Adrien Behn is the host and creator of the new narrative nonfiction podcast A Race Around the World: Based on the True Adventures of Nellie Bly and Elizabeth Bisland. Adrien is also the creator of Strangers Abroad, a narrative travel podcast in addition to being a writer, and live storyteller. She’s been on the Best of Risk! podcast and pictured in the New York Times.
I love this medium so much and admire all of the creative ways people play with it. When I go on my daily break from working on podcasts, I listen to someone else’s podcast. I also have a deep location association with each show, which, to me, always enhances the mood. So, these are the shows that kept me company on long bus rides or flights. They made me learn something, laugh, gasp, or miss their voice when they weren’t speaking in my ear. They accomplished what we are all going for in this medium: they made me feel. This list is in no particular order. Like a mother’s love, I cannot put one above another.
Floodlines is about the lead up and aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. Host Vann R. Newkirk II hits all the right emotional notes, raises all of the right questions, and has a great first person tape. It spells out perfectly what went wrong, how it was poorly handled, and the lasting repercussions. I remember shaking my head as I listened on a road trip down to North Carolina.
Both seasons of Blindspot are phenomenal. Both seasons take heavy historical moments like 9/11 (first season) or the Tulsa Massacre ( second season) and knit together the plot, deeper insights, and the lasting repercussions. Host Jim O’Grady is a phenomenal storyteller and somehow manages to tell the story of 9/11 with…stay with me…jokes, which always feel appropriate and reverent for the story he is telling.
The second season is hosted by KalaLea who is a beautiful storyteller and makes us feel like we are right there in that thriving neighborhood before horrific events took place. The 9/11 season hits on a rainy fall day in NYC. The Tulsa Burning season, I listened to on a hot summer day on the way back from North Carolina.
The format of Slow Burn is so compelling. Each season takes one moment in history and unpacks it over four-eight episodes. No matter the narrator, I always walk away understanding some illusive historical moment like what was Iran–Contra about? Or what happened with Tupac and Biggie again? How did Roe v Wade get passed? Slow Burn breaks it down. All seasons are great. Location, not specific.
Death of an Artist is a harrowing account of artist Ana Mendieta’s death and how her husband, the much more famous artist Carl Andre was involved (her body was found on the street under the window of his apartment building in the West Village). Host Helen Molesworth, once the Chief Curator at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles, raises large questions around the slimy actions by the art world to protect its shiny veneer. It unpacks how the art world prioritizes its male stars no matter the cost and minimizes female artists’ stories and talent. The show is thoughtful and beautifully done, best listened to at a sculpture park or large art museum.
Wind of Change involves the Soviet Union, a heavy metal German rock band, and possible CIA propaganda. Host Patrick Radden Keeife tries to figure out if the CIA helped create a pop song to help take down the Soviet Union. Even though the story is low stakes, it does go into areas where the CIA did actually use music and musicians for their initiatives. I love Patrick Radden Keeife, his writing, and his narration. Wind of Change was a saving grace of mine during a 13- hour car ride from Chicago to New York. I highly recommend the show, not the long ride.
If you love the strange and mysterious, this is a magnificent show. It’s created by Terry Miles, and his “hard working cousin” Nic Silver hosts the show. Nic tries to explore the mysteries that keep happening in the Pacific Northwest, which all seem tied to a mysterious, ever moving place called Tanis. Terry Miles creates a wholly immersive world, and you will wonder where the time went once you finish an episode. TANIS is richly soundscaped and scored. I want to include all of the Pacific Northwest productions: Rabbits, The Black Tapes, The Last Movie, and Wildflowers. This show is best listened to while driving around at night in the countryside. Terry, if you read this, please keep working on season six; we are still looking.
The first time I listened to Limetown, I could not be convinced it wasn’t real. It is a fictional piece written as a true crime docu-series. It’s about the 300+ people who mysteriously vanished from a newly built town, Limetown, one day. The writing is exceptional and just the right amount of creepy. There are great characters, and it is well scored and sound designed. Limetown is also a great listen to at night, somewhere remote and unsettling.
This is a great show for anyone considering having a baby. Sharon Mashihi explores the prospect of childrearing through “Melanie”. Melanie is the one who goes through all of the emotional ups and downs of wanting a kid, not wanting a kid, maybe having one? It is intimate, beautifully produced, and hits an emotional chord around the fears and confusion around whether or not to have a baby. This is pseudo-fiction but always feels honest. This show is best listened to on the couch, near a journal and a hot cup of tea.
I would be a cultureless, tacky hack without StraightioLab. I love George Civeris and Sam Taggart and all the guests they have on the show. The premise is that straight guests come on and discuss an area of “straight culture” that they all unpack and make fun of together, but it’s so much more. There are few shows where the hosts actually have great banter, and this is one of the best. Best listened to at 2am at a club in Bushwick.
Dead Eyes is the creme de la creme of memoir/mystery/humor. The host Connor Ratliff is trying to solve the mystery of why Tom Hanks told him he had “dead eyes” at an audition 20 years ago. Along the way, he talks to those who were involved in the casting process and other actors about their “dead eyes” moments. If you want to listen to someone overthink a moment that happened to them 20 years ago in a “thankfully” entertaining way, this show is for you. Connor is so funny and earnest and each episode ends with an Amy Mann song. It’s so great. The second season lags a bit, but the ending….*chef’s kiss* Best listened to in the southwest or Los Angeles.
The Splendid Table is an OG food podcast. The seasons I love are hosted by Lynne Rossetto Kasper; she is the Italian grandmother you always wish you had. It’s so intimate, you can smell the tomato sauce simmering in the background in every episode. I know she is recording in a studio, but it always feels like she is just sitting down at the kitchen with you, surrounded by opened cans of beans and flour covered recipe books. My favorite part is when she gives live advice to callers. The new host Francis Lam is great, and I’m glad the show hasn’t strayed away from the format. I have learned so much about cooking, recipe development, food history, and taste than I could have ever bargained for. Listen to it close to a kitchen aid and a fully stocked pantry.
This new interview podcast is beautiful. Host Sam Dingman is such a thoughtful interviewer and talks with creatives about their creative process and their spiritual connection to the art they make. Each episode is strikingly intimate without ever feeling like a boundary has been crossed and inspires you to get back to that book idea you have been sitting on. Caveat: I am going to marry him, but the sentiment still stands! Listen to it near a collection of fountain pens, an oak wood desk, and a lit candle.
I have to plug my first podcast, Strangers Abroad. I am in a rare camp of people who looked at GarageBand in the early 2010s and thought,“ I could make a podcast”.
So, I made it on a broken ipad while backpacking through Latin America. I interviewed strangers I met while backpacking from Mexico to Peru and weaved in my own stories along the way. In my second season, I themed each episode around an aspect of travel – Lost, Hungry, Wander, Home. I had fellow travelers tell stories around that theme and with a cold open of a personal travel story. Listen to it when you feel reckless enough to buy a one-way ticket to wherever your heart is calling.
Plug number three! This is my newest show. It is a historical story about two female writers who raced each other around the world in 1889. They were trying to make it back to their starting point, New York City, in under 80 days. The first woman, Nellie Bly, went east, and the second woman, Elizabeth Bisland, headed west. They both travel over four continents, ten countries, and every major body of water in between alone. In each episode, listeners are brought to a different corner of the world and emotional landscape that these two women are exploring. This eleven part series unpacks their whirlwind of an adventure and how they lived to tell the tale. Best listened in any of the locations these women venture to.