Gateway Episode: “S2 Part 1: The Walls Were Sweating”
In Scattered, Chris Garcia looks back at the life of his late father, Andrés, who fled Cuba during Fidel Castro’s dictatorship at considerable cost to his mental health. Garcia is a gifted host, thanks to his experience as a standup comedian and his talent for impersonations, and he brings to life Andrés’s ambitions, his goofy sense of humor, and his once-in-a-lifetime love for his wife. As Garcia retraces key events in his father’s life—cutting sugarcane at a forced-labor camp, suffering through electroshock therapy, immigrating to California, and being laid off from a well-paying job in America—the story drives home the sense of loss that comes with leaving one’s country. Scattered is a touching account of family, love, and sacrifice, shot through with the lingering bittersweetness of finally getting what you want in America, but finding that it’s not quite everything you dreamed it would be.
Gateway Episode: “Soy Andrés, a Tus Pies”
The Love + Radio host and creator Nick van der Kolk has a knack for finding subject matter that’s widely appealing, emotionally compelling, and, well, weird. This season, he’s continued to diversify the topics, voices, and soundscapes featured on the show: “The Episode about Animals” features lighthearted animal factoids and trippy sound engineering, while “Gotcha!” is the surprising story of a radio DJ whose crank call opens his colleague up to love and grief. There are also headier episodes such as “Cathedrals Have a Body Count,” in which a lawyer and performance artist discusses her work representing sex offenders. Love + Radio creates space on all sides of difficult issues, pushing listeners to consider even the ideas that make them uncomfortable, and this season might be its most provocative yet.
Gateway Episode: “Black Feminist Thot”
According to seismologists, the San Andreas Fault is a ticking time bomb: Radiocarbon dating has determined that a catastrophic earthquake strikes Southern California roughly every 100 years, and the next one is long overdue. In The Big One, the host Jacob Margolis draws on a mix of expert testimony and survivor accounts to project what that event and its aftermath would look like. Emergency services could be rendered useless, water pipes might burst, buildings could split in half, and fires might spread freely. But it’s not all bad news; Margolis cites one sociologist’s argument that people “operate at the height of their moral code” after a disaster. The show blends historical facts, best-guess scenarios, practical tips for survival, and well-paced storytelling, envisioning a reality that people shouldn’t just consider, but also plan for.
Gateway Episode “The Earthquake”
The best podcasts find a way to combine entertainment with hard-core learning, and Rough Translation is one of the magnificent few that pulls it off. Every episode, the host Gregory Warner explores how a controversial topic in the U.S. is being debated elsewhere in the world, asking listeners to try on a different cultural context and see things from a new perspective. The theme this season is people fighting the establishment, such as the woman in “We Don’t Say That,” who faces the herculean task of adding words for blackness to the French language. The show is best when holding political roadblocks up to the light; take “Ukraine: Race Against the Machine” which, in 20 minutes, explains corruption in Kiev better than extended debate in Congress does. The format works so well, one wonders if the podcast should hire a team of foreign journalists to study the U.S.