8 CBC Podcasts you'll binge this summer

Perfect picks for the beach, barbecuing, or getting into (or over) that summer fling.

Perfect picks for the beach, barbecuing, or getting into (or over) that summer fling

(Image courtesy of Fabiola Melendez Carletti)

I don't know about you, but I can't stand reading books on the beach. My eyes hurt from the glare of the sun off the pages, my arms get tired eventually and I really hate getting sand in the crevices. Of my book, of course.

I'd much rather close my eyes and pop in a pair of earbuds.

As a digital producer for CBC Podcasts, headphones have become my essential all-season accessory. I've started listening to podcasts while doing all kinds of things — I don't have to tell you that they are the perfect form of entertainment while multitasking — and over the past few months I've heard basically every show we have on offer.

So, if you're looking to shake up your summer with a new podcast, here are my top eight suggestions distilled from hours and hours of listening — paired with your seasonal summer pastimes!

Perfect for: Long walks on the beach

Podcast: Love Me, Gateway episode: "Old Wounds"

As you walk the shores of your favourite sandy beach, you may not want to think about tidal waves. Or so you think.

Love Me — a podcast about the messiness of human connection — has a way of starting the story in one place and then transporting you somewhere else entirely.

Find a great example of this in Old Wounds, an episode that begins with a massive tsunami and ends with an unlikely love triangle: one between a man, a woman and the pesky roommate that followed her home from the sea.

The multiple award-winning podcast is a rare blend of personal storytelling and playful fiction. Its talented producers, formerly of Wiretap with Jonathan Goldstein, have a solid track record of telling strange and compelling stories.

Perfect for: Hanging out in a hammock

Podcast: Personal Best, Gateway episode: "One time snooze"

Personal Best is the perfect podcast for a low-key afternoon of pure relaxation.

Each episode, hosts Andrew Norton and Rob Norman try to help an ordinary person with an awkward hang-up or tiny goal — the kind you'd be too embarrassed to bring to a real therapist or life coach.

For instance: Manu just wants to make good small talk. And Julia worries her bad text messages are killing her love life.

But my personal favourite is Robin, a woman after my own heart, who spends roughly two hours each morning trying to drag herself out of bed. The Personal Best solution? Turn her life story into a haunted house and try to scare her straight!

If you're confused, don't worry. There's a method to the madness. You'll soon understand why they make people speed-date cashiers, call fake hotlines and scream into the abyss. Their wild adventures are always weird, but also surprisingly touching.

Perfect for: Finding your summer romance

Podcast: Alone: A Love Story, Gateway episode: Ch. 1 (you'll be hooked from the start) "Not if, how"

How do you recover from life-changing breakup? You know, the kind that aches even on the warmest, prettiest night.

No matter where you are in your journey, Michelle Parise has been there. Her raw and honest audio memoir, Alone: A Love Story, will keep you company as you navigate everything from heartbreak to hookup culture to hope — despite it all.

Michelle meets The Scientist (later the husband, later the ex-husband) in the summer of 1999. She's devastated by his betrayal in the summer of 2012. The seasons spin around her as she tries to find her footing as a single woman. (Don't worry, these aren't spoilers. It gets real, quick.)

The best part of this podcast is that it doesn't tell you to get over it already. There are 20 immersive chapters of this true post-divorce adventure, each one illuminating some aspect of moving on.

Perfect for: Travelling or taking a road trip

Podcast: Someone Knows Something, Gateway episode: S3, Ep1 "The Wrong Body"

I'm not usually a true crime lover (which puts me in the minority, by the way) but I have been gripped by Someone Knows Something — our most popular podcast at 70 million downloads across four seasons, and counting.

Season 3: Dee & Moore was especially poignant for me, as David Ridgen revisited one of his earliest investigations.

In 1964, the partial remains of two black teenagers were pulled from a backwater of the Mississippi River. The Klan was suspected. No one was convicted. Four decades later, David returns to Mississippi to join forces with Thomas Moore — brother to one of the deceased — to reopen the case.

Moore really makes this story for me. His journey from anguish to something much more nuanced, even tender, is just … stunning. I can still hear the crickets as he speaks soft words to his brother's grave. If you're travelling somewhere this summer, download this season for six solid hours of quality listening. But note: this story will stick with you much longer than that.  

Perfect for: Barbecuing

Podcast: The Fridge Light, Gateway episode: "The Rest of the Pig"

Here's a conversation starter for that summer barbeque: ever wonder what happens to the rest of the pig? Once the edible bits are accounted for, the so-called scraps are surprisingly versatile.

You may be shocked to learn that gelatin from pig collagen is used to clarify the beer you're holding, for instance. That basket of bread, that refreshing bowl of ice cream, those pretty candles lighting up the backyard … all of them likely contain pig byproducts.

I learned all this and more from one episode of The Fridge Light, which brings you the hidden stories behind the food you eat. And if animal rendering isn't your thing, there are entire episodes on everything from tofu to tilapia.

Perfect for: Hiking through the forest

Podcast: On Drugs, Gateway episode: "Psychedelics and Spirituality"

Have you ever wondered what it might be like to do ayahuasca in the depths of the jungle? I hadn't really pictured it before the On Drugs episode on Psychedelics and Spirituality.

The story that struck me most was that of Tanya Kammonen: a scientist who went from "profoundly atheist" to "a woman of profound faith" after some plant-powered self discovery. She toggles between talk of chemical functions in the brain and talk of plants who sing to shamans. "Ayahuasca strips away the wall." Her personal story was fascinating but so too was the fact that "Ayahuasca tourism" is gaining traction with spiritually depleted Westerners.

Is that a good thing? Oof. I really don't know. You may want to consult the trees.

Perfect for: Camping under the stars

Podcast: Sleepover, Gateway episode: Ep 1. "Native Child and The Full Moon: The Search"

I'm a sucker for a good social experiment. Sleepover's formula is simple but powerful: three strangers who wouldn't normally interact, 24 hours in close quarters, an attempt at overnight intimacy.

In the past, the strangers have met host Sook-Yin Lee in a hotel room, but this time they managed to convince an institution to let them stay the night.

The place: Native Child and Family Services. The people: three Indigenous youth with very different backstories.

I was totally taken by Caterina, Tegan and Jordan and the way they challenged every one-dimensional narrative flung their way. Their journey from shy strangers to future collaborators is touching and often profound.

"We're kind of left out of the conversation, even though we're the ones that are going to take over the conversation," laughs 14-year-old Tegan.

Judging by the insights of these three, the future is in fantastic hands.

Perfect for: Packing for university

Podcast: Campus, Gateway episode: "No curry in the dorm room!"

I have to end on a shout out to our first original podcast: Campus. It's uncensored, beautifully produced and just plain good.

Just this week, the series cleaned up at the New York Festivals, winning a gold, a Grand Award and a special accolade from the United Nations. And it's no wonder. Their stories stick.  

I still think about Maria Qamar's episode (No curry in the dorm room) though I heard it more than a year ago. After so many indignities from so many directions, this resilient young artist went on to become Hatecopy — an internet sensation that now has a firm grip on her own narrative.