Hello New Year! Top Podcasts of 2017 And Podcasting In 2018

Hello to the blog again! Here’s a look at top podcasts from last year and my predictions for this year.

One of the new commitments I have this year is a segment on Australia’s ABC radio, talking about podcasting to the South West radio station, which is occasionally broadcast digitally to the Perth station too. I’ve got an interview today in fact, discussing some of the things we can look forward to in 2018, but first, here’s a few great shows that happened in 2017 that I think set the scene.

5. Dirty John

This is one of those strange film-noir false identity stories that make for good movies and a surprisingly good podcast; you meet someone special, it all seems like a dream… and they’re not who they say they are and they turn out to be very dangerous indeed.

It’s the story of John Meehan, a classic con artist in a seven-part podcast feature series, produced by the LA Times and distributed by Wondery. It looks at an unsettling past through the lens of his relationship with Debra Newell, a successful interior designer who made her home at different locations across southern California before and after meeting Meehan. As the story of Meehan’s past unfolds, the audience learns the truth along with Newell. I enjoyed the classic-story-telling vibe, the phone records and recording, and how the creator/writer/host Christopher Goffard (who also reported the story for the LA Times), keeps a healthy dose of suspicion, so we’re along for the journey as well.  It’s an amazing LA Confidential, true-crime-dramatised podcast style, and the show is touring Australia next year.

4. Tokyo Hotel

While this show debuted at the very end of 2016, I only started listening to it after a number of students recommended it to me mid-year. I was delighted to discover the wireless radio drama comedy still lives and it’s a zippy series of only 8 episodes, about 20 min each.

This is one for anyone who’s into fiction and fun, Tokyo Hotel is a fictional place with a lot of wild and crazy characters, almost like Fawlty Towers but in sound effects. Will the hotel ever be back to its former glory, while crimes are solved, mysteries unraveled… the Royal Duck is to arrive?

Originally a stage show, it’s created by Maggie Looke and Ben Russell, with Anne Charleston (Madge from the hit TV show Neighbours) as the narrator. Along with the comedy, it’s a murder mystery, a heist and exists in a surreal universe – kind of in the spirit of The Mighty Boosh or The Goons and a little bit of Welcome to Nightvale.

3. Ear Hustle

Ear Hustle is a collaboration between Earlonne Woods and Antwan Williams, both of whom are inmates at San Quentin (which has a long tradition of inmate-produced journalism), and Nigel Poor, a Bay Area visual artist who has been volunteering for a number of years at the local radio station. Woods and Poor co-host each episode with Williams co-producing as sound designer. The name ear hustle means “eavesdropping’ and as Antwan says,We’re just average people, suspended in animation” – so it’s things in their lives like relationships, everyday life inside a prison. How do you survive? How do you deal with family, love, depression, having children, finding meaning in life? All the episodes must be vetted by the facility’s public information officer, with: “This is Lt. Sam Robinson, and I approve this story.”

Woods and Poor host the show, while Williams creates the music and ambient sounds that accompany prisoner interviews and Poor and Woods’ engrossing back-and-forth. It won the RadioTopia competition for new podcasts in 2017.

2. Trace

Trace is another example of a great true crime podcast, much like Bowraville, and they’re both Walkey award winners. It’s an audio investigation of the 37-year-old cold case murder of Melbourne bookshop owner, Maria James, by creator and presenter, Rachael Brown. Like many of these kinds of podcasts (you may have heard of Serial and S-Town, both also highly recommended shows), there’s a balance between compassionate to those left behind and trying to find out more about why this case remained unsolved, including the sons of James and former detective Ron Iddles being interviewed for the show. Production started mid-January 2017, Trace launched mid-June and then spent 35 days at the top of the iTunes chart.

1. The Messenger

This podcast is the story of a Sudanese refugee detained on Manus Island under Australia’s offshore detention regime, and was awarded the top honour at an international radio festival in New York at the end of 2017.

Produced by the Wheeler Centre and published by Guardian Australia, The Messenger podcast chronicles daily life on Manus Island for Abdul Aziz Muhamat, a Zaghawa man from the Darfur region of Sudan, who fled his homeland in 2013 only to find himself locked up indefinitely in Papua New Guinea. Aziz tells his story to journalist Michael Green over 3,500 brief WhatsApp messages sent from detention, detailing his journey by boat, the deterioration and deaths of friends on Manus and the confusion and frustration of detention.

It’s incredibly timely – we keep hearing the news about the incarcerations and detentions, hearing the voices makes it even more relevant to everyone who cares about justice and how this could happen to anyone who finds themselves in horrific circumstances and reaching out for help.

 

As for what’s in store for 2018? I’m hoping that with the boost in analytics, the interest by advertisers and the move by big companies and big industries moving into the podcast space, it’ll encourage more smaller, independent shows to enter in for audio competitions and not be discouraged by the bigger productions. I’m hoping to hear more creative stories too, we’ve got a number of people who are working in expanding their campus radio experience into not just personality focused shows but creative storytelling.

Expect more romance, politics (of course!), sport – and naturally, the Talk the Talk podcast has big plans this year as well, so check out our show too.

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