoughtful, unassuming, and talented man who made Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood the lead children’s program for decades. On top of last year’s documentary Won’t You Be My Neighbor? and this year’s dramatization A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood, we have Finding Fred. It’s hosted by author and critic Carvell Wallace who plays audio excerpts, goes through the history of the show, interviews people who worked with Fred Rogers, and explains his own take on the show. From Fatherly and iHeart Radio.
This incredible five-part series, which accompanies The New York Times’ interactive project of the same name, examines how slavery has shaped the history of the United States, beginning with the ship that, in 1619, carried some 20 Africans to Virginia to be enslaved. Hosted by Nikole Hannah-Jones, the series examines Americans’ relationship to slavery from new and necessarily disturbing angles. From The New York Times.
No Feeling is Final
This is a six-part podcast from the fall of 2018 that is about, says its creator, figuring out what it’s like to feel so hopeless that you want to die. Honor Eastly plays, describes, and talks about years of phone recordings and diary entries from the inside. It’s clever, sometimes funny, and sometimes hard to listen to. But it can also be worth listening to, especially if you or someone you love wrestles with these issues. From ABC.
Produced by Slate, this series takes a deeper look at a topic over the course of eight episodes (not including extras). In 2017, it tackled the Watergate scandal; in 2018, the impeachment of Bill Clinton; and in 2019, it dives into the deaths of Tupac Shakur and The Notorious B.I.G., two famous rappers who are the victims of unsolved murders from the ‘90s. Podcasts are a great way to get more information about a topic than you get from a 500-word article or a few tweets, and Slow Burn doesn’t disappoint. From Slate.
Music journalist and author Jessica Hopper presents the second season of Lost Notes, which is about music’s untold stories. This season is about legacies and how our perceptions of those legacies can change. The first episode, for example, is about the lyrics sung by a 1970s punk band are dealt with by the band members 40 years later. From KCRW.
Those of us who have never been in prison get a lot of our information about it from TV dramas and the occasional news articles. Ear Hustle tells listeners about the realities of the prison experience from the point of view of those who are (or were) incarcerated. The first three seasons were produced inside San Quentin State Prison in California, but 2019’s season 4 also dealt with post-prison life. This may not be something you want to think about, but it’s something that affects all of us in the end. From Radiotopia.
Trump, Inc. takes a long, hard (and not completely objective) look at the businessman who is currently elected as the leader of the US. But his business dealings (along with those of his family) remain elusive. Episodes in the second year of this series cover subjects that range from possible discrepancies in Trump’s business taxes to an investigation of how the killing of a Mongolian sheep became legal retrospectively. From WNYC.
You say you want a revolution — but which one, and what kind? There have been more revolutions in history than perhaps we know, and this podcast has been offering the backstory behind many of them since 2013. Created by Mike Duncan who has a degree in Political Science from Western Washington University, Revolutions has covered a wide range of uprisings, including the English Civil War, Simón Bolívar’s fight for South America’s independence from Spain, and most recently, the Russian Revolution. From Revolutions.
Dolly Parton’s America
“I’m going to be adored by church ladies and the gays,” Dolly Parton says in the introduction to Dolly Parton’s America, a nine-part podcast from Radiolab’s Jad Abumrad, who examines the contradictions in a woman who refuses to discuss politics but who spent her life pushing past barriers and changing the world of country music. It doesn’t matter if you listen to her music — you will still be fascinated by her story. From WNYC Studios.
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