Podcasts, podcasts everywhere – but what is actually worth a listen?
To answer this question, the RadioTimes.com team has pulled together a guide to our favourite recent podcasts, from the fascinating to the funny to the fantastic. The list features everything from Doctor Who stars to the moon landing to apocalyptic cults, so there’s something for everyone.
In no particular order, here are the top recommendations…
Contributors: Eleanor Bley Griffiths, Ben Allen, Ellie Harrison, Susanna Lazarus, Thomas Ling, Flora Carr, Kimberley Bond
The Dropout (ABC News)
Elizabeth Holmes graced the cover of Forbes magazine, was interviewed on stage by Bill Clinton and once had financial backing from Rupert Murdoch. In Silicon Valley, where a good enough idea can make you a billionaire, she was a Big Deal with her company Theranos valued at $9 billion. But then it all went wrong and the nature of her downfall is such that at times it seems unbelievable – it’s inspired a book and documentary as well as this podcast. But The Dropout uses its six episodes to do more than cover the crash of the world’s youngest self-made female billionaire, offering a chilling insight into how far desperate aspiration and a hunger for fame can get you in the tech industry.
The High Low
The High Low (Eva K Salvi)
Journalists Dolly Alderton and Pandora Sykes deliver wry and witty observations of the biggest stories in the news each week, mixed in with deep discussions on popular culture. The duo also delve into book reviews, TV recommendations and news features that their fans would enjoy. The posh duo won’t be to everyone’s taste, but their hot takes – often delivered with one eyebrow raised – teamed with their natural and endearing chemistry, make it easy listening for your commute.
Off Menu (Paul Gilbey)
The set-up? Deliciously simple: each week comedians James Acaster and Ed Gamble welcome a guest to their dream restaurant, asking them to select their favourite ever starter, main course, side dish, dessert and drink. Highlights so far include Acaster adopting the role of a genie waiter, Tom Kerridge’s choice of drink (24 cans of Stella) and Victoria Coren Mitchell’s admission she sneaks out of dinner parties to eat sandwiches in the toilet.
13 Minutes to the Moon
13 Minutes to the Moon (BBC)
Marking the 50th anniversary of the historic Apollo 11 mission, this series blasts into the story of the first moon landing, told by the people who made it happen – from astronauts to Mission Control experts. Lifting off from President Kennedy’s 1962 speech that truly sparked the space race, each episode explores a different NASA landmark that made Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin’s 13-minute lunar descent possible. Just one warning to headphone listeners: the theme song composed by Hans Zimmer is absolutely incredible – and incredibly loud. Best to keep the volume fairly low until you’re past that point.
After investigating the bizarre tech takeover of the porn industry in podcast The Butterfly Effect, journalist Jon Ronson has returned to the topic again – with a much darker story. His new series focuses on porn star August Ames, who died by suicide a day after a Twitter spat with her fellow porn performers. However, while August’s husband claims social media bullying led to her death, Ronson’s investigation unearths a much more complicated story.
Love Island: The Morning After
Believe it or not, six episodes of Love Island a week is not enough for those of us desperate to know the latest goss and goings on from the Majorcan villa. So step forward The Morning After, the show’s official companion podcast. Hosted by series three winner Kem Cetinay alongside Arielle Free, the podcast dissects the drama from the previous night’s episode, sharing thoughts, theories and tweets about your favourite islanders. It’s a bit like your Love Island Whatsapp group chat brought to life. The twosome are usually joined by a celebrity guest, or the most recently dumped islander to divulge some behind-the-scenes secrets. If you’re a Love Island fanatic, it’s a must-listen.
As the name suggests, this daily 20-minute podcast series from US media outlet Vox explains a key aspect of the news cycle, often related to American politics. Although a great way to keep up with the latest developments in Washington, Today Explained has tackled topics from the gender pay gap, to what metabolism actually is and why some US cities are now legalising magic mushrooms. Well-researched, often amusing and always interesting.
Death in Ice Valley
Recording the podcast Death in Ice Valley (Eirik Gjesdal)
Death in Ice Valley is the story of the “Isdal Woman”, an unidentified female whose body was found in the remote Isdalen Valley in Norway in the winter of 1970. For almost a century, her true identity has remained unknown, and the circumstances of her life and death are a profound mystery: did she die by suicide? Was she murdered? Was she a spy? And if so, who for? By going back over the case, talking to eyewitnesses, raiding the archives and using brand new scientific techniques to analyse her remains, Norwegian broadcaster NRK’s investigative reporter Marit Higraff and the BBC’s Neil McCarthy are determined to find out more about the Isdal Woman. This fascinating podcast takes a refreshing approach to the ‘true crime’ genre, treating the victim with respect and always seeking to establish the facts.
The Ron Burgundy Podcast
Will Ferrell as Ron Burgundy (Getty)
By the beard of Zeus, this is worth a listen! Will Ferrell reprises his role as the hapless Anchorman newsreader to ponder a variety of issues and interview some of showbiz’s biggest stars. And, as you might expect, things don’t quite go to plan. From getting trapped in a lift during a recording (episode six, the best of the 12) to infuriating Peter Dinklage during a poetry reading, and Burgundy’s attempt at a British accent (“I’m a say-lor from fog-gay Landown Towne!”) it’s a classy disaster you can’t turn your ears away from.
