Remember “The Graduate,” when Benjamin (Dustin Hoffman) is told that there is just one word he needs to know: “Plastics”? I honestly believe that now, other than AI, VR or IoT, the future is “Podcasts.”
I have been both immersing myself and dipping my toes into, some good, some bad and some boring podcasts and have found a few that are rocking my world!
UNCOVERING CIVIL WAR TRUTHS
Hollywood, if you are looking for inspiring plots that have hardly seen the light of day, look no further than “UnCivil” http://uncivil.show.
This series of previously untold stories about the Civil War takes on revisionist Confederate history (“states’ rights, not slavery was the cause of the Civil War”), women soldiers who fought as men but have been written out of history and booted out of reenactments, about the myth of “Confederate Slave Soldiers” and how public TV’s Antiques Road Show gave it credence as a counter-offensive to the nation’s fascination with the 1977 TV phenomenon “Roots,” how the phrase 40 Acres and a Mule came to be and how black Americans today are being cheated out of their legacies, and more.
It’s not just the history but the telling. “UnCivil” is hosted by Chenjerai Kumanyika, author, journalist, and professor of journalism and communications at Rutgers University, and Jack Hitt, a Peabody Award-winning journalist, author, and radio producer. Fans of “This American Life” will recognize his name and his voice.
These richly produced and meticulously researched audio stories are, in fact, movies for your mind, as well as eye-opening history lessons. I hope that there will be many more episodes to follow the original 11 (plus one “trailer”) because I’ve binge-listened to all of them and I am hooked.
The home base for this podcast is Gimlet Media, and there are numerous podcasts to explore on their site https://www.gimletmedia.com/shows.
TRUE CRIME TALES
The most downloaded podcast in the short history of podcasts is likely “Serial,” which not only won major awards but caused a national sensation, as each new episode into the investigation of a possibly-wrongly accused murder defendant dropped. His request for a new trial is awaiting a decision from the Maryland appeals court, which could come within the next week.
Now the “This American Life” producers have another plot-twisting, eccentric character-driven, true story to tell in “S-Town” and I was absolutely caught up in it. https://stownpodcast.org
The “S” stands for a four-letter word recently invoked by the President. It’s about a very odd, but fascinating man named John who despises his Alabama hometown and decides to do something about it. He asks producer Brian Reed to investigate the son of a wealthy family, who’s allegedly been bragging that he got away with murder. But when someone else ends up dead, the search for the truth leads to a nasty feud, a hunt for hidden treasure, and an unearthing of the mysteries of one man’s life.
It’s gripping and the story-telling is masterful. This team knows how to build suspense, and it’s binge-worthy. Take it with you on the road and you’ll be in so deep you’ll forget where you are.
Just one little warning: “f-bombs” are dropped at a level that rivals “The Sopranos.”
And in Gimlet Media’s “Crimetown” podcast, different cities are the focus of each new series. First up is Mob-infested, political machine-run Providence, Rhode Island, where two different worlds exist between the two different hills that mark the city’s geography, merging at the crossroads of crime and politics. There are a goodly number of episodes to keep you engaged. http://www.crimetownshow.com/episode-1/
Vincent “Buddy” Cianci, a popular straight-shooting, anti-corruption crusader, prosecutor and talk show host, became the city’s longest-serving Mayor, was later forced to resign—twice—due to felony convictions and was ultimately sent to prison.
Early in his career, Cianci prosecuted Mob boss, Raymond Patriarca (Cianci lost) who, even while in prison, kept control of his family empire from his cell, finding a fertile hunting ground for recruiting new enforcers, several of whose stories are told.
Gangland style murders, FBI investigations, patronage in exchange for jobs, payoffs, union corruption, politics—real life is often far more compelling than fiction. There is a lot of compelling real-life here; it’s worth your time to check out “Crimetown.”
Fancy yourself a Watergate expert? “Slow Burn” from Slate will challenge your assumption. There are still behind-the-scenes and untold histories left to tell and that’s what “Slow Burn” does. http://www.slate.com/articles/slate_plus/watergate.html
It starts with a bang, with the woman who knew too much—mouthy, hard-drinking, gossipy Martha Mitchell, wife of Nixon’s Attorney General John Mitchell. She was abducted and held against her will by government agents to prevent her from blowing the whistle. We’ll hear why the nation was unprepared to face the truth about Watergate before Nixon’s 1972 election, and the loyalists who continued to defend him after it was clear he was aware of and directing the cover-up.
There is also a fascinating episode about Americans and the rise of conspiracy theories, not to be missed. If you become a member of SlatePlus, you will get bonus episodes, too.
I’m not sure which podcasts I will focus on but I will be back next week with more.
Sarah A. Spitz is an award-winning public radio producer, now retired from KCRW, where she also produced arts stories for NPR. She writes features and reviews for various print and online publications.