Most Memorable Podcasts of 2019
Our picks for the best of the year.
Making a "best of" list is incredibly difficult. There were so many strong releases and admirable work from our colleagues this year. So, in no particular order, here are some of our team's picks for the most memorable podcasts from 2019. We've included new releases as well as older shows that are still going strong. Our criteria was podcasts that launched in 2019 or existing podcasts that did some outstanding new work or were so consistently excellent, we just couldn't leave them off the list. You'll notice we didn't mention any of the amazing CBC podcasts that were released this year — it just didn't seem fair! Instead you'll find a round up of CBC podcasts at the bottom of the page.
It's a podcast that is part of "The 1619 Project" from The New York Times which is an amazing digital project that looks into the history of slavery and also how it resonates today. It was such a revelation to me to find out how much slavery has impacted the American economy, the music we listen to, the way our workplace functions. The host, Nikole Hannah-Jones, makes the whole project feel personal in a way that really resonates.
- Lindsay Michael, Senior Producer and Host, Podcast Playlist
As children, or even adults, many of us have visited Mister Rogers' Neighbourhood through our television screens. We've learnt important life lessons through music and even puppets. But who was this caring Mister Rogers who gladly invited us to be his neighbour? Finding Fred is a fantastic podcast that explores the life and lessons of Fred Rogers. It is rather strange to hear people refer to Mr. Rogers as Fred. I guess he'll always remain Mr. Rogers for me.
- Varad Mehta, Associate Producer, Podcast Playlist
The Dropout tells the story of businessperson Elizabeth Holmes who scammed multiple people into funding her company Theranos. Elizabeth's story is really baffling and interesting. It's a very binge-worthy podcast. I got through it in a couple of days.
- Kelsey Cueva, Associate Producer, Podcast Playlist
Crackdown is a Canadian show made by Cited Media. In the words of its creators, it's a podcast about the drug-war told by drug users as war correspondents. So everybody involved in the making of this podcast is a drug user activist. It's really fascinating because they tell all these stories from the perspectives of the people that are the hardest hit by the opioid crisis, that don't often have agency over the way their stories are told in the media.
- Julian Uzielli, Associate Producer, Podcast Playlist
Ok. Admittedly I may be jumping the gun a bit on this one. There are only 2 episodes out so far, but I have a good feeling about this one. I love how invested host Jane Marie is in how MLMs and shall we say "alternative" businesses affect vulnerable people. If you don't listen to this series and start getting fired up, you're doing it wrong. We should be outraged by what I'll call the dark side of Capitalism and problematic economic models. Jane Marie and her team are out there, covering a beat that not many others are covering. I think this show could create a positive change.
- Kate Evans, Senior Producer, Podcast Playlist
The episode "Good Old Boys" from Malcolm Gladwell's Revisionist History is about whether we want to hear from people or whether we should hear from people whose ideas we oppose. And what is the value of listening to those people in this time. It plays out through a couple of different streams. One is through a song by Randy Newman, and the other is an interview that happened on The Dick Cavett Show. It's around those two ideas that Malcolm Gladwell bases that question of whether we want to hear from people that we disagree with.
- Matt Galloway, Host, Podcast Playlist
Gimlet's Motherhacker is a fictional story about a woman who joins a phone scam ring as a way of supporting her family. It's a very interesting story of human resiliency and what we will do to support our families. But also I think it's relevant because every week we're hearing about one of these new phone scams. So it's interesting to kind of get a peek behind the curtain. It's relevant. It's entertaining. It's very digestible.
The series "The Battle for Europe" from The New York Times' The Daily is about the rise of right-wing nationalist governments and movements in Europe, told through the lens of a road trip. The episode I picked in particular is about how deep the political divide goes in Poland and how it's tearing families apart. I really love when you get to see bigger news stories through the lens of a personal story.
- Elena Hudgins Lyle, Associate Producer, Podcast Playlist
I'm not sure this concept has ever been done before. It's a podcast inspired by tracks of an album. Namely, Pleasure by Feist. What I find even more interesting, is they way it's produced. It's not a vanity project by a performer. It's a storytelling podcast, and Feist is barely in it. Instead she infuses the show with her reflective, insightful Feist-ness that we know and love so much. Kudos to the producers for finding some of the most fascinating people I've ever heard from. The episode Young Up changed how I feel about aging. It's one of the most inspirational yet down to earth pieces I've come across. Highly recommend.
"What does it really mean to be a man?" Well, that's the question that host Aymann Ismail attempts to find through different stories on Man Up. Using topics such as dating, race, faith, sports and fighting, Ismail deconstructs how our experiences and choices shape the person or "the man" we become. Man Up has a very therapeutic approach to podcasting.
I find it really hard to imagine that Dolly Parton was ever anything other than a huge superstar. It's wild to hear about people questioning whether her voice would be marketable, or audiences booing her. In Dolly Parton's America you get to hear about all the ways people tried to figure her out while she was getting her start.
- Josh Flear, Associate Producer, Podcast Playlist.
On this season of Headlong, host Dan Taberski and the team behind season one's Missing Richard Simmons investigates COPS, one of the longest-running shows on television. The show is known for its grand car chases and drug busts. After being on the air for decades, it's made a lasting cultural impact on policing in the U.S. But is this depiction accurate? Running From COPS takes listeners behind the curtain to see what truly goes into making a reality TV show. In today's climate of information overload and "fake news", this podcast is a friendly reminder that things aren't always what they seem.
