2020 has been a big year for podcasts. The spread of coronavirus and subsequent global lockdowns meant many creatives who would otherwise be filming, acting and performing turned to podcasting from home to get their stories out there.
The year we’ve seen the rise of home cooking, mental health and DIY schooling shows to get us through the worst of lockdown. We’ve worked out to Joe Wicks, cringed at Alan Partridge, and laughed along with Brown Girls Do It Too.
Of course, some of the big hitters in the podcast world carried on their excellent work even during lockdown. Stuff You Should Know released more archive and short pods, The Daily covered the US election in minute detail. And in a year of huge political and social turmoil, the BBC’s Brexitcast-turned-Newscast-turned-Americast simply didn’t press pause.
Here, RadioTimes.com presents the 12 best podcasts of 2020.
Chef Samin Nosrat shot to global fame with her incredible book and Netflix series Salt Fat Acid Heat and during lockdown the Californian delved into the podcast realm to help educate a new generation of home cooks Home Cooking. Alongside co-host and podcast veteran Hrishikesh Hirway, the show gives hints and tips on cooking from scratch and encourages experimentation during a period where most of us are shut indoors and might not have access to resources. Great advice, plenty of belly laughs and awful puns combine for the homeliest of listening experiences.
The thinking person’s football podcast, presenters Musa Okwonga and Ryan Hunn transferred ‘free agent’ Stadio to online magazine brand The Ringer in 2020 – and the show has gained further notoriety since for its mix of tactical, social and comic analysis of football. Being able to look beyond the Premier League and deep into the intricacies of global football is one of the show’s biggest appeals. Download for smart football commentary. (For more on a similar theme, check out our list of the best sport podcasts.)
Joe Wicks Podcast
How much do so many owe one man? Joe Wicks was the fitness inspiration of Lockdown 1.0 that got us off our sofas and moving again with youtube vids. The BBC pod launched in July and has been downloaded thousands of times. Fitness fanatic Wicks interviews celebrities like Jamie Oliver, Fearne Cotton and James Bay on how they are keeping both physically and mentally healthy during the pandemic. This show will have you listening ‘like a boss’ into the New Year.
The Political Party
Finding a politics podcast that isn’t solely focused on Brexit, America or Westminster is tricky – but Matt Forde’s The Political Party has taken on new strength in 2020 to become the best political podcast around. The comedian’s USP is proving a safe space for politicians to discuss their careers, ambitions, achievements and foibles with personable passion. This year saw Forde focus further on interviews with those outside the Westminster bubble – primarily researchers, pollsters, political scientists and epidemiologists. Get behind the spin and know what’s really going on in politics.
About Race with Reni Eddo-Lodge
While this podcast is from 2018, About Race became one of the most talked-about shows in 2020 when the Black Lives Matter protests began in earnest across the West. Following up on some of the themes in Reni Eddo-Lodge’s bestselling book Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People About Race, it gives an insight into Black experience Britain that helps Brits to translate the struggles of the BLM movement. Keep listening for a deep-dive into the historical contexts of racism that you may not be aware of.
This Is Love
Borne out of the hugely successful Criminal podcast series, This Is Love has built an equally loyal following since host Phoebe Judge and producer Lauren Spohrer launched the show in 2017. Notorious for its gentle storytelling of love stories that stretch far beyond romance, the show focused on the relationship between humans and animals in its fourth series at the start of 2020, while the fifth season is currently running weekly. At a time when close human contact is difficult to find this winter, This Is Love will warm your heart.
Where Should We Begin?
A couples therapy podcast you can listen to on your own, Esther Perel’s Where Should We Begin tunes into a real therapy session where partners share their anxieties, frustrations, confusions and love for each other. Perel offers her expert advice to help guests work through a problem and explore underlying issues that can resonate with the listener. This year the show launched special lockdown episodes to explore issues we all face living with others in close proximity. Not in a relationship? For therapeutic talks about coping at work, try Perel’s spin-off podcast How’s Work.
You’re Wrong About
Independent podcasting gives hosts the freedom to explore their own interests and journalists Sarah Marshall and Mike Hobbes certainly do that in this myth-busting history show. You’re Wrong About uncovers the real stories behind people and events that have been ‘miscast in the public imagination’. The show has recently started a bunch of mini-series, focusing on misconceptions on the OJ trial and Princess Diana. Download for Marshall and Hobbes’ genuine enthusiasm for their subject matter and keep listening to get true stories from history.
‘Growing Up With’ Gal-Dem
Podcasting is one of the best ways to share and highlight experiences from outside the mainstream – and this show is a great place to hear ordinary stories from women and non-binary people of colour. gal-dem’s founder and CEO Liv Little and head of editorial Charlie Brinkhurst-Cuff invite guests, such as Bake Off’s Ruby Tandoh and Radio 1 DJ Clara Amfo, to share their old diary entries, text messages and letters during their progression from adolescence into adulthood in a chat format anyone can relate to. The show took off in May 2020 and each episode has a handy transcript for those who are hard of hearing.
How Do You Cope?
The BBC snapped up comedians John Robbins and Elis James from Radio X two years ago and the spin-off podcast to their Radio 5 Live show offers public figures like Simon Thomas, Emma Barnett and Chris Packham a safe place to talk about mental and physical health issues. How Do You Cope? is a remarkably candid and sobering show. Robbins and James use their wit, charm and considerable life experiences to provide a safe space for discussions on issues that have affected us all this year.
Comedians James Acaster and Ed Gamble were only meant to do a handful of these shows, but as series four came to an end in November 2020, it’s unlikely we have heard the last of this hilarious and charming podcast. Off Menu quizzes celebrities and comedians like Jo Brand, Gok Wan and Sara Pascoe on their dream restaurant experience – from your choice of still or sparkling water to a favourite main, desert and drink. The conversation often leads to deep dives into home cooking and global food culture.
One of the most damaging political scandals many of us Brits won’t have heard much about is the sacking of Australian prime minister Gough Whitlam in 1975, three years after his Labour government swept to power after two decades in the wilderness. The show is as good a scandal podcast as anything produced in America or the UK in the past few years. State secrets, political espionage and personal drama will see you complete this seven-part series in no time. If you liked Slow Burn, you’ll love this.