The week in podcasts and radio: the best coronavirus podcasts

Podcasts are springing up as never before, from reports by frontline staff to snappy digests of world headlines

The Coronavirus Diaries (Radio 5 Live/ BBC Sounds)
Coronavirus UK: LBC Daily Update LBC
Coronavirus Global Update World Service/ BBC Sounds
The Coronavirus Newscast BBC Sounds
The Daily With Dermot Murnaghan
Coronavirus: What You Need to Know
Coronavirus: The Latest The Telegraph

Podcasts are blossoming in this lockdown spring – a mixed blessing for an audio critic. I’ll save for another day the burgeoning celebrity-chatting-to-celebrity-over-shonky-wifi subset, and concentrate instead on the brand-new coronavirus podcasts. There are so many! Ideal for news junkies. Not so good for anxiety bunnies.

The most interesting and direct is The Coronavirus Diaries, a new weekly podcast from BBC Sounds and 5 Live. Several frontline healthcare workers report on their days, using their phones to record their everyday, ever-changing challenges. Vanessa, who works in a care home on the Wirral, talks about how hard it is for residents not to have visitors and what to do when supermarkets won’t let you order in bulk online. Two tins of beans will not cut it. She’s had to find different ways of getting food supplies, at the same time as rejigging her workers’ shifts. Her deputy has been told to self-isolate for 12 weeks, living on £95.85 a week.

From an intensive care unit in south London, doctor Andrew explains how hard his job has become. It’s hot in the operating theatre, wearing full PPE. He describes intubation: “So much more challenging to do when you’re in a full gown… all of the virus-infested sputum was going to be aerosolised into my face.” He can’t see his colleagues’ faces or hear them speak, so everyone is shouting at one another. His shifts are getting longer and longer as more doctors and nurses have to self-isolate in case they have the virus (still no tests for them, unbelievably). He is getting sores from his face-mask.

And on Merseyside, Carmel, a nurse, has decided to move out of her family household, away from her parents, her sister and her son, in case she brings the virus back home with her. She cries as she does so, and so do we… Michelle Dignan presents this podcast, a little intrusively. We don’t really need to be told how to react to these reports.

For more conventional journalism, try LBC’s daily corona pod, Coronavirus UK, in which Nick Ferrari, breakfast broadcasting terrier, gets sharp with those in charge of the UK response to the virus. Ferrari nurtures his relationships with ministers, and this show pulls in many more prominent politicians than the Today programme. Matt Hancock has been on quite a bit, as have Michael Gove and Jeremy Hunt, who chairs the health select committee. They are not let off the hook: Ferrari is the master of the precise, awkward question. LBC, as a station, is infatuated with coronavirus, its new post-Brexit obsession, and is covering it well but manically, fuelled by listeners phoning in, as well as politicians. Episodes are 25-35 minutes long.

The World Service offers the Coronavirus Global Update. We hear about China, Spain, Italy, France, the US, from international correspondents, and this five-minute podcast gives an excellent, snappy overview. It’s a headline-only news show, in ye olde BBC manner, which is reassuring in itself. The other main BBC Covid-19 offering, The Coronavirus Newscast, is of the modern BBC manner: this is Brexitcast, but coronafied. Laura Kuenssberg, Adam Fleming, Fergus Walsh and Chris Mason present from their various homes, with all the banter that engenders. If you’re after an upbeat, insider-y show, this is the one for you.

There are other daily shows, from ITV, Sky and the Telegraph, all of which are OK. Sky’s is usually hosted by Dermot Murnaghan and has a dramatic feel, with swooshy music and inserted quotes from TV programmes. There’s the occasional, irritating microphone peak and scuffle, caused by incorrect mic technique and unadjusted levels (someone give Murnaghan a pop-shield!). ITV’s has Mary Nightingale, also occasionally mic-popping, and is a varied programme, as they all are: sometimes we get health correspondents, sometimes politicians, sometimes TV clips. Still, I would watch the TV headlines rather than listen to the spin-off podcasts. The Telegraph’s is less theatrical than its TV counterparts, but is a far easier listen. Perfectly presented by the fabulously named, fruitily voiced Theodora Louloudis, it’s only around 10 minutes long and gives you all the headlines you need.

Three comforting non-coronavirus listens

The Bunker Daily: Nigella’s Lockdown Kitchen
The Bunker is not, by nature, a comfort listen, being a clever, up-to-the-minute discussion show that has grown out of Remainiacs, a clever, up-to-the-minute anti-Brexit discussion show. Its weekly offering brings together the very smart Ian Dunt, Naomi Smith, Dorian Lynskey and Alex Andreou to discuss big issues. But its Daily show is more varied and this episode, where Nigella Lawson talks to Andreou, her friend, is a truly lovely thing. Lawson speaks so beautifully about food, creativity in the kitchen and lockdown. I hate cooking and I loved this episode.

The Tranquillusionist
Helen Zaltzman has shifted the focus of her podcast The Allusionist, to calm us down in these stressful times. In the first Tranquillusionist show, she reads out soothing words in alphabetical order, accompanied by gentle music. “Cuddle, cumulonimbus, custard, cwtch,” says Zaltzman, and things feel instantly better. In the second episode she gives us Imagine by John Lennon, but with the words in reverse alphabetical order (I really love this one). And in the third, she reads out the annual winners of best in show at the Westminster dog show, starting in 1907: “Warren Remedy, a smooth fox terrier”. Lovely.

Nothing Much Happens
This is a podcast designed to make you fall asleep. Yoga and meditation teacher Kathryn Nicolai writes all the stories and reads them out, in classic ASMR fashion. Her voice is close to the mic, with a neutral American accent, and she reads the story twice, a little slower the second time. Slow tales about going to a cabin in the woods, about making cups of tea, about watching winter through the window. The podcast trains your brain, over time, into falling asleep. It slightly drives me mad, but I know a lot of people for whom this show really works.


Miranda Sawyer

The GuardianTramp

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