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Documentaries to Listen: Podcast Day Edition

By Susan Q. Yin

IDA’s inaugural Podcast Day is coming up this weekend! To help you get ready for a daylong exploration of audio storytelling and documentary podcasting, we’ve compiled a list of must-listen audio docs that you can dive into online. We even asked this Saturday’s panelists to recommend a few of their own personal favorites, including docs whose production and creation they’ve been involved in: from classic true crime to animated history, here are some audio docs to listen. Ready to start making your own? Make sure you buy your tickets to Podcast Day this Saturday, August 24!


“Autopilot Off” (Bellweather, 2019)

The pilot episode of Sam Greenspan’s new podcast, Bellwether, is the story of the self-driving Uber collision that killed a pedestrian. But who’s really at fault? If the person behind the wheel takes the fall, suddenly we are living in a world where one can go to jail for the crimes of an AI.

Listen: Soundcloud

“Jack and Ellen” (Love+Radio, 2013)

Ellen was struggling for money, working as a Subway “sandwich artist” (yes, that’s a real thing). So she decided to find a new job, and settled on one that allowed her to make over $30,000 for just a couple hours of work each week. One with emotional and moral consequences she didn’t fully anticipate.

Listen: PRX

"Palabra Prohibida" (Radio Ambulante, 2014)

Radio Ambulante is a Spanish program of National Public Radio (NPR) that explores Latin American stories, presented by Peruvian author, Daniel Daniel Alarcón. Episode Palabra Prohibida (The Forbidden Word) takes us back to 2000 in Durham, North Carolina, where Reza Salazar struggled to adapt and learn the customs of his new home. There was one word his new friends told him he could never, ever say.

Listen: Soundcloud

“Saving Grace” (The Nod, 2018)

A short story of how The Sims gave the 15-year-old Autumn an escape from her difficult home life. Amid tragedy, the line between the game and real-life starts to blur.

Listen: Spotify, Apple Podcasts, Gimlet

“Subtext Communicating with Horses” (Jay Allison, 1985)

A hybrid 5-minute piece where an animal psychologist searches for the source of one horse's ennui. The horse “responds” with his story of dislocation and lost youth.

Listen: PRX


99% Invisible (PRX & Radiotopia)

Originally, host and creator Roman Mars produced 99% Invisible from his bedroom, then out of a small shed behind his house with producer Sam Greenspan. Now in downtown Oakland, the series continues to bring us stories of unnoticed architecture and design that shape our world.

Listen: Spotify, Apple Podcasts, Stitcher, RadioPublic

Bodies (KCRW)

“What’s wrong with me?” Each episode of this documentary series begins as a medical mystery. But once you peel back the layers, more questions emerge.

Listen: Apple Podcasts, NPR One

Bundyville (OPB)

A seven-part series chronicling the rise, fall and resurgence of the Bundy family, the armed uprisings they inspired and the fight over the future of the American West. The series scrutinizes extremist violence that has made headlines in recent years, and how those events share ideas with the anti-government movement. The series also investigates who is inspiring that violence and who stands to benefit.

Listen: Apple Podcasts, NPR One

The City (USA TODAY)

The investigative podcast digs up stories buried underneath city development’s rubble. Season one begins in Chicago in 1990, at a pair of vacant lots in a black, working-class neighborhood called North Lawndale. Season two heads west to Reno.

Listen: Art19, Apple Podcasts

In The Dark (American Public Media)

Hosted and narrated by Madeleine Baran, and produced by Samara Freemark, the investigative series examines the abduction of Jacob Wetterling in season one and the trials of Curtis Flowers in season two.

Listen: Spotify, Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, Stitcher, RadioPublic

Dear Franklin Jones (Stitcher)

Growing up, Jonathan I. Hirsch’s family was a little different. They followed a controversial spiritual leader named Franklin Jones. To Jonathan’s parents, Franklin Jones was a god, but to people outside the group, Jones was a cult leader. Now, Jonathan is going back, trying to find out what happened -- and whether the group really did become a cult.

Listen: Stitcher, Spotify, Apple Podcasts

Julie: The Unwinding of the Miracle (Pineapple Street Media)

Julie Yip-Williams tried to stay as present and honest as possible as she watched herself die from Stage IV colon cancer. The series chronicles her process of preparing for her death and revisiting the events of her extraordinary life, through hours of intensely personal and revealing conversations. It is an immigrant story, a love story, and a ghost story.

Listen: Apple Podcasts

Finding Cleo (CBC/Radio-Canada)

CBC's Connie Walker attempts to uncover the truth behind the unsolved 1970s disappearance of Cleo, a young Cree girl from Saskatchewan. Like many Indigenous children, Cleo's brothers and sisters were taken from their community, displayed in advertisements, and sent to live with white adoptive families across North America, through a controversial program called "Adopt Indian and Metis." They've reconnected as adults and are determined to find their missing sister and penetrate the secrets shrouding the truth about Cleo.

Listen: Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts

Long Distance (Paola Mardo)

A podcast about stories in the Filipino diaspora hosted and produced by Paola Mardo. Each episode moves beyond typical immigrant narratives to share thoughtful tales of love, loss, history, and humor.

Listen: Spotify, Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts

Love Letters (The Boston Globe)

Explored through stories, Boston Globe advice columnist Meredith Goldstein answers burning question about love and relationships.

Listen: Spotify, Apple Podcasts, Stitcher

Reveal (PRX)

The award-winning investigative journalism podcast holds the powerful accountable and reveal government fraud and waste of taxpayer funds, human rights violations, environmental degradation and threats to public safety.

Listen: Spotify, Apple Podcasts, Stitcher, Google Podcasts, RadioPublic

Room 20 (Los Angeles Times)

A podcast about the search for a man’s identity, hosted by investigative reporter Joanne Faryon. Her two-year journey is filled with twists and turns as she tracks down the truth behind why a man remained unidentified and unconscious for more than 15 years.

Listen: Art19, Apple Podcasts, Stitcher

Second Wave (KUOW & PRX)

Hosted by Thanh Tan, the series explores the experience of her parent's generation who fled the Vietnam War and settled in the U.S. as refugees and the life of her generation who were born and raised in the U.S.

Listen: Apple Podcasts, Overcast, Pocketcast

Tell Them, I Am (KPCC)

The series is about the small moments that define who we are and who we are not. The universal Muslim stories open a window into the lives of Tan France, Alia Shawkat, Ramy Youssef, Reza Aslan, Mercedes Iman Diamond and others.

Listen: Spotify, Apple Podcasts, Stitcher

The Shrink Next Door (Wondery)

The new true-crime podcast from Wondery is the story of celebrity psychiatrist, Dr. Isaac “Ike” Herschkopf’s control and exploitation of a patient for more than 30 years

Listen: Art19, Spotify, Apple Podcasts, Castbox, Google Podcasts, TuneIn

This Land (Crooked Media)

An 1839 assassination of a Cherokee leader and a 1999 murder case – two crimes nearly two centuries apart provide the backbone to an upcoming 2019 Supreme Court decision that will determine the fate of five tribes and nearly half the land in Oklahoma.

Listen: Spotify, Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, Stitcher, TuneIn