As with any end-of-year listicle, this is not a list of comparative quality. This is just a couple of entries to highlight podcasts that I particularly enjoyed in 2016. They are all equally good, for very different reasons. You should check them out, because I have very good taste in Things. At least, I like to think so.
Every day I grow older, a deep, bottomless anxiety that dwells within me becomes stronger. Am I getting out of touch? If the day ever comes that I pen some insipid “[Young People] Ruined X/Y/Z” thinkpiece, I want all of you – each and every one – to hurl me into a pit of mongeese and snakes.
This is why I listen to Still Buffering (a sisters’ guide to teens through the ages). The Smirl Sorority – one teen, two adults – compare, contrast, and analyze their teenage experience, providing a perspective and humor that grounds the mind as it hurtles towards the abyssal hubris of seniority. Even at the ripe young age of 22, I often find myself surprised at how much has changed – and how much hasn’t. It is vital that we all grasp at any and all vestiges of cultural awareness – that we may not sink into the condescending mire of Those Who Now Work At Slate-Dot-Com – and Still/Buff is happy to extend a hand our way.
If this hasn’t sold you, then maybe their Facebook page will. You know how most internet communities are garbage? Like, absolute cesspits of the most nightmarish scum you’ve ever laid eyes on? Not so for Still/Buff. I am stunned every day – every day! – by how sweet and genuine the folks on the Still Buffering fan page are. Credit where credit is due – the Smirls are savage moderators, with a keen eye for excising unproductive discourse. But even so! Picture this: a Facebook group, but every member is your kind and supportive Podcast Mom. This is the product of Wholesome Podcasting – a digital pantheon of nicety.
I struggle – and I know I’m not alone in this – to enjoy American celebrity; it is a pop culture machine of idolatry and dehumanization. In a word: icky. At the same time, I want to be in the know – I find popular fascinations, well, fascinating. This is why I listen to Uhh Yeah Dude (America through the eyes of two American-Americans). Seth Romatelli and Jonathan Larroquette (no, not that one) are equally entranced by and critical of mainstream Americana, highlighting the quirky nature of People Magazine, Dear Amy, The Celebrity Name Game, et al. These boys are also some of the godfathers of podcasting, with UYD now entering into its eleventh year. The pair bring a noticeable experience to their humor, with Romatelli’s manic improv complimenting Larroquette’s ideological straight-mans. Since launching their Patreon, the boys have produced their best content to date. If ever there was a time to start listening to Uhh Yeah Dude, it is Now.
It’s 2017, and everyone you know is a furry. What’s that? You literally just had a baby? Well guess what? It has a fursona – a sleek, gorgeous, professional-snowboarder Panda named Maximillion Chops, who was designed in utero.
Basically, I’m saying two things. One: your baby is rad as fuck, congratulations, I’m so happy for you, and two: it’s 2017 – it’s time to educate yourself on cultures and identities that exist outside of your comfort zone.
If I had a furry podcast for you to listen to, I would almost certainly point you in its direction, but – instead – I offer you One From The Vaults (a podcast on trans history). Morgan M Page brings a sly energy, an enlightening sex-work-positive perspective, and an eye for cathartic narrative to her historically-minded podcast. Delving into the culture of transgender identity – even before such an idea existed in the mainstream vernacular – OFTV’s essential voice grants both entertainment and perspective. More than that, however, it is special. I can tell you the exact moment I knew this podcast was something Great:
Episode 6: The Art of the Possible. The focus is Georgina Beyer – the world’s first openly transgender Member of Parliament. History is a mix of real and mythical greatness, and Page rides this line brilliantly; sampled audio from interviews and parliamentary sessions augment our listener’s connection with Ms. Beyer, and then, at 24:45, Page confidently delivers the most effective moment in podcasting of 2016. Page’s masterful buildup of a political character hits its peak with a recording from Beyer’s landmark plea to protect the rights of sex workers.
I cannot convey the impact of this moment in the written word. After 25 minutes of Page’s expertly delivered historical context, the audio from Georgina Beyer’s speech will rip your fucking guts out. To hear this woman be so vulnerable in front of so many – in the name of such an important cause – is… it is indescribable. I am lucky to have heard even the smallest excerpt. It is the most impactful moment in podcasting of 2016. Hands down. Every day spent not subscribed to One From the Vaults is a day that you deprive yourself of one of the most gripping historical podcasts on the market.
I individually choreograph dances to every theme of all the podcasts I listen to. For Woodland Secrets (the personal talk show of Merritt K), I ball my hands into loose, tiny fists, wiggle my tush, and do a little T-Rex arm shimmy from side to side. I do this because Secrets is a light, cute listen, and – ideally – my little Woodland Boogie is as well.
K makes for an excellent host; she keeps a steady flow of conversation, and her guest selections (primarily women, PoCs, and queer folk) give Secrets a strong, consistent authorial voice. If you want to expand your sphere of awareness – vis a vis marginalized creators and voices – Secrets is your ticket to ride. Artists, activists, journalists, and more cozy up in K’s podcast den. I like to imagine they sit in some sort of soft, mossy, hollowed out tree, sipping wine, wearing robes. I want to be there. I wish to be a third member in the K Konversation. This is what a good talk show does; it fills the listener with want – a social envy born from the overheard words of a friendly conversation. Where other Talk Casts stumble in the formless, direction-less void of casual chit-chat, Secrets walks tall and confident amongst the chaos.
Bonfireside Chat (an undead favorite) made me realize that I more or less wasted my time going to college. You think I’m joking, but I’m not – this exhaustively comprehensive podcast taught me more about reading complex works than four years at an institution known for its English department. Bonfireside Chat offers a transformative listening experience. Cohosts Gary Butterfield and Kole Ross are not teachers, but they possess a capacity for analysis – and the language that defines it – that will worm its way inside your head and change you, fundamentally. I absorb art differently for having listened to this podcast.
Think about that, for a minute. That is wild. By simply putting on a podcast while I played DOOM-or-whatever, I now approach the entire medium of art – of fucking ART – differently. You know how we joke about how, one day, we’ll be putting a microchip into our brain to teach us advanced geometry? Bonfireside Chat is that future.
Bonfireside Chat is about breaking down one of gaming’s densest franchises – Dark Souls – and picking apart how it functions, succeeds, and fails as Narrative. Maybe you don’t play video games, maybe you’ve never heard of Dark Souls, and maybe you think you just don’t care – but I’m here to tell you that you’re wrong.
If you’ve ever thought, boy I should really pick up Infinite Jest, then this podcast is for you. If you can play 20 songs on guitar – and all of them are Spin Doctors covers – then this podcast is for you. Fuck, if your favorite movie is Con Air, then this podcast is for you. Bonfireside Chat comes at no cost, with no barriers. It appeals to one and all, and you will never regret giving it a listen.
 And if you don’t, then – truly – you are history’s greatest monster.
Tom Loughney is a man with a mild-to-severe podcast addiction and a content oeuvre that includes games writing, video game video analysis, and a storytelling podcast about major media. Follow him on twitter @loughnessmonstr