Essential Podcast Episodes of 2018, as Chosen by Our Podcasters

Essential Podcast Episodes of 2018, as Chosen by Our Podcasters

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Whether it's traveling in the car, cooking in the kitchen or simply hiding from family while pretending to nap, listening to podcasts can be an extraordinarily effective way to occupy your ears during the holiday season.

And who better to recommend the most entertaining, thought-provoking podcast episodes of 2018 for your downloads than the people who make them for a living: The podcast hosts of KQED? We even allowed them to pick an episode from their own shows.

Happy holiday listening, podcast fans!

Olivia Allen-Price, host of Bay Curious (a podcast about the mysteries of the San Francisco Bay Area)

My pick: The robocalls on our cellphones have gotten out of control! Some days I’m screening four or five calls. Today, Explained from Vox had this Oct. 4 episode called “All my friends are robocalls” that explains why the spam calls are on the rise. Informative and interesting! Listen

And from my own podcast? Eight-year-old Alex Kornblum asked Bay Curious how long it takes for our drinking water to travel from the Hetch Hetchy Reservoir to kitchen sinks here in the Bay Area. It’s a delightful journey to find the answer. Listen

The Hetch Hetchy Reservoir in Yosemite National Park supplies water to San Francisco and other Bay Area cities. (Lauren Sommer/KQED)

Sasha Khoka, host of The California Report Magazine (a statewide road trip for your ears and your imagination)

My pick: I've been really getting into Offshore, the storytelling podcast from Hawaii's Civil Beat. Like our show, it gives listeners a new perspective on their state—and in this case, stories that get beyond the tourist narrative about Hawaii. This season is devoted to just how the remote nation of the the Marshall Islands found itself suddenly boasting one of the highest adoption rates in the world, as a surge of pregnant women started appearing at the Honolulu airport ready to hand off their children to adoptive parents. So, start with Episode 1. Listen


And from my own podcast? Interestingly, one of my favorite episodes of my own show this year is also about adoption—but it's a very different tale. "Do You Really Want to Know?" was a powerful story about an adoptive son's search for family, as he unraveled his birth family's connection to the mass suicide at Jonestown in 1978. It's a California history lesson about one of the state's most bizarre tragedies—but it's also got a surprising, and uplifting, twist. Listen

Devin Katayama, host of The Bay (storytelling for daily local news)

My pick: The Shadows: Episode 1, "Romantic." I’ve loved Kaitlin Prest’s work ever since her first show, Audio Smut. The Shadows continues her intimate storytelling about relationships, while playing with format and voice to make you feel how awkward, hard and wonderful love can be. Listen

And from my own podcast? One of the stories I’m most proud of is “Man on the Street: A Story of Homelessness in San Francisco.” When our transportation editor Dan Brekke got the tweet that Perry Foster died, he felt compelled to finish telling his story. This episode takes an issue we’re all surrounded by—homelessness—and shows you its humanity. Listen

Perry Foster, who died of a heroin overdose on April 11, 2018. (Dan Brekke/KQED)

Katrina Schwartz, host of the Mindshift podcast with Ki Sung (a podcast about the future of learning)

My pick: I recommend Rough Translation, Season 2: Episode 4, "Intruders." Rough Translation episodes describe how an issue we’re talking about in the U.S. is playing out somewhere else in the world. In “Intruders,” I loved learning how one of the most machista daytime talk show hosts in Argentina suddenly became a feminist—and the reasons why. Listen

And from my own podcast?  I nominate “Why Ninth Grade Can Be a Big Shock For High School Students.” This is a great starter MindShift episode, bridging the gap between parents and teachers. High school is an incredibly important time in a child’s life both academically and socially, so it’s fascinating to hear how hard educators at some schools are working to make students feel like they belong—and to support them at a time when the stakes are high for college, but kids still have a lot of growing up to do. Listen

High School student Jeffery Aragon. (Samantha Shanahan/KQED)

Scott Shafer, host of Political Breakdown with Marisa Lagos (unpacking politics with a California perspective)

My pick: I listen to The Daily from the New York Times, well, daily. It’s hard to pick one episode because they’re almost all so good, but this recent one on how apps track our locations hundreds of times a day—and the implications for that—was fascinating. It prompted me to change some privacy settings on my phone! Listen

And from my own podcast? On Political Breakdown we aim to humanize politics and politicians, who are often caricatured in the media. On July 5, we interviewed East Bay Congresswoman Barbara Lee, one of the most liberal members of Congress. She talked about integrating her high school cheerleading squad in Southern California and fundraising for the Black Panthers in the 1970s. We thought it really rounded out Rep. Lee’s history. Listen

Congresswoman Barbara Lee (D-Oakland) with host Scott Shafer and guest host Guy Marzorati.

Ryan Levi, host of Q'ed Up (delivering the best Bay Area news stories from KQED News directly to your ears)

My pick: I’m going to cheat and pick the four-episode miniseries "UnErased" from podcast legend Jad Abumrad of Radiolab fame. It’s a history of gay conversion therapy in the U.S., and it had me totally enraptured and occasionally teary-eyed while listening at the gym. Listen

And from my own podcast? I loved putting together this episode about Gracie, a 7-year-old transgender girl who started socially transitioning (wearing girls clothes in public, changing her name and pronouns) at age 4. There’s so much misunderstanding and misinformation about transgender issues, and I felt like it was impossible to listen to Gracie’s story and not come away with a fuller and more empathetic perspective. Listen

Gracie, 7, poses for a picture in her room. (Lauren Hanussak/KQED)

Judy Campbell, host of The Leap (a podcast about the risky choices that change everything)

My pick: I was blown away by the second season of In The Dark, about the case of Curtis Flowers—a man on death row after being tried six times for the same crime. The investigative journalism in this podcast is staggering. The reporters demolished most of the evidence used to convict him, and in the process told a story that was deeply revealing about institutional racism and the many ways the criminal justice system can be corrupted. Listen 

And from my own podcast? In these brutal times, I like to point people to Episode 4 of the last season of The Leap, "17andme," because it is such a joyful, fun story. It's about a sperm donor who is now in touch with 17 of the kids that resulted. Now, they're in touch online all the time, they've traveled together and, with their shared love of karaoke and general enthusiasm, they give off a pretty delightful Von Trapp vibe. Listen

And me, Carly Severn, host of The Cooler with Emmanuel Hapsis and Jamedra Brown Fleischman (your weekly dose of pop culture commentary)

My pick: While there was no end of thought-provoking podcasts this year, "film fanatics enthusing about lowbrow movies" is my absolute favorite subgenre of convivial comfort listening. ("These people are my friends! Sort of!") As a long-time lover of Earwolf's How Did This Get Made? podcast, their August episode on summer shark B-movie The Meg, featuring guests Nicole Byer and Adam Scott, was a masterclass in affectionate cultural commentary and sustained incredulity that made me cry with laughter in my own car. Twice. Listen

And from my own podcast? We've been fortunate enough to have some exceptional guests on The Cooler (March's appearance by Jonathan Van Ness from Queer Eye was pure delight), but the interview I'm most proud of this year was with civil-rights activist and Pod Save The People host DeRay McKesson in September. I'm still thinking about his words on the difference between an "ally" and an "accomplice"—and his observation that we're just not meant to get the amount of personal feedback that social media delivers on a daily basis. Listen


Want to know the KQED podcasts you listened to most in 2018? Read our Most Downloaded list here!