Podcast Network Spotlight: A New Feature
This week I am debuting a new feature – a primer on a podcast collective or network. I’m going to define this really loosely for now and we’ll see how it goes. A network or collective could be a radio station (89.3 KPCC, WBUR, WNYC), a fully developed radio organization (NPR, BBC, CBC), an independent non-profit network (The Heard, Relay FM, Radiotopia), or a for-profit organization (Panoply, Gimlet, Earwolf). I’ll tell you what the network is all about and what I know about its shows. There will be less subjectivity but I may still comment on what shows I actually listen to from the network, what I think overall about the strength of the shows and direction the network is headed, and which are my favorite shows.
The Heard: “A Gathering of Sound Minds”
So of course I’ll start with one of my favorite groups of podcasts – The Heard. This was initially a group of 6 podcasts that has grown to 8 whose producers are all independent, but they offer each other support, ideas, and editing. It was founded by Jakob Lewis of Neighbors. The Heard’s tagline is “A Gathering of Sound Minds.” You’ll frequently hear other producers mentioned as helping with an episode and in my opinion, they have an elite crew of producers. These are not shows with a huge budget and staff, and there’s something honest and genuine about people just passionate about what they do, supporting each other to make the best audio.
The common thread that unites these shows is phenomenal sound quality and mixing, and this was really what drew me in when I first heard Neighbors. Neighbors was my gateway show, but I now subscribe to everything in the collective and listen to all of them regularly. It’s all completely non-profit, they don’t overtly try to raise money as a collective but of course the shows independently appreciate donations. Some shows are affiliated with radio stations, others are completely independently produced.
Neighbors (Twitter: @NeighborsNash)
Officially: “Neighbors is a show from Nashville Public Radio by me, Jakob Lewis. It’s a show about what connects us. Whether it’s food, death, ritual, language, family or friendship, there is a lot to gather around in this world. I look around me and tell stories about my neighbors. You just might find yourself in some of them.” The show is produced with Nashville Public Radio.
My take: This was the show that introduced me to The Heard, and Jakob Lewis is a super nice guy who has always supported my site from the very beginning over a year ago. There is a lot of pod respect there! My favorite episode may be its most popular: The High Five from October 2015. Read my review of the show here.
Nocturne (Twitter: @NocturneShow)
Officially: “There are 24 hours in a day. Seems pretty straightforward. But what do you really know about the hours between say, 11pm-6am. From graveyard shift jobs to “secret identities”, who we are and what we do at night is often less fully perceived by others, whether by choice or by circumstance. Peering into the dusty corners of the night, Nocturne explores these often overlooked and undisclosed slices of life. Under cover of darkness, our thoughts and feelings can take on strange new shapes, sometimes barely recognizable as our own. And the pulse of the world seems to alter too, sort of creating a curtain of privacy around our behaviors and even our appearance. Do I truly know you if I only know the daytime you? Let’s find out in Nocturne.”
My take: Nocturne has showed up on my Delicious Ingredients list several times (the best podcasts each week) and I am always delighted to see what Vanessa Lowe has come up with as a nocturnal activity. Lowe is a very gracious producer who is always appreciative of her listener base. The website has awesome original art which I always love. I would recommend To a Distant Continent and What the Baker Saw as starter episodes.
How to Be a Girl (Twitter: @girlpodcast)
Officially: “Hi, I’m Marlo Mack. I’m a single mom raising a young transgender daughter. We live in Seattle. With my daughter’s help, I produce How to Be a Girl, an audio podcast about our life together and the challenges we face.” This show is produced in conjunction with KUOW in Seattle.
My take: What a time for this kind of show to come out… In the era of Caitlin Jenner headlines and bathroom bills, How to Be a Girl debuted in 2014 and returned big in 2016 after just a couple episodes in 2015. I am a liberal-minded parent of young children, and wow do I love this show. But I think no matter your political persuasion, you can’t not have feelings for Marlo Mack and her child M. (whose name is absent for her protection). The use of kid sound bytes is very effective and I love hearing the uncertainty in Mack’s voice (though of course I feel for her) – it’s so heartfelt; the sound is just so great overall. Read my full review here and start at the beginning with this show – episode 1, Mama, I’m a Girl.
ARRVLS (Twitter: @arrvlsshow)
Officially: “ARRVLS explores the impact of unexpected events in the lives of everyday men and women using the themes of migration, transformation, and change as a guide.”
