Podtrac, sort of like the Nielsens for podcasting, has released what is sure to be one of the first of many end-of-year lists, ranking the top new podcasts of 2019 by the number of times they were downloaded. To be considered, the shows had to be published between Dec. 1, 2018, and Nov. 30.
The list would make a great goal for the holidays: Listen to all of them. I'm starting with No. 20 and counting down to No. 1.
20: Dateline NBC, from NBC News, was a late-comer in 2019 but still managed to out-perform many other, possibly more worthy, podcasts. This pod is merely a collection of so-called classic episodes from the TV show of the same name. But the appeal of listening to Dateline correspondent Keith Morrison's voice cooing right into one's ear was enough to make fans download with wild abandon.
19: Insomniac, from iHeartRadio, is now in my podcast library. I subscribed after reading this list and doing a little research. Fascinating. Host Scott Benjamin explained to the website bleedingcool.com how this true-crime podcast is different from all the rest. "I started this podcast with the idea to just tell stories of lesser-known serial killers — the ones that very few have ever heard of. The podcast became more of a personal narrative, one that explores the ways in which those of us studying these horrifying minds work to try and return to some kind of normality."
18: Detective Trapp, from the Los Angeles Times and Wondery, is a podcast profile of Anaheim, Calif., investigator Julissa Trapp. It comes from journalist Christopher Goffard, who brought us the insanely popular Dirty John. With a new one publishing today, the podcast is five episodes in and the story is building. Trapp gets caught up in the case of an apparent serial killer targeting prostitutes. From the episode notes: "Trapp embarks on a dark journey that brings her face to face with a man who takes 'a little piece of her soul.' The series is about a singular detective on a relentless, sometimes lonely quest for answers."
17: It Could Happen Here, from iHeartRadio, is on my listening list but, frankly, I'm a little scared. Just from reading the episode notes, I've gotten the feeling that host Robert Evans is onto something here. Evans is former editor at cracked.com, host of iHeartRadio's Behind the Bastards podcast and author of the book A Brief History of Vice, and he has seen war up close in Iraq and Ukraine. Now, he sees trouble brewing in the good ole USA. Another civil war, y'all? "This is not conspiracy-mongering or a panicked shout into the abyss. This is a sober dissection of the Second American Civil War, before it happens," according to the episode notes.
16: Noble Blood, from iHeartRadio and producer Aaron Mahnke, would be a great choice for anyone still missing HBO's Game of Thrones. It has kings and queens and lots of death and intrigue and is hosted with inflection by entertainment writer Dana Schwartz, whom you may recognize from the Crooked Media podcast Hysteria. The latest episode, "The Wedding Ended in Blood," will bring to mind one of the most shocking episodes of Thrones — remember "The Red Wedding?"
15: Throughline, from NPR, is also a history podcast of sorts. The latest episode is titled "The Grid," after a 2016 book by Gretchen Bakke, The Grid: The Fraying Wires Between Americans and Our Energy Future. Basically, we're in trouble, kids, if we don't do something about the old electricity grid struggling to power our energy-starved homes and offices and malls and arenas. Another episode took an interesting look at our love affair with conspiracy theories. The 45-minute episodes are easy to digest and you'll learn something.
14: 2 Bears 1 Cave with Tom Segura & Bert Kreischer, from YMH Studios, features two comedians in their 40s with man talk and jokes. Pardon the frequent f-bombs and laugh along, if you have the testosterone to handle it.
13: Confronting: O.J. Simpson, from Wondery, is probably a really good podcast, and Kim Goldman deserves respect and answers 25 years after her brother, Ron Goldman, was brutally murdered along with Nicole Brown Simpson. Simpson's husband, football star O.J. Simpson, was tried and found not guilty, but no one else has ever been implicated. Over the course of 10 episodes and three bonus ones, Goldman shows us how living with heavy grief and knowing the killer is still free have completely dominated her life.
12: 1619, from The New York Times, hosted by Nikole Hannah-Jones, does not cover a happy topic. It's described like this: "In August of 1619, a ship carrying more than 20 enslaved Africans arrived in the English colony of Virginia. America was not yet America, but this was the moment it began. No aspect of the country that would be formed here has been untouched by the 250 years of slavery that followed. On the 400th anniversary of this fateful moment, it is time to tell the story."
