It may have been 2005 when ‘podcast’ was the Oxford Dictionary’s Word of the Year, but 2017 was the year when the format really took off, with thousands of new shows emerging and advertising revenue finally starting to roll in. But the relative ease with which podcasters can produce a show makes the task of wading through the many offerings a tricky task. So here’s a round-up of the podcasts worthy of your ear drums. It goes without saying that the Spectator’s fabulous range of podcasts (The Spectator Weekly, Americano, Books and more) is the place to start, but here’s the best of the rest…
Adam Ruins Everything
Contrarians will love this niche American podcast in which comedian Adam Conover takes commonly-held beliefs, and deconstructs them with the help of an academic or expert in that particular field. A spin-off to the television programme of the same name, the podcast is a simple conversation on topics as diverse as formula feeding, scientific certainty and the Wild West.
See also: Love + Radio, Radiolab
BBC Radio 4’s long-running arts review show presented by Tom Sutcliffe is made available as a podcast every week – and it deserves a mention here because of the station’s U-turn on its decision to axe it back in April. Controller Gwyneth Williams granted The Review Show a reprieve ‘for now’ after fans voiced their disbelief that it was for the chop. With the current trend for sensational, click-baity cultural commentary holding sway, this programme is refreshingly conventional with a variety of books, films, plays and television dissected each week by a rotating panel of critics and commentators.
See also: The New Yorker: Fiction, Saints of Somewhere
2017 produced a podcast to challenge the first series of Serial for the title of ‘most addictive podcast of all time’ (made, coincidentally, by the same production team). S-Town is a non-fiction, one-off series which explores a mysterious crime among the tattoo parlours and deadbeats of Woodstock, Alabama, nicknamed ‘Shittown’. However, things quickly go from being a straightforward ‘true crime’ story to something far stranger and deeper, thanks to the presence of protagonis, eccentric clock restorer John B McLemore. This series, often described as a bit of real-life modern American Gothic, caused controversy for its apparent intrusion into the personal lives of the ‘cast’, but it’s also a once-in-a-lifetime story so engrossing you’ll miss your bus stop.
See also: Dirty John, Criminal
This US podcast takes a lateral approach to the topic of food, dedicating each episode to an overlooked yet fascinating pocket of food history or the current industry. Listen to the episode ‘The Worst Food in White House History’, about why people used to eat at home before dining with the Roosevelts and, if that whets your appetite, there’s other tasty morsels such as the revolting trend of food ‘forgery’ and the invention of margarine. There’s also an episode detailing why fat isn’t bad.
See also: BBC Food Programme, The Speakeasy
Royal Court Playwright’s Podcast
Simon Stephens, writer of Punk Rock, Three Kingdoms and the stage adaptation of The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time, sits down for an in-depth conversation with a fellow playwright. What makes this a great podcast to subscribe to, rather than a luvvie fest to avoid, is not only the calibre of names which pop up (Enda Walsh, David Hare, Abi Morgan), but also Stephens’ interviewing style, which is warm and informed while retaining the right to give his subjects a gentle ribbing.
See also: WTF with Marc Maron, Truth & Movies
Pod Save America
Get beyond the Trump memes to hear the inside track on US politics with this podcast anchored by four former Obama aides (their first scoop was the outgoing president’s final White House interview). They are, unsurprisingly, critical of the current administration, and their outlook is often shared by their rotation of journalist and comedian guests, giving rise to a podcast which is bleak yet often hilarious.
See also: Common Sense With Dan Carlin, FT’s World Weekly
The Guilty Feminist
Do you find feminism confounding? Aussie comedian Deborah Frances-White’s hugely popular podcast is here to help. She discusses the quagmire and hypocrisies of the movement with a roster of celebrities and other comedians in a series of raucous live studio recordings. Feminism without the worthy bits, in other words.
See also: The High Low, Call Your Girlfriend
The Adam Buxton Podcast
Long-running and still unmissable, comedian Adam Buxton’s podcast is a combination of one-man musings, novelty jingles and interviews with guests including Kathy Burke, Johnny Marr and his old pal Louis Theroux. Listen out for his annual Christmas podcast with his former comedy partner Joe Cornish, which is due to be released soon.
See also: The Scummy Mummies, Richard Herring’s Leicester Square Theatre Podcast
Best for sport
5Live Boxing with Costello and Bunce
One of the best sports podcasts on the block is undoubtedly the BBC’s boxing podcast hosted by Steve Bunce and Mike Costello. Fight previews and reviews, interviews and one-off specials make for an entertaining weekly boxing round-up. The recent edition with Joe Calzaghe was a particular highlight.
See also: Guardian Football Weekly, Not The Top 20