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From diners to theatres

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Jazz Hands

Episode: "Anything Goes" | Podcast: The Show Show: The A-Z of Musicals | 46m38s

Relatively new podcast that promises to go through Wikipedia's alphabetised list of musical theatre shows in order, episode by episode. This second episode is the letter A for Anything Goes by Cole Porter, first performed on Broadway in 1934. This cruise ship based romantic comedy was the original source of two of Porter's best songs, "You're the Top" and "I Get a Kick Out of You", and despite its lightweight plot has had an outsize influence on the stage musical. This is a pretty loose, conversational show, but still enjoyable (46m38s)


More Coffee

Episode: "Adam & Eve On A Raft: Why Lonely People Are Attracted To Diners" | Podcast: Alone Together | 25m59s

Podcast about loneliness explores the role that the 24 hour diner plays in this experience and its depiction in western pop culture. Beginning with the 1942 Edward Hopper painting Nighthawks, which shows four  customers inside a lighted diner on a dark street corner, the host looks at the way these establishments have operated as a space where people can be alone together. There's also a discussion of how diners became political, as American civil rights activists like John Lewis "sat in" to protest segregationist policies (25m59s)


Another Country

Episode: "1931" | Podcast: Centuries Of Sound | 42m59s

Sonic time travelling. The creators of this show are gradually producing audio mixes for every year of recorded sound, beginning with one for 1859. They have now reached the 1930s, and this recreation of 1931 is well worth turning up in the headphones. The Great Depression, Hollywood's golden age, the Mississippi Delta blues — it's all here. There are recognisable hits here, such as Cab Calloway's "Minnie The Moocher", but also plenty of songs that haven't made it to modern anthologies. It's a pleasure to listen like a 1930s music fan (42m59s)


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From codes to snakes

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Murder Hunt

Episode: "The Parallax" | Podcast: The Cipher | 34m00s

Beginning of a ten part science fiction thriller about a mysterious code and the race to apprehend a possibly otherworldly serial killer. In an echo of the WW2 Bletchley Park code breakers, 16 year old Sabrina is recruited to the investigation after she cracks the parallax problem that is baffling the world's brightest minds, and the tale unfolds from there. Two performances lift this series above the standard audio sci fi offering: Star Trek's George Takei narrates beautifully and Chance Perdomo adds the perfect amount of sardonic wit (34m00s)


Culture Clash

Episode: "Bushido" | Podcast: Writ Large | 30m34s

Well produced show about literary history tackles a seminal work by the Japanese writer Inazō Nitobe. Born in 1862, Nitobe travelled widely outside of his home country and was repeatedly startled by the misunderstandings of Japanese culture that existed in the United States and Europe. He wrote his introduction to the samurai code and ethics, Bushido: The Soul of Japan, in English to redress this balance and it was published in the US in 1899. As well as recapping its contents, this episode also examines the book's reception in Japan (30m34s)


Forked Tongue

Episode: "An Appetite for Arboreality" | Podcast: Herpetological Highlights | 76m41s

If you thought you didn't need to listen to over an hour of two experts talking about arboreal snakes, you were wrong. The deep yet matter of fact enthusiasm exuded by these two researchers for "scaled and slimy animals" is palpable throughout and makes their subject here — snakes that climb trees as part of their survival techniques — fascinating even for the completely indifferent. In each episode they run through the relevant academic studies on their topic and present it to the listener in a digestible fashion (76m41s)


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From church to trees

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The Woods

Episode: "A Man Who Cannot Be Saved" | Podcast: In Strange Woods | 36m31s

Ambitious podcast musical from the production house that made cult fiction series The Bright Sessions. This is the first chapter, which introduces the setting — a rural Minnesota town on the edge of a forest. The writers have cleverly flirted with podcasting's true crime obsession by centring the plot around the mysterious disappearance of a local teenager, although it then grows far beyond those conventions. The original music is completely integrated, made in a folk pop style that fans of Stephin Merritt and Nick Cave will appreciate (36m31s)


