This week has been chocked-full of brilliant podcasts I’m excited to share with you. Don’t worry, no spoilers!
“Life Jolt” is an example of really well-done audio storytelling about Ontario’s Grand Valley Institution for Women — a federal prison in Canada. The powerful nine-part series follows inmates through every stage of incarceration, and the podcast’s name is slang for a life sentence.
While produced by the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation in 2021, the credit for the amazing idea and candid focus on individual women’s stories goes to the show’s host, Rosemary Green. Green is a former inmate herself and is dedicated to telling the lesser-known stories of prison life, including addiction, the hardships of returning to life outside of prison life and the cycles and systems that have affected these women’s lives.
There were a few reviews that mentioned a dislike for emotion shown by the narrator, but the honesty of the show should be commended as should the bravery of these women. It took a lot of courage and vulnerability to tell their stories.
Apple Podcasts has 4.6 stars, 214 ratings and 38 written reviews. Episodes are about 35 minutes on average and should be listened to in order. The script is interview-based, and episodes are done on topics. Rarely, there is a phone interview that is a little muffled, but it still can and should be heard. Music is subtle, and the commercial amount is average. I really like the show’s cover art.
Trigger warnings for abuse, violence and suicide.
Similar pods include “Ear Hustle,” “Banged Up” and “Suave.”
“The Miami Chronicles: Booby Trap”
I found “The Miami Chronicles: Booby Trap” from the Apostrophe Podcast Network with Acast really fascinating before I knew why. Now I realize it’s because the main narrator, Michael Fragomeni, starts it out by making it sound like he’s your college roommate recounting his wild childhood then goes on to sound like it should be a movie only to end by proving why it’s in the true crime category. No wonder he wrote a book. It could have been a movie. Not only is he a great storyteller, but the way the content was edited to unravel itself was masterful.
They’ve made it the first season of a podcast called “The Miami Chronicles.” All aspects of crime are covered, including backstory, complete timeline and possibilities of what the details and motives could have been. You find out information in the order Mike does but in a satisfying eight episodes instead of the 30 years it was for him.
All episodes are essential to the story. Could it have been fewer episodes? Honestly, I don’t think so. Sure, they might have been able to cram all the information into fewer episodes, but that wouldn’t have done Richard Brush or this fascinating coming-of-age story justice.
I didn’t mind the episode previews with the show, which is a first for me. Usually I skip through them, but for these, they actually sparked curiosity instead of giving away major spoilers.
Big warning here: The music intro is a bit long in the first episode, but skip through it and it’s worth it! I think the reason this podcast wasn’t more popular was that some weren’t willing to skip through the music. In Ep. 4 commercials start, and Ep 7 has sudden sound effects that help with the story. I did not want this slow-burn sprawling podcast to end.
Similar pods include “Against The Odds,” “Toxic: The Britney Spears Story” and “Smoke Screen: I Am Rama.”
“Your Brain on Facts”
Trivia nerds, rejoice! “Your Brain on Facts” is an educational podcast about facts and the stories behind them. Host Moxie LaBouche covers a wide range of well-researched topics with perfect delivery that hooks you in every time. Subjects covered in the past have included music, history, parties and so much more.
The writing and production are phenomenal. It’s structured and informational with no small talk. Despite this, there is a fair bit of comedy in how the stories are told. While some people have credited the show with getting them into podcasts, LaBouche is also known for her amazing radio voice and does voice-over work as well. At first, I found her perfect radio voice a little too calming for work, but the facts are too interesting to make it a sleep podcast. Even the commercials are entertaining, and on a more important note, at a leveled volume. LaBouche also has a book out similar to the podcast worth checking out.
Apple Podcasts has 4.7 out of 5 stars and 127 ratings. So far the show has 206 episodes, all about half an hour long, with new ones coming out weekly on Fridays.
Some of my favorite episodes so far have been “We Can’t Have Nice Things: Art & Antiquities Edition” and “Project Pigeon and Acoustic Kitty” (trigger for violence against animals). Owltail’s most popular according to listens are “Meeting New Peoples” and “hiStory.” Music is brief, as are commercials. The pod also has a great website with all of the episodes, scripts, and sources. As a long-time listener, I highly recommend the show. Facts truly don’t get much better than this.
Similar pods include “Damn Interesting,” “Historical Blindness” and “The Constant: A History of Getting Things Wrong.”
“Patient Zero”, produced by New Hampshire Public Radio, is a deep dive look at Lyme disease: its history and origins, but also the precariousness that comes with the diagnosis.
Lyme disease is a tick-borne illness that causes symptoms such as fever, headache, fatigue, skin rash and, when left untreated, heart, nerve and joint issues. I didn’t know there could be so much controversy around a disease. I thought in the medical profession that there were knowns and unknowns, but I guess it makes sense there are things up for debate. This podcast confronts this and so much more like misinformation of this understudied illness.
No matter what you’re into, this podcast touches it a bit. It listens like true crime, but instead of crooks, the offenders are bacteria. That being said, I don’t think the show is gross at all when it comes to the medical details.
The eight-part series has three really great bonus episodes, but they should all be listened to in order. It’s chocked-full of compelling reporting and solid production quality, which comes as no surprise, seeing as it came from the same team that produced “Bear Brook.”
Host and reporter Taylor Quimby is also a senior producer for NHPR’s widely popular “Outside/In” podcast and comes to “Patient Zero” with personal experience. In 2017, Quimby had his own confrontation with the infection, which he speaks about lightly throughout the pod. The search for answers about the condition was a major motivation for the show.
