We’re at the halfway mark of 2022. Yay? It feels like we’re living in the end times, and, any moment now, we’ll be standing in a field, wearing a billowing white dress, singing kumbaya while an asteroid heads earthward, ready to put us all out of our misery. But, in the meantime, we can listen to podcasts.
I am a podcast maker, first and foremost, and that has slightly ruined the experience of being a podcast listener. I spend all day sat at my computer with headphones in, so sometimes I struggle to replicate that experience on my commute or walking the dog or going for a run (ha!). Often I just want the peace and space of my own internal monologue.
But, all the same, I am trying to be a more generous podcaster, trying to celebrate work that I find enjoyable as well as getting jealous/bitter/overwhelmed by negative energy. And so, in that spirit, here are the shows that I’ve appreciated so far this year! Some are from 2022, some are not from 2022 (but have been consumed, by me, in the year of our Lord two thousand and twenty two).
At the start of the year someone said to me that they had started listening to Heavyweight, Jonathan Goldstein’s acclaimed podcast (now Spotify exclusive), and that they’d realised what a big impact it had on my work. This was a shock to me, as I had (genuinely) not listened to a minute of Heavyweight at that point. Anyhow, I’ve now consumed the majority of the show’s large back catalogue and take that comparison as a HUGE compliment (I had the same experience when someone said I’d clearly been inspired by Jon Ronson, when, at the time, I had only read one of his books and listened to none of his podcasts). Vanity aside, Heavyweight is the most easily recommendable podcast I’ve encountered. Funny, truthful, sensitive, daring; there’s something for everyone. The premise, you ask? Goldstein finds an unresolved issue from someone’s past and tries to resolve it. Sort of.
Fiasco: The AIDS Crisis
Readers of my regular celebratory end-of-year round-ups will know that I backed Fiasco: Bush v Gore as my favourite podcast of the year a couple of years ago, so I’m always going to listen to a new series of the show. I enjoyed this year’s series less, because an epidemic decimating the LGBT community is a MUCH tougher listen than voter fraud (and after covid, my tolerance for the horrific spread of somewhat unknowable illnesses is reduced). All the same, the Fiasco podcasts are superb (for my money, still somewhat ahead of their progenitor, Slow Burn) and this latest series is urgent, serious and compelling. If you weren’t around in the 1980s and want to get a sense of the way that fear and misunderstanding ran through America, this is the ideal place to start. It is a genuinely terrifying story of moral panic and real, justifiable panic panic. It’s just not a laugh a minute.
Hot Money: Who Rules Porn?
A curious collaboration between Pushkin and the Financial Times, Hot Money is all about how porn became a big bucks industry. I’ve been listening to this while reading FT journalist Dan McCrum’s book on the Widecard scandal (Wirecard handled a lot of payment processing from the adult entertainment industry) which has perhaps skewed my sense that porn rules everything. All the same, this is a fascinating look at the intersections of economics, finance, sociology and behavioural psychology — all the world in a Pornhub. It is, I should say, less good than Jon Ronson’s canonical Butterfly Effect podcast that tackles many of the same issues with less of an eye on the money (and also less good than the New York Times’ Rabbit Hole, which, equally, tackled some of the same issues). But it’s still very good.
Kermode & Mayo’s Take
Maybe the biggest launch of the year in British podcasting, as Mark Kermode and Simon Mayo took their longtime BBC podcast to the free market. The show is, on one hand, exactly the same: the same structure, the same inside jokes with their community that have travelled with them out the door of New Broadcasting House. On the other hand, the show’s free edition is riddled with a quantity of advertising perhaps never seen before in the world of podcasting. It is genuinely unbearable and will likely push me over to the premium edition (so job done, I suppose). The funny thing is that I had actually drifted away from listening to their 5Live podcast (having been a devoted listener for many years) and the move out of the BBC has somewhat rekindled my interest in the show (despite having gone to the cinema maybe a half dozen times in two years).
I’ve really been enjoying Sway, no-nonsense NYT columnist Kara Swisher’s tech and leadership podcast. The interviews and panel discussions have brought a lot of issues to my attention that I would otherwise have missed, and, unlike a lot of American podcasts, the show doesn’t get bogged down in endless attempts to bring everything back to bloody Donald Trump. I write a media futurology newsletter and Sway has been a good source of ideas for that, even if I sometimes vehemently disagreed with things that Swisher and/or her guests say.
PJ Vogt, ex of the troubled parish of Reply All, returned to podcasting this year with Crypto Island, a show that’s pretty much what you’d expect: skeptical stories from the world of crypto with that Reply All’s polished cynicism. I’ve listened to a few crypto podcasts in the past 18-months (my favourite was probably the To The Moon mini-series on the WSJ’s The Journal podcast, notionally about GameStop but really about the entire crypto culture) and Vogt’s a good mix of being willing to entertain arguments for and against. It’s clearly aimed at people like me — folk who are interested in a pretty major socio-economic story, but are not going to invest their lifesavings in Bitcoin — rather than the extremely turgid evangelising that you get in most crypto podcasting. It’s a bit of a covid-baby, with imperfect production qualities, but still a very entertaining listen.
The Superhero Complex/Deliver Us From Ervil
Two documentary podcasts here from the same production house, Novel, which I’m grouping together because I’ve not yet finished either of them. They are, however, extremely good and slick, if maybe a touch cold. The Superhero Complex follows Phoenix Jones, a controversial self-appointed crime fighter, while Deliver Us From Ervil tackles an extremist Mormon cult and its leader, Ervil LeBaron. Novel are making the best documentary podcasts in the world right now, I reckon, and seem to produce them faster than I can keep up with. Both of these are perfect for a long car journey or just to kill some more precious, precious time.
Obviously, I’ve missed loads of great podcasts, so please let me know which ones have been getting you through the giant bag o’ shite that is 2022. Tweet me, if you want, or email me at email@example.com and if I get enough suggestions I’ll add some reader entries to the list!