My take: Like Nocturne, ARRVLS paints with a broad brush when it comes to the theme of the show and how it can be applied to specific stories. For me that makes it fun, I’m never sure exactly what each new episode is going to be about but I know it’s usually tied to what could be considered an arrival to a new place. Sometimes this is very literal, sometimes it’s very abstract. Occasionally it’s a little out there for me, but more times than not, ARRVLS hits it out of the park with pure storytelling quality. Jonathan Hirsch is the executive producer and Nora Linde is the associate producer. One of my favorite episodes is Border Junkie, another is Junji.
Rumble Strip Vermont (Twitter: @rumblestripvt)
Officially: “On Rumble Strip Vermont, you’ll hear from artists and criminals, taxidermists and soccer moms, lawyers and waitresses. Erica Heilman invites herself into Vermonters’ homes to find out what they know, what they hate, who they love, what they’re afraid of, and what makes them more like you than you’d realized. It’s surprising conversation that sounds like Vermont, and takes its time.”
My take: Rumble Strip Vermont is another show that I’ve had on my best podcasts of the week list multiple times. Erica Heilman is a tremendous producer who is going to fit right in at The Heard because she cares about sound and telling a great story, focusing on real people’s feelings. She is so thoughtful and respectful as she tells sometimes very difficult stories and interviews people in really tough places. She’s also honest about how difficult it is for her. Some of my favorite episodes are Six Parents. Six DCF Stories, Last Chapter, and Jesse.
Anxious Machine (Twitter: @anxiousmachine)
Officially: “Anxious Machine is a production of me. I’m Rob McGinley Myers.(McGinley Myers is actually my last name. I’m not trying to sound pretentious.) I am a podcaster, writer, teacher, and former radio producer forThe Writer’s Almanac, On Being, and contributor to Weekend America. The podcast started as a show about the impact of technology on our everyday lives, but it has grown into a show about humans struggling with all the things that humans make, from cars and chemotherapy to handguns and birth certificates.”
My take: Anxious Machine has been on hiatus for several months, and I hope it will be back soon. I haven’t listened to a lot of this show but a couple memorable episodes for me were The Window Seat and These Things is Miracles. I originally reviewed the show here.
First Day Back (Twitter: @TallyAbecassis)
Officially: “First Day Back is a documentary podcast that follows filmmaker Tally Abecassis as she faces the challenges of picking up her career after an extended maternity leave. The narrative takes a real-life look at motherhood, gender roles, and work-life balance in a voice by turns serious, funny, and sometimes touching.”
My take: My 2015 review of this show was written from the heart; while I can’t relate to going back to work after an extended amount of time off, it’s hard no matter how much time you’ve been away. And I loved Abecassis’ dedication to telling the whole story, raw and painful as it was for her as she struggled to even get work. She’s working on a second season and I’m really looking forward to it. I’d listen to this one in order, so start with Episode 1: Getting Back Out There. It’s a great binge listen.
Today’s Special (Twitter: @sbcsays)
This show isn’t out yet and no site has been set up (that I know of), but the show will be: “personal stories, audio fictions, and cultural commentaries inspired by the rich and messy inner workings of restaurants.” A sample of the work can be found here. Sounds great!
The Tie That Binds
The shows are produced all over North America, and some have a specific local connection that is discussed in the show, but nothing is so specific to a local market that you wouldn’t enjoy it. The focus is on storytelling with rich sound. Even a show with a title like “Rumble Strip Vermont” has a tie to Vermont, for sure, but contains very well told stories that anyone can appreciate.
In addition to the common thread of sound-rich storytelling, I would say these shows also all force the listener to feel something. I suppose that’s the essence of storytelling, but it’s really what I’m seeking in a storytelling podcast. I want to feel, I want to be touched, I want my heart to beat a little faster or shed a tear. Episodes from shows in The Heard have done this for me time and time again.
What’s Going on Now With The Heard?
Most shows are published every couple of weeks, and collectively, something from The Heard is coming out every week. Anxious Machine and First Day Back have been on hiatus for awhile, but are coming back. I’m excited to see what Today’s Special will encompass because I already have such a fondness for everything The Heard that I’m sure I’ll like it! The Heard has a very bright future ahead of it because it has a group of really thoughtful producers who all seem like genuinely nice people passionate about audio. I seriously want to have a regular lunch date with all of them. Check out The Heard today – their genuine, very kind and appreciative producers will be so thankful you listened to their audio.
If you have any feedback on this feature or anything else related to Audible Feast, please shoot me a note at audiblefeast at gmail.com! Thanks for reading! Seriously – check out The Heard! Feel free to share this post with anyone you think would appreciate it.