One of the - the only? - downsides to living in a place where you don't drive all that much is that I don't have a lot of opportunity to listen to podcasts. Somehow sitting around the house and doing that just feels wrong. I try to listen at other opportunities — walking the dog, folding laundry — but our dog's getting older and I'm a pretty lousy housekeeper. Still, I managed to do some listening this year.
I liked these lists from people who listen/critique podcasts for a living - Lauren Ober from The Big Listen (a podcast about podcasts) lists her favorite new podcasts from 2017 that weren't S-Town (which I intend to listen to, but haven't) and aren't from NPR (which distributes her own show).
And I didn't even know the New Yorker had a podcast critic until I saw Sarah Larson's Best Podcasts of 2017 column. So ... cool. I'll be keeping an eye out for more coverage from her.
Here's what I listened to and liked a lot this year:
Uncivil - this one is still going but man, is it good. And timely. It's a production of Gimlet Media, and it's very sharp, very human and sometimes kind of funny. It's about the Civil War or, more precisely, how the Civil War continues to resonate in our lives and the many, many (fictional) myths that have grown up around it, and some true stories about the war that deserve to be better known. Every episode has been good but the one I can't stop thinking about is Episode 3, The Takedown. It's a live event with the hosts, Jack Hitt and Chenjerai Kumanyika, along with Nikole Hannah-Jones from the New York Times, Al Letson from Reveal and Cristy Coleman of the American Civil War Museum. I normally don't even like live events from podcasts because I like my podcasts to be PRODUCED. But these people were so smart, and so interesting, that I could listen to them talk - and set the historical record straight - forever.
Crimetown (season 1) - from the guys who made HBO's The Jinx, a new podcast series focusing on one city each season. And the first season it was Providence, which allowed for many wiseguys with awesome New England accents. It's been long enough since the heyday of mob boss Raymond Patriarca and the spectacular rise-and-fall-and-rise-and-fall of Providence Mayor Buddy Cianci that people are willing to talk about it openly. But recent enough that there are still some eyewitnesses to talk. Another one from the Gimlet roster.
Containers - this came from Fusion media group (or Splinter, or whatever they're called today) - I hope they make more like it because this eight-part series was a really great lens to examine a certain place (mainly Oakland, Calif.), a time (mainly the 1960s though several of its stories are very much present day) and the impact that container shipping has had on all of our lives, especially people who live and/or work near the waterfront. And it's not just transportation logistics - it gets into social history, art, the environment and much more.
Stranglers - another in the ever-popular true-crime genre (thanks, Serial!) this one goes back to the Boston Strangler case(s) from the early 1960s. Even though I was born in Massachusetts (in the late '60s) and grew up there and I vaguely knew the name of prime suspect/confessed strangler Alberto DeSalvo, I didn't know the details. And they're interesting, with just enough uncertainty to keep you wondering whether the culprit for all of these crimes was really caught. The story of DeSalvo's celebrity attorney, F. Lee Bailey, is a fascinating sideline. And more New England accents.
Nerdette Recaps Game of Thrones with Peter Sagal - from WBEZ/NPR - I may have gotten a little too into this year's season of "Game of Thrones" on HBO (escapism much?). So into it that when Hurricane Irma was coming at us in early September and I really should have had other things on my mind I actually had the thoughts "At least we got to finish out this season before losing power and Internet for who knows how long" and "I hope I don't die in this hurricane before I find out how Game of Thrones ends." And while reading the many and varied recaps and reviews was sometimes enlightening, I found this podcast to be the most informative and interesting take on the show. And of course funny - funniest when professional funnyman Sagal was the butt of the humor of the Nerdette hosts.
30 For 30 - from ESPN, which started making excellent documentaries under the 30 For 30 mantle. I haven't listened to every episode from Season 1, but I liked the ones I heard. Especially the one called "Yankees Suck," which told an amazing story about punk rockers-turned-t-shirt-bootleggers at the time that turned out to the turning point for the Red Sox. Even more excellent New England accents.
I listen regularly to ...
The Daily - the New York Times' new podcast took off fast and no wonder - it offers candid behind-the-scenes conversations with journalists covering the biggest stories of our tumultuous time, in Washington D.C. and around the world. Host Michael Barbaro is a great interlocutor, both with his Times colleagues and the subjects of their stories. It's especially interesting to listen to print reporters talk about their experiences reporting stories, and to get to focus for 20 minutes or so on a single story.
Up First - naturally I and everyone I know listens regularly to their local public radio station. RIGHT? But if you happen to miss out on Morning Edition because you're, say, walking the dog or going to the gym this podcast catches you up - it's basically the first segment of the day, minus the local newscasts. But seriously - listen to - and support! - your local public radio station. We need you.
On The Media - this show from public broadcasting powerhouse WNYC is hosted by two incredibly smart, thoughtful people who look at the frames we use to view - and portray - our lives and our world. Does that count as media? I have sometimes wondered, over the last year, even as I've appreciated their thoughtful and incisive takes on a lot of the news. Some of the standouts (from recent episodes) include Bob Garfield's "conversation" (which became kind of a shouting match until the dude hung up on him) with Mike Cernovich (though the earlier part of that segment, a conversation with Cernovich's trolling target Sam Seder, is almost more interesting) and Brooke's recent conversations with poet and nonfiction writer Kevin Young and with Mike Oppenheimer, host of the podcast Unorthodox, about why people have a hard time using the word "Jew."
Wait, Wait Don't Tell Me - from WBEZ/NPR. Yes, fine. I'm a public radio nerd. I have both a coffee mug and a hoodie that say so, not to mention my job. And these guys are pretty funny. I've especially appreciated some of the new panelists brought on in the last year.
BBC Global News - I don't listen to this every day, but I like to keep it in the mix with the daily news podcasts just to get a more international perspective. It's a half-hour compilation of stories from the BBC World Service, updated twice daily.
I listened occasionally to and liked ...
Pop Culture Happy Hour (also from NPR)
The Book Review (from the New York Times)
It's Been A Minute With Sam Sanders (another NPR production)
The New Yorker Radio Hour (from the New Yorker/WNYC/NPR)
Slate's The Gist With Mike Pesca - this fell off from being a near-daily listen for me this year but I think that's me, not them/him
Studio 360 With Kurt Andersen (from WNYC)
Apparently I need to drive more or start doing handicrafts and listening to podcasts.