My most-listened-to podcasts of 2019
Would it be tacky to start a post about podcasts with a plug for my own, How to be Sound, or would it just be sensible? I’m going to say the latter and start with that: if you’re looking for a new podcast to listen to, you should listen to mine! Not, to be clear, because it’s the best podcast out there (it’s not) but because, if you’re here, you must like some of what I have to say. If you like some of what I have to say, you might also like what I have to say in conversation with people who are smarter, more interesting and, arguably, more talented than I am.
Five years ago, I could count on one hand the number of podcasts I’d listened to. This American Life was the first one I started with, way back when, because it offered a window into life in the US that wasn’t coloured by teen romance, drama or Varsity tropes. After that, it was probably Serial, which taught us all how to pronounce “Mailchimp” but has never again, in my opinion, reached the heady brilliance of its debut season. Then S-Town, a podcast that was begun with the aim of investigating a murder – and finished with an investigation of an altogether different kind.
It’s no coincidence that those three podcasts were all created by the same team – or, at least, a group of people with some serious overlap. Back in the day (a mere five years ago, maybe less), there were very few names competing in the podcast arena. There was the team behind TAL and there were regular radio shows, edited for content and stripped of all copyright-laden musical clips before being uploaded to the internet in podcast form.
It’s a testament to how quickly the popularity of podcasts has grown that the list of podcasts I listen to regularly is now in the 30s or 40s. I’ve even found myself deleting old series once I realise they’re not being renewed, or continued – to make space for new podcasts, released on what seems like a daily basis.
What podcasts do I listen to?
And I get asked a lot about which podcasts I’d recommend – in fact, I did a list of recommended pods this time last year, so I’ll direct you there, with the caveat that my taste in podcasts has changed slightly. While I used to heavily favour murder-based podcasts, I woke up one day and realised that I was sick of hearing stories of men killing women. I wanted a little more variety in my aural education.
I do still listen to a few murder themed pods: My Favorite Murder is a perennial, well, favourite, while Casefile is hanging on by the skin of its irritating, Australian teeth. I still listen to The Guilty Feminist, too – I even went to the live taping in the Royal Albert Hall last month – and Someone Knows Something sucks me in each and every season. I love Call Your Girlfriend more with each and every episode, so much so that, just this week, I ordered a baseball cap from their merch selection.
With all of that being said, I do have a few newbies to add to the list. So without further ado (who am I kidding, I’ve basically written a college thesis without actually getting to the point, which is very on-brand):
My fave podcasts for 2019
Forget This American Life (or, don’t, because I still listen to it), New York Times’ The Daily podcast is now where I keep up to date with my US current affairs. I mean, I’m also in the US, so that helps, but I have genuinely learned so much about US politics from The Daily. It’s essential listening.
I’m not sure where this has been for the past, oh, 34 years of my life, but I recently added BBC 4’s Woman’s Hour to my podcast list and it is one of the highlights of my day. It’s a lovely podcast focusing on women’s stories and is equal parts entertaining and educational, which is pretty much what I want from my podcasts.
I was doing some work for the British Council Ireland late last year when I heard Elizabeth Day speak in the National Gallery, reading an excerpt from her book, The Party. I took some photographs of her for the social media from the event and she was incredibly lovely and gracious – so when I saw How to Fail pop up on my recommended list, I gave it a go. I haven’t regretted a single episode. It’s essentially a companion podcast to her book of the same name, focusing on well-known or successful names and the failures that have brought them to where they are today. It’s really inspiring and also oddly comforting to hear about all of the ways other people have fucked up, too.
This is a podcast where an Irish couple living in London walk home from the cinema and record their post-movie digest. It’s really simple, straightforward and very, very fun.
Presented by two Irish gals, The State of Us is, essentially, a chat between two friends on a topic of their choosing. The latest episode I listened to featured the pair answering listeners’ questions in their approachable, self-deprecating way and was a really enjoyable listen.
I mean, my penchant for murder is never going to go away completely – which is where The Man in the Window, a podcast about the Golden State Killer, and how he was found (a fascinating tale of online DNA sites). It’s very, very good.
What I really, really like about the Bechdel Cast, a podcast that examines films through the lens of the Bechdel test (in order to pass, a movie must feature two named female characters who speak to one another about something other than a man), is that they don’t just feature new films. So if you’re not a regular cinemagoer, you’ll still be able to keep up. Some of my favourites have been their analyses of The Lion King and Bring it On.
Last, but by no means least, Bandwagons is another Irish podcast presented by a friends duo. It covers, well, bandwagons – things that we all love to love, for no particularly good reason. It’s genuinely funny and I love the presenters’ accents (Irish radio has been, for so long, dominated by SoCoDu lilts, it’s nice to hear something a little different!).
If you feel like I’ve missed one of your absolute favourites, please, do let me know – I’m always on the lookout (the listen-out?) for new podcasts to add to my list. Also, if you don’t already, please consider supporting me on Patreon. You’ll get a minimum of two pieces of writing per week, plus the knowledge that you’re helping to support a self-employed woman who’s just doing her best.