Listenlog: Satanic Panic, WeCrashed, The Clock and the Cat, Hunting Warhead, Unexpected Fluids

Uncover: Satanic Panic

In the early 1990s a small town in Saskatchewan, Canada is rocked by allegations from swathes of children that they are being horribly abused by a satanic cult. Teachers, police officers and others are accused and charged. The trials and appeals grind on for years. Eventually, with the exception of two lesser charges, all the accused are freed or have their charges dropped. Was there ever a satanic cult out there or did the judicial system mess up?

Another superb podcast from CBC which explains how mass hysteria and lots of well intentioned individuals unintentionally created a nightmarish scenario where innocent people nearly lost everything in the face of panic fed by intense media coverage. Utterly fascinating.

Hunting Warhead

Also on the topic of child abuse is this joint series by CBC and Norway’s VG. It starts with how a two man investigative unit at a Norwegian paper who had been successfully uncovering child abusers stumbled on a complex international Police sting operation. The heart of this operation had been the arrest of ‘Warhead’ who ran a string of major dark web sites for trading child pornography.

The series explains what the Police operation did: How they managed to infiltrate the dark web but also explores in a genuinely informative and careful way the story from the perspective of the victims and the abusers. Treating child abusers as ‘evil’ doesn’t stop the crime happening, and hearing the challenges involved in even discussion of treatment or prevention strategies is well handled and thought provoking. An excellent listen.


WeWork is the biggest corporate crash since Enron. But instead of fraudulent accounting (as far we know) this story is more about ‘excessive exuberance’ where a charismatic CEO along with international venture capital desperately chasing returns willingly entered into a mutual hallucination that a property rental business could be valued just like a tech unicorn.

On the basis that we can learn more from failures, this short series of 6 episodes is definitely worth a listen, even if just for the anecdotes of the wild ways money was being spent.

The Clock and the Cat

I don’t think I’ve ever met Mark Foden, but I’ve been enjoying his blogs and tweets for a long time. He’s now got a podcast exploring his favoured topic of complexity. Hence the title with clocks being complicated and cats being complex. If you’re interested in systems thinking, complexity, public service and organisational change then I think you’ll like this. Depending on your existing level of knowledge you may want to skip some of the episode but you’ll definitely find something of value in there with a fascinating array of guests coming on.

Unexpected Fluids

I suspect this one might be a bit marmite for my readers. It’s a BBC Radio 1 produced NSFW podcast built around listeners submitting their funny stories of sex going wrong. Many of the tales of sexual woe are snort-out-loud-on-the-train funny. Which is what hooked me in – a dose of bawdy comedy. But it’s much more than that as the presenters Alix and Riyadh deftly interview guests who have expanded my thinking on the wide range of human sexuality, how we discuss gender identity, consent and so much more. A fab series – well done to the BBC for using the podcast format for exploring more explicit and risky programming than they could on their radio stations.

notes from JK

Listenlog:Missing Cryptoqueen, Alone: A Love Story & many more!

Recently I’ve been doing quite a bit of commuting so hey… more podcast listening time. Here’s a bumper crop of recommendations for your listening pleasure.

The Missing Cryptoqueen

Georgia Catt, Jamie Bartlett and team at the BBC have made a stunning journalistic podcast. It’s made even better thanks to the wonderful sound design by Phil Channel, who also worked on the masterful ‘Death in Ice Valley‘.

They masterfully investigate OneCoin, a multi-level marketing scam which purports to be a cryptocurrency ‘Bitcoin killer’. Yet the currency can’t be traded and can only be purchased through ‘educational packages’. The founder disappears (the Cryptoqueen they are searching for) and the story gets weird and weirder as more people come forward through the series – a OneCoin beauty pageant, a OneCoin OneLife church in Uganda and so on. That OneCoin was able to reach globally, from Amsterdam to a farming village in Uganda, is remarkable. But also how the hype around technology, getting rich quick and regulatory failures all played their part in letting a few get enormously rich at the expense of so many people who couldn’t afford to lose a penny. Go listen, it’s absolutely superb.

Alone: A Love Story

This is a heartfelt memoir written and narrated by Michelle Parise covering her marriage, its collapse and her life after divorce as a part-time mother trying to find love in Toronto. Ethnically Italian it’s also about identity as a second generation immigrant, about what relationships can and should be in the age of app-based dating and so much more. It’s beautiful, moving and searingly honest. Don’t miss the accompanying website which has lots of lovely extra details.

Over My Dead Body: Joe Exotic

This is a fun journalistic romp through a bizarre US story of a feud between a petting zoo owner specialising in big cats and an animal rights activist which escalates to hitmen being hired, fires being set and more.