From High

Episode: "The Pulpit" | Podcast: 5 Minutes In Church History With Stephen Nichols | 5m00s

Brief weekly lessons in religious history, produced by a Presbyterian ministry with a mission to provide theological education. This instalment is about the origins of the pulpit, a central object in Christian worship and architecture. One of the earliest references to it is in a letter from 250CE, but it was superseded in importance by the altar by the medieval era. The tradition to which this show belongs seeks to return it — and the "word of God" that it represents — to prominence. An interesting, if partial, account (5m00s)


Love Story

Episode: "Centenarians (Still) in Lockdown" | Podcast: Radio Diaries | 15m55s

Life affirming conversation with two centenarians who are cheerfully seeing out the Covid-19 pandemic. Joe Newman is 107 and only recently gave up driving his red convertible. His fiancée Anita Sampson just turned 100 — the producers sent them a recording device so he could capture her reaction to the virtual birthday party he organised. Here, Joe also shares his memories of the 1918 flu pandemic. Every night they kiss and say "I hope to see you in the morning" and every morning they check the other is still breathing (15m55s)


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Free 1 min read

From words to rocks

Episode: "Shore In Noongar" | Podcast: Little Yarns | 7m19s

Series about Australia's many first languages, spoken by peoples all over the continent and now in need of restoration after centuries of suppression and colonisation. In each episode, the host "visits" a different place and is taught a few words of a regional language by a friendly speaker. Here, we go to the Noongar Nation in the south west of Australia. This show from the country's public broadcaster is aimed at children, but the clear diction and translation is really suitable for anyone curious about the topic (7m19s)


The Judgment

Episode: "Is Ellen DeGeneres Canceled?" | Podcast: Are They Canceled? | 26m17s

Mostly lighthearted look at cancel culture. The hosts take it in turns to present the case for a celebrity, dissect their behaviour and then conclude by deciding whether that person is "cancelled" or not. The subject of this investigation is Ellen DeGeneres, the American comedian and talk show host best known for coming out as a lesbian on television in 1994. While acknowledging her groundbreaking stance then, the hosts raise questions about her more recent actions, including defending fellow celebrities accused of homophobia (26m17s)


Ancient Stone

Episode: "Red Rocks" | Podcast: Describing A Rock | 17m53s

Beautiful short essays describing rocks. Of course, there's much more here than just adjectives about stone: each episode transports the listener temporarily to where the host is and invites you to contemplate the landscape together. Here ancient sandstone formations are observed while resting on a hike up a mountain. The language and delivery of this show are contemplative and calming, and it's worth giving your whole focus for its short duration. This, the first new episode in over a year, is really excellent (17m53s)

Free 1 min read

From plagues to dreams

The Pestilence

Episode: "The Plague Of Justinian" | Podcast: Futuremakers | 55m45s

Part of a series about plagues of centuries past. This one, from the sixth century, is often considered to be the first "plague pandemic", spreading through the eastern Mediterranean and northern Africa and eventually killing millions in Europe. It is named for the Emperor Justinian because he is thought to have contracted the disease and then recovered at the outbreak's height, when around 10,000 people a day were dying in his capital city of Constantinople. Medical historians here put this in the context of other, better known, disease events (55m45s)


Sweet Dreams

Episode: "Session One: Initial Dream Investigation" | Podcast: The Sink: A Sleep Aid | 24m17s

Part 'help to sleep' meditation, part dark comedy sketch show, part binaural soundscape. This show is difficult to define, which is why it is such a pleasurable piece — even for the most jaded and omnivorous listener, it will be surprising. The humour is akin to the peculiarly British bleakness of something like The League of Gentlemen or the work of Chris Morris. Familiarity with ubiquitous wellness apps like Calm or Headspace can add an extra layer of enjoyment, since the writer is parodying our desire for dreamless oblivion (24m17s)


Bonus pick: Is it still worth reading a whodunnit when you know who done it? The new podcast episode from Listener editor Caroline Crampton looks at how spoilers operate in the world of murder mysteries. Listen to Shedunnit now at shedunnitshow.com or in your podcast app.


