In the first-ever aired MTV music video, The Buggles claimed that “Video Killed the Radio Star,” and they were right. At least, until the internet. All of a sudden, radio has made a huge comeback in the form of Podcasts.
Combining the word “Pod” (as in “iPod”) and “broadcast,” Podcasts allow people from around the world to broadcast content to the masses in episodic form. Perfect for the gym, long car rides and morning coffee, the spirit of radio is kept alive in the form of endless Podcasts available at your fingertips. Whether you’re a diehard Podcast junkie or new to the game entirely, here are five of the best shows to accompany you on your journeys.
This American Life
Let’s get this very obvious, almost mandatory, choice out of the way, shall we? This American Life has been on the air for years, and the jump to digital has only made this honest, sometimes silly, and fascinating portrayal of American life that much more addicting.
Since 1995, host Ira Glass and his team have woven so many stories for listeners—from quirky small-town intrigue, corporate crime and urban myths made real, all the way to hard-hitting reporting at a middle school dance. Each week is a surprise, and if you’re new to the show, I suggest picking an episode at random and diving in. However, if you’re not the adventurous type, do yourself a favor and listen to “Fiasco!” first.
Sword and Scale
If you’re a sucker for true crime, there is no better Podcast than Sword and Scale. Host and creator Mike Boudet does not pull any punches in his hour-long dives into the minds of twisted individuals and the crimes they commit. “I can’t believe this is real” is a phrase I must have muttered 100 times after listening to dozens of episodes.
The stories themselves are fascinating, but even more shocking are some of the audio clips that accompany each. Some episodes are lighter and more factual, while others are deeply visceral, sobering and downright frightening. Each episode begins with a disclaimer, and it would be wise to heed those warnings as some of these episodes are deeply disturbing. Despite the mature content, it’s a well-made look at the criminally deranged and absolutely worth your time if you can handle the subject matter.
The Black Tapes
The Black Tapes is the revival of the radio drama in digital format. If The X-Files and This American Life had a baby… maybe it would look like The Black Tapes.
The show follows host Alex Reagan as she attempts to uncover the secrets of a mysterious collection of videotapes owned by the “enigmatic” Dr. Richard Strand. The story is cheesy but in a delightful way. Each episode covers a different tape, as well as some overarching questions that lead to greater mysteries. The show is a “mockumentary” of sorts, with our host planning to produce a simple Podcast that quickly evolves into something else entirely. The Black Tapes is one of those riveting shows that is perfect for late night drives or just-before-bed listening.
Alice Isn’t Dead
Alice Isn’t Dead is really interesting to me, because it easily could have been written and sold as a novella. In fact, that’s pretty much what it is: a novella in Podcast form.
The story centers around a trucker on a cross-country trip to locate her missing partner whom she believes is still alive. Along the way, she encounters a frightening figure that may or may not be after her. I won’t elaborate further, as this show is best experienced knowing as little as you can. It really makes a good argument for the power of radio storytelling.
Produced by the same team that brought you Welcome to Night Vale, they also have another story being released episodically right now called Within the Wires. About the length of an average movie, Alice Isn’t Dead is a great choice for a weekend night in. Speaking of Welcome to Night Vale…
Welcome to Night Vale
I can’t think of a single situation that wouldn’t be enhanced by listening to the brilliant dark-comedy series, Welcome to Night Vale. This fictional series is disguised as a local radio show for the desert town of “Nightvale, USA.” A lot of bizarre things happen in Nightvale, but things like UFO’s and werewolves are a pretty common thing for the residents of this small town.
Each episode plays out as a series of community announcements and advertisements that do a perfect job of mixing the completely banal with the paranormal in a brilliantly deadpan way. This show is as witty as it gets and guaranteed to make you smile wherever you are.
Bonus: The “NoSleep” Podcast
With October just around the corner, perhaps you are in the mood for something spooky. Well, The NoSleep Podcast is dedicated to everything scary and is perfect for the Halloween season.
Already on its seventh season, NoSleep showcases a diverse selection of horror stories every couple of weeks. Actually starting out as a subreddit called “NoSleep,” showcasing the written works of community members, the idea took off from there and is now an award winning horror podcast hosted by voice actor David Cummings.
The show has never diverged from its original model: highlighting the brightest and the best in horror fiction from up and coming writers. While the voice acting can be more than a bit cheesy, and stories inevitably vary in quality at times, this Podcast remains a guilty pleasure during the crisp autumn season. After all, who doesn’t love a good campfire tale?
In 2016, there is a Podcast to suit every taste. With so many to choose from, the simple act of picking one you like can be absolutely daunting. I would start with these.
You can follow Jordan on Twitter @jordjjones.