Perhaps you got hooked on podcasts last year by listening to Serial. From the creators of This American Life, produced by WBEZ Chicago, and hosted by Sarah Koenig, Serial offered listeners a true story told over the course of a season with weekly episodes. The first season focused on the disappearance in 1999 of Hae Min Lee in Baltimore and the conviction of her boyfriend, Adnan Syed, for her murder. In July 2016, Judge Martin P. Welch ordered a new trial for Adnan Syed. The second season explored the case of Bowe Bergdahl, the American soldier who had walked off his post in Afghanistan in 2009, was captured by the Taliban, and held prisoner for nearly five years. Released in May 2014 as part of a prisoner exchange with for five Taliban members who had been held at Guantanamo Bay, Bowe Bergdahl returned to the US to face a court martial. His military trial for desertion has been postponed until February 2017 to give the defense time to properly review and prepare thousands of classified documents.
More recently, American Public Media launched an investigative podcast, In the Dark, with reporter Madeleine Baran, which looked into the disappearance of Jacob Wetterling, an 11-year-old boy abducted from his hometown of St. Joseph, Minnesota 27 years ago. Unlike Serial, the mission wasn’t to solve the crime. In the Dark looked at why the case hadn’t been solved and the impact it had on the people swept up into it, including Jacob’s parents. Days before the podcast was set to begin, authorities announced Danny Heinrich had admitted he had abducted, assaulted, killed, and buried Jacob Wetterling less than 30 miles away from the abduction.
True crime has become one of the most successful genres in podcasting today. This American Life, RadioLab, The TED Radio Hour, How I Built This, and Fresh Air (with Terry Gross about new releases of books) are other successful podcasts which you may have listened to and enjoyed. The majority of the top ranking podcasts, however, are those which feature true crime stories.
Podcasts are digital audio files made available on the internet for downloading to a computer or a portable media player. Many of them are syndicated for broadcast on radio stations. The word podcast is a word which combines iPod (a brand of media player) and broadcast. Podcasting has its roots in the 1980s and was first known as audioblogging when audio files could be downloaded as MP3 files from the internet instead of heard live on radio. Listeners can hear them at their convenience. Podcasting took off after Apple released iTunes 4.9 in June 2005 and within a year many public radio networks like the BBC, CBC Radio One, National Public Radio and PRI placed many of their programs on the iTunes platform. It wasn’t until Serial, though, the podcasts became wildly popular.
One of the first dramatized podcasts to capture the attention of listeners with stories of crime, mystery, conspiracy, and more was Secrets, Crimes & Audiotapes which ushered in a new golden age of audio drama in the US. The premiere featured Jenna Elfman (from Dharma and Greg) and Bodhi Elfman (from Criminal Minds) and was adapted from Greg Kallere’s stage play. Distributed by Wondery, an on-demand audio network that curates podcasts, the show has listeners who have discovered the network’s other programs including Found (lost notes and the mysteries behind them), The Vanished (missing person cases), Sword and Scale (crime and the criminal justice system) and Real Crime Profile (profile behavior from real crime cases).
Reveal, produced by the Center for Investigative Reporting and PRX, reveals injustice, abuse of power, and crime stories. It’s high production values, interesting case materials, and compelling storytelling make this podcast easy listening. Each episode is a stand-alone program on a topic of interest to true crime aficionados. The pilot episode aired September 28, 2013 about the VA’s deadly pain pill habit. The most recent episode, America’s Ring of Fire, examined how wildfires got so dangerous, widespread across the country, and how some areas are fighting back.
House of Mystery Radio on KFNX 1100 AM in Phoenix is also a podcast where you can listen online with on-demand topics and episodes. They cover true crime, serial killers, conspiracy, and unsolved historical mysteries. Host Alan R. Warren interviews authors, filmmakers, screenwriters, forensic scientists, private investigators. The most recent episode on October 5, featured Ann Marie Ackermann whose new book, Death of an Assassin: The True Story of the German Murderer Who Died Defending Robert E. Lee, is forthcoming from the True Crime History series published by Kent State University Press in Spring 2017. Ann Marie Ackermann’s blog was named by Crime Traveller as one of the best crime blogs in December 2015.
Detective is another podcast worth listening to if you like the true crime genre. Retired Lieutenant Joe Kenda from Colorado Spring discusses cold cases from 23 years working the homicide beat.
Wish We Were Here on Southern Colorado’s NPR Station KRCC ceased production in July 2016, however, their episodes are archived and available to download. The best episode is CSPD Black. It’s the behind the scenes account of how a black detective, Ron Stallworth, infiltrated the KKK.
One of the most popular crime show podcasts, Crime Beat, is hosted by Ron Chespesiuk on Artist First Radio Network. I met Ron many years ago when he was a professor of library science at Winthrop University in Rock Hill, South Carolina. Ron recently interviewed Pulitzer prize winning journalist David Cay Johnston about his new book, The Making of Donald Trump (Melville House, August 2016). On the September 1 episode, John Ferak, a reporter for the Appleton Post-Crescent, discussed his new book, Failure of Justice: A Brutal Murder, An Obsessed Cop, Six Wrongful Convictions (WildBlue Press, 2016). I’ve been reading John Ferak’s recent investigative reports on the appeals of the Steve Avery case. If you watched Making a Murderer, you’ll want to follow his indepth coverage on evidence brought to light since Kathleen Zellner filed motions to overturn Avery’s murder conviction.
The explosion of podcasting means there are more true crime story programs than ever. CBS News’ 48 Hours brings their award-winning TV team to cover tricky criminal cases and human drama. Casefile is an Austrialian postcast that digs into a different case in each hour-long episode.
There’s even a podcast about true crime podcasts. Crime Writers On… began when hosts Rebecca Lavoie and Kevin Flynn brought fellow writers together to discuss Serial and it morphed into a broad conversation about true crime, journalism, and pop culture.
So, what are your favorite podcasts?