My Castbacks

Apparently there’s a massive percentage of the population that don’t even know what a Podcast is. Well, frankly I’m glad of that, only because they should be called Audiocasts.

Podcast was no doubt taken from the first device they were widely available on, the iPod. It’s a proprietary noun like Hoover for vacuuming. Secondly, if Audiocasts are Podcasts, what are Videocasts? So that’s why I make the distinction.

However, I’m not glad that people don’t know what Audiocasts (or Podcasts) are, how they can listen to them, and more importantly the breadth and depth of content that’s out there to listen to. They aren’t just a way to educate yourself, they’re a great way to engage your mind. You can end up learning new things, laughing, crying, or just wiling away a commute or a run. I’m always listening to them when I’m running, cycling (off-road of course), or travelling.

To give you an idea of what they’re all about I’m going to tell you about the Audiocasts that I’m listening to, and see if I can entice you to try some.

Accused on the Cincinnati Enquirer
Just ten, or rather nine if you exclude the teaser, episodes from the Cincinnati Enquirer. Here’s the blurb from the official site:

When Elizabeth Andes was found murdered in her Ohio apartment in 1978, police and prosecutors decided within hours it was an open-and-shut case. Two juries disagreed. The Cincinnati Enquirer investigates: Was the right guy charged, or did a killer walk free?

It’s an interesting investigation and is well told. Complimented by some fascinating content from the investigation on the website, ranging from photos to copies of the coroner’s report.

There’s a second series which investigates the murder of Retha Welch and a wrongful conviction. It’s not quite as good as the first series, but interesting to listen to none the less. Here’s the blurb for the second series:

A soft-hearted prison minister was found killed in her Kentucky apartment, and Newport police zeroed in on an ex-convict she’d counseled. Thirty years later, the conviction is overturned and the case is once again unsolved. The Cincinnati Enquirer investigates: Was William Virgil wrongly convicted for murder?

BBC Radio 4 Analysis
One of my biggest complaints about news these days is best shown by the BBC themselves. Watch the breakfast news and you’re in for a few minutes at most on each headline of the day, a light skate across the top, move onto the next, and each five minutes recap on everything you’ve seen already before going through it again. It’s why I don’t watch it anymore.

So it’s fantastic that the BBC offers such insightful investigations into the stories currently in the headlines, or below them, and this is just one example of their extended investigations through audio. Here’s how the BBC Radio 4 Analysis describe themselves:

“Programme examining the ideas and forces which shape public policy in Britain and abroad, presented by distinguished writers, journalists and academics”

That can sound a little dry, but it isn’t. There’s insightful and knowledgeable reporting that has definitely broadened my understanding. Here are a few episodes I’d listened to when I wrote this article:

  • Detoxifying France’s National Front – Has Marine Le Pen succeeded in detoxifying the party founded by her father 40 years ago?
  • How do the SNP sell a second referendum? – Could a second referendum on Scottish independence yield a different result?
  • How Voters Decide – A two part investigation into the bias that voters bring to the ballot box, and what makes us change our minds when it comes to elections

Just like any of these audiocasts I’m discussing, you don’t have to listen to them all week after week. I refresh the list of what’s available and then download the ones that I want to listen to.

All of them have been insightful and have taught me a lot that I didn’t know about, one of the wonderful things about such programmes. Learning about why I vote the way I do and what could possibly change my mind delivered some very surprising reasons why I might have changed my mind in the past.

Breakdown on the Atlanta Journal-Constitution
Breakdown is on it’s fifth season but I don’t think it’s had the impact of the first two series. That said, they’ve never failed to be shocking and, at times, upsetting, as well as being a huge eye-opener for how the law can fail people. However, I’m not sure how any of the series could possibly have the same impact as the case in the opening series. The story of a father who was accused of murdering his infant child by leaving them in a car on a very hot day. This is one of the audiocasts that has had me crying while I’ve been running, and desperate to find out about the next episode as soon as the last has finished. It’s a definite must listen to and is right up with the best on my favourites list.

The show looks into the breakdowns in the American justice system when it fails to help the people it’s there to protect. The first two series are powerful, not just for their emotive content, but also for the twists and turns of a trial that you might mistake for having been written for the big screen.

The third series is about a doctor in America who is hit time and time again with accusations of sexual assault from patients and staff alike, but still manages to keep practising. Another shocking story.

The topics might be harrowing, but the stories are personal and incredibly easy to connect with. They are well told and not so much from the style of a reporter, but from someone who feels for the story and wants it to be told.

