A brief overview of Australian audio (or, 15 podcasts with Australian accents)

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“Australians can’t bear it that we pay so little attention to them, and I don’t blame them. This is a country where interesting things happen, and all the time.” – Bill Bryson, In a Sunburned Country

Lately, it feels like everything has been leading me to Australia.

As an expat living in Thailand, every other English-speaker I meet seems to be a) an Australian backpacking through Southeast Asia, or b) an American on a working holiday visa in Australia. My friends in the States are planning a vacation – to Australia. The book club I just joined has me reading a new travel book – about Australia. And my favorite character on the Netflix show I’m currently bingeing on? An Australian comedian.

But surprisingly, the area of my life that’s been the most Australia-focused has been my podcast subscriptions. When I wrote about launching an ‘audio abroad’ series, the responses I got were delightfully diverse and scattered across the globe: Ireland, Italy, Canada, Israel, Vietnam, France, India. But I was surprised to find that the majority of my emails came from Australia.

I heard from producers at the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC), independent radiomakers, audio conference organizers, and avid podcast fans. They made it clear: there’s a lot going on in the Australian audio scene. The Down Under is the up-and-coming underdog of the audio world; in fact, they may even be ahead of the U.S. in some regards. Here’s how a few people in the Australian radio world described the state of their audio industry right now:

The Australian radio style is sound-rich and diverse

Photo credit: Kate Montague
Photo credit: Kate Montague

“I think maybe we sit somewhere in between an American and a BBC-style, objective radio voice. I think it’s really hard to comment and put a blanket on an Australian style, because I think it’s so diverse. But the ABC really fosters a very sound-rich approach to storytelling, and deep sound-design approaches to audio, and sound-first approaches to narrative. I think that there’s sometimes frustration with that institution with all these young producers putting themselves in the role of narrator, and the kind of Ira Glass/This American Life style of narrator-led stories.”

– Kate Montague, Founder of Audiocraft

Big players: the ABC, Radio National, Triple J, and community radio

Sarah Walker headshot
Photo credit: Sarah Walker

“Australia feels like it has much less of a developed radio culture than the U.S. and Britain. We have the ABC, which is totally government funded. Despite this, though, it’s completely independent, and governments have pretty much learned to leave it alone, or face public wrath. The ABC runs Radio National, which is broadcast across the country, but its listenership tends to be on the older side. On the other end of the spectrum is Triple J, the national youth radio station, which does an amazing job making young people across both urban and regional areas feel connected in a listening community. Each state has some totally excellent independent community radio stations – Melbourne’s include Triple R, PBS and Joy FM, which are fiercely supportive of local music, politics, business and arts.”

– Sarah Walker, host, Contact Mic

The U.S may still be the leader in cutting-edge audio stories

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Photo credit: Bec Fary

“The U.S. industry certainly has influence down under, partly because there are so many great shows we can draw inspiration from. I know so many producers and listeners over here whose feeds are full of U.S. shows. Beyond listening and subscribing and drawing inspiration that way, the culture of skill-sharing through resources like Transom and Third Coast are big for us, because radio-specific training resources aren’t as established or widespread over here but they’re so accessible online. So I guess we pull in all that influence and working with Australian sounds, narratives and aesthetics we remix it into more idiosyncratically Australian sounds.”

Bec Fary, producer, SleepTalker

But in Australia, women rule the podcast scene

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Photo credit: Monique Bowley // Twitter

There’s a huge space for funny, smart content that goes deeper than just ‘so, how about bikram yoga,’ and audiences are eating it up… This myth of women’s voices being ‘annoying’ just doesn’t register with podcast audiences. You no longer need to have a beautiful voice to be on radio: you just need to have good content. Wendy Zukerman’s Science Vs show broke ground for an Australian podcast after it was picked up by Gimlet. Did being female make her show better or worse? Neither, it wasn’t a factor, because audiences don’t give a shit if you’re male or female, they just notice good content.”

Monique Bowley, Director of Podcasts, Mamamia Women’s Network

Podcast Playlist: All-Australia Edition

Ready to add some stories with Australian accents to your podcast feed? Here’s a list of the best Australian audio storytelling I found – mostly via recommendations from Australian podcasters and listeners:

1. Radiotonic

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Produced by: ABC

Tagline: a heady mix of fiction, non-fiction, essays and drama from writers, artists and radio makers, brought to you by RN’s Creative Audio Unit.