Intrigue: Tunnel 29

BBC Radio 4 continue their Intrigue series with this fairly short series into the story of how a small team of students dug tunnels to help people escape from East Berlin. The series is filled with powerful personal testimony from participants, who suffered tunnel floods, Stasi spies and all sorts of other challenges. It is well paced, with lots of interesting detail. Well worth a listen.

Patient Zero

This podcast, from the excellent New Hampshire Public Radio team who produced Bear Brook, is all about disease. Specifically it’s about Lyme Disease: The story of how it was discovered in… yes Lyme, New Hampshire… and the challenges early sufferers had in being listened to by medical professionals. The series patiently explains epidemiology, how ticks were found to be key to transmission, unpacking why vaccines have been hard to develop for the disease, through to various attempts to control the disease. It stops off on the way to why and how lots of dubious treatments persist at great cost to patients, and why doctors don’t agree on how to treat some patients. So yes, this is about Lyme disease, but it’s also about the modern medical model and how we don’t know as much as we think we do, which leaves us vulnerable in times of illness to quacks. A very well produced and thought provoking series.

Sex Power Money with Sara Pascoe

Sara Pascoe has a book to promote, also called ‘Sex Power Money’. So rather brilliantly she decided to produce a podcast interviewing people on the topics her book explores. And through word of mouth I heard it was rather good. One of the topics I explored in my aborted PhD on government policy consultations was a Home Office one on sex work. The literature review I did on this took me into a world I had previously known absolutely nothing on, but it soon became stark that the evidence on what works to reduce harm (decriminalisation etc) was rather different to the policy options being debated in the political space (Nordic model, criminalisation etc). Sara Pascoe proves to be an excellent interlocutor talking to sex workers and campaigners to open up the many complex issues we as a society face when trying to explore how we handle the intersection of sex, power and money. I felt much better informed through listening to this short series. Give it a go.

notes from JK

Listenlog: The Shrink Next door, Don’t Tell Me the Score & The Great Hack

The Shrink Next Door

No matter how many qualifications and professional registrations a health professional has, there is ultimately a degree of faith and trust you need to place in them. Thankfully most times that works out ok. But sometimes that trust is abused.

This podcast is an incredible story of how a celebrity-obsessed New York therapist manipulated some of his patients to gain control over their money, their businesses, their properties… their whole lives. It’s wonderfully put together to make a compelling narrative whilst also exploring the limitations of professional associations in managing such behaviours by their members. Joe Nocera takes us through the story with great personal insight as the story came to him through the key characters being his neighbours in the Hamptons. Do listen.

Don’t Tell Me The Score

A sports podcast?! I know, not my usual fare but this is really more a podcast about achievement, careers and the science on performance. Some recent episodes have been utterly fascinating: Boris Becker on the price of celebrity, David Epstein on why in most cases early specialisation is not beneficial and Christie Aschwanden on recovery. Simon Mundie does an excellent job interviewing his guests, well worth a listen.

The Great Hack

OK so it’s a documentary movie, not a podcast, still go watch it. It’s on Netflix and is an excellent summation of everything we know so far on Facebook and Cambridge Analytica worked to manipulate elections and other types of campaigns. It’s very well made, but does feel like it will need a sequel as we are still in the midst of understanding what is really being done with our data.

If the issues it raises concern you then go join the Open Rights Group and support Carole Cadwalladr in her legal fight with over the reporting featured in the film.

notes from JK

Listenlog: Dirty John, 13 Minutes and Stories from the Eastern West

Dirty John & Over My Dead Body

Both these podcasts are written and presented by jobbing journalists, but produced by the podcast firm Wondery. I don’t really like the excessively smooth American production values Wondery use. Somehow their work sounds too polished when compared with the visceral honesty of something like Serial or CBC’s Someone Knows Something. Still… now that I’ve got that off my chest, these are two fascinating stories worth a listen. ‘Dirty John’ is the better of the two, recounting how a serial fraudster John Meehan targeted women and controlled them to the point of terror for his pleasure and enrichment. It’s an incredible true crime story with stunning honesty and openness from his victims and their families. I was surprised that his 110% narcissism isn’t called out in the series, they struggle to know what to call his ‘issues’, but that’s a minor quibble.

‘Over My Dead Body’ is the tale of a dream couple’s nasty divorce ending in one of them being killed in an apparent paid assassination. It’s bit slow to build but stick with it, as the FBI wiretaps of some of the alleged conspirators in the murder makes for compelling listening as the case progresses. Also the follow-up episodes on the New York Rabbi who kidnaps Jewish husbands and tortures them until they grant divorces (there is a connection to the main story, I kid you not) is seriously weird.

