From ‘1619’ To ‘Growing Up Moonie’: The Best Podcasts Of 2019
Whatever your interests, somebody probably made a podcast about it in 2019. News, music, sports, fiction and food — you name it, it’s out there.
This year saw the introduction of thousands of new shows to the on-demand audio medium (including five from WBEZ).
We asked members of WBEZ’s podcast team — including the creators of Making Beyoncé, South Side Stories, Motive, Nerdette and others — to name their favorites from 2019. Below are some of their picks.
Sleep With Me from Night Vale Presents
Need help falling asleep? This podcast is for you.
Host Drew Ackerman, aka “Dearest Scooter,” has figured out the art and science of boredom. In Sleep With Me, Ackerman tells bedtime stories designed to lull you to sleep. He releases new episodes every Sunday and Wednesday.
“His rambling, circular, nonsensical storytelling and one-note speaking voice have me drifting off most nights before the episodes are even half over,” said Making Beyoncé host Jill Hopkins. “It's a strange thing to say that a podcast that I've never heard a full episode of is my favorite, but when you value sleep as much as I do, Scooter is a hero.”
MOONFACE by James Kim
MOONFACE is a six-part fictional podcast about a Korean American man who tries to come out to his mother as gay. Their inability to speak the same language highlights a familiar situation to many immigrants and multicultural families.
“It’s a beautiful and intimate piece of storytelling, great writing and sound design,” said James Edwards, producer of WBEZ’s South Side Stories podcast. “And a perfect example of the best story being the one that’s right in front of us.”
White Lies from NPR
In White Lies, two journalists travel to Selma, Ala., 50 years after the murder of civil rights supporter James Reeb, a white Unitarian minister. Although three men were arrested and tried for Reeb’s murder, they were later acquitted, and no one was ever held accountable. This six-part podcast series looks at the lies that were told to keep the murder from being solved.
“It tells the history of a false narrative while weaving a compelling narrative at the same time,” said Colin McNulty, producer of WBEZ’s Motive and Public Official A podcasts. “The journey it takes you on, the access they get and the devotion to the subject is phenomenal.”
“Enormously skillful storytelling,” said Kevin Dawson, WBEZ’s managing director of content development. “It’s not flash, just simple, brilliantly researched and beautifully played out.”
Growing Up Moonie from Hideo Higashibaba
Members of the Unification Church are often derisively called “Moonies” after their founder Sun Myung Moon, a Korean man known for staging mass weddings and claiming he was the second coming of Jesus Christ.
Growing Up Moonie is a personal story from Hideo Higashibaba, a self-described Unification Church “cult survivor” who left at age 22. Over eight episodes, Higashibaba describes his experience, speaks with the people who grew up with him in the church and tries to make sense of his strange, sheltered youth.
“I gobbled up this series in one day,” said Maya Goldberg-Safir, Artistic Director at Third Coast International Audio Festival. “I was totally hooked and was definitely moved to tears a number of times.”
Women Rule from Politico
Anna Palmer, a senior Washington correspondent for Politico, hosts this biweekly advice podcast featuring interviews with successful women bosses.
“You get to hear from women in leadership roles that you don’t usually get to hear from, in a way that offers a different lens from which to view policy and institutions,” said Alexandra Soloman, podcast producer and Curious City editor.
Guests on Women Rule include Linda McMahon, the former CEO of World Wrestling Entertainment; Jessica Rodriguez, president of Univison; and U.S. Rep.Chrissy Houlahan.
Solomon recommends Women Rule for anyone interested in politics and foreign policy. Episodes are released every other Wednesday.
Host Jen Nathan Orris talks with chefs, farmers, activists, and others about their struggles and triumphs, all while they cook up dinner together in the background.
It’s a podcast that aims to explore memory and identity through conversations in the kitchen
“I'll admit Jen is a dear friend of mine,” said Greta Johnsen, host of WBEZ’s Nerdette and Nerdette Recaps with Peter Sagal podcasts. “But even if I didn't know her, she's a fantastic host. She exudes warmth and curiosity at every turn. You can tell this show is a labor of love, and it's such a pleasure to listen to.”
Season 2 of Skillet began in November and new episodes come out every other Tuesday.
Armchair Expert with Dax Shepard from Armchair Umbrella
You may remember actor, writer and producer Dax Shepard from his role as Ashton Kutcher’s prankster protégé on the MTV series Punk’d back in the 2000s.
Since his Punk’d days, Shepard has appeared in movies like Idiocracy and CHiPs. And since 2018, he’s been hosting the Armchair Expert podcast, where he conducts long form interviews with actors, writers, scientists, journalists and others.
“His guests discuss personal stories and how life experiences made them into who they are today,” said Alex Claiborne, producer on WBEZ’s Sound Opinions. “It is the perfect blend of information, heart and laughter.”
Episodes are released Mondays and Thursdays.
1619 from The New York Times
In August of 1619, the first ship carrying enslaved Africans arrived in the British colony of Virginia. This six-part podcast explores the 400th anniversary of that moment and the generational ripple effects that followed it.
Hosted by investigative journalist Nikole Hannah-Jones, 1619 is part of The New York Times Magazine’s 1619 Project, which examines “the long shadow of that fateful moment.”
“The audio allowed me space to just really sit with the thoughts evoked by such a poignant subject and story,” said Bia Medious, podcast intern and producer on WBEZ’s South Side Stories podcast. “Hands down the best way to experience history.”
Justin Bull is a digital producer and a podcast producer at WBEZ. You can follow him on Twitter at @justybull.