Listen to: The ‘Addendum’ series, which tells the stories behind the classifieds – think Reply All‘s occasional Craigslist stories; Radio with Pictures, a storytelling series that is ‘part radio, part comic’; and Volume Without Sparks, a ‘how-to radio manual for amplifying sound without electricity’ that radio producer Joel Werner calls one of his ‘favorite series in recent memory’.

2. All The Best

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Produced by: FBi Radio, with Radio Adelaide, 4ZZZ & SYN

It’s sort of like: Snap Judgment

Description: Through docos, interviews, fictions and factual accounts, we paint a unique portrait of Australia with audio stories.

3. Better Off Dead

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Produced by: The Wheeler Centre

It’s sort of like: Life of the Law – if Life of the Law were focused only on the issue of euthanasia?

Description: Andrew Denton investigates the stories, moral arguments and individuals woven into discussions about why good people are dying bad deaths in Australia – because there is no law to help them. Reader Jen Crothers calls it “intelligent, meaningful, personal, challenging – really worth a listen.”

4. Contact Mic

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Produced by: Fleur Kilpatrick, Kieran Ruffles and Sarah Walker

Tagline: a podcast about the things that make us human: moments of change, indecision and, well, contact.

Listen to: Episode 2: Clairscent – This Month in Your World – Postcards – Jason Lehane. The ‘This Month in Your World’ segment tells brief, jumpy vignettes of scenes around the world, in a way that is enjoyably disorienting, and the whole podcast has a cool, experimental vibe to it.

5. This Glorious Mess

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Produced by: Mamamia Podcast Network

It’s sort of like: The Longest Shortest Time

Tagline: This is not the place for “perfect parents”. This is a weekly look at parenting as it truly is – confusing, exhausting, inspiring, completely full of surprises and very messy.

6. All In The Mind

Photo: Twitter @allinthemind

Produced by: ABC

It’s sort of like: NPR’s Invisibilia

Tagline: An exploration of all things mental, All in the Mind is about the brain and behaviour, and the fascinating connections between them.

7. SleepTalker

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Produced by: Bec Fary

It’s sort of like: Nocturne

Tagline: The podcast about sleep, dreams, nightmares and what happens in your head after dark. Caroline Crampton, creator of the newsletter So far, I’ve had no complaints, recently wrote about SleepTalker: “What has kept me listening, though, is the fact that the makers of SleepTalker are trying interesting things with their format: their use of music is pretty good, as is the shifting between fiction and non-fiction.”

8. Off Track

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Produced by: ABC

It’s sort of like: Outside/In

Tagline: Listen to the environment discussed by the people who live in and love it

Listen to: ABC producer Jessica Bineth recommends the episodes Driving It Home and The Blythe Star part one and two.

9. WILOSOPHY with Wil Anderson

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Produced by: Wil Anderson, comedian

It’s sort of like: How to Be Amazing

Description: Wil Anderson asks smart people stupid questions and tries to find out the meaning of life.

Recommended by: Monique Bowley, Mamamia Podcast Network

10. Story Club

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Produced by: Giant Dwarf Theatre

It’s sort of like: The Moth

Tagline: Each week, we bring you stories told live from the Story Club chair at the Giant Dwarf Theatre in Sydney.

11. Mamamia Out Loud

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Produced by: The Mamamia Women’s Network

It’s sort of like: Call Your Girlfriend

Description: It’s the kind of show you’d never hear on commercial radio: that is, women. Lots of women. This is the weekly podcast that’s smart, often silly and sometimes surprising.

12. Private Parts

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Produced byElin Andersson and Irit Pollak

It’s sort of like: The Heart

Tagline: an audio-art project about gender and perception

13. Chat 10 looks 3

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Produced by: Annabel Crabb and Leigh Sales

Description: Sarah Walker (Contact Mic) says: “with two of our most prominent political commentator ladies – both totally badass babes, but instead of talking hardcore politics, they talk about what they’re cooking and reading and you desperately want to be their friend. It’s the best.”

14. Love, Canberra Podcast

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Produced by: Evana Ho

It’s sort of like: Huffington Post’s Love & Sex Podcast

Tagline: Intimate conversations about love, sex and relationships.

15. Download This Show

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Produced by: ABC

It’s sort of like: What’s Tech (the Verge)

Description: Explore the latest in technology, social media, consumer electronics, digital culture and more.

Check out more curated podcast playlists here

If you live somewhere outside of the United States and you’re a producer/creator/fan of audio stories, get in touch via e-mail or Twitter and tell me about the best podcasts in your country. 

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