The BBC (British Broadcasting Corporation) was formed in 1922 and is the oldest national broadcasting company in the world. There are several great radio shows available through the BBC World Service Radio, and one of my favorites is Witness. The show provides first-hand accounts of events in history – anything in history from centuries ago to just a decade ago. Whenever possible, the show provides narrations from someone who was actually there during the event, and for older history, a written story will be read by a voice actor. There is certainly a greater number of episodes from the 20th century than any other era, which is great because we get to hear the story in the voice of the person who witnessed history.
The topic is introduced and then the narrator quickly takes over. Episodes typically last less than 15 minutes, most being even less than 10 minutes long, and this is a perfect amount of time to explain one perspective on a particular event in history. I’ve learned about the 1971 disappearance of D.B. Cooper, the Donner party who was trapped in the Rocky Mountains in 1846, Pakistan’s women-only police station, the discovery of the body of George Mallory on Mount Everest, the execution of Anne Boleyn in 1536, the “Concordski” plane crash in 1973, when TV came to Bhutan in 1999, and my favorite episode, an account from someone who flew a Harrier in the Falklands War in 1982. I love the diversity of the topics and regions.
I’m not a big consumer of history podcasts, but I do like personal narratives and storytelling in general, so this is right up my alley. The bonus for me is getting to learn about something in world history that I’ve never even heard of, because I grew up in and live in the ethnocentric United States and unfortunately I don’t remember much of world history from middle and high school. And, the learning is done in such a personal way, in a short amount of time – very palatable.
The show lacks a bit of personality – this is definitely a straight-up history podcast told through actual stories, and there is little to no humor and not heavy on emotion, but the quick pace and lack of ad clutter keeps me engaged. I am so impressed by the caliber of the BBC’s reporters and editors – these are such great stories and I appreciate the creative approach to what one might not consider a historical “event” upon first glance. The production value is very good and each episode is so succinct and well-packaged – this one is definitely staying on my subscription list.
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Audible Feast Ratings
Educational Value (5 / 5)
The U.S. public education system should use these podcast episodes in middle schools and high schools as a starting point to discuss a global historical topic. What a better way to learn than to hear from someone who was there?
Pop Culture Value (4 / 5)
The BBC often publishes stories that have current significance, for example on an anniversary of a historical event or something related to a month-long celebration like gay pride month.
Host Listen-ability (4 / 5)
Flow & Production Value (5 / 5)
Humor (2 / 5)
Investigation (5 / 5)
Storytelling (5 / 5)
Makes Me a Better Person (5 / 5)
Overall Audible Feast Rating: (5 / 5)
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BBC Documentaries, BBC Inquiry, BBC Outlook, Stuff You Missed in History Class, The History Chicks, Revolutions, Footnoting History, 15-Minute History, Radio Diaries, You Must Remember This