As someone with a very demanding job, podcasts have become something of a life saver for me. When I get in from work my eyes are often too tired to look at another screen or to even read a book. But with a podcast I can just lay back and listen and be transported away to another world. My favourite podcasts tend to be horror audio dramas and it’s exciting to see what was seen as an old fashioned medium in radio drama suddenly explode in popularity. Below are ten amazing spooky audio drama podcasts perfect for those who love a good ghost story:
Hands down my favourite podcast this superlatively written podcast focuses on The Archivist Jonathan Sims (also the actual name of the writer and the actor playing him) who works at The Magnus Institute – a shady organisation which collects accounts of strange and supernatural tales from the public. Each episode features the Archivist (and in later episodes others) transcribing statements received from the public to tape. Each 20 minute episode is a perfectly crafted horror story featuring all manner of unsettling things from curses, people that aren’t quite people, a sinister circus, books with extraordinary powers, to sentient and malevolent spiders. What starts as a series of unconnected tales builds into this extraordinary connected universe – the world building is highly impressive. The writing is incredibly strong – each episode has more ideas packed into a single 20 minute episode than most horror films manage in 90 minutes. Do listen from the beginning but highly recommended episodes include Lost John’s Cave (which unsettled me for days afterwards), Fatigue and Thought for the Day.
From the people behind the behemoth that is Welcome to Nightvale, Alice isn’t Dead follows the adventures of a lone truck driver as she crosses America searching for the wife she long believed to be dead. Along the way she encounters a terrifying murderer who may not be a man at all and other surreal and unsettling occurrences. Beautifully acted by Jasika Nicole (best known for Fringe) Alice isn’t Dead is haunting and dream like, packed with images that will keep you awake at night.
A decade ago 300 hundred people vanished from a small town in Tennessee called Limetown never to be heard from again. Public radio reporter Lia Haddock fascinated by this modern day Roanoke sets out to investigate. Limetown is the first in this list to use the Serial inspired format of a reporter on public radio recording themselves as part of an investigation. The acting in Limetown varies wildly but the writing and the tale of what happened to the poor unfortunates of Limetown is very strong indeed. It’s been some time since I’ve listened to it and that ending still lingers. Sadly Limetown seems to be a one season deal as the producers have moved on but it’s a recommended listen.
Set aboard the U.S.S Hephaestus space station Wolf 359 follows the lives of communication’s officer Doug Eiffel as he goes about his work scanning the skies for signs of extraterrestrial activity. Also on board is harsh but fair Commander Renee Minkowski, Alexander Hilbert the somewhat shady science officer and chirpy operating system and mother computer Hera. Together they find themselves facing threats from space and at home while trying to survive in a space station which is falling apart around them. Word of warning this is the only podcast on the list that it took me a fair while to get into it. It picks up massively around episode 8 but the first few episodes are a little trying. But once it gets good it blossoms into this glorious binge -worthy space opera filled with well rounded characters that you find yourself genuinely caring about. The acting is also very strong compared to some others- Zach Valenti (who plays Hilbert and Eiffel) is particularly impressive and Emma Sherr-Zhiarko brings an endearing combination of fierceness, vulnerability and by the books level headedness to Minkowski.
Carly Parker’s best friend Yumiko goes missing under mysterious circumstances. As part of her investigation into Yumiko’s disappearance Carly discovers that Yumiko may have been playing Rabbits, an interactive game with ancient origins whose participants have a tendency to show up dead. Rabbits (reviewed here) is a show from the newly formed Public Radio Alliance stable which also produces Tanis. Rabbits is an engaging, trippy fast paced thriller with a highly appealing female lead. The time bending narrative had me utterly enthralled. The ending is perhaps slightly too pat and it shares the same flaws that Tanis and it’s predecessor show The Black Tapes have (the notion that the show is airing while the host is investigating is always just daft considering each deal in shadowy conspiracies plus your ability to be immersed in the world of these shows is always ruined by really intrusive adverts with the hosts ecstatically declaring their love for socks, mattresses and home food delivery kits). But flaws aside I’m very much looking forward to listening to series 2.
Dan Powell is a newly appointed archivist. His creepy boss (who urges him to record himself at all times) has sent him to an isolated location to review and catalogue recordings made by the Housing Historical Committee of New York State. In particular Dan spends his time listening to interviews carried out by Melody Pendras who interviewed the tenants of an apartment block. But then Dan goes missing… Archive 81 is a found footage podcast. We listen to Dan start to completely unravel as he listens to Melody’s extremely unsettling recordings with the inhabitants of the apartment building. Melody’s segments are the meat of the show and are a fine example of urban horror which reminded me strongly of Candyman and its themes of horror, poverty and urban legends. Season 2 is a vastly different beast with Dan situated on another world but series 1 is a great listen.
Sayer is a highly developed AI whose job is to acclimatise the unfortunate residents of Typhon (Earth’s second moon) to their new jobs with Aerolith Dynamics. Written and performed by Adam Bash, Sayer is a darkly comic piece featuring the perpetually unimpressed AI taking new residents through their life on an inhospitable new world. Gently unsettling this is another fine example of world building. Sayer’s robotic tone makes this a tricky one to binge and yet the little hints of something much darker going on (“There are no bees on Typhon”) makes you want to keep listening.
The Black Tapes was the first podcast from the people behind Tanis and Rabbits. The Black Tapes follows the adventures of Alex Reagan, a journalist who when investigating a story about paranormal investigators comes across Doctor Richard Strand of The Strand Institute an infamous sceptic and paranormal debunker who has offered a substantial cash reward for any definitive proof of the supernatural. After finally getting Strand to agree to a meeting Alex discovers the existence of The Black Tapes – a series of tapes of apparent supernatural phenomena which Strand has yet to be able to debunk. The Black Tapes is at its strongest in series 1 as Alex investigates the individual Black Tapes and the stories on them. Mass murderers capable of teleportation, a piece of music so potent that it can kill anyone who hears it, sacred geometry, a tall dark figure which haunts an innocent child and a terrifying tale of child murder with a use of an upside down smile combine to weave a horrifying tale that’s more than enough to keep even the strongest souls up at night. As the series branches out into a larger overarching tale the horror becomes a little more diluted as we take in demons and dastardly shadowy organisations and the story telling pace gets frustratingly slow. The Black Tapes has recently wrapped after a shortened and somewhat underwhelming third season but the promise showed in its first season makes it a podcast worth listening to.
Anna (Becca De La Rosa) a nurse looks after her elderly ward Sally Martin in a large isolated home. Desperately lonely Anna starts leaving voicemail messages for Mabel, Sally’s daughter who seems to have gone missing. Where is Mabel? Are Anna and Sally really alone in that large house? And what significance does the large fairy ring in the grounds of the house have? Mabel (reviewed here) is an excellent tale about fairies and folklore, families, love and loss and loneliness. It’s an aching, delicate thing with a real underlying thread of menace.
Tanis is my favourite of the trio of tales bought to us by the Public Radio Alliance (The Black Tapes, Rabbits) and it defies easy description. It follows Nic Silver as he investigates the notion of Tanis – a mysterious place that emerges every few hundred years. It takes in everything from Grail theory to time travel by way of H.P. Lovecraft. Nic is an engaging presence and the storytelling is suitably eerie and epic as Nic like a knight of yore sets out on a quest to discover the true nature of Tanis. Addictive and unsettling this story gets its hooks in you and doesn’t let go.