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. As it's still early days in 2018, we've picked out our favourite new(ish) pods and bundled them together with some of the long-running must-listens. They might just make the commute your favourite part of the day...
A Very Fatal Murder
Best for: Podcast obsessives
Trust The Onion to create the best parody podcast we’ve ever heard, a fake true crime series that jabs a mocking finger at everything from patronising podcast producers slumming it in rural flyover states to intrusive ad breaks to dramatic musical cues. A Very Fatal Murder is the perfect follow-up material if you’ve just binged on an earnest podcast like Serial, S-Town or basically anything made by NPR.
When intrepid Onion Public Radio correspondent, the scent of a Pulitzer Prize in his nostrils, travels from New York to Bluff Springs, Nebraska in order to investigate the unsolved murder of 17 year-old Hayley Price – shot, stabbed, strangled, smothered and drowned, with dirt of the same composition as Mars found under her fingernails – he discovers a town full of suspects.
You Must Remember This
Best for: Silver screen lovers
Consider yourself a film buff and a history aficionado, all rolled into one? Then You Must Remember This should be slapped on your “to listen list” forthwith, because it weaves both together in a beautifully-produced manner.
Exploring the often untold history of Hollywood over the past century, writer/researcher/narrator/creator/editor Karina Longworth lifts the lid on tales of Tinseltown, be there bizarre, brutal or both. Longworth’s writing creates a real sense of Hollywood’s importance as bearer (and barer) of America’s soul, and the collection of episodes devoted to Charles Manson, his cult and the murders they committed is a miniature masterpiece of storytelling.
Death, Sex & Money
Best for: Big issue ponderers
Death, sex and money – three things many people find it difficult to talk about (especially in America), so WNYC Studios naturally decided to make a podcast about them.
In each half-hour episode, host Anna Sale invites a guest or guests on to delve into their personal experience with at least one of the trio of issues, leading to some interesting explorations of those all-important, all-too-often avoided subjects.
50 Things That Made the Modern Economy
Best for: Bite-sized knowledge seekers
Looking for some interesting listening material (and pub quiz fodder, for that matter) to get you through those short commutes? This BBC World Service-made series fits the bill snugly, with each episode exploring a single modern day “thing” in ten minutes or less.
Want to know how insurance services came about, how the s-bend made city life more bearable or why shipping containers are all the same size and shape? You’ll find all that info, and so much more, here.
The Butterfly Effect with Jon Ronson
Best for: Twists and turns
Writer and journalist Jon Ronson’s latest investigative project was initially limited to Audible subscribers. Now freely available on podcatchers everywhere, this one should be top of your to-listen list.
The seven-part series focuses on the porn industry, beginning in Brussels many years ago, with a teenage techie who decided to get rich by giving the world what he suspected it wanted: free pornography.
But that’s just the beginning. As Ronson begins to delve into the titular butterfly effect of this online revolution, he finds himself unravelling a constantly surprising (two words: stamp collection) and at times moving story about people. He's always curious and never judgmental - the sign of a great documentarian.
Try this episode: Episode 1 - A Nondescript Building in Montreal
Best for: The gaming lowdown
How many podcasts in your feed can rely on your download each week purely because of the intro music? For us, that’s the case with Kotaku Splitscreen, a gaming podcast featuring Kotaku’s Kirk Hamilton and Jason Schreier. The stupidly catchy theme in question is played by Hamilton himself, who has a background in jazz.
But wait! Before the weird sax-haters move on to the next entry, we should mention that the podcast is pretty great too. The two co-hosts bounce off each other well, and they go pretty deep into lesser known indie gems as well as the big hitters.
Kotaku has always approached video games media a little bit differently to its competitors, and this podcast stands out from the crowd too.
Try this episode: Episode 106 - Fall Mailbag Spectacular
Soundtracking with Edith Bowman
Best for: Musical journeys
Here’s a fact: it’s actually impossible to hear the thunderous intro to Underworld’s ‘Born Slippy’ and not immediately think of a scrawny Ewan McGregor pelting it down Princes Street in the Scottish capital.
When we think about movies, we nearly always think about music too, and this rather excellent pod is all about that marriage. In each episode, Edith Bowman sits down with a different person from the world of film (often it’s a director), who then takes us through their inspirations and creative process when choosing what music to use in their films. Excerpts of the tunes in question are seamlessly weaved into the interview, so you’ll regularly find yourself toe-tapping as you listen.
A standout ep last year saw guest Edgar Wright talking about how he chose the songs featured in Baby Driver, many of which are the original versions of tunes that have since been sampled by chart-topping artists. It’ll make you appreciate the movie even more on your next rewatch.
Try this episode: Episode 47 - Edgar Wright
Under The Skin
Best for: Knowledge seekers
It’s well-documented that Russell Brand’s proposed political revolution didn’t quite materialise in the way he hoped, but rather than moping around and rewatching his now infamous interview with Ed Miliband on YouTube, he decided to enroll himself into university and inhale the knowledge he felt he lacked.
Think of Under the Skin as his extra-curricular learning. Each week, a different person from the world of academia, pop culture or the arts sits down for a one-on-one with the comedian - but you won’t find many jokes here. Instead, the pair will deep dive into the ideas, systems and philosophies that shape our world, as they try to make sense of why things are, and if they can change.
Former guests have included Al Gore, Yuval Noah Harari, survivalist Ed Stafford, and Professor Brian Cox. It’s highbrow stuff that commands your attention - one for long train journeys rather than scrubbing the bathroom - but you’ll feel smarter for listening.
Try this episode: Episode 43 - With Professor Brian Cox
Truth & Movies: A Little White Lies Podcast
Best for: Cinephiles
One weekly James Richardson-featuring podcast not enough for you? We have good news: the man himself also sits in the hosting chair for movie mag Little White Lies’ (the one with the really pretty covers) Truth & Movies.
It’s a straightforward premise: Richardson and a couple of the magazine’s reviewers sit in a room and discuss the latest releases, and there’s always plenty of lively debate. You’re bound to find yourself passionately disagreeing with some of their opinions, but that's half the fun of pop culture. Just try not to shout at your phone in the middle of Tesco.
Try this episode: Episode 35 - Star Wars: The Last Jedi/Mountains May Depart/Brick
The Totally Football Show
Best for: Footie nuts
The most scandalous news of 2017? Not Bake Off going to Channel 4, but James Richardson walking out on The Guardian Football Weekly to set up The Totally Football Show. With a familiar bi-weekly round-up schtick and similarly turncoat contributors like James Horncastle, Michael Cox and Rafa Honigstein, this is a great pod for getting your fix of Premier League, Champions League and continental football analysis. Jimbo might have jumped ship, but The Totally Football Show is very much more of the same minus Barry and Sid. Yep, that means a cavalcade of side-splitting puns too.
Try this episode: Irish hangovers, Chinese takeovers, and the king of crumbles
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
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