Relax over the summer break with some of the finest podcasts on offer in 2018. (Getty: Alexander Spatari)
Looking for podcasts that you simply can’t switch off over your summer break? Look no further.
Some of Australia’s best storytellers at ABC RN have distilled this eclectic list of must-listen podcasts.
Whether you like your material dark and confronting or prefer a light-hearted love fest, this is a list with something for everyone.
Caliphate follows Rukmini Callimachi, who covers terrorism for The New York Times, on her quest to understand the Islamic State group. (Supplied)
This was a very hard pick, but the podcast that stood out most for me this year is likely to be a popular pick: Caliphate, from The New York Times.
Rukmini Callimachi is such a compelling teller of this story. Her courage and compassion burns like a torch in this hellish world that she leads us through.
Rukmini’s mad, obsessive pursuit of the story brings a huge charge of narrative energy to Caliphate; and the production aesthetic of the series is so affecting and original.
I listened to it while walking home, and periodically had to stop in the street to just be still and listen.
ABC RN presented Caliphate with added Australian context.
Malcolm Gladwell’s Revisionist History looks to the past to make sense of the present. (Twitter: Malcolm Gladwell)
One of the podcasts that most affected me was Malcolm Gladwell’s Revisionist History series, especially the one rethinking ‘the great man’, Winston Churchill and his apparent neglect of conditions leading to the devastating Bengal famine in India, in 1943.
Of course Britain had its back to the wall, but hundreds of thousands of Indian troops were doing their best to defend the imperial centre.
Gladwell’s pieces are fastidiously researched, quite dense, so you have to concentrate — but you genuinely learn something: they’re the antithesis, in other words, of the trope that podcasts are half-done and sometimes sound meandering.
Some do, but not Gladwell’s, which is why he takes so long to make one.
They’re truly feature-audio of the sort pioneered on the best radio. Not to be missed.
A podcast for both parents and children, Short & Curly asks questions about things like animals, technology, school, pop culture and the future. (ABC: Short & Curly)
My fav podcast, hands down, has been the ABC’s Short & Curly.
I know, I know it’s a KIDS podcast, but it is brilliant at raising curly ethical dilemmas and giving adults and children brain food for great conversations.
It is rare to have children targeted by podcasts that are so appealing to adults as well.
If your pillow could talk, what would it say? That is the premise of Everything Is Alive, a podcast that reveals the inner lives of inanimate objects.
Maeve the lamppost hates the sun; the greatest cause for unemployment amongst lampposts. Louis, a generic can of cola, just wants to be drunk.
And Ayo the balloon wants us to stop gifting roses and balloons together. She’s terrified of being popped by a thorn.
Each object is interviewed by producer and writer Ian Chillag in a deft mix of humour, wit and grave seriousness, all wrapped up in the existential angst of being a living thing… any thing.
In Five Women, several women who worked for the same man tell This American Life not only about their troubling encounters with him, but also about their lives beforehand. (Supplied)
This episode of This American Life captures the zeitgeist of #MeToo.
A bunch of women work for the same man — a serial sexual harasser.
This podcast tells their individual stories. But there is so much more complexity to this than that.
It’s a story that gets under your skin, because they are real women, telling real stories, and the issues they touch on are both personal and speak of the broader social debate sparked by #MeToo.
Honor Eastly is the creator of No Feeling Is Final, a narrative memoir podcast about suicide from ABC Audio Studios. (ABC Audio Studios)
It’s not spoken of too much in audio-land, but when you spend all day with your headphones on, editing and being inside someone else’s voice, it’s often really hard work to listen to other people’s podcasts.
You want silence and quiet when you’re not at work.
But Honor Eastly, her podcast boyfriend Graham Panther and producer Joel Werner wove a story that made me want to keep on listening.
No Feeling is Final is a memoir about life, mental health and what it means to find yourself hopeless, created by Eastly.
It was so full of understanding and acceptance and lacked the put-on radio voice of some highly produced pods, at the same time as speaking directly to me.
