Podcasts... from early sound to prime ministers

The remarkable Centuries of Sound podcast is a “museum piped straight into your ears”, said Fiona Sturges in the FT. Released monthly, it consists of “audio collages” for every year since the dawn of recorded sound, compiled “with passion, care and a nerdy attention to detail by the Cambridge-based sound artist and languages teacher James Errington”. He has been working forwards from 1859, and has so far got to 1931. The “audio treasure trove” for that year, when America was in the grip of the Great Depression, yet its culture was booming, includes Cab Calloway singing Minnie the Moocher, Gandhi, and an audio clip from Dracula featuring Bela Lugosi. Go back earlier, and you can hear a ghostly voice singing Au clair de la lune in 1860; and from 1888 the muffled voice of William Gladstone.

William Gladstone is the subject of one of the stand-out episodes of Iain Dale’s excellent podcast The Prime Ministers, said James Marriott in The Times. Each consists of an interview with one of the journalists and academics who contributed essays to Dale’s recent book of the same title. In the Gladstone instalment, Simon Heffer is on splendidly “opinionated” form. He lauds Gladstone as a “titanic moral figure” and the most intelligent of all British PMs, while lamenting that the great Liberal needed to manage Queen Victoria, one of the stupidest of all monarchs (“and that’s quite an achievement”). Benjamin Disraeli he merely despises as a “corrupt toadie. It’s good someone is still this angry about Victorian politics.” Another standout episode is Rachel Sylvester’s “unsparing prosecution” of that other morally-driven PM, Theresa May. Incredibly, it makes her administration seem even more shambolic than it did at the time.

Unfinished, from Witness Docs, is an investigative series that digs into America’s “unfinished business”, said Sarah Larson in The New Yorker. The first series, Deep South, explored the 1954 lynching of Isadore Banks, a black landowner in Arkansas. The second, Unfinished: Short Creek, which completed its run in November, was one of the best podcasts of last year. Its hosts, Ash Sanders and Sarah Ventre, spent more than four years studying a community of fundamentalist, polygamist Mormons in Short Creek, on the Utah-Arizona border, whose leader Warren Jeffs is now serving a life sentence for sexually assaulting two minors. Made with “sensitivity and care”, their exploration of this “cultlike situation” never feels voyeuristic. The interviews are “intimate and powerful” – and the whole thing is enhanced by excellent sound design, which includes a “lovely, subtle score and the sounds of children singing about Church elders”.