Cautionary Tale

Episode: "A Tribute To Fiona" | Podcast: The Sharp End | 49m39s

Conversational podcast about mountaineering accidents. Each episode features climbers with a story to tell, which the host gently teases out as a way of helping others in the sport avoid disaster. This one sees three friends describe how the fourth member of their group died during a canyoneering trip in Utah in February 2020. Lots of tears, plus details about carabiners and rappelling systems. Not necessarily a listen for an emotionally fragile moment, but worth it if you can: the concept works surprisingly well (49m39s)

Free 2 min read

From games to trails

Present Time

Episode: "Christmas Gift Recommendations!" | Podcast: Play Is The Thing | 8m41s

Podcast about play hosted by a developmental paediatrician. The interviews in the series are informative, covering topics from neurodiversity to screen time and are always anchored in how playing games of all kinds informs wellbeing. This episode is a break from the usual format, however, and features many previous guests offering recommendations of games that are actually good to give as gifts (and won't end up played once and then forgotten. Many of them suit people of all ages and can be played alone or in a group (8m41s)


Homer Nods

Episode: "Lost Books Of The Odyssey" | Podcast: Make-Believe | 60m35s

Live performances of short works inspired by literature and lore. In this one, the company presents five "riffs" on Homer's Odyssey, imagining other incidents that might have happened to hero Odysseus on his way home from the Trojan wars. The combination of real time theatrical performance and deft sound design in this show is brilliant. Although recorded in 2019, it's ideally suited to this year. The intimacy of having the performers in your headphones is a good stand in for attending the theatre in person (60m35s)


Forced Migration

Episode: "The Dispossession Of Native Americans" | Podcast: History Extra | 43m44s

Interview with a researcher of Native American history. The conversation focuses particularly on the nineteenth century state-backed removal of indigenous peoples from their lands that was instituted by President Andrew Jackson in 1830 and set off the forced migration to the west often referred to today as the Trail of Tears. The expert is articulate and detailed in his responses, encompassing the nuance of the subject matter while remaining direct in tone. As an entry point into this period of history, this is excellent (43m44s)


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Free 1 min read

From gifts to tears

Present Time

Episode: "Christmas Gift Recommendations!" | Podcast: Play Is The Thing | 8m41s

Podcast about play hosted by a developmental paediatrician. The interviews in the series are informative, covering topics from neurodiversity to screen time and are always anchored in how playing games of all kinds informs wellbeing. This episode is a break from the usual format, however, and features many previous guests offering recommendations of games that are actually good to give as gifts (and won't end up played once and then forgotten. Many of them suit people of all ages and can be played alone or in a group (8m41s)


Homer Nods

Episode: "Lost Books Of The Odyssey" | Podcast: Make-Believe | 60m35s

Live performances of short works inspired by literature and lore. In this one, the company presents five "riffs" on Homer's Odyssey, imagining other incidents that might have happened to hero Odysseus on his way home from the Trojan wars. The combination of real time theatrical performance and deft sound design in this show is brilliant. Although recorded in 2019, it's ideally suited to this year. The intimacy of having the performers in your headphones is a good stand in for attending the theatre in person (60m35s)


Forced Migration

Episode: "The Dispossession Of Native Americans" | Podcast: History Extra | 43m44s

Interview with a researcher of Native American history. The conversation focuses particularly on the nineteenth century state-backed removal of indigenous peoples from their lands that was instituted by President Andrew Jackson in 1830 and set off the forced migration to the west often referred to today as the Trail of Tears. The expert is articulate and detailed in his responses, encompassing the nuance of the subject matter while remaining direct in tone. As an entry point into this period of history, this is excellent (43m44s)


Where else would you be able to find good game recommendations, experience the Odyssey first hand, and learn about Native American history? Get three outstanding recommendations on diverse and fascinating topics each day with a paid Listener subscription — no ads, and no fuss.

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