Audible Feast’s Best Podcasts of 2019
Here are 25 of my favorites, and then the absolute top 5 I listened to this year. Links go to the websites for the shows (not a particular player).
25 Best Podcasts of 2019
The Double Shift (Independent/Critical Frequency, United States // investigative journalism, women, policy): “Getting up at 5 AM isn’t going to solve the problems working mothers face in America.” Oh, the mental load. It is freaking HEAVY. (See: comment about balance above.) Host Katherine Goldstein is pissed about how working mothers are treated in this country, and I concur. The Double Shift introduces us to some who are trying to change this culture, and others who are just in it and roughing it big time. I have so many ideas for topics for the show, being in a dual- and fairly-equal-earning partnership with two elementary school aged kids – this one hits home for me.
True Crime Bullsh**: The Story of Israel Keyes (Independent/Our Americana, United States // true crime): I am not caught up on this show – I have about 7 episodes to listen to in order to get there – but it doesn’t matter. Josh Hallmark has combed through a metric ton of documents, audio, and maps to piece together a portrait of Israel Keyes, a serial killer with an unknown number of victims. I was pleasantly surprised there was a season 2 and it has been the “I can’t turn my head away” fascination that keeps me engaged.
Still Processing (WNYC, United States // pop culture): I get disappointed when Still Processing seems to end its season as quickly as it started! I want this show year round! With only seven episodes in this fall’s season, I had to savor them – still haven’t listened to all of them. The standout for me this fall was the discussion of the Dave Chappelle special on Netflix. There was another season in early 2019, though, with excellent pop culture examinations of Jussie Smollett and Kevin Hart’s “apology.”
Ear Hustle (Radiotopia, United States // personal narrative): The first three episodes of Ear Hustle after Earlonne Woods was recording on the other side of the bars were terrific – I particularly loved Kissing Concrete, about what literally happens right when you get out of prison. I thought this season’s production choice of doing some of the episodes from inside the prison and some from the outside was genius.
Criminal (Radiotopia, United States // true crime): Criminal does it over and over again. If you’re living under a rock, the show is about crime – people who have committed a crime, been a victim of one, or maybe were a witness to or prosecuted a crime. My favorite episodes this year were Jessica and the Bunny Ranch, Off Leash, and Homewrecker.
Mob Queens (Stitcher, United States // biography): Mob Queens was really only about one queen so far – Mrs. Anna Genovese, a mob wife you don’t want to mess with. Mafia stories will hook me every time, but as a bonus, there is queer love in the story as well! The hosts were so charismatic with obvious chemistry, which made it exciting and fun to listen to.
The Uncertain Hour (Marketplace, United States // drugs, government): Each season of The Uncertain Hour is about a controversial topic we think we know about but don’t really have the details on, and we certainly don’t know how that issue is being impacted positively or negatively by the government in the U.S. (because that would be too transparent and we’d probably never re-elect anyone). This season was about drug addiction and how it impacts communities, and of course, what the government is or is not doing about it.
This is Uncomfortable (Marketplace, United States // money): This was a surprise hit for me – I don’t think I’m necessarily in the target demographic for the show as most of the guests seem to be about a decade younger than me (it seems most don’t have kids, either, which truly changes how you feel about money) – but I find myself listening week after week because I liked the varied formats (some are interviews with a couple, sometimes they play a game) and the pace. Each episode prompts me to think about some embedded belief I have around money. It’s also refreshing to hear how other couples/people handle their budgeting and even the power dynamic between two partners.
The Dropout (ABC Audio, United States // true crime, business): The story of Elizabeth Holmes was absolutely made for audio, because … the voice. The completely affected, put-on, weird voice. Holmes seemed to be literally trying to be Steve Jobs – and the podcast just did a phenomenal job of painting that picture from the description of how she acted to what she wore to how she conducted business.
Conan O’Brien Needs a Friend (Earwolf, United States // interview, comedy): Conan and his guests accompanied me on my solo road trip this summer, and some of those interviews are imprinted on my mind. I didn’t love everything this year – I liked the first part of the Dana Carvey mini-series but don’t think it needed as many episodes as it had – but overall there were so many home runs and it’s often the people you don’t expect to be that funny that are the most hilarious. Comedy is hard to recommend, but my picks from this year’s guest list are Timothy Olyphant, Lin-Manuel Miranda, Paul Rudd, Bill Hader, and Bob Newhart – oh my god, Bob Newhart. The funniest thing I heard all year.
Confronting O.J. Simpson (Wondery, United States // personal narrative, true crime): I was addicted to this show this summer. I was so impressed that Kim Goldman was able to speak to two of the jurors in the O.J. Simpson trial about why they elected to acquit Simpson of her brother’s murder. There were a few places where the show kind of went off the rails in a great way – the episode where Nancy Glass talked with Malcolm LaVergne was explosive – LaVergne didn’t back off one bit from the vitriol he had spewed about the Goldmans online.
