The 24 best podcasts of 2016

Forget binge-watching – it's all about binge-listening these days, and here's your feast...

Turn on the radio these days and 99 percent of the time you might as well be shovelling 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…

The Mysterious Secrets of Uncle Bertie’s Botanarium

Best for: Production values

The name Jermaine Clement, of Flight of the Conchords fame, might be the thing that draws your attention to this, but it’s the awesome sound design that justifies its US$4.99 per month Howl subscription. The surreal seafaring story is marvellously brought to life by location-recorded effects, music by the artist Lawrence Arabia and memorable voices and accents.

It’s best listened to with headphones, to catch all the action happening ‘off-stage’. What you might not hear, however, is the sound of your own laughter. The writing is slick, the plot and characters superbly silly, but somehow Uncle Bertie’s Botanarium fails to be as listenable and endlessly quotable as, say, The Mighty Boosh. Or, indeed, Conchords.

Try this episode: Episode 1: Cheese Dreams in Gravy Isles

Shut Up & Sit Down

Best for: Board game buzz

If you think a podcast about board games sounds like the perfect sleep aid for a long-haul flight, ‘SU&SD’ will change your mind. Its three mega-informed hosts discuss the design and mechanics of board games with such frenetic enthusiasm that you can’t help but go and pre-order their latest role-playing recommendation.

They have a background in video games too, so expect some fascinating chat about the frequent crossover between the two (and the people who make them). But this is ultimately about the tactile, social joy of the tabletop game and why it’s good to occasionally switch off your PS4 to revel in a game of Dead of Winter.

Try this episode: Podcast #35: Rebellion in an Airport

No Such Thing As A Fish

Best for: Trivia pursuers

Looking for some emergency trivia bombs to fill your next awkward silence? This weekly, 40-minute show from the Q.I’s research team is here to arm you up. The four hosts take it in turns to reveal their favourite fact from the past week, with each one prodded and probed until it flowers into a ‘quite interesting’ conversation.

The effect is similar to clicking on ‘random’ on Wikipedia – think subjects like ferret copulation and postbox design – so it’s a bit like listening to a vodka-fuelled edition of ‘In Our Time’. But the next time your dinner party chat turns to aircraft carriers, you’ll be ready to chime in with a mesmerising fact about how they work.

Try this episode: Episode 72: No Such Thing As A Bacon Telescope

Alice Isn’t Dead

Best for: Creeping yourself out

You want weird? You’ve got weird! This is the story of one woman driving a truck across the United States in search of a wife she previously thought dead. On the way she encounters some sort of deadly man/creature who seems intent on stopping her and apparently has the police on his side.

The whole story is narrated by the woman via the truck’s CB radio, which enhances the already eerie, other-worldly nature of the events described. Probably one to listen to during the commute rather than in bed - assuming you want to avoid the chills.  

Try this episode: 1: Omelet

Final Games

Best for: Next level gamers

Taking its cue from Desert Island Discs, Final Games puts games industry veterans in a similarly uninhabited but somehow electrically-powered place and asks them to explain which eight games they’d choose to take with them.

Ex-Rockstar employee Liam Edwards hosts from the floor of his Japanese apartment, talking to journalists and developers across the world about the games that have defined them, influenced them or got them into the games industry in the first place. Key episodes include Bastion designer Greg Kasavin discussing why DOTA 2 is the perfect video game and journalist Rich Stanton talking about cult classic God Hand while explaining why a major outlet’s 2/10 review was way off the mark.

Try this episode: Episode 16: Greg Kasavin (Bastion / Transistor)


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, 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