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Welcome to a special edition of Inside Podcasting. For this newsletter, I asked a few of our friends in the podcasting community for recommendations on what to binge over the winter break (their answers are organized alphabetically, by last name). After reading, please hit reply and let me know what shows topped your list this year -- I'd love to hear from you!
— Skye Pillsbury, writer, Inside Podcasting
1. Everything is Alive
Everything is Alive is brilliant. It’s a good reminder that a really simple, good idea is all you need in this world.
-- Jody Avirgan, host, ESPN Films and senior producer, 30 for 30 Podcasts
2. The Bill Simmons Podcast
The Bill Simmons Podcast hits the intersection of sports, pop culture and more. He is smart, entertaining, informative and funny. His guests are a who’s who of sports and entertainment.
-- Spencer Brown, CEO, Cadence13
3. Articles of Interest
The Articles of Interest miniseries from 99% Invisible is a rare combination of exemplary storytelling, great sound design and political purpose. Lots of podcasts these days are great at making a story sound compelling and lovely to listen to, but few nail the fundamental question of why we should care. Here, host Avery Trufelman leads six episodes that look at the inner workings of fashion and clothing, covering topics from the way safety restricts the design of kids' garments to the evolution of punk style. Once you finish listening, you'll want to go right back to the beginning and start again.
-- Caroline Crampton, writer, Hot Pod and host, Shedunnit
4. Family Ghosts
Family Ghosts is a show which I, admittedly, had a hand in making, but that is indeed perfect for the holiday season. Sam Dingman, your Ghost Host, compiled true stories that haunt our family histories – from a house fire that started under questionable circumstances to an aunt that stole a grandfather’s body. Family Ghosts is filled with tape that will haunt and make you laugh. Cry but make you smile. In that way, it is not dissimilar from our own families.
-- Jayson De Leon, producer, What Next
5. The History Chicks
I love The History Chicks by Susan Vollenweider and Beckett Graham. Lively, fun, deeply researched conversations about fascinating women from Cleopatra to Georgia O’Keefe. You think you know their stories but you don’t.
-- Liz Dolan, co-host, Safe For Work
6. A Very Fatal Murder
This true crime podcast parody from The Onion is super quick to binge and hilarious all the way through. The humor can be pretty dark and deadpan, but it makes for a perfectly over-the-top satire of how far journalists will go to get a juicy story.
-- Cameron Drews, producer, Who Runs That? and You Must Remember This
I blew through the four-part series Powerline from Outside/In, about the Canadian hydropower producer Hydro-Quebec. This is a story about energy and politics, but also history and power -- literal and figurative. Yes, a four-part series about hydropower can be binge-able!
-- Elah Feder, co-host, Undiscovered
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8. The Shadows
Nobody out there is doing what Kaitlin Prest is doing. If you liked Blue is the Warmest Color, I bet you'll like The Shadows. It's got the drama and existentialist human foibles of a feminist French indie film, and even though it's fiction, it feels vivid and intimate to the point of being uncomfortable, sometimes. Like, it pushes the boundaries and possibilities of the hidden whisper-it-in-my-ear sexiness of our genre. Plus do not miss its beautiful precursor.
-- Stephanie Foo, producer, This American Life
The conceit of Shedunnit is one of the reasons I love the podcast medium so much -- it allows for a specific, niche topic that might be a graduate thesis play out in your ears and expand your knowledge in just 20 minutes. In this case, I've already learned so much more about the sociological undercurrents of the golden age of detective fiction.
-- Dana Gerber-Margie, co-editor, Bello Collective
10. Slow Burn
A spellbinding breakdown of modern political history, through a contemporary lens. You think you understand the Clinton/Lewinsky scandal? You seriously don’t.
-- Brooke Gladstone, host, On The Media
11. 30 for 30 Podcasts, Bikram
The prevalent sports documentary and podcast brand under ESPN departed a bit from their episodic format to produce a serialized podcast about the sordid history of the once-popular fitness regime, Bikram yoga. Without giving too much away, founder Bikram Choudhury used his power, fame, and influence to prey on some of his female followers. The podcast rings exceptionally strong in the middle of the #MeToo movement.
-- Kevin Goldberg, founder, Discover Pods
12. Why Won't You Date Me
This is a very different show than the one I make, but I love it. It is funny and honest, and it makes everyone’s dating problems feel both interesting and normal at the same time.
-- Kalila Holt, producer, Heavyweight
I had an incredible experience listening to S-Town. I was at a wedding, the only single person there - and spent the whole time walking around the wedding listening to this disturbing, sad, and very human story about an incredible person who seemed lost in time and place.
-- Andrew Jenks, host and writer, What Really Happened?
14. The Unspoken Podcast
I recommend The Unspoken Podcast -- specifically, this conversation with James Beard award winning chef and New York Times best-selling author, Sean Brock. For decades, Brock experienced massive success in his career while simultaneously experiencing a massive decline in how he took care of his physical and mental states. This conversation contains hard realities and hope-filled truths as Sean continues to live soberly, grow his family, and rebuild his career.
-- Nick Laparra, host, Let’s Give A Damn and director, The Human Gathering
15. Rumble Strip
Erica Heilman’s Rumble Strip is one of the only podcasts in the United States that consistently brings listeners into the lives of so-called “ordinary” Americans: people who live outside the urban media centers on the coasts. Every episode of the show sounds like the audio equivalent of large format portrait photography, with subjects telling intimate, urgent stories from New England farmhouses, crowded coffee shops, mental health wards, cheerleading practices, and even a roadside attraction called “The Museum of Everyday Life.”
