Lilah Raptopoulos is a journalist and the host of the Financial Times’ Life & Arts podcast, Culture Call.
On Culture Call, we ask creators and thinkers big questions. This season, our show is centered around the question, “What’s possible now, that would have seemed impossible before?” The pandemic has exposed a lot of inequities, and given us a unique chance to reimagine. So in service of that goal, I look for podcasts that make me think about what’s possible for audio. The podcasts below have all, in their own special ways, pushed me out of my head, my comfort zone, or the traditional news cycle. They’ve made me think creatively or with a tilted view on the world, or they’ve given me inspiration for my own show. Most are hard to explain. I love them all.
My Gothic Dissertation
The world’s most meta podcast, and the first ever PhD dissertation in podcast form. This is a brilliant premise for a show; somehow both an analysis of Gothic fiction and a criticism of the entire PhD education system as its own gothic nightmare.
Recommended episode: Amateur Hour – A Prologue
The Ballad of Billy Balls
One of my favorite audio projects…ever. iO Tillet Wright and his producer solve a deep mystery about a sexy, dangerous musician from the Bowery, Billy Balls, who was mysteriously killed in 1982. It’s about so much more than Billy. It’s about New York, family, forgiveness and about the depths of familial love.
Recommended episode: S2  Billy Balls and His Babygirl
Ologies with Alie Ward
Let the host, Alie Ward, use her comforting voice and earnest curiosity to introduce you to people who are obsessed with their science. It will make you obsessed with their science, too. I now move through the world with a secret: I know a lot more about moss and jellyfish than you do.
Recommended episode: Bryology (MOSS) with Dr. Robin Wall Kimmerer
I interviewed Kaitlin Prest, the voice and mind behind The Heart, for Culture Call. Her creative process is wild and free. Appearances is the newest release from her new audio company, Mermaid Palace, and her collaborator Sharon Mashihi. It’s about a woman’s quest to explore her Iranian-American identity, hoping it will help her start a family. The series is a true feat: part fiction, part fact, part audio whirlwind.
Recommended episode: Prologue
This podcast investigates the death of Courtney Copeland, a black 22 year old guy from Chicago who was shot and killed, with little detail released by the Chicago Police Department. The investigation is run by journalists at The Intercept and nonprofit Invisible Institute, but really it’s led – and hosted – by Courtney’s mother, who lets no one off the hook. That fact makes it so different from other true crime shows. It’s touching, enraging and brilliant.
Recommended episode: Courtney
A palate cleanser. Ellie McDowall, the producer of the amazing multi-lingual subtitled podcast Radio Atlas, has given this space to radio producers so they can share their ambient recordings from around the world. Sometimes I put on nice headphones and listen to a cat purring while I write emails, or listen to a stranger swimming while I try to fall asleep. It’s comforting and transporting.
Recommended episode: Kittens purring, Regent’s Canal, London, UK on 31st July 2020 – by Andrea Rangecroft
I’d be remiss not to include my own show; this season we are doing a deep (and hopeful) dive into what’s possible now that seemed impossible before the pandemic. I asked the Chinese dissident artist Ai Weiwei what makes an effective protest, and filmmaker Miranda July how to make creative work now (who will future us be and what will we want?). We have questions, and knowledge, but no answers. And it’s thrilling.
Recommended episode: Miranda July on releasing a feature film in a pandemic
Have You Heard George’s Podcast?
It’s London. It’s everything. Phone calls, poetry, spoken word, radio scenes. It’s political observation. It has pushed the genre forward. We also interviewed George for Culture Call. He was one of the most thoughtful, generous and brilliant guests we have had on the show.
Recommended episode: 1. Listen Closer
This is an investigative podcast that explores *cultural mysteries*. There’s one about the rise and fall of the laugh track. There’s one about the history of the mullet. And there’s a riveting one about Jane Fonda and her relationship with an old friend.
Recommended episode: Jane Fonda’s Workout, Part 1: Jane and Leni
Behind the Money
There are not enough podcasts that make business news into the drama it is. My colleagues at the Financial Times do that beautifully with Behind the Money; they bring our journalists into the room to spin wild tales; but the wildest thing is, the tales are all true.
Recommended episode: LVMH, Tiffany and a case of buyer’s remorse
Unfinished: Season 2 – Short Creek
A deep, sensitive dive into what it is like to be raised in the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. It’s a community superficially known for polygamy and child marriage, but the podcast is about so much more; it’s about fanaticism, and what it means to blindly believe. It’s hard to tell stories from this world, and this podcast was made by people who inhabit it.
Recommended episode: Short Creek | E1 The Why Child