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This year, the industry welcomed new streaming services, such as Luminary and Spotify, the latter of which acquired Gimlet. Companies including Sonos and Sony sponsored or created original content that took sound design to new places. Oscar and Tony Award winners performed in audio dramas. More shows moved away from the traditional weekly model, with some publishing once or even twice a day and others being released as binge-ready collections. Creators processed grief, anger, and the nature of memory by using tape that felt refreshingly raw and gave listeners the space to draw their own conclusions.

It became less rare to see a show land an interview with a famous or powerful person it was critiquing think of Mitch McConnell in Embedded and O. These trends point to one expectation listeners now have for podcasts: pulling back the curtain and revealing how people come to understand the truth—or, at least, one version of it. Producers also turned their gaze toward people who transfixed the country pre-Internet: Tupac and Biggie, Dolly Parton, and Mister Rogers, to name just a few.

Others centered on seeking reconciliation or justice for people who had been hurt by family members or by entire institutions. For example, looked back to the beginnings of the U. The shows below are emblematic of the year , each a different version of what humans sound like or of what preoccupies our minds. Each has, in its own way, raised the bar for excellence in audio storytelling. StartUp might be one of the most meta podcasts out there. The final season chronicles a period that seems like it might be the beginning of the end for Gimlet. Tensions between Blumberg and his co-founder, Matt Lieber, radiate in interviews with Gimlet producers, and Blumberg records his own anxious musings during bouts of insomnia.

Freaknik is an ode to a unique city, and an elegy for one of the greatest music festivals that ever existed. That work led him to August Ames, an adult-film star who died by suicide a few days after receiving massive backlash for a contentious tweet.

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The popular narrative show Snap Judgment used to devote several episodes to first-person ghost stories around Halloween. Now those stories have their own show: Spooked , also hosted by Glynn Washington. Spooked is a satisfyingly scary escape that allows its audience to dwell in the fantastic, hair-raising limbo between life and death. The title of Sooo Many White Guys announces not the subject matter but the framework: Sooo many white guys are interviewed and producing in the podcast space, and this show exists to counteract that by highlighting artists who are women and people of color.

While these industry barriers stand out, the real heart of the show is its host, the comedian Phoebe Robinson.


Listening to her gossip and joke with her guests is like sitting in on a chat between close friends—one of whom happens to be very famous. This year, Brandon Jenkins takes up the task of retelling hip-hop history, dissecting the rise of the genre in Miami. The main arc of the season follows 2 Live Crew, a boundary-pushing group whose provocative lyrics prompted numerous legal challenges—including one that eventually landed in front of the Supreme Court.

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According to seismologists, the San Andreas Fault is a ticking time bomb: Radiocarbon dating has determined that a catastrophic earthquake strikes Southern California roughly every years, and the next one is long overdue. In The Big One , the host Jacob Margolis draws on a mix of expert testimony and survivor accounts to project what that event and its aftermath would look like. Emergency services could be rendered useless, water pipes might burst, buildings could split in half, and fires might spread freely.

The best podcasts find a way to combine entertainment with hard-core learning, and Rough Translation is one of the magnificent few that pulls it off. Every episode, the host Gregory Warner explores how a controversial topic in the U. The format works so well, one wonders if the podcast should hire a team of foreign journalists to study the U. Each episode of The Open Ears Project begins with a guest discussing a piece of classical music he or she loves before the track is played in full. Celebrities such as Alec Baldwin, Jon Batiste, and even the podcast-famous relationship therapist Esther Perel also join the show, telling stories about their connections to classical pieces that give new meaning to the works.

The effect is not dissimilar from the mood of a meditation app, but one that delivers thought-provoking stories as well as relaxation. While the concept sounds simple and broad, the show swiftly homes in on concrete stories.

Filled with stark truths and collective regret, The Stakes is undeniably sobering—but fascinating all the way through. More than half of Americans aged 18—34 are single , which means stories about how people actually find love can seem like the stuff of myth.

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On The Moment , the writer and actor Ingrid Haas interviews couples from many different age groups, cultures, financial backgrounds, genders, and sexual orientations about what happened before they knew they wanted to commit to each other—which is to say, the good stuff. Their stories are exceptional and regular all at once, and because each installment focuses on an uncertain time in a relationship, listeners can feel the suspense even though the premise of the show guarantees a happy ending.

The musicologist Nate Sloan and the songwriter Charlie Harding have produced smart, approachable takes about pop music since One episode dissects how a song by Lizzo mirrors the chord progression from Phantom of the Opera. The host Joel Anderson narrates what happened with the Tupac-versus-Biggie camps. The Dropout features the story of Elizabeth Holmes, the founder of the health-technology company Theranos, who developed a device known as the Edison that purported to deliver a battery of medical tests from a drop of blood.

Wall Street swooned. The tech reporter Rebecca Jarvis brings listeners inside this start-up con game, interviewing insiders to understand how Holmes managed to pull off her sleight of hand. While plenty of other reporting on Holmes focuses on her youth or on the big names she allegedly defrauded Betsy DeVos , to name one , The Dropout sticks to the machinations of Theranos, illuminating the story that lies between the genius and the fraud. The post-apocalyptic thriller Blackout, which stars Rami Malek as the radio DJ Simon Itani, expands the horizons of audio just as a Sonos-sponsored show should.

