Like many people, I like to listen to podcasts while I’m at the gym. Working out in and of itself isn’t something I particularly enjoy doing — mostly I just do it because I know I should — so I make it bearable for myself by listening to some cracking good stories while I do it.
I’m less interested in podcasts that consist of people shooting the shat about particular topics; scripted pieces of storytelling are more my speed, whether they’re fictional or true (or whether they walk the line between the two). What I love so much about the format is that, suddenly, the kind of aural storytelling that fell out of favor after the arrival of the television and the subsequent end of the Golden Age of radio is super hip again — and content creators are doing some really terrific things with it. The beauty of it, too, is that even if the show isn’t actively in the middle of a season, the archives are always available to listen to.
Here are what I think are some of the best creepy podcasts on the Internet. Listen happily, my friends.
Things I’ve Listened To:
This is what I have regularly queued up in my playlist:
The Black Tapes Podcast was one of my favorite discoveries of the summer. Serial-esque in format, but fictional, and also weird stuff like Oujia boards with an extra layer of danger and urban legends about murdered prom queen ghosts with their faces transplanted upside down? Heck, and yes.
What I think makes Black Tapes so successful is the organic way in which the story grows: The setup is that host Alex Regan originally planned to do a podcast focusing on people with unusual jobs and stories, but when she stumbles upon the enigmatic anti-ghost hunter Dr. Richard Strand’s “black tapes” — cases the noted skeptic has been unable to satisfactorily explain yet — she and her producer, Nic Silver, opt to make the tapes the focus of the entire podcast. Gradually it becomes apparent that the cases found on the tapes are all connected in some way, and listening to Alex follow the story as it develops is truly delightful.
The Black Tapes podcast has been on hiatus since October, but season two is just about to kick up — on Edgar Allen Poe’s birthday, no less.
After the success of The Black Tapes Podcast, it’s perhaps unsurprising that the same team set to work on a few more projects. Tanis, which puts Nic Silver in the driver’s seat, is a little more… elusive than Black Tapes — and by “elusive,” I mean that, seven episodes in, I’m still not totally sure what Tanis is. What I do know, though, is that in the world the show has set up, the word “Tanis” itself — the name of a city in ancient Egypt, included in the title of an obscure short story, something involving a cult of some sort — wends its way through history in some bizarre and seemingly inexplicable ways. The podcast is attempting to unravel why that is — and what it all means.
For the seasoned listener, part of the fun of Tanis is the real life mysteries and phenomena that pop up in it — the elevator game, the Markovian Parallax Denegrate, and more. And for the unseasoned listener? Let’s just say it’ll provide tons of wacky new things for you to research.
Limetown is similar in format to Black Tapes and Tanis in that it takes the investigative reporting angle, capitalizing on the success of Serial. Here, the mystery surrounds the disappearance of over three hundred people — men, women, and children — from a town in Tennessee called Limetown, with host Lia Haddock attempting to get to the bottom of what happened to them. Lia has a personal connection with the mystery as well: Her uncle was one of the people who disappeared.
Limetown is a little less successful to me than Black Tapes, largely I think because Lia becomes a part of the mystery herself a little too quickly; the podcast could have stood to draw out the suspense a little more. It’s still an interesting and entertaining listen, though, so it’s worth a shot.
Season one concluded on December 14; I’m not sure if there are plans for a second season, and if so, when we can expect it to hit the Internet, but here’s hoping there’s more to the story.
Like most of the podcast-listening world, I got a little obsessed with the first season of true crime show Serial during 2014. Sarah Koenig’s investigation of the 1999 murder of Maryland high schooler Hae Min Lee, the conviction — possibly wrongful — of her ex boyfriend, Adnan Syed, for the crime, and, indeed, of the initial investigation of the case itself brings up tons of fascinating and important questions — about the criminal justice system and how cases like this are investigated, yes, but also about other things: How we consume real people’s lives as entertainment, for example, and, as Jay Caspian King pointed out in an excellent piece for The Awl, about white reporter privilege.
I haven’t started listening to season two yet, which covers the Bowe Bergdahl case — admittedly I’m a little less excited about it; what drew me so much about the first season’s case was how intimate it was, whereas the Bergdahl case is comparatively massive in scope — but I’ll get to it as soon as I’ve worked my way through what remains of my Tanis backlog. It debuted on Pandora on December 10 and hit iTunes shortly thereafter.
On that note…
Real crime show Sword and Scale is what I started listening to in order to fill the Serial-shaped hole in my life after the first season concluded back in December of 2014. Unlike Serial, it tends to follow just one story per episode, although occasionally multi-episode stories will pop in from time to time. I prefer it to Criminal, largely because the types of stories covered are a little more my speed — some historical, like the case of serial killer Belle Gunness, and some modern, like the 2012 disappearance of Jessica Ridgeway — although at times it’s a little sensationalist, which make sometimes make it feel a tad bit exploitative. Favorite episodes include episode seven’s exploration of “White House Boys” and episode 51’s tale of “Satanic Panic” occurring in modern day Europe.
I’m a little behind on Night Vale right now, but the great thing about it is that it’s kind of like an old friend: It’s always there for you. For those of you who have not yet experienced the joy of Welcome to Night Vale, I’d almost describe it as David Lynch by way of Parks and Rec — it takes the form of the dispatches of Cecil Palmer, host of a show on the public radio station of a tiny little desert town called Night Vale. In Night Vale, it’s perfectly normal for a faceless old women to secretly live in your home and where street cleaning day is a day to be feared, so that should give you a pretty good idea of what to expect. It’s creepy and funny all at once, and really, everyone should be listening to it.
But whatever you do, don’t go in the dog park.
There are no dogs in the dog park.
The premise of The NoSleep Podcast is simple: It takes the best stories from the r/NoSleep subreddit and dramatizes them. Now in its sixth season, it’s been running for almost as long as the subreddit itself. The archive is pretty big, so if you’re not sure where to start, allow me to point you in the direction of the Penpal series. Written by Dathan Auerbach, who later expanded the series into a novel, it’s one of the defining stories of both the subreddit and the podcast — in short, it’s everything a good NoSleep story should be.
Things That Are On My “To Listen” List:
The next couple of podcasts are ones I haven’t actually listened to yet — but similarly to October’s examination of good (as opposed to godawful, of which there are plenty) horror movies on Netflix, they’re ones that I have on my To Listen list:
1. The Message
From what I can tell, The Message is kind of a sci-fi version of podcasts like Black Tapes and Limetown: A serialized drama told as an investigative report, this time geared towards deciphering an alien signal from deep in outer space.
Sometimes I think that if I’d decided to become an academic, I probably would’ve focused on folklore with a specialization in urban legends. That’s what Lore taps into — the true roots of the spookiest pieces of folklore out there. It sounds kind of like the podcast version of documentaries like Killer Legends; I’m definitely planning on tackling it soon.
3. Mystery Show
Like a little bit of armchair detective work? Mystery Show sounds like it’ll be right up your alley. It’s described simply as, “A podcast where Starlee Kline solves mysteries”; you can submit mysteries in your life you’d like solved, as long as they follow one rule: “Your mystery can’t be found by just Googling.” It’s perhaps not spooky… but it still sounds pretty fantastic.