Podcast of the Week: Short Cuts with Josie Long

"There is nothing on Radio 4 that's more podcast in spirit" says Simon O'Hagan of the brilliant half-hour radio series


With the recent inaugural British Podcast Awards, the world of podcasts in the UK reached a milestone. Everywhere you look, this alternative to radio is making a huge impact as people rush to download content and discover what’s on offer. 


I emailed Matt Deegan, one of the co-founders of the BPAs, to ask how many UK podcasts he reckoned were out there. His answer: “No one really knows! We had around 200 podcasts enter for the awards proper, but in the listeners’ choice category, more than 1,700 podcasts received one vote or more. Personally I think there are probably at least 5,000 ‘active’ UK podcasts right now.”

Where then do you begin? Well, why not with the BPA award winners – and a series that is impressively making the transition from traditional radio to podcasts. 

“Best Radio Podcast” was won by the remarkable Short Cuts, which is half an hour of the most beautiful and diverting radio that you can hear anywhere.

“Brief encounters, true stories, radio adventures, and found sound” is how the programme introduces itself, and there’s nothing on Radio 4 that’s more podcast in spirit.

Short Cuts, made by Falling Tree Radio, is a half-hour programme that first went out on Radio 4 in 2012, and the total number of editions now runs to many dozen. Each edition is themed — recent examples include Borderlands, Losing Yourself, and The End of the Story — and presented by the comedian Josie Long, whose links between the three or four items are full of the sense of wonder and mystery and warmth that add up to the programme’s defining quality.

Each item only lasts a few minutes — generally comprising a story told by a main protagonist against a backdrop of atmospheric sound. Check out, for example, the Borderlands item in which the founder of North Sea micronation the Principality of Sealand recounted its establishment.

It’s funny, and fascinating and, as with the best of Short Cuts, wonderfully revealing of unlikely human endeavour and experience. Other items are more experimental, the whole thing both delightful and profound and a complete antidote to mainstream radio.

In its earlier days, the programme tended to trawl the world and licence material that fitted the Short Cuts brief. Now it’s much more into generating its own content, and one of the beauties of Short Cuts is that it is quite divorced from any news agenda.

“It’s not about it being topical,” producer and co-founder of Short Cuts Eleanor McDowall told me. “It’s about being universal. The idea is that the programme will resonate whenever and wherever people hear it.” 


The latest series of Short Cuts begins on Radio 4 on Tuesday 16 May at 3pm, with the theme of Postcards. Download or subscribe via the BBC website