I admit to being pretty fresh to the world of podcasts, unable to download them on my phone until I recently upgraded to an iPhone 4 (insert your joke here, dear reader). But of all the ones I’ve tried, this sharp podcast from the Southern Foodways Alliance is not only my favorite show about food, but my top choice overall. The subject matter —a behind-the-scenes look at the Kentucky Derby in one episode or the military’s role in food production in another — is fascinating and will reshape your perceptions of Southern cuisine. Host Tina Antolini is the ideal anchor, save for her signoff catchphrase.
2. Undisclosed: The State vs. Adnan Syed
I’ve already written about Undisclosed in these pages before so I’ll keep it brief. It goes without saying that Serial —the podcast’s precursor — is fantastic storytelling, but until the second season premieres, it’s out of rotation for me. And you don’t need me to tell you to listen to other big-timers like This American Life,99 Percent Invisible or Radiolab (but give them a whirl if you haven’t).
The folks at Criminal, which is based in Durham, really know how to set up a story. Each episode somehow focuses on the subject of breaking the law, ranging from people stealing petrified wood to a century-old murder mystery. Episodes are short — maybe 20 minutes — and I’m always left wanting more. Of all the podcasts I listen to, Criminal may be the most gripping.
4. Love + Radio
I take classes at Duke University’s Center for Documentary Studies, and when my teacher (Criminal host Phoebe Judge!) introduced us to Love + Radio by way of one of its most famous episodes, “The Wisdom of Jay Thunderbolt,” I jumped all over the show. The use of sound in the episode is fascinating — start with Thunderbolt and then listen to some of the more recent, bizarre characters this show dug up.
5. The Sporkful
I have a deep love-hate relationship with The Sporkful. The hate comes from host Dan Pashman’s annoying obsession with boring philosophical debates about things like what qualifies as grilled cheese. Who cares? And the live shows, seemingly all at SXSW, aren’t very gripping. But when this food-based podcast is on, Pashman really nails it. The episode about marijuana-laced snacks, handicap accessibility in restaurants and cab drivers on Ramadan in particular come to mind. I use the “skip” feature most frequently with this show, but the gold in between is worth it.
6. Feet in Two Worlds
Maybe this will only be interesting to journalists, but hey, you get what you pay for with a free list, right? I enjoy this New York-based podcast because it brings forward the voices of journalists of color, particularly immigrants. Though it sometimes focuses on industry-insider baseball — such as what it’s like to work at a Jewish newspaper when you’re not Jewish — the show does possess broader appeal. Each episode is completely different; start with the recent one about Shiva Bayat, an important voice in Egypt’s revolutionary movement.
7. Scene on Radio
The newest podcast from the bunch, Scene on Radio “broadcasts” from the aforementioned Center for Documentary Studies. The show explores the complexities of sports and culture, especially the tensions between sports and systems of power including racism and homophobia. Host John Biewen’s narration sounds at times like he recorded it while laying down at home — it’s a little too unenthusiastic and could be more conversational. But that doesn’t distract much from the nationally sourced and unique stories or the mostly intriguing storytelling.