A “Best of 2017” podcast list in the midst of a producer’s dilemma

It’s been a great year for podcasting. And I hope we never stop saying that. But rather than going straight to the point of listicling the over hyped audio of the year, I need to lay this necessary reflections out first.

Podcasting is reaching a point that is conflicting for me to try to be a curator as well as a producer. I consume audio a lot. And I’m always eager to recommend new stuff to anyone actively requesting that from me. The downside to this audio boom is that while major players -not necessarily stemming from legacy audio making e.g. NPR- join in and fight over ad revenue, we the -the little podcast- people have to struggle just to expand our listener base.

With that in mind, I expect to be more on the lookout for more truly independent audio crafts next year. I don’t have time to invest in those endeavors: On the very limited occasions I’ve tried to hand pick worthwhile productions outside the biggest players who effortlessly make it to my lists every year, I’m weary of stumbling upon a “two white dudes rambling on stuff” kind of podcast every time I attempt to give obscure productions a chance. And the harsh truth is that the true gems are heartbreakingly hidden under layers and layers of content of such varying quality -specially in Spanish. It’s exhausting. And what’s the incentive anyways?

That’s why I always default to the same audio wizards of Ira Glass (Wizards of Ira Glass, that’s some fan fiction potential there). But in doing so, it plays against me to an extent. By recommending the best of the year I’m taking away spotlight from other indie podcasts as well.

(All this to say that at the end of my best of list, you’ll find some shameless self promotion)
Another thing, my list is not a “Top 5” kind of list. I totally came up with the following categories just for the fun of it. So without further ado, I give you:

The best podcast for the soul


Closer than they appear-Jetty

What’s it like to be a person of color in the United States? Or dare I say, in the World?

I got hooked with this show that weaves bits of personal storytelling in and out of interviews with high profiled people of color -or not necessarily, but really compelling nonetheless.

To the harshest critics this may sound as the same old preaching to the choir type of podcast (I certainly doubt that a white supremacist will care to listen), but to me, Closer than they appear strikes me as a necessary voice that can speak to and for myself. As a person of color the connection can be deepened if we see ourselves reflected with whom we listen. We chill if we’re going to hear someone who has gone through the same rather than being on the verge of cringing if a white person wants to tell “our stories” -it will very likely sound as tourism- even if they are well intended.

This production by Jetty (Al Jazeera) and hosted by Carvell Wallace stands out by its music selection. Whereas most of my favorite podcasts resort to music that sounds like ethereal textures (Love and radio, Here be monsters), the music employed at Jetty has an organic beat. A beat box that blasts subtle human made sounds that make this show sound more warm and emm, Closer than they appear.

The key episode: The trailer. It’s just marvelous. Then go straight to “If not me, then who?”.

The best podcast to rediscover clouds


The 2nd Imaginary Symphony-Night Vale Presents

This work of fiction came while I waited for the second season of the fantastic and baroque show of The Orbiting Human Circus of the air (I should make a list of the best lengthy titled podcasts, too).

I’ll just say that this is about a kid who lives with his blind granny. And this kid gets in trouble because he discovers a fluffy secret about clouds.

All this against the background of a decaying industrial town and a soundtrack heavily reliant on strings and a narrator that sounds as good as your favorite vintage radio announcer. If you imagine all of the above in sepia tones, you’ll get the idea.

Key episode: Episode 1

The best podcast to give you the chills


Spooked-Snap Judgment/WNYC Studios

This is mostly a compilation repackaged as a new podcast but I don’t give a fuck. Specially when the team behind this is that of Snap Judgment.

These stories stem from the Spooked special that every year is broadcasted inHalloween. So this is a perfect opportunity to get a hold of Past instalments.

The key episode: The story involving a jukebox in a bar in deep Wisconsin. It gives me the chills every time I play it.

The best podcast to understand some corners of The Internet


Reply all-Gimlet
Alex Goldman and PJ Vogt host this Gimlet production. These two are amazing and funny storytellers even though the topics tend to be dark and serious. They take mundane personal stories and turn them into journalistic endeavors.

The key episode : A two parter about a Shady call-center in India. And, since it exposes corruption in my beloved-and-hated Mexico, this one about a troll center, sexual harassment and a Mexican political party that may equal the Republican Party in evilness.

The podcast that delves on fears rather than running away from them


Here be monsters-KCRW’s Independent Producer Project

The podcast about the unknown. These are non-narrated sound rich stories that peak our brains and senses. Sometimes they even tingle us with an episode about… well, tingles. Or take us inside the mind of a sex worker.

Jeff Entman and Bethany Dentan make the kind of radio that breaks the silence on all those topics we may even snarl at and give us another chance at empathy through layers and layers of both organic and artificial sounds.

For Tingles, click here. For sex worker confessions, click here.

Alright, it’s self promotion time


America the bilingual-Steve Leveen, Fernando Hernández

I produce and occasionally co-host with Steve Leveen (aka the Recovering Monolingual) this storytelling podcast about a topic often overlooked or taken for granted (as in “This is America speak English” kinda granted): bilingualism.

Over the course of 20 episodes we have reported stories that go from how the German Language was almost extinguished during World War I, to why bilingual teaching in California was outlawed in the 90’s thanks to a douche millionaire. We’ve also shared personal stories in which learning a second language, or a third, significantly changes people’s lives.

Esto no es radio-Fernando Hernandez


This one’s in Spanish. After years of canning these stories (or trying to make the subjects tell them to me) I’ve finally gathered the time and resources to produce and edit these non narrated sound rich documentaries.

Episode 1, “La Visita”, is about an old lady that pays a marriage a visit. She has some sense of humor. They never understood it, though.

Episode 2 is “Ojos quemados”. I presented it at the Guadalajara International Book Fair. What happens when you have a sore throat and take a pill to sleep it off only to wake up to a new and completely different life?

I wish I had the answers for that. But Alex, the guy who tells this story, may have some ideas.

I hope you draw inspiration from all these recommendations like I did. Happy New Year to y’all. Don’t forget to drop me a line at micro@microgdl.com and @microgdl.

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