The Brexitcast team in the studio (BBC)
During the many Brexit crisis points over the last six months, there has been one loyal and faithful companion: Brexitcast. By day we see the likes of Laura Kuenssberg, Katya Adler, Chris Mason and Adam Fleming broadcasting matter-of-fact via BBC cameras and airwaves, but join them out-of-hours for this irreverent podcast and you get a zingy digest of the latest political twists and turns, plus plenty of laughs – and often some juicy Westminster and Brussels scoops. In an age where British politics often tips into farce, Brexitcast makes it all that bit more palatable.
When and where are you at your happiest? Radio 1 alumna and bestselling author Fearne Cotton sits down with celebrities (often in their homes) to chat about mental health, life’s big questions, and what makes them happy. From Matt Haig and Stephen Fry to Spice Girl Mel C, it’s a fascinating insight into each interviewee’s life, often dismantling the assumption that fame equals fulfilment.
With a new episode each weekday, this Radio 4 podcast delves into one big question from the news. From “What does porn tell us about hypocrisy?” to “Would celebrities make better politicians?” and “How ethical is true crime?”, Beyond Today is a thought-provoking listen. You won’t necessarily get definitive answers each episode, but you’ll at least gain a fresh perspective.
How to Fail
There are countless self-help books, courses and talks telling us how to succeed but what journalist and author Elizabeth Day has chosen to celebrate with her podcast is exactly what it says on the tin – How to Fail. In it, she speaks to stars about how their perceived failures made them who they are today, from Fleabag’s Phoebe Waller-Bridge to comedian David Baddiel.
David Tennant Does a Podcast With…
David Tennant (Getty)
What happens when an A-list actor and former time-travelling Doctor sets up his own podcast? Hour-long chats with Hollywood royalty, that’s what. From James Corden talking candidly about romantic roles for ‘chubby’ actors, to Tina Fey bemoaning 200-episode US shows and Michael Sheen revealing the downsides of a successful acting career, it’s a must for fans of film, television — and for the plain nosey.
Uncover: Escaping NXIVM
Actress Allison Mack attends court (Getty)
So-called “sex cult” NXIVM (pronounced nex-i-um) has hit the headlines since the arrest of Smallville actress Allison Mack. The more that comes out about this organisation, the more fascinating the story becomes – and if your interest is piqued, Canadian broadcaster CBC’s investigative series ‘Uncover’ is the podcast for you. Tracing the rise and fall of this “self-help group” or alleged “cult”, documentarian Josh Bloch interviews former members and speaks to founder Keith Raniere’s lawyer. Once you’ve finished Escaping NXIVM, the other seasons in the ‘Uncover’ podcast series are also worth a listen.
Films To Be Buried With
An interview podcast with a focus on film and, to a surprising degree, mortality. Affable actor and comedian Brett Goldstein invites celebrities – including Ricky Gervais, James Acaster and Lolly Adefope – to discuss the movies that meant the most to them throughout their lives (they’re hypothetically dead when the interview takes place, as the host giddily explains to them). Goldstein has an easy rapport with his guests, and the meaning of life chat is countered by lots of joking around.
Journalist Rukmini Callimachi (Getty)
The atrocities committed by ISIS are well known, but the people who make up the caliphate and their motivations for joining are much more difficult to grasp. This podcast follows New York Times correspondent Rukmini Callimachi on her mission to understand who we are really fighting in the war on terror and how ISIS’s layered society functioned at the height of its power.
We’ll warn you now: this won’t be an easy listen. This series shines a spotlight on the history of conversion therapy – the pseudoscientific practice aiming to turn homosexuals straight – and gives voices to some of the 700,000 men, women and children who have undergone the “treatment”. Although it arguably lacks female voices, UnErased provides an engrossing yet terrifying look into this LGBTQ injustice.
The Chernobyl Podcast
Sky and HBO’s miniseries Chernobyl has been a sensation with viewers and critics alike – and if you’re a fan, it is 100% worth checking out the companion podcast series in which creator and writer Craig Mazin breaks things down episode-by-episode. Together with host Peter Sagal, he goes through the real-life history that shaped the on-screen story, revealing which elements are fictional and which are terrifyingly, absurdly true.
End of Days
Fire consuming the Branch Davidian cult compound in Waco, Texas (Getty)
What convinced 30 Brits to abandon their homes and join an apocalyptic cult in Waco, Texas? That’s the question at the heart of this Radio 5 Live podcast. Back in 1993, the world was shocked when a 50-day standoff between FBI agents and the Branch Davidians cult ended in tragedy, with fire ripping through the compound and killing 74 in the blaze; many of the dead were British, and had been outwardly-ordinary young people from Manchester, London and Nottingham. Across eight episodes, End of Days talks to the family and friends of those victims and takes a closer look at the apocalyptic cult led by self-styled prophet David Koresh.
Philadelphia-based radio host Terry Gross might just be the best interviewer in the game. She has a soft but determined manner and an uncanny knack of getting her guests to open up in her hour-long interview show. Recently, she chatted to Kevin Hart about his difficult relationship with his father in the wake of allegations of homophobia (she took him to task on this, too), while other conversations with Paul McCartney and David Foster Wallace have been hugely revealing. The show has been on air for over 30 years, and you can access much of the archive – including classic sit-downs with McCartney, Carrie Fisher and Joan Rivers – via the NPR website. The Fresh Air feed, available on most podcast providers, updates daily with full episodes of her one-hour show.