11: Room 20, from LA Times Studios, was my favorite podcast published in 2019, hands down. Journalist Joanne Faryon was working on a story about California's many "vent farms," facilities that mostly house patients dependent upon respirators when she discovered a young Mexican man badly injured in a car wreck whom the facility had named Sixty Six Garage. Because he could not communicate and had no identification, they called him after the place his damaged vehicle was supposedly towed. In a nutshell, Faryon stayed by the man's side for months, until she improved his life and that of his roommate. The podcast demonstrates the power of good journalism and a good heart. WWJD? This, for sure.
10: Chelsea Handler: Life Will Be the Death of Me, from iHeartRadio, features the crass comedian in yet another vehicle for her brand of humor. "The series is an entertaining, raw, smart, funny, heartbreaking and honest memoir of Chelsea's life-changing year of self-discovery, healing and growth," according to its episode notes. Meh.
9: The Mysterious Mr. Epstein, from Wondery, looks at the billionaire boogie man Jeffrey Epstein, who recently died in prison awaiting trial on accusations of sex trafficking. "In this six-part series, we peel back the layers of Epstein's life to detail his financial and sexual crimes, and his network of enablers, with original reporting and interviews," the episode notes say.
8: Dolly Parton's America, from WNYC Studios, proves that you can, indeed, fall further in love with America's beloved superstar. I sure did. This podcast is growing Dolly's fan base, adding throngs of young earphone-wearing podcast consumers who might otherwise have assumed Dolly was just another flouncy floozie with big hair who wrote that song that Whitney Houston sang. No, kids, she's so much more. Listen, learn and love her. But don't dare ask her to talk politics!
7: White Lies, from NPR, is a hard history lesson to hear, but one that needs to be heard today more than ever. "In 1965, Rev. James Reeb was murdered in Selma, Ala. Three men were tried and acquitted, but no one was ever held to account. Fifty years later, two journalists from Alabama return to the city where it happened, expose the lies that kept the murder from being solved and uncover a story about guilt and memory that says as much about America today as it does about the past," the episode notes say.
6: Bad Batch, from Wondery, is the second podcast for Texas medical journalist Laura Beil. Her first podcast, 2018's Dr. Death, is still being downloaded all over the world in several languages. The case is the subject of a forthcoming miniseries as well. Wondery was so impressed with Beil's work that she was asked to look into the trendy and, it turns out, unapproved and dangerous use of stem cell therapy that its hawkers promised could heal anything that ailed patients. It's not pretty, and the moral of the story remains: "If it sounds too good to be true, it is."
5: The Thing About Pam, from NBC News, is a quickie podcast repurposed from a case that Dateline covered and sort of became involved in. It's appalling what this woman was capable of, but guess what makes it palatable? Keith Morrison's voice, of course.
4: Man in the Window, from Wondery, is perhaps the best podcast I didn't finish. Why? Just ran out of time. But it's still in my library so one of these days I'll listen again. "Paige St. John, a Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative reporter has uncovered never before revealed details about the man who would eventually become one of California's most deadly serial killers," the description says.
3: Over My Dead Body, from Wondery, comes in at No. 3 and seasons one and two are included. The first one, "Tally," grabbed me by the ear and wouldn't let go. It's sexy, salacious and downright unbelievable. "Dan and Wendi are two good-looking attorneys whose wedding is featured in the New York Times. But when this 'perfect' couple falls apart, it leads to a bad breakup, a worse divorce and a murder case involving a menagerie of high-priced lawyers and unexpected co-conspirators." The second, "Joe Exotic," did the opposite to my ear. Its bad sound in the first episode was too much to bear. But it's getting the movie treatment now, so maybe I'll try again.
2: The Ron Burgundy Podcast, from iHeartRadio, lands at No. 2. It's goofy and to me, irritating. I never got the whole Ron Burgundy attraction, nor did I ever see the 2004 movie that made him (in)famous, Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy. I'm not going to listen and you can't make me.
1: The Shrink Next Door, from Wondery, is another one that I started and put down without ever picking it up again. Don't know why, other than there are billions of podcasts and I'm easily distracted. Since it's No. 1, though, I feel an obligation to listen, especially after this description: "Veteran journalist Joe Nocera's neighbor in the Hamptons was a therapist named Ike. Ike counted celebrities and Manhattan elites as his patients. But one summer, Joe discovered that Ike was gone and everything he'd thought he'd known about his neighbor — and the house next door — was wrong."
Style on 12/10/2019
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