Apple Podcasts has 4.1 stars and 1,300 ratings. It was also named one of the best listens of 2019 by the same. The average episode length is 33 minutes, and the music is discreet. The script involves some interviews and the host’s narration of the story of the disease. Sound effects were barely noticeable to me but bothered some.
Trigger warnings for hopelessness and medical scenarios.
Similar pods include “This Much is True,” “This Podcast Will Kill You” and “Emerging Infectious Diseases.”
“Doomsday: History’s Most Dangerous Podcast”
I love “Doomsday: History’s Most Dangerous Podcast” so much! The morbidly funny 2020 show covers some of the most shocking days and disasters in history with wit and solid production quality. All of the episodes cover events I had never heard about.
It’s solo hosted by Brad Choma and a part of Funeral Kazoo Productions. Funeral Kazoo seems to pride itself in being different and has another show, “Sleep Manuals,” which is intended to guide you to sleep. Watch out for their newest shows, “Inventors of Death” and “Spilled Milk,” set to come out this year.
I really love Choma’s voice and humor. He also has a brilliant voice for radio, making the show something I can fall asleep to but also be entertained at work with. A bit of a warning though: The subject of this podcast and banter surrounding it is not for the lighthearted. I don’t find it offensive or disrespectful in any way, but if jokes about disasters are not what you’re trying to sign up for, maybe skip this one. That being said, this is one of the few podcasts that can actually make me laugh out loud.
Apple Podcasts has an incredible 5/5 stars, 23 ratings and 12 written reviews. So far the show has 20 episodes, all about 24 minutes in length, with new ones coming out bimonthly on Fridays. Owltail isn’t able to calculate the most popular episodes yet since their minimum is 21 episodes, but the most entertaining to me have been “The Great Boston Molassacre of 1919” and “The Mandhradevi Temple Apocalypse of 2005.” Music is minimal.
Similar pods include “Short History Of…,” “This Is A Disaster” and “Black Box Down.”
“Surprisingly Brilliant” is about science history, covering the hidden stories and unsung heroes of some of the greatest accomplishments of science. For iHeartRadio and Seeker, passionate hosts and writers Maren Hunsberger and Greg Foot take turns telling each other the origins of fascinating scientific ideas from all disciplines of science in a way that is not only easy to understand but jaw-droppingly entertaining.
You don’t need to have a background in science or have had gotten top marks in school to enjoy the topics. The detail in each hour-long episode is made greater by an esteemed guest from the field who helps tell the story lost to history books. It’s so nice to hear a show coming from people who genuinely love science and have a dynamic that makes them sound like they grew up friends.
Apple Podcasts has an average star of 4.5, 361 ratings and 80 written reviews. The 2020 show has two seasons so far and a total of 30 episodes. Hunsberger confirmed via Twitter the show is only waiting on funding for a third season. When releasing, episodes usually come out on Fridays.
The most popular episodes according to Owltail are “The Puzzle Beneath Your Feet” and “The Electronic Ear.” I LOVED “The Electronic Ear” episode also. As a huge fan of audio, I thought it was fascinating to hear about implants and the preferred terms and language associated with them. I think it’s so important to making the medium of podcasting more accessible. Music is subtle and comes in and out at important parts of the story. The commercial amount for this show is average.
I can’t express how much I’ve enjoyed the show. I can’t wait for season three to come out. If you’ve been a fan of Hunsberger’s YouTube, “Seeker” or science in general, this podcast is a must-listen.
Similar pods include “Short Wave,” “SideDoor,” “99% Invisible” and “Ologies.”
“LeVar Burton Reads”
As a kid I was a loyal Reading Rainbow fan. I never missed it, and now I can continue curling up to enjoy more of LeVar Burton in “LeVar Burton Reads,” done with Stitcher. The show has 4.9/5 stars for a reason.
Every Tuesday, solo host Burton (with the help of his team whom he never fails to credit) reads one of his favorite fictional short stories from a diverse selection of contemporary and classic writers. I’ve found so many more authors of color from this pod than I would have on my own. The support and inclusiveness is a goal to emulate.
Production is excellent across the board with voice and soundscaping expertly done. Equal parts soothing and familiar, Burton’s talented reading voice is another great staple of the show. It’s perfect for every character regardless of which emotion is being conveyed, and the selection of stories always challenges listeners to think critically.
Just a warning for those who are looking for happy ever after endings: The stories read are usually spotlighting science fiction, speculative fiction and fantasy, which sometimes results in suspenseful, unresolved conclusions.
Despite this, one similarity between the tales is that they are all brilliant. So much so that I listen to them twice. Once as I go to sleep and then again the next morning to hear what I missed. They’re too good to be only for sleep.
Beware of episode notes about content, which he reminds listeners of every episode. There is swearing, and I once heard a slur, but again this is all in the show notes and a part of the read story. At the end of every story, Burton gives his own opinions about the reading in a short debrief that wraps everything up nicely.
132 episodes so far, all about 45 minutes on average, with new episodes coming out weekly on Tuesdays. My favorite episodes have been “Dark Spaces on the Map” by Anjali Sachdeva and “Jump” by Cadwell Turnbull. Owltail’s most popular are listed as “LIVE! in DC: ‘A Dark Night’ by Edward P. Jones” and “‘Multo’ by Samuel Marzioli.” The commercial amount is average but never wakes me up. This pod is for anyone who considers themselves a lover of books or fantastic narration.
Similar pods include “Fictional,” “Book Cheat” and “Phoebe Reads A Mystery.”
Be sure to check back next Sunday for another week’s worth of recommendations!
The podcast director can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.