First off, more than anyone else in the game, KCRW consistently releases some of the most interesting podcasts out there. Lost Notes is an incredible show! The stories they find and the way they approach telling them is practically unparalleled. What I love about this show in particular is the emotional journey I end up going on in each episode. For anyone who cares about music, you know how deeply personal it can be. The team behind Lost Notes has such a respect for music and how it can shape our lives, that the result is a show with SO much humanity. The episodes will stay in your mind long after you've listened.
Scam Goddess is a comedy podcast from Earwolf. In each episode, host Laci Mosley outlines a scam of gift from throughout history. I like it because it scratches that itch that a true crime podcast would — but without any murder or graphic content. This podcast made me realise that with all the work you have to put into scamming someone ... it might be easier to just be honest ... though, I guess not as fun.
- TK Matunda, Associate Producer, Podcast Playlist.
Bandtastic is a quirky (ok, very quirky) fictional intergalactic space musical — for kids! When you're making kids content, the toughest aspect is creating something that parents can enjoy too — and this one fits the bill perfectly. There's a backbone of very dry, ironic humour and recurring jokes that will make it hold up, on multiple listens. Plus, it features music from my 90s-Canadian-trip-hop-musical-crush: Esthero. Just, please — give it a listen.
At this point it's cliche to describe a podcast as "unlike anything I've ever heard", but there's truly no other way to describe this show. Created and hosted by British spoken word artist George The Poet, it blends poetry, music and narrative storytelling to paint a vivid and compelling picture of life in today's Britain, as seen through George's eyes. Seriously, have you heard it?
The Clearing is probably the best true crime podcast I've ever heard, let alone from 2019 (and this is from someone who re-listens to season 1 of Serial every fall). The story is unreal: April Balascio, makes a phone call to a detective to share her suspicions about her Father being a murderer. Her suspicions are correct and this leads to her Dad's arrest. But April is an incredibly interesting woman. She is an integral part of the podcast and along with journalist Josh Dean, her voice is the one we hear the most. Balascio's involvement adds a level of credibility — and empathy — to the story that takes this podcast to a whole other level. Also, on a nerdier note: the production design is incredible. It sounds completely unique, it doesn't rely on any heavy handed true crime tropes (in my opinion). In fact, I think I need a re-listen already.
Success stories are inspiring, but failure stories are captivating. Spectacular Failures takes a close look at some of the most famous failures and uses personal stories to show the impact behind that failure. It almost feels like if Martin Scorsese made business films/documentaries in podcast form. And host Lauren Ober happens to be the vibrant narrator.
Scattered accomplishes something really special. It melds history with personal narrative in a way that is surprising and relevant. Episode 2 in particular has stayed with me for weeks. In it, host Chris Garcia shares the story of folks (like his late father) who were sent to labour camps and were forced to cut sugar cane. It's a story of human resilience that I had never heard before. This show proves how powerful storytelling can be in its ability to transport us through time and space and make us come out on the other side a slightly more well-informed, empathetic human.
Comedian Jason Weems is the subject of the third season of First Day Back. The story revolves around Jason's career, an asthma attack and the build-up to his comedy special. It is an inspiring story that takes a comedic look at a serious health issue. Jason working out his comedy material is one of the best moments of the season.
As a born-and-raised Torontonian, I'm very familiar with the Rob Ford saga. It unfolded in the headlines when I was an aspiring journalist working at my student newspaper. I devoured every bit of coverage I could find. But despite — or perhaps because of — my familiarity with the subject matter, I haven't been able to stop listening since this show launched. Using new interviews with key players, archival audio and narration from The Big Story's Jordan Heath-Rawlings, The Gravy Train is an engrossing and highly binge-able account of one of the most bizarre periods in Toronto's history.
Journalist Ronan Farrow just came out with a podcast called, Catch and Kill — which is also the title of his recent book. I'm sure most people are familiar with Ronan Farrow's work with the New Yorker. He, along with some other incredible journalists investigated the allegations against Harvey Weinstein. The Weinstein story dominated the news for so long, many of us may feel we've heard everything we need to know. But this podcast proved there was so much madness happening behind the scenes in order to get the story to print — that you really can't understand until you hear the tape. At some points it becomes like a spy thriller, with private detectives and secret recordings, and hearing from some of the women who spoke out in Farrow's initial investigation. It really points to the intimacy of this medium. Hearing their stories first hand is a much different sensation than reading their stories. It's hard but important listening.
This episode finds host Vish Khanna speaking with the late American musician and poet David Berman. It was released just a few months before Berman died from suicide in August 2019. Vish is always at the top of his game when he is interviewing someone whose work he deeply cares about, and this is a prime example of this. He is thorough, thoughtful, understanding and really manages to get Berman to open up about his new songs, which are very dark and personal.
- Mac Cameron, Associate Producer, Podcast Playlist
You may not have gotten a chance to hear this yet, as it's on the Luminary platform, behind a paywall. But, Fiasco is definitely worth listening to. Host Leon Neyfahk brings us a podcast that's well written and thoughtful — everything we'd expect after hearing him on the first couple seasons of Slow Burn. I like the way Neyfahk and his team approach history. Their exploration of the Bush-Gore election in 2000 pulled me right in. As someone who remembers the election and what came after it well, it's interesting to compare the state of U.S. politics, then and now. And how much our perception of George Bush has changed! But, it really freaks me out that there is a deep dive podcast about something that happened right when I was becoming a teenager. Luckily, the storytelling kept me engaged and distracted enough from going into some kind of fear-spiral about how old I'm getting.