SiriusXM might have just acquired Team Coco, but it seems as if things are still pretty dicey in the podcast world. We’re on the other side of an extended phase of consolidation, and it’s becoming increasingly apparent that it’s getting harder and harder for brand-new shows to break through — no matter what the form or subject and how accomplished, prominent, or famous the core team happens to be.
But the potential for genuine newness in podcasting is always very much alive, and the possibility of something or someone truly fresh, meaningful, or resonant is still intoxicating. And so in that spirit, we’ve compiled a roundup of podcasts to look forward to this summer, including returning shows with politically timely edges, a new swing from a respected heavyweight, a bizarre fiction effort from a rising star, and a fascinating take on vérité-style documentary.
Slow Burn: Roe v. Wade (Slate, June 1)
It was all but certain that the conservative-stacked Supreme Court was going to overturn Roe v. Wade, but that didn’t lessen the blow when a recent leak seemingly confirmed the outcome. The story of how that landmark abortion-rights ruling came to be has been distorted over the decades, and Slow Burn’s upcoming four-part series on the matter seeks to reestablish the context of the moment. Hosted by Susan Matthews, the season will cover several stories that laid the foundation for the political push toward Roe, starting with the case of Shirley Wheeler, the first woman to be convicted of manslaughter for getting an abortion.
Rough Translation Re:Work (NPR, June 1)
Between the surging discourse around burnout and the Great Resignation sparked by pandemic-induced existential reconsideration, there has been a ton of thinking about the role, shape, and fairness of labor in American life over the past few years. But that conversation isn’t just happening here. The latest season from NPR’s Rough Translation will bring its global perspective to the question of work, exploring how the struggle between the personal and the professional is playing out elsewhere. Upcoming episodes include a look at “quitting influencers” in China and Portugal’s new “right to disconnect” law.
Newts! (PRX, June 1)
Ian Coss made a bit of a splash last year with Forever Is a Long Time, a quiet, memoiristic piece that dived into his family’s experiences with marriage and divorce. He returns this summer with something completely different: a “surf-rock audio drama” inspired by War With the Newts, a 1936 dystopian sci-fi novel by Karel Čapek, the Czech author and playwright. Created with the fiction-podcast pioneers at The Truth, the tale takes place in an alternate history that involves the discovery of a species of highly intelligent amphibians, their subsequent exploitation by the western world, and their eventual revolution that overthrows the world order. Rad!
First Person (New York Times, June 9)
Separate and apart from The Daily, the Gray Lady has been steadily building out a sizable portfolio of personality-driven podcasts around its “Opinion” section over the past few years: The Ezra Klein Show, Sway with Kara Swisher, The Argument with Jane Coaston. This summer will see the latest edition to the pile: First Person, featuring Lulu Garcia-Navarro, who joined the Times last year from NPR, where she had been the Weekend Edition Sunday host. First Person will mark a minor break in style for the “Opinion” Audio team; whereas the existing three shows are all fairly traditional talk-based programming that rely on the booking of expert guests, Garcia-Navarro’s show trains its focus on the experience of ordinary people living through these extraordinary times.
Legacy of Speed (Pushkin Industries, June 14)
Aside from everything else, Malcolm Gladwell is also an accomplished competitive runner, and that interest in the sport presumably informs the shape of his upcoming audio documentary project. Legacy of Speed revisits San José State University’s track program of the 1960s that kicked off the careers of Tommie Smith, Lee Evans, and John Carlos — the three Black runners who forged a striking moment in history when they raised their fists in protest during the American national anthem at the 1968 Summer Olympics. Consider this Gladwell doing the Gladwellian thing with the potent subject of athletes and activism.
Welcome to Provincetown (Rococo Punch, Room Tone, and Stitcher, June 15)
Provincetown, Massachusetts — an idyllic seaside locale, a haven for the queer community, and a town subject to the changing of the seasons. This audio-vérité project follows seven Provincetown locals over the course of one summer, weaving together a story about their lives and the town they occupy, which are both constantly in flux. It is led and hosted by Mitra Kaboli, the producer and documentarian best known for her work on The Heart and ESPN’s 30 for 30 Podcasts.
Unfinished: Ernie’s Secret (Stitcher’s Witness Docs, June 29)
Unfinished: Ernie’s Secret takes a look at the life of Ernest Withers, the African American photographer celebrated for his work documenting Black history across the segregated American South — and who, in 2010, was posthumously revealed as an informant for the FBI under the COINTELPRO program, possibly surveilling the civil-rights movement for the agency. The journalist Wesley Lowery leads this project, for which he intends to raise the question as to whether Withers was coerced into the role under the force of government overreach.
The Randy Rainbow Podcast (Hazy Mills, late June)
Randy Rainbow, the progressive musical comedian who rose to prominence through YouTube virality, is making the most of his moment. Fresh off releasing a memoir, Playing With Myself, Rainbow will soon be taking his talents to your podcast feed with a show that will feature the politically flavored satirical songs he has come to be known for alongside sketches and celebrity interviews. The upcoming guest list includes Carol Burnett, Tituss Burgess, and Harvey Fierstein, among others.
El Flow With Lilia Luciano, season two (iHeartMedia, July)
iHeartMedia’s bilingual series on the history of reggaeton — now dominant across the Americas and around the world — returns for a new season this summer.
Lilia Luciano continues her travels around the U.S. and Latin America for interviews with various icons and rising stars in the scenes. Upcoming episodes of El Flow With Lilia Luciano will feature the likes of Dontia, Chicocurlyhead, GALE, and Bodine.
The Big Burn (LAist Studios, August 8)
In 2019, the Southern California–based LAist Studios released The Big One: Your Survival Guide, which looped listeners in on the realities of what is probably going to happen if the San Andreas Fault ever lets rip along with concrete takeaways on what they should know in order to best prepare for the possibility. It’s a smart piece of service journalism that blended scenario re-creation with specific guidance, and as someone who constantly revisits Kathryn Schulz’s 2015 New Yorker feature on the Pacific Northwest’s Cascadia subduction zone, that podcast is practically lodged in the back of my head. The show returns with host Jacob Margolis for a follow-up this summer, taking on a disaster that is not just already routinely present around the country but also deathly certain to get much, much worse: wildfires.