‘Crimetown,’ ‘Love + Radio,’ ‘Stranglers’ and more
For the devoted podcast listener, there just aren’t enough hours in the day to get to all the good stuff. Now that advertising models are established and money can be made, the rapidly growing podcast networks are producing high-quality programming across the board. As always, if listening with kids, remember to check for the “Explicit” tag on individual episodes, although most series are pretty good now about putting listener discretion warnings up front.
Currently riding high on the podcast charts, “Crimetown” digs into the surprisingly weird history of Providence, Rhode Island, and its enthusiastic criminal community. For several decades, sleepy little Providence was the unofficial capital city of East Coast organized crime. While New York and Boston got all the attention, the Providence mafia was essentially running the mayor’s office and many state agencies as well. Through archival audio and interviews, “Crimetown” presents odd little stories and subplots, including one of the strangest heist stories you’ll ever hear.
Find it at gimletmedia.com/crimetown.
Love + Radio
Like “This American Life” 20 years ago, or “Radiolab” 10 years ago, “Love + Radio” has a rule-breaking and risk-taking approach to audio storytelling. Topics are all over the map, and many are NSFW or anywhere else. Each episode is painstakingly produced, borrowing from the observational and poetic modes of documentary filmmaking. Careful listening is required – the stories build organically and discard voice-over entirely. From the death of Howard Hughes to Bay Area sex cults, you never know where “L+R” will take you next.
Find it at loveandradio.org.
The History of the 20th Century
If you’re the kind of person who gets randomly obsessed with things like King Leopold II or the Boxer Rebellion, consider this modest little podcast from amateur historian Mark Painter. Some of the best history podcasts come from learned hobbyists following their interests, and this is one of them. “20th Century” is compelling for its global approach to history. You may be surprised to find out just how Americentric your schooling was. The podcast also drops in lots of interesting public domain music from the early part of last century.
Find it at historyofthetwentiethcentury.com.
Tell Me Something I Don’t Know
From the people behind the Freakonomics podcast and book series, “Tell Me Something I Don’t Know” is a unique production staged as a live event out of the New York Times studios. It’s like a game show without the game. Each week, an audience member submits an “IDK” – some strange fact that most people don’t know about – then a panel of three guests interrogate the subject and the presenter. It’s improbably fun and entertaining, with the topics often drawn from obscure areas of science and academia. Recent panelists include comic Hannibal Buress, poker pro Annie Duke and digital guru Danah Boyd.
Find it at freakonomics.com/tmsidk.
Ever since the runaway success of “Serial,” the podcast charts have been lousy with true crime series that trade in bloody tabloid tales and famous murder cases. “Stranglers” is a more sober variation on the theme that looks back at the notorious case of the Boston Strangler. The 12-part investigative series features new interviews with surviving family members, plus some original reporting that supports the theory that multiple killers were involved. It’s all about tone with these true crime series, and “Stranglers” mostly stays away from the general ghoulishness that haunts the genre.
Find it at earwolf.com/show/stranglers.