2020 Year in Review: Favorite Podcasts


Podcast Hall of Fame

I’ve added eight new podcasts to my Podcast Hall of Fame.  These are podcasts that I look forward to listening to each and every episode even if that may not be reflected in the running tally of podcasts that appear in Podcast of the Week.

Class of 2019

      1. 99% Invisible
      2. Hit Parade
      3. The Memory Palace
      4. The Mortified Podcast
      5. Risk!
      6. The Thirty20Eight
      7. Throughline
      8. Twenty Thousand Hertz
      9. Wait Wait … Don’t Tell Me

Class of 2020

      1. The Cine-Files
      2. Decoder Ring
      3. Hub History
      4. Unspooled
      5. Levar Burton Reads
      6. This Day in Esoteric Political History
      7. Throughline
      8. What Next

Short Series of Note

And Nothing Less

The centennial of the 19th Amendment is commemorated in this seven-part series hosted by Rosario Dawson and Retta who investigate the untold stories of women’s suffrage.

More than Enough 

This four-part series examines the idea of guaranteed income, or universal basic income, from the point of view of those who need it most,poor people.

Nice White Parents

Chana Joffe-Walt investigates why public education continues to fail Black and brown children over 60 years after desegregation, and finds that the problem is white parents with good intentions.

60-Second Science :: Science Sound (E)scapes

Three podcasts provide soundscapes of the Amazon: Amazon Pink River DolphinsAmerican Frog Choruses at NightHead Banging and Howling in the Amazon.

The Story Collider ::  Stories of COVID-19 

A series of personal stories of the most significant scientific event in recent history.

99% Invisible :: According to Need

A series about homelessness in the United States.

Favorite Podcast Episodes

BackStory :: Those Were The Days: Nostalgia in American History

Looking back at the “good old days” can have grave political consequences.

Fresh Air :: The Murderous Coup of 1898

Another event from history I’d never heard of before.  Wilmington, NC in the 1890s was relatively integrated for the time with Black leaders in city government until white supremacists organized to overthrow the government.

Twenty Thousand Hertz :: 4′ 33″

The story behind John Cage’s famous composition and why it’s more than a joke or a gimmick.

Hit Parade :: The White and Nerdy Edition

Chris Molanphy tracks the career of the most successful “novelty” musician, “Weird Al” Yankovic, with a considerable portion of the episode analyzing the history of novelty songs on the music charts.

Throughline :: The Invisible Border

A history of the Troubles in Northern Ireland, the agreement that brought a fragile peace to the region, and how Brexit may undo 20 years of progress.

Memory Palace :: Stories to Wash Hands By

Twenty stories of historical events that last twenty seconds each, the perfect length of time to wash your hands.  Whether or not this is practical (I mean if you push play on your device before your hands are clean it will be contaminated, no) the stories are all very interesting tidbits of history.

99% Invisible :: The Natural Experiment

Isolating during the pandemic sucks, but it’s provided scientists the conditions for scientific research not possible during normal levels of activity, such as: air pollution, boredom, vaccination, and redesigning cities for people not cars.

Snap Judgment :: The Country Doctor

The story of an Islamic doctor who loves serving the community in a small Minnesota town until he learns that most of the people their voted for Trump.

Code Switch :: A Decade Of Watching Black People Die

The murders, the videos, the outrage, the hashtags – the pattern of Black people murdered by cops and vigilantes is unsettlingly familiar.  When will it move beyond a grim voyeurism towards actual justice?

What Next :: A History of Violent Protest

The history of structural change in America all the way back to colonial times is based on violent protest.

Throughline :: American Police

The history of policing in the United States from its origins in slave patrols to the present, with control of Black Americans as its central purpose.

Afropop Worldwide :: Africa and the Blues

In this podcast, we learn about how African music is more than just “the roots” and the ties between Africa and American blues traditions.

Brattle Film Podcast :: Behind the Scenes on Boston Movies

The Brattle Theatre in Cambridge had a great series on Boston Movies and all four podcasts are worth listening to, but I particularly liked this final podcast where they interview on-set dresser Adam Roffman about the behind-the-scenes production of movies in Boston and how they’ve changed over time.

Hit Parade :: One and Done Edition

We all remember the artists and bands who are famous for their one big hit, but defining a “one-hit wonder” is surprisingly controversial. Men Without Hats and Vanilla Ice officially have multiple hits, while Jimi Hendrix and Lou Reed are actually one-hit wonders. Chris Molanphy puts forward some parameters for defining a one-hit wonder that take in account cultural relevance as well as actual chart performance.

Planet Money :: Caste Comes to Silicon Valley

The constitution of India officially outlawed the ancient caste system in 1947, but discrimination against people based on caste persists in India and has followed Indian immigrants to the US.

Twenty Thousand Hertz :: Dies Irae

From medieval chants to symphonic compositions to the soundtracks of blockbuster films, a pattern of four notes has served to represent death.

99% Invisible :: The Lost Cities of Geo

A podcast near and dear to my heart because it is about web archiving, particularly the effort to save the first great iteration of the world wide web: Geocities.

Radiolab :: The Ashes on the Lawn

The purposes of protest and why they can’t be modulated to avoid offending people as seen through the story of the ACT UP protests to support relief from the AIDS crisis.

FINAL TALLY OF PODCAST OF THE WEEK APPEARANCES