The week in radio and podcasts: Today in Focus; PM; Kermode on Film | Podcasts

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Today In Focus | The Guardian
PM (BBC Radio 4) | iPlayer
Kermode on Film

It’s always a bit awkward reviewing a product made by the company you work for… Oh, hello, Today in Focus, the Guardian’s new flagship daily podcast! Launched just a few days after the Radio 4 Today programme’s new flagship daily podcast, Beyond Today, Today in Focus is trying to do a similar thing to Beyond Today. Meaning: it’s trying to be a British version of the New York Times’s flagship daily podcast, The Daily.

Confused? It’s not so hard to understand. The Daily, which has been broadcasting since January 2017, offers an in-depth, insiders’ view of the NYT stories that are leading the news. Hosted by Michael Barbaro, an NYT political journalist, each podcast covers one story, with a small news roundup at the end. Episodes last around 20 minutes and there’s a buzzy, backroom feel: Barbaro talks to the journalist who is covering the story, often while they are actually covering it. The Daily has been a huge success, with over 5 million monthly listeners. Beyond Today (which I reviewed last week) and Today in Focus are attempts to make a British version of this.

Luckily – for me, anyway – Today in Focus is very good. (Better than Beyond Today, though it seems a bit mean to judge on just a few episodes.) Anushka Asthana, the Guardian’s former joint political editor, is the main presenter. Asthana has plenty of broadcast experience, having worked on Sky News, and her presenting is an excellent mix of relaxed and enquiring. So far, the stories covered have been on point: a report on new Brazilian president, Jair Bolsonaro; the inevitable US midterms, with Gary Younge; a look at the campaign for a second referendum on Brexit; Britain’s role in the Yemen crisis; what’s wrong with universal credit.

I like the podcast’s easy flipping between national and international, and its ability to lay out the lead-up to a crisis, as well as the crisis itself. The explanations of Brazil, Yemen, and universal credit were compelling and made me understand why these situations have gone so badly wrong. I don’t mind the short opinion piece at the end (Georgina Lawton on who gets to identify as black, and naturalist Bernie Krause on changing natural soundscapes, were both excellent). The soundscaping is subtle and sophisticated, which is rare in UK news podcasts. As a news junkie, I’d quite like an extra “what else is going on in the news” feature. But that’s just a quibble. I have subscribed, and Today in Focus has replaced The Daily in my affections.

Evan Davis, new presenter of PM.
Evan Davis, new presenter of PM. Photograph: Dominic Lipinski/PA

Evan Davis is back presenting a news programme on Radio 4. His Newsnight experiment is over and he has taken over from Eddie Mair as host of PM. Well, hooray to that. Davis – like Mair – is good on TV, but better on radio, warm and funny. He’s also much better in a late afternoon slot than either early morning or late night, and I enjoyed his “these are the questions we would have asked the government minister about council cuts, had one come on the show” section on Tuesday (very PM!). Davis will have to up his empathy a little to get the amazing real-life interviews that Mair did, but he has had a great start.

Just room for a spot of Mark Kermode. The busiest man in film (and this paper’s lead film critic) has released another show, a podcast, to join his excellent BBC Four TV series, Secrets of Cinema; his live BFI show, MK3D; and his long-living, multi-award-winning 5 Live podcast, Kermode and Mayo’s Film Review. (Will this show have to end once Simon Mayo is snapped up by a non-BBC radio station?)

The three episodes of Kermode on Film out so far showcase what we can expect: the first features a lively review section with younger film buff Jack Howard, plus a few clips from MK3D; second, a straightforward recording of MK3D with Hayley Squires, Mike Leigh and Hugh Grant; third, a walk around Belfast with David Holmes, plus another recording of Kermode’s live interview with Desiree Akhavan. I’d like a little more care with the sound production and editing (you can barely hear Kermode in the first show) and a few more podcast-only bits (Hell’s Video Store is fun), but he is great value, as ever.

Mark Kermode.
A busy man… Mark Kermode. Photograph: BBC/Richard Ansett

Three shows about black America

Making Obama
If you’re missing the 44th president, then immerse yourself in this six-parter from WBEZ. Released this year, Making Obama covers his early career in Chicago (WBEZ is a Chicago station), from 1985 to 2004. Though he’s now almost mythologised, due to the contrast with thug Thump, what’s interesting is how imperfect Obama was, how often he pitched things wrongly. “We had a fundraiser for him in this apartment,” says one contributor. “And, I must say, he was terrible.” Oral testimonies and some nice sound touches make this podcast series skip along.

Thirst Aid Kit
This podcast does make me laugh. Hosted by BuzzFeed’s Bim Adewunmi (British) and Nichole Perkins (American), it’s about unabashed, guilt-free lust (“thirst”). The show uses pop culture to examine female desire, so our hosts get to chat about who they fancy and then wonder why they do so. How do women’s histories, politics and economics affect who makes us hot? (Both women are straight, cis and black.) Redacted, their short fan-fiction stories in which the listener is invited to imagine what happens next, are sweet and hilarious. Recommended.

Hands Up
I stumbled across this on Radio 4 last week, and it stopped me in my tracks. Six plays written by black male American playwrights, aged between 30 and 40, Hands Up started as part of a New York theatre festival, the New Black Fest. The plays are a direct response to the events in Ferguson, Missouri, in August 2014, when 18-year-old Michael Brown was shot dead by a white police officer. They are linked by comments from young black men interviewed in New York City, Chicago and St Louis. Stunning.

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Source: The Guardian
Keyword: The week in radio and podcasts: Today in Focus; PM; Kermode on Film | Podcasts

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