Set in a small New Hampshire town after a nationwide power outage, the story covers some familiar ground with its Stephen King—esque setup of New Englanders fighting an unseen force that threatens humankind in the midst of an idyllic country landscape. Nevertheless, the whole affair is a pretty big thrill—not least because podcasts have never seen a freshly minted Oscar winner acting out an audio story.

The famed prizefighter first went to prison at an early age for charges ranging from purse-snatching to assault. He soon found his calling in boxing, which allowed him to channel his rage and his disillusionment with institutional racism. Later, he was convicted twice for the same triple homicide at a bar in Paterson, New Jersey, before having his sentence overturned for good by a judge in An exhaustive amount of research comprises The Hurricane Tapes. Rund Abdelfatah and Ramtin Arablouei created the new history podcast Throughline for a specific purpose. Another episode looks at Americans who expatriated to Canada and Brazil because their own country had failed them.

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One riveting episode analyzes how various sitcoms have handled the process of writing off characters; in another, Rocca tries to get a man who poisoned two majestic oaks in the name of a college football rivalry to make amends. Embedded goes deep into the news of the day. The result is a character sketch that doubles as an analysis of strategy and semantics. But even before the exposure of his racism, Sterling had a notoriously bad reputation as a team owner.

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Until they stumbled on the truth through at-home DNA testing, none of the patients he worked with were aware that he had fathered their children, nor were those children aware of their parentage. Sick plays out a series of unthinkable what-ifs that will leave audiences riveted, outraged, and eager to hear more. Gay Future presents a hilariously satirical vision of a futuristic dystopia: In , everyone is gay except for one boy, Mikey Pence, who is called to save the world from the authoritarian gay agenda of President Clay Aiken.

Meanwhile, nobody remembers how to make babies the old-fashioned way, and privileged gay men adopt and abandon kids thoughtlessly. When Hillary Frank created The Longest Shortest Time in , nuanced and inclusive discussions of parenting could be hard to come by. Her podcast filled that gap, beckoning to anyone who is a parent, has a parent, might want to be a parent, or simply shares in universal curiosities about how kids grow up. Her story is told with humor and a feminist sensibility, and the intimate topics it addresses—partners, fertility, the desire to be a parent—bring out a unique kind of vulnerability.

Plenty of podcasts are peers of Why Is This Happening?

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But Hayes brings an essay style to the form, following the intriguing threads that emerge from his conversations with subjects in real time. The thrust of the discussion tends to be the collision of ideas, not necessarily the minutiae of facts—of which Hayes has many at the ready. For instance, a conversation about transgender rights leads to reflections on gender essentialism and how segregation plays into modern power structures, while an argument about climate change fixates on evangelism and rhetoric.

In Fatwa , the host Mobeen Azhar and producer Chloe Hadjimatheou home in on the impact of that declaration, examining the rifts that emerged in Britain between religious sects, secularists, immigrants, and nationalists. The controversy expanded well beyond censorship, and Fatwa tackles it with straightforward testimony from all sides. These stories are heartfelt, relatable, and often painful. Since , the Radiolab hosts Jad Abumrad and Robert Krulwich have been unpacking the mysteries of the cosmos one episode at a time.

The show strips away much of the artifice of audio storytelling, avoiding any lectures or self-conscious monologues from the hosts. The show continues a theme that runs through some of the best true-crime podcasts released this year: It reveals how law enforcement can sometimes overlook the humanity of marginalized groups. The big break, which is addressed early in the series, comes decades after the crimes when police charge Bruce McArthur in for the murders of eight of the men. Buckman spent many evenings teaching Plaisance the basics of the faith -- as the teen made a habit of showing up at Buckman home just as he and his wife Jennifer sat down to eat dinner.

A year into the mentoring process, Plaisance revealed that he had begun experimenting sexually with a hockey buddy at the age of 11, which developed into a lengthy homosexual relationship at No one else suspected the secret lifestyle of Plaisance, who served as student council president at his school. In the mids, few people talked openly about homosexual relationships, and the topic rarely arose in Pentecostal circles. Kim and Dennis valued me as a person more than anything else. He made his Christian witness known to everyone he met, even initiating off-campus Bible studies at his high school.

Plaisance's future wife Stacey learned of his past when he spoke at the Brownsville school. The couple wed in , seven months after they met. They have three children, Aidan, 14; Bryce, 12; and Caylin, His children learned of his past struggles on June 26, the day of the Supreme Court same-sex marriage ruling. Plaisance, who has been free from the gay lifestyle for two decades, has put accountability on all his electronic devices and he is transparent with a group of Christian men.

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He daily refers to Romans Occasionally Plaisance says he has the opportunity to minister to those in a gay or lesbian lifestyle. Circumstances are different with each person, but I know what the power of Christ has done in my life. Plaisance believes Christians too often are either afraid to engage in conversation with gays and lesbians because they don't want to be offensive, or they are too apathetic to care about the person. We have updated our Privacy Policy to provide you a better online experience. Agree Review. News Store Events Search.