Podcasts are fantastic. They have the flexibility of music and the immersion of television. Audio dramas harken back to a time long gone by, when families would tune into the radio each evening for the next episode of the serial. Here, I’ve gathered some of my favourite story-based podcasts which leave listeners spellbound.
“Welcome to Night Vale” follows the radio station of a small town where “the sun is hot, the moon is beautiful, and mysterious lights pass overhead while we all pretend to sleep”. Cecil Baldwin narrates, along with some supremely talented guests like Dylan Marron and Mara Wilson. Librarians are contorted into fearsome monsters and listeners are reminded that no dogs are allowed in the dog park – delivering deadpan magical realism. Suspension of disbelief is not just useful here: it is vital to engage with the podcast. This is one of the most popular productions, with two books (“Welcome to Night Vale” and “It Devours!”) and a string of sold-out, international live shows. The podcast may seem fantastical or ridiculous but the stories are surprisingly human – Steve Carlsberg’s familial devotion, the growth of Cecil’s infatuation, and the grief of Huntokar are all emotions we can recognise (even if we don’t fully understand the surreal setting).
“The Bright Sessions” is what would happen if superheroes had therapy. Sam seems to have an incredible ability but cannot utilise it – when she panics, she goes to another place and time, with no idea when she will return. Caleb, an empath, is exhausted by the emotions of others at school. Chloe is hearing voices. Dr Bright – their blunt but warmhearted therapist – is trying to help but has intriguing motivations. Her recordings of these therapy sessions form the basis of the podcast. It is the characters which really make this witty and touching audio drama worthwhile. Created by Lauren Shippen, this production is currently being developed into a TV show.
“Myths and Legends” has a pretty explanatory title – it explores myths (and legends) from various cultures with a witty and conversational tone, displaying the bizarre and interesting aspects. Stories from Egyptian, Indian, Chinese and English folklore are told. Each episode is excellently sourced and narrated. Unknown myths are illuminated while new angles are discovered in classic tales. It’s like having a drink with your smarter, very talkative friend and feeling incredibly educated afterwards. The “Creature of the Week” segment at the end of each episode is hilarious. This week? The antlion, which is the product of a mummy ant and a daddy lion loving each other very much.
“Kakos Industries” aims to “do evil better”. This podcast follows corporate announcements from Corin Deeth III, the CEO of Kakos Industries, a company which helps to produce evil. You are a shareholder – even if you don’t want to be – so are entitled to hear the monthly announcements which chronicle the highs and lows of the company. This tongue-in-cheek, macabre podcast questions morality with a wink and an innuendo. The “Ruin-A-Life Drawing” in each episode brings a level of humorous weirdness rarely seen in modern media, as cruel and strange punishments are doled out.
“Hello From the Magic Tavern” follows the adventures of Arnie, who fell through an inter-dimensional portal behind a Burger King’s into a magical land called Foon which somehow still has wifi. From the tavern the Vermillion Minotaur, Arnie interviews the magical creatures he meets. This long-form improvisation is weird, wacky, and wonderful. “Usidore, Wizard of the 12th Realm of Ephysiyies, Master of Light and Shadow, Manipulator of Magical Delights, Devourer of Chaos, Champion of the Great Halls of Terr’akkas. The elves know me as Fi’ang Yalok. The dwarves know me as Zoenen Hoogstandjes. And I am also known in the Northeast as Gaismunēnas Meistar.” (as he introduces himself at the start of each episode) and “Chunt the Talking Badger” are amusing sidekicks.
So, what are your favourite podcasts? Do you have any recommendations?