13 Minutes to the Moon

The BBC World service have excellent form, and superb production values, on their podcasts (see Death in Ice Valley and The Hurricane Tapes) and this is no exception. With a huge soundtrack, superb access to archive materials as well as new interviews with the big names, this is a must-listen on the history of the Apollo moon landings. I love the detail they put into understanding the technology, maths and people behind the programme. Great stuff.

Stories from the Eastern West produces this series of little known stories from Central Europe, the ‘Eastern West’ as they like to call it. There’s a great variety of fascinating tales covered from the history of Esperanto to how Warsaw Zoo was used as a cover for rescuing Jews from the ghetto. The banter between the presenters can be a little forced sometimes but other than that it’s a brilliant series bringing a wonderful part of the world to greater prominence for Anglophones.

notes from JK

Listenlog: S-Town, Brexitcast, how to fail, polarised, the drop out

S-Town aka Shit Town

Wow. I’ve never experienced anything quite like it. From the team behind Serial this podcast series is a portrait of a small town in the American deep south, a story of how family is complicated and most of all the tale of an extraordinary, eccentric, passionate man with mental health challenges.

I can’t recommend this highly enough. It is beautifully and sensitively produced as it touches some very delicate and personal matters which I won’t expand on to avoid spoilers.

There has been some debate around the morality and ethics of this podcast. I think such debates are important to have, but on listening to the whole series the producers have shown themselves to be considerate and careful. I won’t say more to avoid spoilers but after listening do have a read around the debate on the ethics of producing such series which involve vulnerable people.

BBC Brexitcast

Top BBC reporters like Laura Kuenssberg, Katya Adler, Adam Fleming and Chris Mason get together late at night to review another day of Brexit developments. They are tired, punch drunk from the relentless events of the day, and full of insider insight. Don’t expect a tightly edited listen of perfection, do expect laughs and hot off the press views. I’ve found it essential listening.

How to Fail with Elizabeth Day

One of the most interesting conference panels I ever participated in was at EuroCities in Nantes. A number of city Leaders and Mayors, including me, had been briefed to talk about youth participation. Naturally we all were ready to talk about our success stories. When we sat down the moderator asked us to talk about our greatest failures in boosting youth participation. It turned into a fascinating and insightful session, far better than if we had just trotted out our polished success stories.

So when I stumbled across a podcast series on learning from failure I had to give it a shot. There’s a huge archive of episodes. So far I can highly recommend the interviews with Alistair Campbell and Gina Miller. Elizabeth Day’s humility and openness makes for a powerful interview technique. Do give it a listen.

RSA Polarised

I’m a Fellow of the RSA and have collaborated with Matthew Taylor before, so perhaps I’m naturally inclined to like Polarised. Still it’s a skilfully produced series hosted by Matthew and Ian Leslie that tackles an issue of our time – the growing polarisation of our society and how to address it. A thoughtful dose of brain food.

ABC The Drop Out

The story of Elizabeth Holmes and Theranos has become infamous – how she portrayed herself as the next Steve Jobs, with a world-changing medical technology startup. The reality was one of bullying, fraud and patients being put at risk. This fascinating podcast goes right inside the story with fascinating interviews of those who were inside Theranos at key moments in the story.

notes from JK

Listenlog: More investigative podcasts to enjoy

I’ve started 2019 with a continued appetite for podcasts mostly featuring journalists exploring injustices and unsolved crimes. I’ve had more success finding great listens in this category than the others I’ve explored such as around health or government innovation.


I know I am very seriously late to the party on listening to Serial, but wow it’s good. All three seasons are different but gripping in their own ways. Season 1 explores the apparent murder of a Baltimore high school student by her recent ex-boyfriend who claims to have been wrongly accused. Season 2 is the remarkable tale of how a US soldier willingly left his post in Afghanistan, was captured by the Taliban and freed after 5 years in captivity – and now faces prosecution through the US military courts. Season 3 is harder to describe but essentially is a year following the justice system in Cleveland, really trying to understand all the players in the system and whether the system works as intended. It’s really good.

The Hurricane Tapes

BBC World Service sports reporters luck into some extraordinary tapes of boxer Rubin ‘Hurricane’ Carter talking to an author about his life. These lead them into a triple murder mystery which led Carter and another man to be imprisoned for nearly 20 years. The ensuing legal battles had Bob Dylan and Mohammed Ali campaigning for their freedom and even a movie of the trials with Denzel Washington. It’s a brilliantly produced series with cracking music. There’s also something really charming about the northern English burr of the presenter’s accent whilst interviewing New Jersey natives.

