My morning routine is always the same: get up, go to the loo, Bluetooth speakers on, shower, get dressed, have breakfast, question the purpose and meaning of the world and the time, boots on, brisk walk and get the bus up the road.
I need all those elements in my routine because I only start to wake up when I’m getting the lift into the office. In fact, you could say my routine is almost robotic. The only aspect where there might be some variety is when I turn on the Bluetooth speakers. And that’s because I’ve recently discovered podcasts.
Podcasts are a bit controversial. Let me throw a statement out there that podcast producers from around these parts won’t agree with: podcasts in German are shit.
Every episode of a German podcast seems to take about 500 years to get to the point. The hosts go off at a tangent, sound bored and prattle on about something or other. And the end of it, neither the hosts nor the listeners have had much fun.
But on the other side of the pond, something’s stirring. Over there, podcasts are a combination of culture and style and certainly far removed from the concept of «hey everyone, we’re just going to assume you’re interested in our mindless drivel, so we’ll just carry on inflicting it on you».
You know it’s a decent podcast when the content is good – whether it’s real or fictitious – and when the hosts crack jokes and tell interesting stories. It’s a far cry from podcast productions that are more a case of «a few clowns down at the pub».
On that note… and before I put you off podcasts altogether, here are the top 5 podcasts that are worth listening to.
Sword and Scale is proof that the worst monsters are real. Host Mike Boudet recounts true crime stories in a gentle radio voice. He edits his podcasts in such a way that his opinion only comes through here and there so that listeners are left to make their own mind up.
Alongside almost normal sounding cases, like the abducted woman, who was kept hostage for several days, raped and tortured by a serial killer in a small town in the US, Boudet also uncovers mind-blowing cases.
In episode 62, he tells the tale of Jenelle Potter. This is the young woman who passed herself off as a secret agent and her own love interest online. She also put her dad up to killing two people – even though the stories just didn’t ring true from an outsider’s perspective.
TL;DR: Boudet’s podcast is the perfect combination of head-shaking, staring into the abyss, a documentary format and goosebumps.
The Black Tapes documents the work of Richard Strand, a skeptical paranormal investigator. The podcast is set up like a good radio documentary but it’s purely fictitious. Neither the host Alex Reagan nor Richard Strand exist.
That being said, it’s easy to get drawn in by the stories about black tapes with ghosts, demons and other paranormal activity. The podcast quickly transitions from a funny half-hour documentary to a story about the end of the world, bilocation and two people who seem powerless to it.
This podcast is recorded by Pacific Northwest Stories studios, so it has a high production standard. It skillfully imitates the style of the award-winning podcast-documentary Serial and finds itself at the crossroads of reality and fiction. Because even if concepts like the Order of the Cenophus sound strange, there’s always an element of uncertainty as to whether events in the podcast might have some foundation in reality.
How Did This Get Made? investigates why bad films managed to get the green light. As part of this, the three hosts, Paul Scheer, Jason Mantzoukas and June Diane Raphael are often accompanied by guests and a live audience to analyse the narratives.
Each host has a distinct role. For instance, it’s usually June’s job to question everything and be baffled about how the film could get so far. Then there’s Jason. He’s the one with wild theories who’s always insulting the audience. And Paul somehow tries to keep everything under control.
The resulting discussion is much better than the films they’re talking about. Let me give you some examples. When they put Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II under the microscope, they debate about the disgusting sensuality of eating pizza. And when discussing Hurricane Heist, they ask why a character in a film about storms is called Breeze.
Meanwhile, in the episode on The Disaster Artist, the director James Franco is a guest on the show – and incidentally, all three hosts are presenting. Similarly, they have the star Greg Sestero on as a guest in an episode on The Room.
In summary, each week the hosts pull it out of the bag and manage to be entertaining, funny and surprising. Also, the theme song for the live shows is really catchy.
Alice Isn't Dead tells the story of trucker Keisha, who’s looking for her missing wife. It soon becomes clear that the wife has dark secrets, isn’t dead (as was assumed) and that she might even have good reason for cutting herself off from society.
Because along the way, Keisha comes across the Thistle Men. They’re serial killers that are almost immortal and men who have been taken over by the abstract idea of hate and anger.
Jasika Nicole excels in voicing Keisha across her truck radio. The podcast itself is written by Joseph Fink, the writer behind Welcome to Night Vale, another podcast that’s seen great success. But unlike the radio programme from the fictive desert town Night Vale, Alice Isn't Dead has a clear direction and doesn’t lose sight of humour or horror.
Where Night Vale often seems chaotic and random, Alice captivates the audience and transports them to a world of petrol, cannibalism and mysticism.
The one German language podcast I listen to and that follows the «a few guys sitting around a mic for a few hours» format is called Hackerfunk. It’s a tech podcast with a distinct Swiss flavour, where the hosts Venty and Axel share the latest from the tech scene. In terms of podcast length, it’s rare to find an episode of Hackerfunk under an hour and a half.
The world and the Internet might be a big place, but Venty and Axel tailor their news and analysis from the sphere of technology and security for Switzerland. In the latest episode they discuss online libraries such as Wikipedia. At the same time, they almost casually analyse a technique called skeuomorphism, which is where data or goods are processed so they’re popular or seem better and more valuable than they actually are.
And there you have it: my top 5 podcast recommendations. Go ahead and have a listen. You won’t regret it.
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