Best podcasts 2020: My top free shows to listen to right now

Podcasts are my go-to on my commute – so this year, I’ve hardly done any listening at all. However, there have been some that I’ve gone out of my way to keep up-to-date with, which is why they’re going on my list of the best podcasts 2020.

I love podcasts, but so many these days are just celebs chatting to their mates. I miss the days when they were more pirate radio; people down their sheds discussing something of interest to them. Now everyone seems to do the rounds – “I’ll scratch your cast if you scratch mine,” sort of thing. Yes, they can be interesting, but I feel we’re missing out on loads of unmined creativity from Joe and Josephine Bloggs down the road.

There are some celebs in my list, I have to be honest. But on the whole, my best podcasts are more discussion rather than interviews. And you may notice I’m a bit obsessed with one topic…

My best podcasts 2020: For the Many

LBCs Iain Dale and Jackie Smith, a former Home Secretary (she never mentions it), are good friends who are politically opposites. They’re they’re to discuss politics and media, but like all mates, their chat goes down rabbit warrens of gossip and giggles, with a fair bit of smut at times. Lots of smut, to be honest, which had me rolling my eyes at first as it can be very schoolyard. But I love it, now, and I would say it has been the best podcast of 2020 and lockdown.

I also listen religiously to Matt Forde’s The Political Party and Political Thinking with Nick Robinson, which are both long-form interviews with political characters. Because they’re longer than normal, you get a much better insight into the person behind the soundbites. They take me back to the days of Brian Walden and Robin Day, when politicians would me in the hot seat for 30 minutes to an hour.

Ear Hustle

Jon Ronson told me about this. Well, me and the rest of his 242,000 Twitter followers. It’s the stories of incarcerated men in San Quentin prison in the US and is wonderful.

When I began listening, it was a project started by visual artist Nigel Poor and prisoner Earlonne Wood. Howeve, Earlonne has now been released so he talks about life as a former prisoner and meets fellow formerly incarcerated people. Rahsaan “New York” Thomas is the inside eye now and he’s fab!

Ear Hustle is most definitely one of my best podcasts ever. Each week has a different theme or a different story and the insight into life, good and bad, is fascinating. It never fails to surprise or interest.

But the reason it’s one of my best podcasts is because the lessons it gives us the listener: people make mistakes, sometimes terrible ones, but there is much more to their stories than one mistake. It’s a wonderful reminder of the power of the human spirit to change and develop, forgive and reform.

You Must Remember This

If you love true crime podcasts, this has got a gem for you. Written, produced and narrated by Karina Longworth, this is a look at the hidden and/or forgotten history of Hollywood and it has a stonker of a season looking at the Charles Manson murders. It is a fascinating insight into not only the Manson Family, but also the characters he was linked with (Doris Day, for one) and the role the 1960s America played. I listen to it often.

However, You Must Remember This is more than just the Manson murders. Karina Longworth knows her topics inside and out and delves into subjects such as Joan Crawford, Bela Lugosi and Boris Karloff (loved that season), Hollywood’s blonde bombshells and, most recently, Polly Platt, who was behind some of the 1980s’ greatest films and has been largely forgotten.

It’s a bit of a feminist film-lovers’ dream.

Athletico Mince

I’m going to lose several million cool points here, but I never liked Reeves and Mortimer. Shooting Stars and Big Night Out left me cold. But I love Bob Mortimer and I love football, which makes this a hit for me.

Bob and co-host Andy Dawson started out giving their take on the beautiful game, but footie has kinda gone out the window and is hanging on by a bootlace caught on the ledge. Instead, it’s just a funny show with comedy characters and regular features such as the “Boing, Quack Quack, Oops, Peanuts, Thwack, Crunch, Give Me Just A Little More Time, Boing Boing, Oops, Wooah Yeah” quiz.

I love Barry Homeowner, Kiss the Alderman makes me feel a little queasy and I’m constantly amazed at the memory skills of Memory Man – is there nothing he can’t remember?

I also got caught out doing an imitation of Andy Dawson doing an imitation of Roy Hodgson professing his love of “W’amma” (Warhammer) while out on the street in Canterbury – just as Vic Reeves passed with his daughter. Mr 50S wasn’t particularly impressed.

Slow Burn

Slow Burn has had some great podumentaries (is that a word? It is now). It started off with Watergate and then the impeachment of Bill Clinton, which were both fascinating (the interviews with Linda Tripp were very enlightening). Last year went off on a tangent with the death of Tupac Shakur, but I actually really enjoyed it too.

This year was back to politics with former Ku Kluk Klan leader David Duke and his rise to power and prominence. The most important lesson in the podcast, however, is that decent people have even more power and if they stand up, they can defeat hate.

Slow Burn is just really well done and if you’re into journalism, it’s a must-listen. The same is true of Intelligence Squared, which I dip in and out of depending on the topic under discussion.

Yes, you got me. I am a political geek. I grew up in a house that discussed politics all the time. I was reading the Daily Mirror at the age of five. We still sit and argue about it when we meet up now.

It’s not all politics or deep thinking, however. I’m a lover of true crime podcasts as much as anyone and highly recommend Doctor Death, Dirty John (much better than the Netflix show) and Man in the Window, which scared the bejeezus out of me. Dont listen at night.

And let’s not forget Great Lives and The Infinite Monkey Cage, while I can’t wait for Evil Genius and Blood On the Tracks to return.

But I would love more suggestions of what I’m missing. What podcasts do you suggest? Let me know in the comments below.

If you’ve enjoyed this, please like and subscribe to get my very special thank you.

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