Missing & Murdered: Who Killed Alberta Williams & Finding Cleo

CBC do lots of excellent podcasts, as I’ve mentioned before. As a Canadian who, according to family legend has some indigenous blood, this series was particularly poignant. Each season covers the death of a young indigenous female, but also the shame of how Canada treated the indigenous communities more generally. They are gripping true-crime stories whilst deeply sensitive historical explorations of the horrors of forced adoptions, residential schools, violence against indigenous women, Police racism and more.

Other Peoples Problems

Another CBC podcast: Somewhat like Esther Perel’s series, this lets us listen in on real therapy sessions. However unlike Perel’s, where she doesn’t include her regular clients but specially selected couples who apply for the podcast series, here Vancouver therapist Hillary McBride has worked with her regular clients with their consent. It’s a fascinating series, particular because across the two seasons so far we get to follow the journeys of a number of her clients as they change and grow.

notes from JK

Listenlog: Investigative podcast recommendations

2018 has been the year I’ve really immersed myself in the world of podcasts. I think this has been driven by my desire to avoid hearing the news much as it’s all too frustrating!

Bear Brook

Four bodies are found in barrels in New Hampshire woodland. A public radio news reporter is asked to attend a police news conference about the cold case investigating those bodies and gets hooked on trying to find out more. Follow as he investigates this story which eventually leads to a serial killer, and the groundbreaking use of DNA in a method which is now changing how investigations are conducted the world over.

In the Dark

Both seasons of this superb investigative series from Minnesota public radio are gripping tales of loss and murder. The reporters go beyond ‘whodunnit’ to look at searing policy implications around how sheriffs and district attorneys in the USA have scant oversight, leaving the public with little recourse should they misbehave or be incompetent. 

Someone Knows Something

Each of the 5 seasons so far of this podcast series, from the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC, the public service broadcaster of Canada – bit like the BBC), is different but wonderful. Presenter David Ridgen has a long history of documentary work and investigations which we slowly learn more about over the episodes. He brings a degree of introspection and care to the podcasts which can be deeply moving, particularly as he works so closely with the families of victims. I can’t commend these highly enough.

notes from JK

Listenlog: Some podcast recommendations

I’ve been on a bit of a podcast listening binge recently so wanted to share some of the best of the crop.

BBC Intrigue: The Ratline

Philippe Sands, a lawyer specialising in international law, presents this genuinely gripping series looking into the story of Otto Wachter – a senior Nazi responsible for the death of a significant part of Sands’ family.Wachter managed to escape justice at the end of the war before dying in hiding under mysterious circumstances. Not only fascinating in terms of the main story, the background of a world re-organising on new polarities post-war but also on how the children of Nazis cope with the sins of their fathers especially through the 80 year old sone of Wachter’s participation.

Esther Perel: Where should we begin?

Imagine this – one of the world’s most highly regarded relationship therapists lets you in to listen on her sessions with couples. That’s what you get with “Where should we begin?” Perel’s team have worked to bring together a fascinating array of couples who Perel expertly counsels. Even more compelling are the moments when Perel adds in her reflections and regrets on hearing the sessions over again. I was hooked and binge listened to both series on Apple Podcasts in a matter of days. There’s a third series just out, only on Audible, I’ve not yet listened to that.

Death in Ice Valley

I heard Alan Carr mention this on an interview with Jo Whiley and Simon Mayo. It was a completely chance moment as I almost never listen to Radio 2 nor Alan Carr! But something about how they described this podcast made me look it up. And I’m so glad I did. A joint production between the BBC and NRK (the Norwegian public service broadcaster) this investigates the mysterious death of a still un-identified woman discovered near Bergen, Norway in November 1970. I listened to this while on early morning holiday walks in sunny Cyprus, but the richness of the production transported me to a cold, rainy Norway every time. A really marvellous series – must listen.

The Assassination

The BBC World Service’s Owen Bennett-Jones takes us through the tumultuous story of Benazir Bhutto’s life, and violent death. Having been personally present through many of the key moments in Bhutto’s political life Bennett-Jones brings an energy to this series which is filled with a sense of his love for Pakistan mixed in with his despair at the many failings in its political and legal systems. Pretty much everyone covered in this series emerges as tarnished in some way – by corruption, failure to act, malevolence or plain incompetence. The violence surrounding the recent blasphemy case in Pakistan now makes more sense to me having listened to this series. This isn’t just a series trying to find out who killed Bhutto, and why; but also lifts the lid on how militants, the Taliban, Pakistani military, the US and others are all strangely interconnected.