10 podcasts that stood out in 2018
With an estimated half-million podcasts to choose from, it shouldn’t be so hard finding one or two that are binge-worthy. But that’s the problem: The overabundance is overwhelming, so much so that Pandora is piloting a new tool that will find podcasts for you, just as it does with music.
Making those decisions harder still are the dozens of new podcasts that multiply by the week. This year the Globe alone introduced three: “Gladiator,” a look at the life and death of Patriots tight end Aaron Hernandez; “Last Seen,” a retelling of the unsolved heist of 13 irreplaceable artworks from the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum; and “Love Letters” by Globe columnist Meredith Goldstein.
While we might not match Pandora in guessing your interests, we have chosen 10 new podcasts from 2018 that are worth a listen — and maybe even a commitment to subscribe. Let’s start in New Hampshire.
This one from New Hampshire Public Radio has made a few best-of lists, including the New Yorker’s, with good reason. Its focus on “two barrels, four bodies, and an enigmatic killer” is more than just another well-done true-crime tale. Reporter Jason Moon goes beyond the news stories you may have read in the Globe as he takes listeners on his cross-country journey to understand how the novel use of DNA testing and genealogy solved this 30-year-old cold case. That approach is changing the way murders everywhere are being investigated. We binged the show’s six episodes and are awaiting the promised updates.
A lot of us will mark Jan. 1 with resolutions that will be forgotten by March. “Personal Best,” from CBC, might give you the encouragement you need to stay the course. Hosts Andrew Norton and producer Rob Norman take a funny and fun approach to helping regular folks make good on their goals. And maybe their “whackadoo” strategies will become your strategies. Check out the “Jeffin” episode featuring a woman who lacks the courage to cancel plans, and then is forced to cancel 21 commitments arranged by the show in one hour. It’s a painful listen at first.
Standoff: What Happened
at Ruby Ridge
How does an investigation into the sale of two sawed-off shotguns escalate into an 11-day siege and the deaths of three people, including a 14-year-old and a federal agent? “Standoff,” a podcast from Slate about white separatist Randy Weaver and his battle with the FBI, tries to answer that question through interviews with key players and a fresh look at his criminal trial. Spoiler: Weaver is ultimately acquitted on murder and assault charges. But that makes the “how was this possible?” question all the more inescapable.
Uncover: Escaping NXIVM
Before they landed in a New York federal courtroom on charges of sex trafficking and racketeering, the founders NXIVM (pronounced nex-e-um) were — according to law enforcement — charging women lots of money to be sex slaves in the name of female self-empowerment. This podcast, also from CBC, takes listeners behind the scenes of the ongoing court case with the help of former NXIVM members, including Sarah Edmondson, whose report to the FBI prompted the federal investigation. And it helps answer the obvious question: Why did women seeking self-empowerment go for something so disempowering?
Keeping with the “who’d fall for that?” theme, “The Dream,” produced by Stitcher and Little Everywhere, revisits the mid-’80s and the “airplane” game pyramid scheme that promised great wealth for a $1,200 investment. “Pilots” got rich by collecting money from the “passengers” they recruited. Host Jane Marie, a former “This American Life” producer, has chosen colorful and interesting characters to tell the story. Even better, they come from opposite worlds: Manhattan, where “passengers” have money to lose, and southern Florida, where they don’t.
On Dec. 31, 1999, the world waited for the clock to strike midnight and the “Y2K bug” to crash computer systems in every industry, from banks to transportation, and perhaps bring an end to civilization itself. Dan Taberski, a former producer for “The Daily Show,” revisits those days of dire predictions to explore how we react when we think our time is up. These are the Y2K stories you’d never heard. One family made a spiritual pilgrimage to Israel. A man named Otis bought 200 hamsters that he intended to breed and feed off of post-apocalypse. And Taberski decided to finally admit he’d been lying to his wife — and himself.
Yes, a podcast in which a company promotes itself may not sound all that appealing. But this one works because it takes you behind the scenes, and sometimes all over the world. In one episode, listeners follow a food buyer to Europe and learn how the store discovers trends. And you’ll learn just how particular Trader Joe’s is about unwrapping cheese and preparing it for sale.
Here’s a true-crime podcast with no blood, no bodies. Jack Rhysider’s investigation of privacy hacks, data breaches, and cyber crime will leave you wondering why there aren’t more hacks, breaches, and cyber crime. Give the “Black Duck Eggs” episode a listen. A huge company hires Ira Winkler and his elite team of special forces to test its security system by breaking into its building and network. The crew broke in so quickly a team member went across the street for Chinese food, and, thanks to Black Duck Eggs on the menu, uncovered a Chinese espionage network.
If you think you’ve heard all there is to know about the sexual assault of hundreds of girls by USA Gymnastics team doctor Larry Nassar, you haven’t. Reporters Kate Wells and Lindsey Smith of Michigan Radio try to understand why the authorities believed Nassar over his victims for so long. You’ll hear from their parents, too, and begin to appreciate how skilled Nassar was at grooming not only his victims, but also those responsible for protecting them.
In the Dark
Season two takes listeners to Mississippi to hear the story of black death-row inmate Curtis Flowers and the white prosecutor who tried him six times for murder before finally winning a conviction. The US Supreme Court has agreed to hear Flowers’s appeal alleging racial discrimination during jury selection. The podcast from American Public Media, though, starts at the beginning, tracking the early days of the investigation and questioning why evidence that seems so shaky has prevailed for so long.