Code Switch (NPR, United States // culture, race): I have always liked Code Switch but it was elevated to a new level for me this year because I saw some of the team present on a panel at Podcast Movement in Orlando. I was already impressed by Gene Demby but hoooo, I was fangirling hard there. There was an excellent discussion thread about what it’s like to report on race when you work for one of the whitest places in audio. The thing about Code Switch that makes me love it so much is that it forces me to view something I normally see through one pair of glasses through someone else’s pair. And I truly believe we should all be doing that much more than we do now. It’s so easy to just chug along with your privilege. But is that making the world better? No. This year I loved The Black Table in the Big Tent, Dora’s Lasting Magic, and Oh So Now It’s Racist?
Rough Translation (NPR, United States // personal narrative): This show is about how what something means in one place may not mean the same thing somewhere else – or it may. For me, it’s a lovely escape from the ethnocentric U.S. when I listen to an episode of Rough Translation. My favorite episodes this year were Mom in Translation and How to Speak Addiction.
White Lies (NPR, United States // history, true crime, investigative journalism): I hadn’t heard about Reverend James Reeb, a Unitarian Universalist minister who was murdered in Selma, Alabama in the height of the Civil Rights Movement, whose murder had never been solved. The podcast team were able to locate a witness who identified a person who had not been previously implicated in the beating death of Reeb. Terrific investigative work.
The Band Played On (CBC, Canada // true crime): It was extremely sad to hear about the sexual abuse perpetrated on dozens of high schoolers over many, many years in Canada, all by the hand of music teachers and coaches. The students by and large kept the abuse secret even from their friends, some of whom were being abused at the very same time. It was extremely brave for these students to come forward and share their stories many years later and help authorities hold these teachers accountable. Raw and gripping with painful emotion.
Veronica Mars Investigations (Independent/PRX, United States/the world // TV): I would listen to anything Helen Zaltzman made (see the Helen Zaltzman Perfect Podcast Trifecta), let me say that up front. AND, I got to fulfill a podcast dream and actually talk to Helen on the phone for a Podcast Brunch Club interview this year. (Of course, she is delightful. I tried not to be a tool.) I missed Veronica Mars when it was on TV – maybe I was just not in the right life place to watch it or maybe I was a little too old? I don’t know – Helen and I are the same age. Anyway, this is a watch-along podcast with Helen and Jenny Owen Youngs, and I am along for the entire ride. I watch a few VM’s and then listen to a couple episodes. You do not need to like or have watched VM before, but you should watch along if you want the maximum enjoyment from this podcast, where you can judge the idiot Bro9ers, crush on Weevil, and adore Daddy Keith along with Helen and Jenny.
Deliver Us (America Magazine, United States // personal narrative): Host and Catholic Maggi Van Dorn investigates, somewhat for herself, the history of sexual abuse in the Catholic Church. Big task. Along the way, she talks to victims of abuse, reporters who have covered the topic, psychologists, and more who are peripherally related to the scandal and cover-up. Van Dorn being Catholic herself brings something softer to the discussion – this isn’t meant to crucify every last person in the church who covered something up – it’s more of an investigation into what enabled it to happen, how the church responded, how the victims are doing today, and what could be done to prevent this from happening again.
Land of the Giants (Recode/Vox, United States // business): Amazon moving in to any community would make that community nervous, I’d think. This season of Land of the Giants was about just that – what happens when a mega-gigantic company moves in to your neighborhood? Who does it impact? How do they do business? What is the relationship with the government? It was an excellent look at a company I already don’t trust but yet I’m so dependent on.
This is Love (Radiotopia, United States // personal narrative): Not gonna lie, I wouldn’t mind having Phoebe Judge’s job and NEEDING to go to Italy to research stories about people finding love in a place. The Town That Stayed Quiet and The Memory Artist were just fantastic. I am greedy, I wish there were more episodes in a season than six, but I know it’s a tremendous effort to create something beautiful like these stories. Plus, you gotta go to Italy sometimes!
The Big One (KPCC, United States // self-help? survival guide?): This unique podcast took the listener on a journey through the aftermath of an earthquake – where do you go? Where are your kids? Can you get money? How should you prepare for all of these things? I don’t live in an earthquake-prone area but having lived through Hurricane Harvey I know most people in the world could be impacted by a natural disaster at some point, and we are definitely not prepared. We’re so reliant on the internet and phones. I loved that each episode ended with real tips to get yourself earthquake ready.
City of Refuge (Independent, United States // history): This 10-part series from Waging Nonviolence about an area in France, Le Chambon, that protected Jews in World War II via peaceful resistance. What is extremely impressive about this show is the complete transcripts for each episode, complete with photos from the era. It’s so relevant to the refugee crisis the world faces today and I hope there are pockets of nonviolent resistance going on where we don’t even see them. I know in the U.S. there are many churches who are able to harbor refugees, but many refugees are too afraid to accept that help. Fascinating history of people doing the right thing.
