Top 10 Podcast Episodes of 2017
People who know me know that I listen to a lot of podcasts. That’s usually how I pass the time driving to and from work or on long road trips. It’s amazing to me how many good podcasts are out there and more seem to pop up every day. So, as we approach the end of 2017, I thought I’d list my favorite podcast episodes of the year.
Quite possibly the best podcast episode ever produced. Malcom Gladwell tells the origins of the McDonald’s french fry and explains why today’s fry is not what it used to be. My favorite part is the reaction when Gladwell has a group of millennials, who have only known the new version of the McDonald’s fry, taste the original.
Ira Glass and his team at This American Life know how to tell a compelling story. In this two-part episode, he goes to the town of Albertville, Alabama, “ground zero” of the current immigration debate to get the real story from the people who live there. They interviewed over 100 people for this episode on both sides of the issue. The lesson I took away: diversity makes us better as a country, but it’s not an easy road to get there.
When I heard Preet Bharara, former US Attorney from the Southern District of NY, was doing a podcast, I initially wasn’t interested. It sounded a bit boring. But, Stay Tuned with Preet has quickly become one of my favorites. Preet is actually pretty funny for an attorney. And he really is a great interviewer. He has produced a lot of great episodes this year, but by far, the episode where he interviews Bill Browder is his best. Browder’s story about his time in Russia and his friend Sergei Magnitsky who was tortured and killed by Putin is mind-blowing.
This year, the creators of Serial brought us a new podcast called S-Town, which is short for “Shit Town”, the name the main character in the story, John B. McLemore, gives to his hometown in Alabama. The podcast starts off as a what seems like a typical murder mystery in a small town. Then suddenly it takes a drastic turn that propels the story in a completely new direction. This episode absolutely rocked me. Of course, you wouldn’t just listen to this single episode. I highly recommend the entire podcast. This is storytelling at its best.
I’ve been a big fan of the Up and Vanished podcast since it launched in 2016. The podcast’s creator, Payne Lindsey, has done a great job bringing the Tara Grinstead cold case back to life. Up and Vanished has actually succeeded where other true crime podcasts have failed by leading to the arrest of two suspects this past year. I’d recommend listening to the entire podcast from the beginning. But for this list, I’ll highlight Episode 19 where he gets an exclusive interview with Brooke, the girlfriend of Bo Dukes, one of the arrested suspects in the case. Brooke went into the interview thinking she could make people feel sorry for her and Bo, but Payne wasn’t having it. The result is a truly compelling episode.
Another one of my new favorite podcasts from the last year is Ear Hustle. The podcast is produced by a prisoner at San Quentin and gives you a unique view of life inside a jail. It’s not a about poor conditions or guard brutality. In fact, the San Quentin guards approve each episode before it gets published. Ear Hustle is about real day-to-day life on the inside. In the episode entitled “The Boom Boom Room”, they discuss the process for conjugal visits in prison. Fascinating!
Another great episode of Stay Tuned with Preet also makes this list. In his very first episode of the podcast, Preet describes in amazing detail the events that led to his firing by President Trump. It’s a bizarre story of the President asking Preet to stay on as the US Attorney and then firing him shortly after.
This was my second favorite episode of Revisionist History this season. Gladwell discusses the problem with golf and golf courses in the US. As someone who does not golf, I loved this episode. The most interesting fact I learned was that the worst performing public company CEOs play the most golf.
In 2017, it seemed like everyone was obsessed with the solar eclipse. In this episode of Every Little Thing, they document the “Rapture Chasers” who follow eclipses around the world. For these people, seeing an eclipse is a transcendent experience. My favorite story was the guy who went to Lybia to see an eclipse and ended getting an audience with Muammar Gaddafi.
After the election, several former Obama staffers, known as the “Obama-bros”, started the Pod Save America podcast. In this first episode, they grapple with the new Trump presidency and the potential impact on the country. It’s interesting to hear people who have committed themselves to their candidate/cause over eight years to see things unravel so quickly. Whether you’re on the left or right side of the political debate, it’s compelling to hear people processing with such a seismic shift. Also, these guys bring a lot of humor to politics which is really needed these days.
So, that’s my list. What did I miss? Tell me your favorite podcast episodes in the comment section below.