Bigfoot, investigative journalism, and the inherent sexism of pockets.
By David Adams
Personal Best (CBC Radio)
Need help keeping your New Year’s resolutions? Rob Norman and Andrew Norton host this delightful Canadian podcast that bills itself as a self-improvement show for people who hate self-improvement. In each episode, Rob and Andrew use overly elaborate “solutions” to assist people who want to change a specific aspect of their lives or fulfill a secret dream that they’ve never given themselves the permission to pursue. In the first episode, a woman wants to stop hitting the snooze button for 2 ½ hours each weekday morning. So, Rob and Andrew stake out her house, call a sleep scientist and 50 mattress stores across North America, consider setting fires in her bedroom, and eventually ask her mother to record the world’s most annoying alarm. Other episodes feature a man desperate to make his interactions with a local cashier less awkward and a woman who needs to stop sending boring texts. The show is laugh-out-loud funny, but its real appeal lies in its enthusiastic embrace of the quirks and flaws that make us who we are.
This Peabody Award-winning podcast is producing some of the finest investigative journalism in America today. In the first season, host and lead reporter Madeleine Baran asked why it took Minnesota police nearly 30 years to find the man who abducted and killed 11-year-old Jacob Wetterling. In its stellar second season, Baran moved to Mississippi to look into the case of death row inmate Curtis Flowers, the only man in US history to be tried six times for the same crime. Arrested for the murders of four furniture store employees, Flowers has steadfastly maintained his innocence for the past 22 years. District Attorney Doug Evans has been just as adamant that Flowers is guilty—so much so that he’s served as the lead prosecutor for all six trials, three of which resulted in convictions that were overturned by the Mississippi State Supreme Court for prosecutorial misconduct and racial bias in jury selection. (Two others ended in hung juries.) The US Supreme Court recently announced that it would hear appeals to Flowers’s most recent conviction, and new evidence uncovered by Baran and her team of reporters strongly suggests that the district attorney knowingly presented false testimony in order to make his case. Gripping, disturbing, and deeply important, In the Dark is an absolute must-listen.
A spinoff of the long-running design and architecture podcast 99% Invisible, this six-episode miniseries focuses on the meaning behind what we wear. Host Avery Trufelman packs a ton of fascinating information into each half-hour episode, covering everything from the inherent sexism of pockets to the colonialist history of Hawaiian shirts to the symbolism of plaid. Fashion may be the starting point, but it quickly becomes evident that in order to fully appreciate even the most ordinary piece of your wardrobe—a pair of blue jeans, for example—you need a crash course in economics, aesthetics, chemistry, the labor movement, and the 1960s counterculture. Trufelman is an adroit and efficient tour guide, effortlessly conveying her curiosity and enthusiasm to the listener. But while she cares deeply about clothes, she never lets style trump substance—Articles of Interest raises serious questions about the ethics, environmental impact, and power dynamics of the fashion industry.
When radio producer Laura Krantz came across a Washington Post article about a man named Grover Krantz, she wondered if there was a family connection. It turns out he was her grandfather’s cousin—and a respected anthropology professor famous for driving around the Pacific Northwest, with a spotlight and a rifle, searching for Bigfoot. Her quest for answers about the fascination with Bigfoot led her to create this highly entertaining and richly detailed podcast, in which she interviews the world’s leading Sasquatch researchers and explains the latest evolutionary theories on the creature’s origins. She also manages to gain access to a remote site on Washington’s Olympic Peninsula where mysterious ground nests appear to have been built by large, ape-like animals whose DNA has never been previously recorded. But her biggest discovery might be the depth of our cultural obsession with the creature, which stretches from Sasquatch-themed restaurants to Harry and the Hendersons to Bigfoot erotica. After more than a year of research, Krantz still considers herself a skeptic, but she wants to believe—and so will you.
You don’t have to listen to a lot of country music to enjoy Cocaine & Rhinestones. Host Tyler Mahan Coe focuses on the story of country music and its artists of the 20th century. Coe, the son of legendary country music outlaw David Allan Coe, learned to play guitar when he joined his father’s band at age 15 and spent years on the tour bus listening to musicians swap stories about infamous incidents from country music’s past—like the time crooner Ernest Tubb got drunk and tried to shoot a promoter with a .357 Magnum but missed, or how the attempt to ban Loretta Lynn’s 1975 song “The Pill” backfired by making it one of the biggest songs of her career. Coe tells these fascinating, colorful stories with an encyclopedic level of detail—three full episodes are devoted to mystery of Jeannie C. Riley and her hit “Harper Valley P.T.A.” His genuine love for the music is infectious, and he annotates each episode with audio clips and suggestions for further reading on the podcast’s website encouraging listeners to take deep dives into the genre. You’ll be amazed by the treasure trove of great songs you’ve never heard before.
Before he became the breakout star of Netflix’s fascinating reboot (and rebranded) Queer Eye, Jonathan Van Ness hosted this exceedingly well-informed and infectiously positive podcast about nearly every topic under the sun. Each episode tackles a fascinating, and often very newsworthy, topic that Van Ness wants to know more about, like Brexit, the Constitution’s emoluments clause, medical marijuana, and what it’s like to be a standup comic. His expert guests have included Nancy Pelosi; Margaret Cho; Washington, D.C.’s Attorney General Karl Racine; and rising indie pop star Bishop Briggs, to name just a few. What sets Getting Curious apart from other interview shows is Van Ness’s complete lack of ego when it comes to admitting how much he doesn’t know about a given topic. His willingness to ask the most basic questions, and to confess when an answer has gone over his head, creates an atmosphere of openness and sincerity that his guests are eager to match. As a result, Getting Curious isn’t just informative, it’s also delightfully entertaining, and a testament to just how much can be learned through genuine curiosity.