It was absolutely the standout audio I listened to this year.
In Silent Waves, Raquel O’Brien tells the story of her family and the reality that was hiding behind their public facade. (Supplied)
The most extraordinary podcast I’ve listened to this year is Silent Waves.
It’s about a family’s experience of intergenerational emotional and sexual abuse.
On that basis alone, the series is timely and topical.
But what makes it unique is that the family’s secrets are revealed so openly and comprehensively by the podcaster’s presenter — and abuse survivor — Raquel O’Brien.
A couple attempts to bring their marriage back from the brink of divorce using 36 revealing questions designed to make strangers fall in love. (Supplied)
I was a little bit late to this musical podcast — it first came out in 2017 — but I found it to be one of the most surprising and delightful things I listened to this year.
36 Questions is a fully formed piece of musical theatre, created especially for the podcast format by Chris Littler and Ellen Winter.
The story follows Jase and Judith, a married couple on the brink of divorce, after Jase discovers his wife has been lying about her past.
In a bid to win him back, Judith asks her husband to help her complete the 36 question relationship study made famous by a The New York Times column in 2015.
The storyline is occasionally wobbly and the characters can grate (don’t even get me started on the duck), but the sound production and the songs are top notch and I love this for its intimacy and ambition.
Bring on more podcast musicals in 2019!
The Teacher’s Pet tells the story of Lyn Dawson, a mother of two, who disappeared in 1982 and was never seen again.
Her husband Chris Dawson, a good-looking football player with an unusually close relationship with his identical twin brother, said his wife needed some time away to think over their troubled relationship.
But within days he had moved his schoolgirl lover into the family home.
I found it this podcast absolutely riveting — the notion that a middle class mother and housewife could disappear and nobody ask questions about it, just seems unbelievable.
It’s a police story, a police bungle really, but set in the context of the sexism of this story.
These were successful, handsome twin footballers, who got away with terrible behaviour towards young girls.
Everyone believed these twin demi-gods of the football community and nobody else got a look in.
That’s the power of the story to me — that it was perhaps a story of its time — but it’s certainly a story of the power of chauvinism and misogyny.
The 2 Dope Queens join their favourite comedians, for stories about sex, romance, race, hair journeys, living in New York, and Billy Joel. (Supplied)
I recommend the comedy and storytelling podcast, 2 Dope Queens, from WNYC Studios, hosted by Jessica Williams and Phoebe Robinson.
Alas 2 Dope Queens has ended FOREVER, but there’s a big back catalogue to explore and enjoy.
Jessica and Phoebe started their show in a Brooklyn bar, and their chemistry as co-hosts shines through in every episode as they weave their way through pop culture chat, comedy, and interviews.
Their final episode is an extended interview with former US first lady Michelle Obama.
Listening to Obama having some real talk, i.e. talking about hair maintenance with Jessica and Phoebe, is a balm for the soul.
It’s a love fest, but sometimes you just need a love fest to lift yourself up.
The Assassination is a BBC podcast by Owen Bennett-Jones examining Benazir Bhutto’s murder in 2007. (Supplied)
Two visceral scenes from two series have stayed with me.
One from The Assassination describes evidence collected from the murder scene of former Pakistan prime minister Benazir Bhutto — gruesome, yes — but hearing how it was used to identify the suicide bomber who killed her is extraordinary.
Seasoned BBC foreign correspondent Owen Bennett Jones had incredible insider-access to this story, a 10-year investigation over 10 episodes.
Another comes from the NYT’s Caliphate podcast which intimately reveals how IS sensitises young Western men to their cause, and desensitises them to violence.
In one episode, the tenacious Rukmini Callimachi speaks with a young Yazidi woman who was captured by ISIS as a child and forced to be a sex slave. Not light listening, but important and illuminating.
If you’ve been swept up in the true crime podcast wave — here are two true crimes, connected across time and terrorism movements, that have transformed the world as we know it.
Sorry to be so gothic with my summer listening recommendations — but wow did I learn a lot from the efforts of these fearless investigative journalists.