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A golden age for podcasts

Amrita V Nair | Updated on April 03, 2021

Two hot to handle: Hosted by Barack Obama and Bruce Springsteen, ‘Renegades’ consists of eight conversations between them about race, fatherhood, marriage, and the state of America   -  IMAGE COURTESY: TWITTER / BRUCE SPRINGSTEEN

The uncertainty and upheaval engendered by the pandemic and the lockdowns across the world have led to the most interesting conversations

* Podcasting is the medium of choice for experts and luminaries from nearly every field

* Hosted by former US President Barack Obama and iconic rock musician Bruce Springsteen, Renegades consists of eight conversations between them about “race, fatherhood, marriage, and the state of America”

* In Reverberate, journalist Chris Michael explores remarkable stories of the transformative power of music at a much grander and more historic scale

***

Reeling from the impacts of the Great Depression and the two World Wars, from the 1930s through the 1940s, the American people turned to their radios for information and entertainment. Today, that period of time is known as the Golden Age of American Radio, due to both the popularity of the medium and the quality of the programmes, which featured creative greats such as actor-director Orson Welles, singer Frank Sinatra and actor Helen Hayes.

In many ways, it looks as though the uncertainty and upheaval engendered by the pandemic and the lockdowns across the world have created a similar golden age for podcasts. Today, podcasting is the medium of choice for experts and luminaries from nearly every field. Each month, there are announcements made of new, exciting and even big-budget podcasts gearing up to launch. To help you pick the ones that are worth your time, this month Active Voice brings you four of the most interesting new podcasts launched over the past year.

Renegades: Born in the USA

Everybody loves the story of an unlikely friendship — and Renegades presents the story of one such bond and, through its lens, explores the past and present of America. Hosted by former US President Barack Obama and iconic rock musician Bruce Springsteen, the podcast consists of eight conversations between them about “race, fatherhood, marriage, and the state of America”. Launched on Spotify last month, Renegades has been an instant hit.

The show is a delight to listen to — even beyond its status as a podcast hosted by two of the most famous people on Earth. Obama and Springsteen banter easily and are willing to tackle difficult topics. For example, when discussing the historical treatment of Black people in America, Springsteen raises the question of reparations. Obama believes that reparations are justified as a large portion of the wealth of the US was built on “the backs of slaves”. Yet, he says, he knew that proposing a reparations programme during his presidency would have been counterproductive, given the political and economic climate that he had to navigate. The podcast is a thought-provoking and fascinating listen for anyone interested in American politics, history or culture. Listen here.

Reverberate

Few will argue that music has the power to inspire change and transformation. The right song can make a bad day seem bearable or pump you up to seize your Monday morning. In Reverberate, journalist Chris Michael explores remarkable stories of the transformative power of music at a grander and more historic scale. In this six-part episode, which was launched in January this year by The Guardian, Michael explores the role of music in shaping the world as we know it. Each episode focusses on a city and recounts the story of a watershed moment in its history that was precipitated by music, often through interviews with artists and others who lived through it. The episode on Birmingham, for instance, brings to life how in the aftermath of the 1981 Handsworth riots, south Asian teenagers in the city turned to bhangra music to find a sense of belonging and forge their own identity in a time of violent racial tension and xenophobia. Listen here.

Unexplainable

Produced by Vox and hosted by Noam Hassenfeld, Unexplainable is a podcast about “everything we don’t know.” Each episode of the podcast explores an as-yet unanswered scientific question and the work that is being done currently to try and answer it. In these explorations, Hassenfeld is joined by Vox reporters as well as scientists and other experts and each episode is a humbling reminder than even with all the technological advancements humanity has made, we are yet to crack many of the mysteries that surround us in everyday life. The first episode, for instance, brought me the startling learning that even after extensive research, scientists are not yet quite sure how exactly the sense of smell works. Though the podcast is only four episodes old at the time of writing, it has already distinguished itself in the crowded world of science podcasts with its unique premise and lively narrative style. Listen here.

Grounded with Louis Theroux

The oldest podcast on this list is documentary film-maker and journalist Louis Theroux’s Covid-19 lockdown project Grounded. Produced by BBC Radio 4, Grounded was launched in April 2020 and features Theroux’s interviews with “some high-profile people he’s been longing to talk to — from all walks of life and on both sides of the Atlantic”. While there is no dearth of celebrities-interviewing-other-celebrities podcasts out there, Grounded leads the pack due to the unexpected guests it features and Theroux’s seasoned interview style.

Theroux is also unafraid to broach difficult topics with his guests and as a result, some interviews can be intense or even disturbing to listen to. In one of the early episodes, actress and activist Rose McGowan talks about the mental health toll of sexual assault and harassment that she was subjected to by Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein. Last month, in the first episode of Season 2 of the podcast, controversial, award-winning film-maker Oliver Stone talks about his past struggle with addiction and his eventual path to recovery. The openness with which both Theroux and his interviewees have these conversations makes each episode riveting and thought provoking. Listen here.

(Active Voice is a monthly column on podcasts)

Amrita V Nair   -  Business Line

 

Amrita V Nair is a freelance writer, public policy specialist and podcast enthusiast

Twitter: @amritanairv

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Published on April 03, 2021
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