Chips with Everything – The Guardian
The Guardian’s audiocast “Chips with Everything” does what it says on the tin regarding technology, it covers everything from every aspect of technology. DNA testing, fake news, the tech giants, the science of technology compulsion, everything about how technology affects us. It’s good, and at times fascinating and hugely educational.

Crimetown
I was recommended this audiocast and sold on the opening premise. This is an expose of the corruption within the town of Providence through a short period of its history, and there’s a lot of corruption. Here’s the blurb from the official site which should sell if from the opening line:

Welcome to Crimetown, a new series from Gimlet Media and the creators of HBO’s The Jinx. Every season, we’ll investigate the culture of crime in a different American city. First up: Providence, Rhode Island, where organized crime and corruption infected every aspect of public life. This is a story of alliances and betrayals, of heists and stings, of crooked cops and honest mobsters—a story where it’s hard to tell the good guys from the bad guys.

That’s a damn good write-up, especially considering how good The Jinx was, and it’s right. You can’t tell the good guys from the bad, or the bad from the good. Every episode and mini-story from Providence is fascinating, even the bonus episodes they kept coming up with. It feels like an audio version of a real life Goodfellas, and the guys who tell the stories seem to be great researchers and are definitely passionate about their subject. You want more, and there’s more coming as they’ve selected a new town for the next series. Well worth listening to, a fantastic and addictive series.

Criminal
This is an utterly fascinating series which looks at all aspects of criminality, not the standard topics you’d expect from an investigation of crime, anything but. It’s one of the audiocasts that when new episodes are downloaded I push right to the top of my playlist so I can listen to it next. There’s not a single episode that’s sitting queued for more than thirty minutes play time, just enough to complete the audiocast I’m currently listening to.

The site for Criminal is littered with great quotes with glowing reviews and recommendations. They’re all right. The host also has a fantastic voice to listen to, she’s soothing and calming even when the subject matter is relatively upsetting, she’s very real and draws you right in to the story.

The episodes range from interviewing the support group for mothers of murdered children to the story of how the milk carton missing children began. From the story of the men who may or may not have escaped from Alcatraz, to that of the owner of a truck stop who keeps a Siberian tiger and how people want to make it illegal. They are all fascinating, and look at people in all aspects of criminality. Another must download.

Discovery – BBC World Service
Discovery is pretty easy to describe, although then again it isn’t. Here’s what it says on the site:

Explorations in the world of science.

That’s it. However that’s everything, absolutely everything, and while I don’t listen to them all, I read the blurbs and download the interesting ones. The mini-series of “The Curious Cases of Rutherford and Fry” is great fun to listen to as seemingly simple science based questions are investigated by two doctors who are hilarious together.

There’s something for everyone in this series and at the same time it’s interesting, eye-opening and you’ll learn so many new things about, well, everything. One day they’re telling you why some songs stick in your head, then they’re talking to quantum scientists who are hoping to bring Schrodinger’s cat to life. Yes, really.

File on 4
BBC again with their File on 4 which, as they describe it, is an…

Award-winning current affairs documentary series investigating major issues at home and abroad

They carry out some hugely worthwhile investigations. Drugs in sport, online grooming, care home investigations, pensions, rehabilitation. Something for everyone! Yes, it can be tough going at times, but it manages to get right behind the headlines and tell more of the story, often the human side of the story, compressed into those short attention spanned headlines.

From Our Own Correspondent
I must admit this is my least listened to audiocast when looking at episode counts, but that’s because I scan for the stories that I’m really interested in, usually because there’s so much to listen to. When you see the BBC News and a foreign correspondent presents a five minute piece you don’t think about the days, weeks, perhaps even months they’ve spent investigating the story. This audiocast allows these correspondents to tell something more behind their headline, or perhaps a story they’ve discovered while getting the big scoop for the headline. It’s an insight, or rather a collection of insights and personal stories with each episode. You’ll be leaping from country to country throughout each episode, and guided along on the journey by a familiar voice of news.

Invisibilia
Here’s another compelling and wide reaching audiocast, and another that regularly leaps up my playlist when the episodes come in. This is about you, about what makes you the way you are or how society is shaped.

Unseeable forces control human behavior and shape our ideas, beliefs, and assumptions. Invisibilia—Latin for invisible things—fuses narrative storytelling with science that will make you see your own life differently.

It does, it really does. This one feels a lot like Criminal. It’s accessible, personal, insightful and really fascinating. I can’t even begin to describe some of the episodes, but if anything about how we behave the way we do interests you, get into this audiocast.

Let’s Talk About Tech
S-Town
Serial
Story Grid
The Forum
The Guardian Long Read
The Guardian’s Science Weekly
The Infinite Monkey Cage
The Inquiry
The Report
UK Confidential
Untold: The Daniel Morgan Murder