A Feast o’ Podcasts

Here’s a selection of new things I’ve been listening to lately.

Roanoke Falls – I tried to listen to this but it does seem to be muddled about American colonial history. It’s an attempt to present a creepy supernatural tale set in Roanoke, which was the site of the first attempt to found an English colony in North America. Famously, all of the colonists disappeared, leaving a single word carved into the palisade: CROATOAN.

I remember reading an account of this lost colony in the 1973 book that accompanied the landmark television series Alistair Cooke’s America: A Personal History of the United States, which was broadcast in 1972. I’m also an Americanist with a PhD in American studies, so this show never stood a chance with me. The problem is that the writers have transplanted Salem-like Puritanism and obsession with signs, portents and witchcraft to Roanoke Island, North Carolina, about 700 miles south of Massachussets. The difference is between the excluded religious fringe and the English mainstream, represented by commercial interests and Sir Walter Raleigh. But the tenor of this podcast drama is that the people settling in North Carolina are the same as the religionists much further north and 30 years later.

Am I Normal with Mona Chalabi is one of those chatty podcasts (like Bex Lindsay’s Getting Emotional), which asks questions about everyday life and habits. Each episode starts with a question (e.g. How many friends do I need?) and the presenter then talks to experts and crunches the numbers. The episodes are short, breezy, and engaging.

Bad Women: The Ripper Retold is a deep dive by Hallie Rubenhold into the supposed victims of the hypothetical Jack the Ripper, and for once the focus is on the women rather than the mysterious killer. It’s an excellent social history, which opens your eyes to the way victims of crime are often dismissed and or blamed, and there is real beef with the Ripper Industry, that army of true crime authors who have been raking over the Ripper story for over 100 years, and do not like their assumptions being challenged.

Downstream is Jason Snell’s replacement for the late TV Talk Machine podcast. His new co-presenter is television industry expert Julia Alexander. It’s what you should listen to in order to keep up with developments in the world of TV streaming, and a good adjunct to the Radio Times podcast, having more of an international flavour.

Foundation: The Official Podcast is advertised at the beginning of every Foundation episode. While I’ve grown disenchanted with the TV series (apart from scenes featuring Jared Harris, who is the only reason to watch), it’s still great listening to the show’s creators talking about the writing and production — a subject that is far more interesting than the end result.

The Radio Times Podcast is presented by Jane Garvey and Rhianna Dhillon and will keep you up to date with UK television, with discussion and interviews. It really is just like The Radio Times brought to audio life, only without the obligatory interview at the back with an actor who expects us to watch them on TV but would never watch it themselves.

Uncanny is a BBC show from the creator of The Battersea Poltergeist, this time taking in stories of hauntings and sightings submitted by listeners. I really enjoy this kind of thing. I’ve very little interest in most aspects of the horror genre (monsters, zombies, deranged killers etc) but I do like a good spooky story, and some of these are really interesting. It is fascinating to hear from living witnesses to such things as haunted university dorm rooms, and to judge for yourself how credible it all is.

Finally, a shout-out to my youngest daughter who has started presenting a weekly Beatles-related radio show on her university radio station. You can only listen live at the moment, so I can’t link to a download, but I couldn’t be prouder. She’s taking the Sgt Pepper cover, character by character, and doing an episode on each. So far she’s talked about Aleister Crowley, Mae West, Lenny Bruce, and Karlheinz Stockhausen. She’s still in the early days and still learning how to operate the studio (very little training was given), but it’s – ahem – getting better all the time.

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