Slow Burn (Slate, United States // biography): I grew up in the time of Biggie and Tupac – I was a little young to make sense of what happened when they died, but I sure remember it and ohhhh, do I remember the music. I coincidentally just took out Tupac’s book of poetry from the library a couple weeks ago (it’s pretty good) – it was a great accompaniment to the podcast, which digs in more to Tupac’s life and death than B.I.G.’s. I loved the interviews with the guys who knew them best.
Dolly Parton’s America (WNYC United States // biography): I’d never thought much at all about Dolly Parton before. Jad Abumrad brings his Radiolab style to this show, and he hosts it because he has apparently always been fascinated by Dolly and has a unique connection to her through his father (he says on an episode of Switched On Pop that the show was only possible because of this access, dashing many aspiring podcasters’ dreams no doubt). I wasn’t going to listen, but I got sucked in quickly. The music is great and well-placed, and Dolly is delightful, kind, and authentic.
Latina to Latina (Lantigua Williams & Co., United States // interview): One of my favorite interview shows features a Latina interviewing other Latinas about how they have succeeded in their field. I love Alicia Menendez’s pace and very personal interview style – she really gets to know her guests and that translates to the listener as if you are right in the room with the two of them sharing a cup of tea. I love this show so much I asked for a signed copy of Alicia’s new book, The Likeability Trap, for Christmas and I got it! WOOT WOOT!
Getting Curious with Jonathan Van Ness (Earwolf, United States // interview): Hunty brings 100% of his personality to his interviews with people who are smart and know about stuff we need to know about too – like how you win the Great British Bake Off and what it’s like to be non-binary. Van Ness is obviously very well-read as he asks intelligent questions that lead to deeper understanding with all of the guests.
The Top 5 Podcasts I Heard This Year
Last Day (Lemonada Media, United States // health, policy, drugs, family): Stephanie Wittels Wachs hosts this show about the opioid addiction epidemic and the people impacted by it – described working backwards from the day a real person experiences a fatal overdose. This is not easy listening, but it is extremely important audio. The first season follows the life and death of Stefano Cordova, Jr., with help from his sister. You will absolutely cry listening to the show, and it is worth it 100%. The show is produced so thoughtfully, taking the listener down the most impactful path, stopping along the way to talk to EMS first responders, doctors, policy advocates, therapists, and family. Oh, the family conversations … my heart ached listening to how family members are coping.
Finding Fred (Fatherly/iHeart Radio, United States // biography, culture): I didn’t listen to this right away when it came out because I didn’t know about it – rare for me – but this meant I got to binge listen to several episodes in a row and I was absolutely hooked. Host Carvell Wallace share the story of Fred Rogers’ life, but includes some stories of people impacted by Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood as viewers. It’s not a naively rosy story – see the episode with Francois Clemmons – but that is what makes it even better. I am totally the demographic targeted by this show – I grew up with Mr. Rogers (and like many guests on Finding Fred, I could never call him Fred when speaking about him!) and this show made me realize how I was impacted by the gentleness and matter-of-fact approach espoused by Rogers.
MOONFACE (Independent, United States // fiction, LGBT+): I haven’t disliked anything James Kim has made yet. Kim brought us Competition, which I covered back in 2017 and then again for season 2 in 2018. This is his first venture into audio fiction, and it is tremendous. It is about a young Korean man who cannot communicate well with his mother due to their language barrier. He’s also not sure his mother will understand him even if he is able to communicate. It’s also erotic and evocative – the acting is tremendous. This is what I want from audio fiction – fast paced, engaging, surprising, and about topics that should be discussed more.
Terrible, Thanks for Asking (APM, United States // personal narrative): I have been listening to TTFA from the very beginning, and this year featured so many excellent episodes. I listen to so many shows, but I remember the subjects on TTFA. I remember their voices, their pain, and just remembering those stories can bring me to tears a second time. My favorite episodes this year were Emily + Brian, The Americans, A Face in the Crowd, WWJD, and the series about the Pittsburgh synagogue shooting.
Unravel True Crime: Snowball (ABC, Austraila // true crime): I just listened to this in December and I was floored at the direction the podcast took – I don’t want to give it away. Ollie Wards investigates a woman his brother was married to who created financial ruin for the family through a series of cons. The diabolical and complex web of deception is astonishing and fascinating.
In the Dark, The Allusionist, StartUp’s final season, 30 For 30 Podcasts, HumaNature, Patient Zero, RISK!, Here Be Monsters, The City, The Joe Rogan Experience, The Land I Trust, Intrigue: Tunnel 29, 1619, Preach, Soul Music, Imagined Life