2018 in Review: Favorite Podcast Episodes

Are you on holiday break and looking for something to do in your spare time? Well then, check out this list of my 25 favorite podcasts episodes of 2018 for your listening pleasure!  These are arranged in chronological order having been culled from my Podcast of the Week feature:

1. Hang Up and Listen :: The 200 Seventh Graders Versus LeBron Edition

A whimsical year-end look at some sports conundrums such as how many seventh graders would you have to put on the court to defeat LeBron James playing solo.  Or, what would a NFL field or NBA court be like if they were built with the irregularities common in baseball stadiums.

2. LeVar Burton Reads :: “The Truth About Owls” by Amal El-Mohtar

A sweet story about a girl from Lebanon who immigrates to England and finds her place through the study of owls and Welsh mythology.

3. The Memory Palace :: Hercules

With Washington’s Birthday coming up, a reminder that our first President held people in bondage because he enjoyed what their labor provided without having to pay for them.  The story of Hercules, a talented chef, who successfully escaped slavery.

4. The Truth :: Nuclear Winter

 A spooky story set in an outdated nuclear missile silo.  Don’t worry, it’s fictional!

5. Afropop Worldwide :: Roots and Future: A History of UK Dance

Caribbean music traditions and US dance beats come together in the only place they can: the United Kingdom.  A history of jungle, garage, drum & bass, and grime.  This made very nostalgic for the dance tracks of yore

6. The Truth :: The Hilly Earth Society

A stunning one-person audio drama told entirely in voice messages from an angry recluse to a persistent journalist.  There’s a couple of interesting twists at the end, only one I saw coming.

7. Code Switch :: Location, Location, Location

The history of housing segregation and how it underlines every serious social issue in America today.

8. BackStory :: Shock of the New

The history of World’s Fairs fascinates me and this episode commemorates the 125th anniversary of the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago, with special focus on women’s and African American perspectives on the fair.

9. 99% Invisible :: Curb Cuts

An important history of the disability rights movement and how curb cuts ended up benefiting society in a broader sense than originally intended.

10. Upon Further Review :: What if Tom Brady Never Became the Patriot’s Quarterback?

Backup quarterback Tom Brady became a Patriots legend when he took over for injured starter Drew Bledsoe midway through the 2001 season and lead the team to their first Super Bowl victory. This “what if” podcasts takes us to a world where that never happened in the form of a spot-on parody of a Boston sports radio call-in.

11. Decoder Ring :: Clown Panic

A history of clowns and how they’ve gone from funny to terrifying.

12. HUB History :: Immigration in Boston

Present day anti-immigrant prejudice and hysteria has long historical roots as seen in these three stories from Boston history: the Sacco and Vanzetti case, Chinese tongs in Chinatown, and the destruction of the Ursuline Convent in Charlestown.

13. Have You Heard? :: The Problem with Fear-Based School Reform

Do schools work better when they’re “run like a business” and teachers and administrators are forced to work in a culture of fear where they’re expected to get results or else?  Or do we recognize the nurturing mission of schools and support reforms lead by educators who know the children best? And how much of so-called “education reform” is rooted in anti-labor sentiment anyway?  These questions and more are discussed on “Have You Heard?”

14. Hit Parade :: The Feat. Don’t Fail Me Now Edition

The history of the “featured artist” credit on number one singles.

15. AirSpace :: The Ninety-Nines

A group of 99 women banded together to advance the cause of women in aviation in 1929 with Amelia Earhart as their first president. There’s some fascinating stories of the accomplishments of women in this organization that still exists today!

16. Afropop Worldwide :: Skippy White: A Vinyl Life

Checking in with a legendary soul & R&B record shop owner and entrepreneur, Skippy White.  His shop is located in Boston’s Egleston Square, not far from where I live, but this is the first I’ve heard of him!

17. To The Best of Our Knowledge :: What’s Wrong With Work?

Work is bunk.  Find out why employment is meaningless and “work ethic” is just there to control us, along with some more human alternatives.

18. Hidden Brain :: Bullshit Jobs

Another podcast goes in depth on how meaningless work is wearing us down.  I sense a theme.

19. The Memory Palace :: Lost Locusts

The sound design of this podcast really sells the panic and hopelessness of plagues of locusts in the 19th century plains, and a good explanation of why they ended.

20. Twenty Thousand Hertz :: Classic Cartoon Sound Effects

How sounds effects for cartoons are made, reused, and become iconic signifiers.

21. 99% Invisible :: The Worst Way to Start a City

What if a city was born by just having 100,000 people show up at once and claim their spot?  That’s the weird story of Oklahoma City.  Listen to this just for the “Oh, Joe – here’s your mule!” part.

22. RadioLab :: Tweak the Vote

RadioLab explores how ranked choice voting makes elections more representative of the people and more civil in practice.

23. 99% Invisible :: Devolutionary Design

The story of how an image of legendary golfer Chi Chi Rodriguez ended up being used for the cover of legendary rock band Devo’s first album.

24. Code Switch :: The Story of Mine Mill

The history of a radical leftist union that organized miners and millworkers in Birminham, Alabama, bringing together Black and white workers at the height of Jim Crow in the 1930s-1960s.

25. 99% Invisible :: The Accidental Room

The absolutely true story of a community of artists secretly building a condominium in a vacant space within a shopping mall.

Some podcasts are of a specified length focusing on a single topic, a mini-series if you will, and worth listening to in their entirety:

    • Believed – the story of how Larry Nassar sexual abused women and girls at Michigan State University and with US Gymnastics, and the women who brought him to justice
    • Last Seen –– an investigation into story of how the Isabella Stewart Gardner museum was robbed of 13 priceless works of art in 1990 that still have not been recovered.
    • Nobody’s Home – an exploration into vacant homes in America’s cities and their effect on the larger community.
    • Slow Burn – forgotten history of the Watergate scandal as it played out at the time.
    • Unobscured – the story of the witch hysteria that emerged from Salem Village in 1692.
    • Upon Further Review – a tie-in with Mike Pesca’s book of the same name which dramatizes alternate universe stories of great moments in sports’ history.

Here are all the podcasts that were recognized as a Podcast of the Week with the number of their appearances:

  • 20 – 99% Invisible
  • 14 – Hub History
  • 11 – Twenty Thousand Hertz
  • 9 – BackStory, Planet Money
  • 8 – Hit Parade, WBUR News
  • 7 – Hidden Brain
  • 6 – RadioLab, To the Best of Our Knowledge, Code Switch
  • 5 – Have You Heard?, Memory Palace, Smithsonian Sidedoor
  • 4 – All Songs Considered, LeVar Burton Reads, Start Making Sense, The Truth
  • 3 – Afropop Worldwide, Decoder Ring, Fresh Air, Household Name, More or Less, Risk!, This American Life
  • 2 – Smithsonian AirSpace, Disney History Institute, Radio Boston, Re:Sound, Scientific American Science Talk, Snap Judgement, Sound Opinions, 30 for 30, Upon Further Review
  • 1 – Anthropocene Reviewed, Believed, Ben Franklin’s World, Hang Up and Listen, Last Seen, On the Media, 60 Second Science, Slow Burn, Song Exploder, The Sounds in My Head, StarTalk, StoryCorps, Tiny Desk Concerts