Curious about the 2017 debuts that stuck with me last year (and beyond)? Here’s my list from 2017.
When I look back at the hundreds of shows and thousands of episodes I heard this year, the standouts were the ones that spoke directly to new audiences, that looked at an aspect of the world differently, or that took me out of this one completely.
While narrowing down this selection, I kept on arranging and rearranging the debuts to include a well-rounded set of shows that said something about the broader landscape of podcasts as well as my listening for 2018. I wanted to rep the ongoing shows that I loved, the standalone series I couldn’t stop talking about, my new-found appreciation for fiction podcasts, so I opted to include a runner-up for each selection, since it allowed me to expand upon the themes I heard (and were happy to see) this year. In alphabetical order:
70 Million (Lantigua Williams & Co)
When I listen to 70 Million, it feels like the most natural extension of my own start to podcast listening in public radio. It’s high-quality local reporting with a focus on national solutions and importantly, spurs action.
Runner-up for emotional, impactful, first-hand narratives about criminal justice: New England Innocence Project’s Mass Exoneration.
Articles of Interest (99% Invisible)
This is a trend I hope to see more of in the coming year: a podcast within a podcast, or rather, podcast creators thinking hard about whether or not an amazing series is best a stand-alone or incorporated into another existing podcast feed. Avery Trufelman’s deep-dive into clothing (and fashion, and identity, and environmentalism…) is done with the same care as 99% Invisible’s usual fare, and brings a new voice and style to the mic.
Runner-up for examining personal cultural significance in the material things we hold dear: Business Insider’s Household Name.
Believed (Michigan Radio & NPR)
I didn’t think I had it in me to hear this much about Larry Nassar, and yet… I heard all but the last episode of Believed over two days of driving, and I could Not. Stop. Listening. To these women, and their parents, and the lawyers and detectives and everyone else involved with the telling of this story. (And that last episode? I didn’t realize it hadn’t dropped yet, which I refused to believe as I continued to refresh the feed on every pit stop along the way til I got home.)
Runner-up for no-nonsense storytelling about horrifying, makes-you-want-to-throw-things experiences: KUOW’s Battle Tactics for Your Sexist Workplace.
Buick City 1AM (Jason Cady)
A time-traveling historical fiction, interspersed with modern operatic numbers. This show signals something important to me: podcasts + experimental arts organizations = exciting creative podcast partnership possibilities.
Runner-up for opera related history past and future: Glimmerglass Festival and WFMT’s Breaking Glass.
The Cut on Tuesdays (Gimlet)
I’ve had at least half dozen women say to me “Are you listening to The Cut on Tuesdays? I didn’t know I needed this podcast until I heard it.” And I wholly agree. The same whip-smart interviews, analysis, and conversations I’ve long looked to The Cut to provide is now weekly in podcast form. (It’s Tuesday, so you betcha this next episode is queued up. Sidenote: I’ve listened to more interviews with Samin Nosrat than anyone else this year. Get THAT woman a podcast, stat.)
Runner-up for long-standing publication that knows its audience and tells great stories: AARP’s The Perfect Scam.
Disgraceland (Jake Brennan)
You know when a photo is taken with a flash way too close to someone’s face and things get scary, distorted, and surreal? Disgraceland is that in-your-face, spotlight-shining, too-close-for-comfort, basement-grimy look at the bad boys and girls of rock & roll.
Runner-up for gritty, impeccably told stories about larger-than-life (and true) characters: USA Today’s The City.
Dream Diary (Lewis Denby)
This podcast was out and wrapped in January, which made it my first entry into my list of contenders for 2018. It appeared on my radar as many do: the podcaster wrote to us to add their podcast to RadioPublic (hey, do that thing: after verifying your podcast on RadioPublic, fill out the new shows & seasons prompt on your podcast’s dashboard to let us know about your show’s debut), I pressed play to sample, and then an hour later I was anxiously awaiting the next episode.
Runner-up for in-depth pop culture narratives: Slate’s Decoder Ring.
Heat and Light (The Conversation)
1968 was a tumultuous year in America, and each episode of Heat and Light looks at a particular flashpoint moment through interviews with historical researchers.
