(A version of this appeared in a recent SCRAPINGS ETC email newsletter issue by me).
So I listen to a lot of podcasts while I travel around and work, having slowly been moving from just listening to music forever. It’s nice, it’s like radio but I can put it on whenever I want. I used to just listen to comic book podcasts like Around Comics, Tall Tale Radio, and 11 O’Clock Comics, (weirdly, no music/punk podcasts, they always bored me) but in the past few years I’ve been listening to a wider range and constantly trying new ones that cater to other tastes I have.
I figured since I have nothing new to share, I’d talk about some of my favorites.
Criminal – The podcast app I use, Stitcher, recommended this to me (and honestly most of the recommendations sorta suck, the only real issue I have with Stitcher, so I’ve been pleased at how good this is). Short weird true-life crime stories in little interesting bursts. Minimalist, not too boring, not too cliche. As a crime/true crime/mystery/noir fan, this one appeals to me a lot. A lot of true crime podcasts these days are either inspired directly by SERIAL, basically SERIAL spinoffs, or just not that great. This one doesn’t push it though, creating cool and interesting stories about the hidden world of modern-day leprosy sufferers, blackmail cons running 20-plus years in secret, homeless-not-homeless populations, and soccer stars solving murders.
The Sporkful – So, I eat a lot. I like to cook, my girlfriend and I love to cook and bake and try new foods and restaurants, it’s probably our one real vice. However, we’re not “foodies” in that weird hipster way where we spend way too much of weird ingredients or eat at places that cost way too much and serve that strange small portion that’s not a meal. The Sporkful from WNYC and it’s a real, grounded, and hilarious food and humor podcast that really stands out from a lot of the other food and cooking-oriented podcasts I’ve tried. The closest I can come to is hat it’s heavily influenced by the general fun atmosphere of my favorite cooking/food TV show GOOD EATS with Alton Brown, in that it’s heavily-grounded in realism, practicality, and a healthy dose of self-criticism and self-humor of cooking and food culture. The last episode I listened to was about how many toppings is TOO MANY toppings on pancakes and the existential crisis that can cause, as well as how trashy it is to eat stale cookies in the name of love.
Lore – Like horror stories/movies/books? Interested in urban legends and history? Hate how a lot of history and horror podcasts are either terrible or riddled with sound effects and cliches? Lore is the best new podcast I’ve discovered and been listening to recently, with short episodes that perfectly fit into my morning commute. The mythology of cannibalism, haunted houses, old unsolved true crimes, vampire lore, possessed dolls, and more, told in a great way that can be both incredibly touching but also creepy as fucking shit. I grew up on scary stuff and gross horror and history and weirdness, so I love it, but at times it’s a genre that doesn’t always grow up well, I’ve noticed. I don’t always want grossness and spooky cliches, and I love that the simplicity of Lore can effectively capture paranoia, fear, and genuine creepiness without the need for tricks.
Stuff You Missed in History Class – So I grew up with history buffs in my dad and paternal grandfather, and I even minored in it in college. I’m awful with dates, but the adage that the truth is so much stranger than fiction holds true, so I love learning new things about weirdness that happened in the past. The awesome ladies of SYMIHC (I was at the podcast’s first live show a few weeks ago!) always cover interesting stuff like lost historical figures not usually covered in books because they’re women or people of color, lost mysteries, the exact historical reasonings behind common modern things (like redlining), and even a lost chapter of history to import hippos as livestock to the US from Africa to solve a meat shortage.
Literary Disco – I’ve been listening to Literary Disco for a long time, and like The Sporkful, it’s a standout in the field/genre of book and literature podcasts. A lot of them are either REALLY fucking boring, or just very industry-heavy, which isn’t really my thing. However, LD is amazing and there are some episodes where I basically laugh the entire time listening to the hosts talk books, weird stories, humor, interviews, and their own writing. Also, if you’re a 90’s nostalgist, one of the hosts is Ryder Strong of “Boy Meets World” fame. I honestly can’t recommend this one enough if you like books and reading but not staid THIS AMERICAN LIFE boring-style radio or podcasts.
The Black Tapes & TANIS – Two semi-related/semi-connected fictional drama podcasts (docudrama) in the weird horror/mystery vein. The Black Tapes is about a podcaster building a show around a paranormal researcher and getting drawn into a weird conspiracy concerning demon worship, a missing wife, historical phenomena, and VHS tapes. TANIS is by the same people and ostensibly takes place in the same “universe,” about the producer of the first show doing a story about a weird mythical “thing” called Tanis that has inspired everything from an ancient Egyptian city to a cult of “Seekers” and “Runners” who look for it using codes in newspaper ads. TANIS is more pulp/weird sci-fi noir than the straight-up supernatural horror of The Black Tapes, and rather than start as an interconnected collection of cases that evolves into a singular narrative, starts out as a serialized case story. My best friend and I are actively deep into both shows, you should really try it. If you like serialized fiction, crime, horror, sci-fi, weirdness, noir…you’ll dig them both.
So yeah, check ’em out. I’m almost always trying to find new stuff to listen to that isn’t just a ripoff of Serial or or a Serial spinoff or something straight outta NPR. There are some ones that almost made this list but I didn’t wanna write up too much about because I only listen to them periodically, or have talked about before like Tall Tale Radio (which I mentioned above and still listen to), The Mystery Show, Jay & Silent Bob Get Old, No Sleep, Welcome to Night Vale, etc. If you’re interested though, go ahead and Google those, too.