Updated: May 17
Finding podcasts to listen to, when there are thousands to choose from, can be daunting. Search for recommendations and you find dozens of lists across the internet, but often talking about the same ones. Below is a growing collection of the podcasts I would recommend for various different reasons.
Drop me a line to recommend something you have listened to.
Scroll through for some great pieces of listening from the last ten years.
Originally released in 2018 and produced by New Hampshire Public Radio, this is a must listen for fans of this podcast genre. The story arc is rewarding and the victims of the crime are the focus (not always the way). Jason Moon's presentation is warm and heartfelt, whilst the story is extraordinary. The writing is good and Jason's is the main voice you hear, as is common with US made podcasts.
This was made by the BBC in 2019 but don't be put off that Stephen Nolan is billed as a presenter here. His presence is small and the real star of the programme is Dan Maudsley, who has that essential warmth and empathy. It's a truly tragic story, explored in-depth and with a rewarding story arc.
Quite possibly the best of the best. Presented by the excellent Brian Reed, this was the story This American Life had first before going with the first series of Serial (see below). We get to meet John, who hates his Alabama town and has plenty of theories and accusations to throw around. Here it is not so much the story as the character that leads the way and it is a journey with surprising and emotional revelations. (2017).
From BBC World Service and Norwegian NRK Radio, this is a fascinating exploration of a mystery woman, found dead near Bergen. As with all these examples, the production is slick, but key is the structure and writing and the novelty of the different presentation styles from Marit Higraff and Neil McCarthy. New episodes have dropped since this was first released in 2018, as listeners add their own detective work to the narrative.
Produced by Wondery and based on some articles originally published in the LA Times, this is another of those podcasts that has since been turned into a TV series. It explores the life of John Michael Meehan and his relationship with businesswoman Debra Newell, whom he met via an internet dating site and married within months. Layers of bizarre revelations are revealed through the podcast that underline real life really is stranger than fiction. (2017)
Wondery deliver again with this podcast focusing on cases of medical malpractice by nuerosurgeon Christopher Daniel Duntsch. It is hosted and reported by Laura Beil who doesn't quite have the warmth or style of other narrators featured here, but this story is again extraordinary and scary. This has also been turned into a TV drama, which you would watch and question its credibility. But yes, it all really happened. (2018).
It's the 'Smells Like Teen Spirit of podcasts' as it started the podcast boom in 2014. And there's a very good reason. It's bloody good. Sarah Koenig introduced us to the warm, deeply involved presentation style that is now one of the hallmarks of this genre. Here she has access to someone serving time in prison for the murder of a young woman in Baltimore in 1999, but it's Sarah that stars. That might sit uncomfortably with some, but the writing and story flow are exceptional and if you want to study the best, this is where you go.
INVESTIGATION - TRUE STORY TELLING
Missing Richard Simmons is an investigative journalism podcast hosted by journalist Dan Taberski and created by Stitcher, First Look Media and Pineapple Street Media. It focuses on the sudden retirement from public life of the fitness instructor and actor Richard Simmons and has twists and turns like in a true crime podcast and is just as sad in many ways. (2017).
In terms of sound design, there is simply nothing I have heard like this before. Presented by the outstanding Helena Merriman, this tells the extraordinary true story of a man who dug a tunnel right under the feet of Berlin Wall border guards to help friends, family and strangers escape. (2020).
Alice Levine narrates this tale of financial unfair play in the world of football. From Nottingham to North Korea, how a conman took the oldest club in the football league to the brink of oblivion. Great scripting and a lovely presenting style make this a gripping listen. (2022).
The latest offering from Serial (2022) and beautifully written and produced as always. However, it's the journalistic and societal questions this raises that makes it essential listening to audio professionals and journalism students. This juxtaposes two different styles of investigation; newcomer Hamza Syed has an agenda and wants answers, whilst Brian Reed wants to understand and learn the truth. It's been criticised for being biased, which in some ways it is. That doesn't stop some of the revelations from being any less shocking.
Another BBC production from 2019 and excellently presented by Jamie Bartlett. For all of these production quality can be taken for granted but here the narrative is also really well constructed and if you listen carefully you may finally understand crypto currency!
DRAMA - FICTIONAL
Dramas are a difficult genre in terms of radio plays and podcasts I find - with a history of cheesy, cliche acting that struggles to utilise the power of audio, instead producers seem to struggle without pictures. Here are some that buck that trend and shake-off that old-fashioned Radio 4 afternoon play feel.
Originally starring David Schwimmer, this was Gimlet opening up a new style of drama podcast, as they tried to break from the old-fashioned (and slightly ham) style of making radio drama. This relied on fast-paced phone calls and short exchanges, played out with a slightly sci-fi feel. An excellent story about military experiments that was turned into a pretty good TV series too. (2016).
Funny, sharp and very well written and acted, this is the BBC finally making radio drama that breaks free from some of the tired formats of yesteryear. Completely ridiculous in terms of plot, it's great escapism and a strong cast makes this entertaining from a voice recognition point of view too. This is written by Julian Simpson, who is behind The Lovecraft Investigations – and there are little nods to that series here, which do not exclude newcomers but reward regulars. (2022).
Another podcast turned into a decent (ish) TV show, Limetown was created by Two-Up Productions and debuted in 2015. It was a huge hit and has drawn comparisons to the popular podcast Serial (as it features a journalist making a podcast) and the 1990s' television show The X-Files. There have now been two series.
Dick Wolf, the creator of the renowned Law & Order TV franchise, is behind this superbly produced story that begins when the body of a young volunteer is discovered in the middle of California redwoods. The use of sound is excellent here and the acting really strong. This is now being lined up for a TV adaptation. (2021).
Once you get over the strange (maybe slightly over-acted) character narration here, Tracks is a rewarding fictional podcast. It's futuristic and slightly destopian but the quality production draws you through the four series. (2018).
This apocalyptic thriller stars Academy Award winner Rami Malek as a small-town radio DJ fighting to protect his family and community after the power grid goes down nationwide, upending modern civilization. Series Two loses some of the thrill of the opening season but it is well-made and carries enough suspense to entertain, without becoming too wildly sci-fi. (2019).
A rare Radiotopia fiction podcast, Passenger List is a terrific tale about a missing plane and one person's push for the truth about what happened. A strong cast means this is another well-acted drama that keeps you guessing through Season One into the second series. Enjoyable if not quite perfect.