Runner-up for an in-depth look at a particular moment in history: APM Reports & The Smithsonian’s Order 9066.
Hollywood in Color (Diana Martinez)
I regret not studying nearly as much film history in college than I could have, so Hollywood in Color is my delayed return to my classrooms of yore: short series on different silver screen performers that haven’t spent much time in the spotlight til now.
Runner-up for beautifully narrated history of behind-the-scenes stories in popular media: Caroline Crampton’s Shedunnit.
The Interview (Crown Booth Productions)
An audio drama from Uganda with the intensity, sound design, and breath-taking tension of a great action film. It’s also one of only a few audio drama podcasts I heard this year that didn’t rely on a framing tactic to explain the audio nature of the story, which made it stand out all the more: things happen and we listeners are figuring it out as the story goes on. I also appreciated the daily release schedule of this series, and that by the end, the door was left open to a sequel in the future.
Runner-up for dark, workplace drama: Donna Barrow-Green’s The Diarist.
Maculate Conception (Abbe & Isaac Feder, Starburns Audio)
There’s an incredible amount of reflection in Abbe and Isaac’s personal narrative, in no small part because of what they’ve been through so far with their IVF treatments. They’re fast-talking and funny, and this whole podcast is woven together with their love for each other.
Runner-up for an emotional diary of a long, hard personal experience: ABC Australia’s No Feeling Is Final.
Meat + Three (Heritage Radio Network)
Heritage Radio Network is wildly prolific with their all-things-food productions, and their newest show Meat + Three taps into that wealth of audio creations and knowledge and condenses it for a podcast listener with a varied diet. Each episode has a theme, then they cherry-pick three stories from across the network that explores a different aspect of it in-depth.
Runner-up for brand-extension podcast that use internal expertise: Trader Joe’s Inside Trader Joe’s.
The Naked Podcast (BBC)
The Naked Podcast isn’t your standard interview podcast: their approach to cutting straight to the vulnerable, hard-hitting questions is to strip down and bare everything right there in the studio, hosts and guests alike.
Runner-up for a show that get up close and personal with ourselves: Allison Berhinger’s Bodies.
Pants on Fire (Gen-Z Media)
My look every time I’m listening to Pants on Fire: huge grin plastered on my face, head cocked in that listening intently pose. Yes, this show is about real-live human children figuring out fact from fiction, but this grown-up kiddo digs this show every single week, without fail.
Runner-up for a family-friendly game show starring a kid that pits two awesome things against each other in a debate: APM’s Smash Boom Best.
Personal Best (CBC)
Being a person is such a struggle, and on the days where it feels particularly difficult, I have Personal Best’s mentality of approaching problems with fun, creativity, and unique solutions to tide me over.
Runner-up for elevating mundane things into extraordinary stories: Radiotopia’s Everything Is Alive.
Recut (Louisville Public Media)
My long-standing love for all things local and my home state aside, I appreciate this approach to taking the local journalistic talent around Louisville Public Media and have them dig deeper into their reporting of a particular story that aligns with national narratives.
Runner-up for local flavor with universal interest: WDIV-Local 4 and Graham Media Group’s You Have A Friend In Detroit.
Tai Asks Why (CBC)
I fell in love with ultra-wise and thoughtful Tai during the first season of Sleepover. Seems like others did too, which is why Tai is back with his own show about life’s big questions. This is another trend I hope to see more of: a talented guest on a podcast spawning their own show – not spinoff, but standalone awesome show.
Runner-up for reflecting on another of life’s biggest mysteries with a cross-over host: Criminal & Radiotopia’s This is Love.
ZigZag (Stable Genius Productions & Radiotopia)
Two women building a media business and teaching us about blockchain through song? They had me at hello. Season one is more of a Startup-esque journey, season two harks back to what I loved about Note to Self: looking at our changing relationships to tech, media, and trust.
Runner-up for women starting podcast businesses: LemonDrop Media’s Loud Ladies.
Need more podcast debuts from this year? RadioPublic’s 2018 in (Podcast) Retrospect is now live!