-- Rob McGinley Myers, host, Before It Had a Theme
Believed is about the crimes of Larry Nassar, who sexually abused scores of young gymnasts for years under the guise of caring for them. But this gutting and relentless show doesn't just recount what happened -- it shows why so many people, including the parents of girls he abused, fell for Nassar's act, and forces listeners to confront the power of trust, delusion, and motivated reasoning in the face of evil.
-- Leon Neyfakh, co-creator of Slow Burn and the forthcoming Fiasco
17. Love + Radio
I recommend Love + Radio. I love this podcast because it specializes in slowly and delicately revealing weird and challenging stories to listeners. It requires patience and curiosity. And I love that. The Love + Radio team is also very good at breaking the rules of documentary audio in profound and spectacular ways.
-- Andrew J. Parsons, former producer of Slow Burn; executive producer, Fiasco
18. The Anthropocene Reviewed
A collection of personal essays disguised as reviews on different aspects of the anthropocene — that is, the geological period defined by human existence — John Green’s latest podcast project is a gorgeous treat. They almost have the feeling of sermons, which feels strangely revelatory.
-- Nick Quah, founder, Hot Pod
19. Slow Burn
I find myself listening to the second season of Slow Burn about the Clinton Affair whenever I have a spare moment. I think I’m on my third repeat? Anyway, it’s gorgeously and vividly written, and I love how Neyfakh tugs at threads that echo with the present moment without being didactic. I discover a new moment each time I listen.
-- Kimmie Regler, senior producer, The Cut on Tuesdays
20. Reply All
My favorite repeat feature on any podcast is the game "Yes, Yes, No," on Reply All, a podcast about surviving the internet age. In "Yes, Yes, No", the hosts slowly unpack a seemingly incomprehensible tweet until they reveal the rich, absurdist layers of internet culture embedded in those 280 characters or less. It is somehow both escapist and bizarre fun and a scathing anthropological exploration of our digital existence. For a good laugh, start with Reply All episode #58 - Earth Pony.
-- Lee Rowland, host, At Liberty
21. Binge Mode
Very appropriately, for a holiday binge, I recommend Binge Mode. The brilliant co-hosts Mallory Rubin and Jason Concepcion dive deep into some of the biggest, most beloved stories of our time. I especially love their discussions of Game of Thrones, and most recently, Harry Potter.
-- Gretchen Rubin, host, Happier with Gretchen Rubin
22. Binge Mode
Recently I've been listening to Binge Mode, as they tackle the Harry Potter book series (previously they've dissected Game of Thrones). They assume you've read all the books/watched all the movies, so it's about reliving the magic (!) and thinking about the story arcs and structure within the series. So yes, it's A1 nerdy. But in a way that is delightful. Think fantasy freaks, not Bitcoin bros.
-- Kaitlyn Sawrey, senior producer, Science Vs.
23. The Jackie and Laurie Show
I’ve got to recommend The Jackie and Laurie Show, a podcast from seasoned standup comedians Jackie Kashian and Laurie Kilmartin where each week they have candid, inside conversations about the world of standup and their places in it. They’re both unceasingly funny and love to heckle each other about boring stories or bad jokes.
-- Daniel Schroeder, producer, The Gist and Outward
24. Red Rhino
Red Rhino has heart, humor, and heroism, but the thing that really sets it apart for me is how it's able to capture the feeling of a comic book in audio form. It's breaking the mold and bringing the feels and I'm so happy I'm living in the timeline where this podcast exists.
-- Lauren Shippen, creator, The Bright Sessions
25. Welcome to L.A.
Man I loved this series. The dopey culture of a city and the moving stories behind them. Hoping David Weinberg does more.
-- Dan Taberski, creator and host, Headlong
If you’re in the mood for some serious news action this holiday season, I recommend The New York Times’ Caliphate. It’s a deeply reported series by Rukmini Callimachi about the Islamic State and it is fascinating.
-- Kathy Tu, co-host, Nancy
27. Bear Brook
I'm from New Hampshire, so I listen to everything that comes out of New Hampshire Public Radio. When they began releasing their new true crime series Bear Brook in October, I was instantly hooked, and I don't even like true crime. This six part series travels from New Hampshire to California and back again, spanning the '80s, 90's and today, and in the process forever changes how murders are investigated. Perfect for a holiday travel binge.
-- Jeff Umbro, founder, The Podglomerate
28. On the Media
On the Media has always been a vital show for understanding ‘how the media shapes our worldview.’ But especially now, with the current administration in power, OTM is by far the best companion for making sense of today's media circus.
-- Mooj Zadie, host, Tape
This newsletter was written and curated by podcast junkie and recovered publicist, Skye Pillsbury. Over the years, Skye has crafted digital media strategies for brands like Yahoo! and Microsoft and worked regularly with media outlets such as the New York Times, Rolling Stone and NPR. Skye was famous for 49 minutes when she and her son were featured in an episode of Gimlet Media’s Heavyweight podcast. Follow her on Twitter @SkyePillsbury.
Editing team: Lon Harris (editor-in-chief at Inside.com, game-master at Screen Junkies), Krystle Vermes (breaking news editor at Inside, B2B marketing news reporter, host of the "All Day Paranormal" podcast), and Susmita Baral (editor at Inside, recent bylines in NatGeo, Teen Vogue, and Quartz. Runs the biggest mac and cheese account on Instagram).