Turn on the radio these days and most of the time you might as well be piping horse manure into your lugholes. But thankfully technology means you don’t ever have to reach for that dial again.
We’re talking about podcasts, of course: basically the best bits of radio cut out and presented to you in a form that you can listen to anywhere at any time.
But with thousands of podcasts around, where do you get started? Right here, that’s where. We've picked our favourite new series of 2017 so far, and bundled them together with some that are maturing nicely this year, plus the classics that are absolute must-listens. They might just make the commute your favourite part of the day...
New for 2017...
The freshest cuts of prime podcast fillet for your ears...
Best for: Conspiracy theorists
It's going to be another cracking year for fiction podcasts is this is anything to go by. Homecoming follows a therapist and army veteran, who are thrown together by a new government program that helps soldiers readjust to civilian life.
At least, that’s what the government claims. Without any narration, the series weaves together recorded phone calls and therapy sessions that slowly start to hint at more sinister motives.
This intimate approach, plus some excellent performances and sound design, give it a real authenticity as it starts to muse on the personal cost of erasing traumatic memories. With each episode coming in at a tight 20 minutes, it’s an essential commuting soundtrack. The 'making of' segments are well worth a listen too.
Try this episode: Episode 1 - Mandatory
Best for: Your next hit of true crime
True crime podcasts are all the rage right now, and every time you hear a new one being advertised it can be hard to fight the sensation that this is just another boarder of the bandwagon. But to make that assumption about Stranglers would be to miss out on one of the finest new podcasts around.
This is very much in the same mould as Serial and In the Dark, in that it’s a journalistic investigation into a past crime. In this case it’s that of the Boston Strangler - an apparent serial killer who gruesomely assaulted, murdered and bizarrely posed a number of elderly women in their own homes between 1962 and 1964.
This is not pleasant stuff. Graphic, horrifying and frightening, no punches are pulled in the descriptions of the murders, nor in descriptions of the impact on the lives of the victims’ relatives and the residents of Boston as a whole. But it’s also a fascinating insight into criminal investigations before computer databases, CCTV or reliable DNA testing. It’s a brilliant, binge-worthy new series - as long as you’ve got the stomach for it.
Try this episode: Episode 1: Sisters in Death
Best for: The perenially nosy
Davy Rothbart is so obsessed with solving the mysteries behind notes, letters, lists and doodles that he finds or, increasingly, gets sent, that he’s set up a whole magazine - and now a podcast - about it.
Each episode documents some of his favourite investigations, as he tries to track down the person whose life he caught a tiny glimpse of via a discarded or lost piece of paper. He tends to get great guest appearances along the way, with Nick Nolte and David Cross giving the excellent second episode a hefty dose of weirdness and humour.
Try this episode: Looking for love
BBC Radio 4 Seriously...
Best for: Documentary addicts
Radio 4’s archives were clearly bursting at the seams with fascinating audio docs, so the BBC released some of the pressure by funneling the best into this new podcast.
Brighter and breezier than the more forensic In Our Time, its covers everything from Roald Dahl to South Korea’s obsession with Starcraft. Whatever your niche hobby, there's likely to an episode for you.
The lack of a regular presenter or running time (they vary from 30 minutes to an hour) means Seriously… is more like a greatest hits than your favourite album ever. But it’s perfect for coming off the bench when your first choice podcasts need a rest.
Try this episode: The Camera Never Lies
The Hilarious World of Depression
Best for: Unexpected mirth
Podcasts have a special way with taboo subjects that don’t tend to reveal themselves under the glare of TV lights. And so it is with The Hilarious World of Depression, which pokes fun at the illness using one-to-one chats with comedians who’ve learned how to live with it.
Luckily, that doesn’t mean Jimmy Carr firing glib one-liners at your ears. The ‘hilarious’ tag relates more to the overall approach – using its guests’ comedic eye to jab mental illness in the ribs and so remove some of its power. Whether you're the owner of a black dog or not, it’s an enlightening listen.
Try this episode: Episode 4 - Dick Cavett Tells Tales of Hollywood's Secret Shame
These relative newcomers are really hitting their stride in 2017...
The Adam Buxton Podcast
Best for: Making you smile
There are two types of people in the world: those who know and love Adam Buxton, and those who lead sad, unfulfilled lives. Once one half of The Adam and Joe Show on telly and Saturday mornings on 6 Music, Adam’s finally launched his own podcast in which he meets up and chats with a pretty diverse bunch of people, from Louis Theroux to Kathy Burke to Jonny Greenwood.
He’s not a ‘proper’ interviewer, but there’s a charm and openness to everything Adam does that makes him great to spend time with. In fact, the intros and outros, recorded while he’s out walking his dog, Rosie, are probably the best bits.
Try this episode: EP. 11 - Joe Cornish