This week I subscribed to my 1000th podcast.
I can’t really be sure which one it was that put me over, but shouts out to all of the new and interesting podcasts jumping into my DMs and email inbox. I’m totally open, so if you are working on any shows, hit me up here: firstname.lastname@example.org.
I hope that you’ve had a great week, and that you get a chance to check out some of the shows profiled below this weekend.
This week BBC Radio 4’s Seriously… celebrates the centenary of UK women getting the vote by dedicating five episodes to women of the world who have devoted their lives to political change, from protestors to presidents.
This year marks the hundredth anniversary of the Representation of the People Act of 1918, which reformed the electoral system in the United Kingdom, most notably allowing some women—those over the age of 30 and who owned property—the right to vote. While it would be another decade before all women in the UK were enfranchised within the political system, the 1918 reformation was undoubtedly a monumental victory for women.
To celebrate this centenary, Seriously…—one of my favorite podcasts of 2017—has created a five-episode mini-series called “Her Story Made History.” The episodes profile the ways that the courageous and pioneering spirit of women in politics and activism has lived on since suffrage. The stories make up an intersectional and international portrait of the many ways that women have persevered in the face of sexist attitudes and policies, affecting positive change for future generations. Across the series listeners are treated to a broad range of perspectives, from protestors to presidents, in a truly thoughtful and moving manner. Being a woman is not a monolithic experience, and these interviews serve to further illuminate the mosaic of their struggles and triumphs across several cultures.
The decision to release the “Her Story Made History” series as five individual podcasts in a wonderful one, as it gives listeners a chance to really live in the minute details of each woman’s story that may have been otherwise glossed over. Whether it is the moments of humor, like Irish politician Monica McWilliams’ tales of men awkwardly self-identifying as dinosaurs in angry reaction to her National Women’s Coalition slogan of “Wave Goodbye To Dinosaurs.” Or the quiet, heartbreaking ones, like when Afghan Ambassador to Norway Shukria Barakzai breaks down recounting the horrific moments of a suicide bomb attempt on her life, weeping not for herself but for those who had died as a result of her speaking out.
The entire mini-series is led by BBC Chief International Correspondent Lyse Doucet, and the resulting product reflects the kind of spectacular reporting and personal storytelling that only comes through countless years of experience. Not to detract from their achievements, but in some ways the episodes feel like a testament as much to Doucet as the women profiled within. These portraits are all exceptionally moving, inspirational, and necessary reminders of just how far there is to go still, even after nearly a century of progress for women.
Her Story Made History – Monica McWIlliams (Northern Ireland)
Can I go on a bit of a tangent for a moment? As a critic I spend a lot of time observing the podcast landscape but sometimes I feel like I’m not doing all that I can. You see, I try not to take a cynical view, but there are some production companies whose output just kind of rubs me the wrong way. Take for instance, PodcastOne. As I mentioned up top, I am subscribed to a full thousand podcasts at this point, and of those only one is from that network. They tout over 200 shows, and somehow none of it seems to appeal to me. I have often felt the same way about Wondery, whose original shows feature a lot of true crimey fare like Sword & Scale and Dirty John. I can’t really put my finger on it, other than to say that their podcasts feel sort of secondary, like an extension of an existing brand rather than those born out of a desire for innovation.
All of that preamble is to say that this week I found myself hooked on one of their latest programs, and while it is something of a brand extension it was so well made and interesting that it transcended any hesitation that I might have felt at first. The show is called Launch and it is all about screenwriter John August’s attempt to write and publish a young adult fiction series as a not-quite first time author. In addition to his screenplays (Go, Charlie’s Angels, and Big Fish to name a few), August wrote the novelization of Natural Born Killers, but for the first time he finds himself in new and different territory with much more personal tale, Arlo Finch In The Valley Of Fire. August takes listeners through all of the nuances of the publishing industry and how it differs from his experiences in the film world, even when it is intersecting with it.
The two episodes that are out at time of writing work really well for August’s presence. The podcast isn’t just an extra promotion of his quickly forthcoming novel (though that is surely a secondary or tertiary objective of the program), it feels like a clever documentation of the entire process of publication, especially given August’s somewhat fish-out-of-water status within that world. There is a real sense of vulnerability to August’s position, especially in the way that he acknowledges the unfortunate reality of his series invariably draw parallels to the Harry Potter books. He devotes an entire episode to that topic, delving into the glut of middle-grade fiction series that have been launched in the wake of J.K. Rowling’s success, and how it has made it harder to differentiate the genuine from the opportunistic.
August is a charming presence as the show’s host, and it really helps to make the show a breezy, intriguing experience. As well, it would be exciting to see the program expand its aim following the publication of Arlo Finch, much like how Gimlet’s Startuptransitioned from Alex Blumberg documenting the beginnings of his nascent podcast network into a narrative program all about other similar scrappy enterprises. A move like that would certainly help thaw my heart for Wondery a little more, that’s for sure.
Subscribe to Launch here.
Over at The A.V. Club, I wrote about Showcase From Radiotopia and their smart strategy for building an audience while exploring the boundaries of short-form podcasting. Their latest series Secrets is another standout.
Showcase From Radiotopia
One of the defining audio trends of 2017 was the rise of the short-run podcast. While not a new concept, the form has broken wide and will only become a bigger facet of the medium this year. One podcast that has demonstrated how to innovate in the space while simultaneously cultivating an audience is Showcase From Radiotopia. Something like the R&D arm of the prominent podcast network, Showcase serves as an ideal mechanism for listeners to continually discover boundary-pushing audio content like last fall’s electric docudrama The Polybius Conspiracy. With this latest outing, Showcase takes a step in a totally different and equally intriguing direction with Secrets, which explores the different ways and reasons that humans conceal. A co-production from Martin Johnson—one half of the Swedish Serial-inspired podcast Spår—and Mohamed El Abed, the show’s main thrust is El Abed’s mission to learn how and why the existence of his own sister was kept a secret from him. Interspersed with his tale is that of former undercover police officer Neil Woods, whose secret double identity went from a personal passion to a source of PTSD. The episode is a thrilling, pulpy journey of deception and discovery.
This piece, along with many other great recommendations, originally appeared on The A.V. Club here.