By Alex C. Telander
I started listening to podcasts over five years ago. I began getting hooked on audio dramas around three years ago with the likes of Welcome to Night Vale, The Black Tapes, The Message, and Limetown. Since then I’ve had a continuously growing download list of audio dramas that seems to increase every week. Some shows I try and they don’t grab me; others I hang on for a while and then they lose me and I stop listening; and then there are the many that I devoutly wait for a new episode to drop each week.
The hashtag #audiodramasunday helps me a lot in finding new shows and makes me look forward to every Sunday, and not just because it’s a guaranteed day off from work for me: Creators and fans recommending on Twitter are a big way I discover and try out new shows. It helps that podcasts are a booming media and there are new shows starting every week.
Narrowing down a best-of list is never easy, though I decided to make it a little easier by only picking shows that started in 2018.
A little easier.
So here, in order of when they debuted, are my top six podcasts of 2018 (because I couldn’t get it down to a nice five).
“Desperate to find meaning in his life, troubled Matthew Leads takes a job as the caretaker of an Antarctic Research Facility. An atmospheric isolation horror following his struggles with mental illness, a broken heart and the suffocating presence of Station Blue.”
Created, written, and directed by Chad Ellis, who also voices the main character, Station Blue is a haunting show on many levels. Both the imagery and the tone of the show are icy and cold that helps to create an evocative atmosphere. There is of course the terror-filled nature of a man alone at an Antarctic Research Facility surrounded by miles and miles of ice and no other human beings, but the underlying subject the show wrestles with is mental illness.
Leads has never had anything come easy to him in his life, and to say he’s gone through a lot of shit doesn’t do it justice. Ellis imbues the character with life and empathy that leave the listener often moved to tears in his portrayal. With plans for two more seasons, I look forward to seeing where this show takes its characters (and me) next.
“A city of nightmares, horrors and shifting streets. I Am In Eskew is a fortnightly horror podcast, taking place in a nightmarish and ever-changing city. This show contains frequent scenes of body horror, bloodiness, and disturbing behaviour.”
When I listen to I am in Eskew, I am reminded of the “Hotel California” lyric: “You can check out anytime you like, but you can never leave.” There is no place like Eskew, where every horror you can imagine comes alive and is possibly waiting for you around the next corner, or behind the next door. It’s a town where it always seems to be raining and you never want to end up in. It is the story of David Ward who is stuck in Eskew and must live its everyday horrors. A British audio drama that not only features familiar English weather, but a sense of supernatural horror that fans of the late bestselling author James Herbert will appreciate.
“We Fix Space Junk follows seasoned smuggler Kilner and reluctant fugitive Sam, as they travel the galaxy, carrying out odd jobs on the fringes of the law.”
Another engaging and very entertaining British audio drama, We Fix Space Junk has the whole package, from a great logo and catchy sound effects and theme music, to impressive acting, and a great storyline that gives listeners an unpredictable episode every two weeks. Kilner and Sam get up to all sorts of adventures across the universe, working for the omnipresent and domineering Automnicon. It’s a fun show that always leaves listeners endlessly amused.
“A podcast about podcasting”
Wil Williams (if you’re a podcaster and you don’t know who she is, you are seriously missing out and need to get that fixed right away) and Gavin Gaddis (The Pod Report, Red Light Library, Standard Docking Procedure) teamed up in the spring of 2018 to do a podcast about podcasting, which doesn’t begin to cover the depth and insight this show reaches.
With 20 episodes in the can, Tuned in Dialed Up runs the gamut from “Spoilers Ahoy!” episodes, to numerous featured guests (the likes of Lizette Alvarez, Elena Fernandez-Collins, and Erin Kyan), to incredibly important episodes on casting calls to ethics in podcasting to monetization.
Sometimes TIDU can get dark and bleak, but that’s because sometimes podcasting needs to, to talk about incredibly important subjects from trans representation, how creators should treat fans and how fans should treat creators, to listeners and actors with disabilities. I avidly await each new episode TIDU, because I always know I’m going to learn a lot.
“Arden Podcast: Arden is a scripted audio drama that’s both mystery and comedy. The 12 episode first season follows Bea Casely, a journalist, and Brenda Bentley, a detective, as they work together to solve the 10-year-old disappearance of starlet Julie Capsom.”
Definitely one of the highlights of the year for me. The Arden Podcast began with the tagline “Serial Meets Moonlighting,” and recently wrapped up its first season (yes, you do find out what happened to Julie Capsom). Bea (performed by Michelle Agresti) and Brenda (Tracey Sayed) have a rapport and dynamic together that is up there with Cagney and Lacey and Kirk and Spock. Timeless and forever entertaining.
Humor is always present to add a levity to the grim subject, and the sexual tension between the two feels at times veritably palpable. There are plans for another season and I can’t wait to see what case this dynamic duo tackles next.
“Of course there are bad ideas. Like, a lot of them. But any idea can become a good story.”
As a writer, it can feel somewhat condescending to hear bestselling authors talk about writing and how you get it done when they’re not too worried about where next week’s paycheck is coming from. No Bad Ideas is a different sort of writing advice podcast. It features a trio of greats from the hugely (and still) popular Wolf 359: Zach Valenti, Sarah Shachat, and Gabriel Urbina.
The first hour is spent turning a terrible idea scoured from the Internet into a compelling and entertaining (and always amusing) story. The second half of the show has the three talking about the state of their creative endeavors and it is always so insightful and humbling as none of three hold back and confess to fears and worries all writers have on a daily basis.
And there you have my top podcasts for 2018. Have you listened to them all? You should really check them out. Have some favorites of your own from last year? Let me know what they are in the comments below.