State of the Podcast Nation

I’ve got a “currently active” list of 38 podcasts I follow, and another 10 still followed but “inactive” according to whatever criteria Overcast applies. I’ve found it a bit of a mixed year. Some long-followed podcasts became irritating to me this year, so I unsubscribed; some that I downloaded just to sample surprised me by being quite listenable and became permanent fixtures.

I often hear prominent podcasters say that they don’t have time to listen to podcasts themselves, which is a classic warning sign. But there have been weeks this year when the list piled up, and were it not for my insomnia I definitely might not have had time.

  • The BBC’s offerings remain a mixed bag. The Witch Farm from the Uncanny stable was a bit long-winded, though not without interest. The Limelight strand of youth-oriented SF/Thrillers often missed the mark. I know that the BBC has to somehow reach a younger demographic, but they won’t do it by firing off this trash. And the recent The Dark is Rising, which I was honestly really looking forward to, was a bit rubbish. I often complain when the BBC use grown-ass women to play young boys, but in this case maybe they should’ve. The young voice actor was frankly terrible. Or maybe it was just the script.
  • My favourite podcasts of the year were those that gave me a reassuring, warm feeling of being in safe hands. That list includes Beatles Books with Joe Wisbey, who is an excellent interviewer; The Big Beatles Sort Out with Garry and Paul Abbott who make you feel as if you’re in the room with two brothers, which you are; LeVar Burton Reads; And Nothing is Real with Jason Carty and Stephen Cockroft, who remain the best of the Beatles podcasters. Other Beatles podcasts are available (and on my list).
  • Two podcasts surprised me by becoming staples. The first is The Rest is History with Tom Holland and Dominic Sandbrook. I really wasn’t expecting to enjoy this as much as I do. It’s very frequent: at least two a week, which might have been too much but wasn’t. And they do sometimes get lost in feeling pleased with themselves. That said, they have a lot to be pleased about. Like Omnibus, two presenters means that one of them takes the lead each episode while the other supplies the comment. It’s always fascinating, and while I would never want to meet any of their other listeners, for some reason I really enjoy a good history podcast. The other surprising listen is The News Agents, which is made by three BBC refugees. I wasn’t sure I would like it, but actually everything we’ve been saying about the BBC for years turns out to be true. Once out from under the BBC’s blanket of fear, these journalists can be incisive, intelligent, and ruthless in pursuing the truth. And none of your artificial “both sides” debates.
  • But the greatest and most gripping listen of the year was probably The Teacher’s Trial, the long-awaited denouement in the Lynette Dawson murder case, with the guilty party finally brought to book. The reporting from the trial as it went on was excellent, and the storytelling, as ever, was sensitive and robust.

And that’s it. I’m not naming any names in terms of those who irritated me this year, though I came close to deleting two entire podcasts from my feed because of one person. If it wasn’t for his co-hosts…

Finally, just to mention that I have a couple of podcasts myself. One is my fiction podcast, in which I read some of the stuff I’ve written over the years. Currently, I’m near the end of The Wake Knot. The other is the Beatles-related podcast I did with my daughter Elodie, The Lonely Hearts Clubhouse, which is about all the characters gathered on the cover of Sgt Pepper. It’s quite fun, and as an intergenerational father-daughter podcast, maybe a bit different. And if you do listen, maybe drop us a review/rating?

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