41. “Splash” by Awful Grace
The Sunshine Skyway Bridge in Florida has the unfortunate distinction of serving as one of the country’s most popular places to commit suicide. “Splash” explores the romance and reality of this grim site, examining it through hotline operators, rescue workers, and a man who tracks the yearly suicides—each with a unique understanding of the fragile contract some people make with life. We also hear from Hanns Jones, a jumper who survived, about what it’s like to stare down into that blue water and then step out, into the abyss.
42. “The Last Place: Diary of a Retirement Home” by Radio Diaries
Long before podcast was a word and streaming audio a reality, the team at Radio Diaries was helping people tell their stories by giving them recorders and editing their tape. Decades later, the formula still works. In “The Last Place: Diary of a Retirement Home,” we hear from the residents of The Presbyterian Home in Evanston, Illinois, who describe their frustrations with their failing bodies and their secrets to aging (one woman eats a regimented diet of gin-soaked raisins every day). But for them life isn’t merely reduced to the art of growing old—these are people with opinions and memories and plans.
43. “Burnout” by StartUp
Listening to the frazzled employees of a podcast company hit a wall shouldn’t play this well. StartUp markets itself as a franchise about “what it’s really like to get a business off the ground,” but it’s obvious now how its reality-show format worked best when it turned the mics on itself. With unlimited access, “Burnout” wanders the halls of Gimlet Media checking for vitals. Given the testimony by worker bees like Starlee Kine, Alex Goldman, and P.J. Vogt, you might think this is a new season of The Walking Dead. Slogging through endless grunt work, Gimlet Media discovers what happens in a startup after the romance dies.
44. Entire “Charles Manson’s Hollywood” series, highlighting “Charles Manson’s Hollywood Part 3: The Beach Boys, Dennis Wilson, and Manson the Songwriter” by You Must Remember This
You Must Remember This gives listeners an outlet for indulging in the Golden Age of Hollywood. With Karina Longworth at the helm, the “Charles Manson’s Hollywood” series doesn’t feel like scholarship because it’s too gripping, too addictive, and too easy to follow. The series is a slow reveal of Manson’s ego, influence, and crimes, chock-full of details that sharpen the well-known events. Of particular fascination is part three of the series, which describes Manson’s relationship with the Beach Boys’ Dennis Wilson, a man who was easy prey for Manson. The revival of this little-known relationship translates into equal parts nostalgia and terror.
45. “Paul Thomas Anderson” by WTF With Marc Maron
If a championship belt were awarded to best podcast interviewer every year, Maron would have defended his title in 2015 with this showing. As a standup comedian-turned-podcaster, Maron doesn’t just enhance how a guest and host communicate, he creates a new form of human expression, one where he filters his guest through his own neuroses to arrive at what makes a person successful. When the filmmaker Paul Thomas Anderson kicks open the door to Maron’s garage-turned-recording-studio, the host may have finally met his match. Anderson’s appearance on WTF places everything that is compelling about Maron’s podcast in a box with a floppy bow: conversation as a manic tug-of-war tell-all, and Maron’s compulsive plunge into what drives a person to pursue an artist’s life.