A year after my first article on podcasts, I’m still hooked to this media format.
I’m a child of the 1980s and 1990s, two decades during which the French FM radio stations boomed after then president Mitterrand authorized pirate broadcasting. We didn’t care so much about TV back then (we only had five boring channels anyway), teens spent entire nights listening to talk radio and trying to call in. I think most of us learned everything there is to know about sex between 11 p.m. and 3 a.m. during provocative and often CSA-censored shows on Fun Radio, Skyrock or NRJ. Back then, faceless hosts were the real stars, we were hooked to their voices, jokes and gimmicks.
I learned to love radio shows again with podcasts and I still favour long-form content that allows me to disconnect from the real world and dive into stories, mysteries, other people’s lives.
Here are a few new shows you will enjoy this season.
Often disturbing and graphic, Mike Boudet’s podcast comes with a “listener discretion advised” warning and the tagline “The worst monsters are real”. Launched in 2014, Sword and Scale covers criminal affairs and strange court cases. There is no mystery angle in the true-crime world but plenty of material backing up the cases, such as 911 calls, lawyer interviews, court testimony recordings, etc. This is one of these shows where the host takes the backseat and stays on topic—no annoying inside jokes, ads or self-promotion, it’s about as straightforward as it gets. Some of the topics and episodes are way too disturbing for me but others are fascinating. Each one is about 60-minute long and in-depth background information (articles, music, etc.) is available online for each case aired.
- Episode 59: an hour-long interview with former paramedic Kevin Hazzard.
- Episodes 11 and 12: the story of one family’s bizarre and extreme hate campaign following the mysterious death of their daughter, Morgan Ingram.
This weekly “show about the Internet” was launched in 2014 and is hosted by PJ Vogt and Alex Goldman. It’s not so much a show about machines and technology but rather about us, the humans who use them. You can learn about spammers, Internet service providers, domain names, specific websites and the power of the World Wide Web. The show is full of—sometime annoying—references and millennial jokes, some of which I don’t even get (sigh—I feel old) but the two hosts’ enthusiasm about “tech support” is contagious. Plus, in this podcast, no one is murdered, for a change.
- Episode 60 “A simple question”: why won’t an Internet company just take customers’ money and give them the service they asked for?
- Episode 40 “The Flower Child”: an interview with the man behind one of the most hated website.
With infrequent new episodes, this show and its host Anna Sale talk about stuff usually left out of polite conversation and often taboo—yes, like death, sex and money. The topic and the people interviewed are refreshingly honest and straightforward and Anna Sale knows how to be compassionate without being corny. Plus, despite the serious matters featured, there is often a positive and empowering spin to the human stories.
Falling in Love… with Heroin: the very honest life story of a couple, both drug users, who fueled each other’s addiction for years before quitting.
Like millions of listeners, I was addicted to Serial, the now-famous podcast about the 1999 murder of Hae Min Lee. Season II just ended and the host, Sarah Koenig, chose a very different angle and a very different topic. This one was about Bowe Bergdahl, the U.S. soldier who walked off his post in Afghanistan in 2009 and was captured and held by the Taliban for nearly five years. Bergdahl was freed but he is now facing Court Martial for desertion. Many Americans are arguing passionately about the choice Bergdahl made, but also the way the government and the U.S. Army dealt with the matter—and yes, of course Donald Trump has an opinion about it (he claimed that ” in the old days, deserters were shot”).
This season II was almost as controversial as Bergdahl’s story: some listeners mourned the “whodunit” angle of season I, others accused Sarah of being partial. I found it interesting because it shed a light on the way the USA deal with war, in Washington and on the field, and it allowed me to take a glimpse into the military mindset. As an outsider, I’m actually surprised there aren’t more “deserters”—walking away from the ugliness of war, especially when you are a somewhat naive twenty-something who may not have had the full picture when enlisting, seems fairly rational to me. Listening to Bergdahl’s former platoon members helped me understand how soldiers work and what they believe in. The description of the POW being held by the Taliban was another eye-opening moment—Imagine spending five years isolated from the world, tortured, surrounded by people you used to fight against and can’t understand. You will hear about Bergdahl in the news—take the time to listen to Sarah Koenig’s wide-angle investigation.
Sur les docks (in French)
Finally, a French show, Sur les docks, that features 60-minute-long radio documentaries. It typically brings listeners to off-limits places such as schools, migrant camps or medical settings. Other shows that dedicated to specific topics or historical figures.
Dans la jungle de Calais : following migrants and volunteer in the infamous migrant camp in Normandy, France, as they attempt to cross over to the UK.