Each Monday we’ll bring you our take on the best and most notable podcasts of the past week.
BEST IN SHOW
The Longform Podcast has distinguished itself by doing two things exceptionally well: booking great guests and uncovering what brought them to journalism. This week is a classic example. Aaron Lammer (who we recently had the good fortune to interview) talked to New York Times foreign correspondent Rukmini Callimachi about her journey to the ISIS beat of one of the top newspapers in the world. Callimachi is candid about making contact with terrorists, the moral dilemma of reporting hostage assassinations, and how she got from a tiny desk covering municipal meetings in Streamwood, Illinois, to the front page of the Times. The conversation was so good, Longform extended it over two episodes.
“It’s a gripping and exciting conversation, but only because Wadhwa is filled with self-righteous anger, not because we actually get the benefit of him weighing in on the accusations–or the larger discussion about how women are depicted in Silicon Valley. Much of the exchange centers on Haggerty doing her best to admit she was wrong while scrambling for a foothold in the argument.”
Read our full coverage here.
State of the Re:Union honors Black History Month by recognizing African-American art over the past century. From music to literature to culinary contributions, the show examines how this art has shaped black consciousness and reflected social movements. It also investigates the way African-Americans have seen their plights ignored and their art co-opted by a white ruling class, with a segment sampled from the Gravy podcast. This episode matters more than most notable podcasts you’ll listen to this week.
Internet scams run the gamut. Our guess is that you have your own story of someone attempting to fraud you online. And if not you, then someone close to you has been swindled. In “Love is Lies,” PJ Vogt reports on the shadier side of Internet romance. After divorcing her husband, a woman named Dallas turns to online dating. One guy in particular stands out: Dennis. He’s charming. He listens. A part of her thinks it’s too good to be true. Part cautionary tale, part instructional tape on how to be an attentive lover, it’s the kind of episode that you can spin in a few different ways. If you’ve listened closely, you might be encouraged about its findings.
We never played The Sims, but we sure heard of it. It’s a game that allows you to create a character and control its day-to-day life of eating, sleeping, working, and romancing. “Game Over” explains how people connected with The Sims Online, a version that allowed players to create meaningful social connections with other real people. It was a game that mattered to gamers, even if there were firewalls and avatars standing between them. And one day the game came crashing down for good. It’s easy to imagine The Sims as what we thought the online world was going to be at a very specific time in the Internet era. But the interests of the online community are moving targets, even if some people would rather stand in place and make do with what we already have. One day we’ll hold a Facebook eulogy, and there will be tears.
(This segment originally aired on Snap Judgment.)
Leave it to Chris Sacca to return for the season one finale of StartUp with a scene-stealing kick in the ass for Alex Blumberg. Just when you thought Gimlet could do no wrong, Sacca lets Blumberg know that true growth–the kind investors want–requires breakneck expansion and running the books deep in the red. Blumberg’s wife Nazanin is here again, too. She reminds the audience that building empires and notable podcasts comes at a cost. Clearly, their marriage isn’t the same since before Gimlet came around. “The day-to-day life that we used to have–it was easier for me,” she admits. This will be the lasting legacy of season one of StartUp. It isn’t, “Can we get this off the ground?” It’s about the decisions we’re willing to make to get to the very top of our field. Chris Sacca has set the bar as high as it will go as an opening gambit. Will Gimlet pursue that kind of billion dollar valuation or be content to be a lifestyle business?
YMRT is quickly becoming one of our favorite shows, in part because the premise is just too fun. Each week Karina Longworth digs deep into the Hollywood archive of lost stars and starlets and brings their history forward with vibrant details and outstanding storytelling. This past week we heard about Lena Horne, the first black actress to make it to the big screen as a genuine movie star. The episode is the seventh in a series showcasing actresses who contributed to the war effort during WWII, and it’s one of the best. Against the backdrop of war, we hear about racism and social injustice, with Horne seeming to rise above all of it as a resilient and self-possessed star.
The premise of Neighbors is simple, but effective. It aims to find stories where “next door hits home.” And this week’s episode perfectly captures the mission statement with a tale of how friends bond over tea. “A Ritual of Hospitality” has a soft touch, but that’s what you want from a show that basks in the sound of a kettle pouring water. You’ll probably be seduced into exploring tea culture far more than you ever imagined you would. We’re all familiar with the obsessive coffee drinker, but this is a rare look at a tea obsessive living in America–trained in China, but living in Nashville. And that’s where producer Jakob Lewis puts together his podcast. Sometimes a good story is sitting in your backyard.
If you’re a sucker for audio fiction like we are, BBC Radio 4 Drama of the Week is right up your alley. It’s an ambitious show that portrays a complicated plot with voice actors and sound effects. For the most part, it accomplishes what it sets out to do, which is allow the listener to get lost in the story the way one might watching a film or television show. This week the story centers on a woman whose son has been arrested for a heinous crime and who’s intent on clearing his name. [Spoiler alert] You’re not in for a happy ending as the show doesn’t try to spin straw into gold in this bleak tale.
You could say the editors of The Timbre are a tad bit competitive. We appreciate how a good contest raises the bar for people and can bring out their best. Third Coast has distinguished itself as the premier international audio conference and the ShortDocs Challenge is just one of the reasons why. This week the podcast showcases the winners of the last challenge, “Appetite,” in which documentarians interpreted the theme through 2-3 minute stories. From earnest takes to funny approaches, each of these notable podcasts remind us why we love radio. Would-be podcasters, start your engines, because the 2015 ShortDocs Challenge has begun. To learn about how you can enter, listen to the show or read the rules here.
We are starting a newsletter that will bring you added coverage of notable podcasts and some behind-the-scenes details about how we’re working on growing The Timbre. We planned to start it this past Sunday, but are pushing it to next Sunday to get it fully prepped and ready. Forgive us. To subscribe, sign up here.