California’s Best Podcasts

Download our picks for the best podcasts coming out of California and the West

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The recent explosion in podcasts — including the launch of Alta’s own podcast — is producing an enormous amount of interesting audio programming about California and the West. We’ve rounded up our favorite Golden State-based podcasts, some brand new to the scene and others more established. These podcasts are worthy additions to your subscription list — along with, of course, the Alta Podcast. Happy listening:

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Why it’s worthy: The Newport Beach Police Department produced this podcast in an effort to track down accused wife-killer Peter Chadwick, who disappeared while out on bail in 2015. The NBPD is counting on an audience of amateur sleuth hobbyists to assist it in bringing Chadwick to justice. A related website offers complete transcripts of the six-episode podcast and photographs of evidence and of Chadwick. Hosted and produced by Jennifer Manzella, NBPD’s spokesperson, each episode runs 15 minutes or so. NBPD has no specific plans to develop other cold cases into podcasts, but we’re betting “Countdown to Capture” will inspire a few other law enforcement agencies to try podcasting — especially if it works.

Episode to start with: Episode 1: “Something is Wrong”

Showcard Ear Hustleonline


Why it’s worthy: Go behind the storied walls of San Quentin State Prison in this Emmy and Peabody award-nominated podcast produced by inmates Earlonne Woods and Antwan Williams, along with prison volunteer/artist Nigel Poor Now in its third season, “Ear Hustle”moves quickly and digs deeply into different aspects of prison life in surprisingly blunt ways. Episodes run 30 to 45 minutes and focus on aspects of prison life such as lockdowns, race issues among inmates and conjugal visits — as discussed in an episode titled, “The Boom Boom Room.”

Episode to start with: Episode 17: “The Row”


Why it’s worthy: We’re fans of the Commonwealth Club’s informative and frequent Bay Area events. Politicians, thought leaders, business titans, up-and-comers, celebrities and a diverse collection of interview subjects and moderators regularly take the stage at this public affairs forum. Historically, the club has aired interviews and debates on the radio — so naturally, it’s also now doing podcasts. The volume is staggering and interviews can be hit or miss, but the Commonwealth Club podcast is certainly worth a download.

Episode to start with: “Tom Steinstra’s Sierra Crossing”


Why it’s worthy: Reporter and producer Lisa Morehouse is visiting every county in the state to deliver podcasts on food, agriculture “and the people who make both possible.” These are quick listens — about 10 minutes each — and every episode is really interesting. A trip to Madera County focused on a former farmworker who’s now a mole-making restaurant owner, while another show looked at the forgotten Filipino pioneers of the Delano Grape Strike.

Episode to start with: “From Bear Feeding Shows to Bear-Proof Containers”


Why it’s worthy: Film journalist Karina Longworth’s popular 4-year-old history podcast focuses on Hollywood’s action-packed first century. The current season is centered on researching the many salacious details included in Kenneth Anger’s 1959 book “Hollywood Babylon.” Was Rudolph Valentino secretly gay? Was producer Thomas Ince mysteriously shot aboard William Randolph Hearst’s yacht or was his death just indigestion? Longworth factchecks Anger’s accusations, case by scandalous case, in the current season — and it’s always a fun listen.

Episode to start with: “Charles Manson’s Hollywood: Part 1”


Why it’s worthy: Actor and director Dax Shepard hosts this very good weekly podcast with celebrity guests. Shepard has a rare ability to put his guests at ease and open them up. “Armchair Expert” episodes are more conversations than interviews, and it’s easy to feel like a lucky eavesdropper on Shepard’s long chats with the likes of Ellen DeGeneres, Ted Danson and his own mom.

Episode to start with: David Sedaris

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Why it’s worthy: The true-crime genre thrives in podcasting, and many of us were introduced to podcasts through the 2014 hit “Serial,” a podcast that focused on the murder of a high school girl in Maryland. The hosts of the “California True Crime” podcast do a nice job of covering the geography and history of the area before diving into the crime itself. There is also a diverse collection of crimes from around the state, rather than the usual focus on Los Angeles and San Francisco. Finally, while these podcasts can run a little long (each episode averages an hour) and could use some script editing, “California True Crime” strays away from the obvious and infamous Golden State crimes and focuses on lesser-known murders and mysteries — including the murder of Ronni Chasen, one of Alta’s “Cold Case” subjects.

Episode to start with: “The Keddie Murders”


Why it’s worthy: Junior Bruce and Leo Zuniga celebrate the creative personalities in and around Sacramento — everyone from comedians and artists to fellow podcasters and professional wrestlers. While both Bruce and Zuniga are aspiring comedians, they’re also capable interviewers with an eclectic and smart guest list. Sacramento’s creative community is enjoying a renaissance — and that includes this cool podcast.

Episode to start with: #205: “Tim Meunier from the Sacramento Horror Film Festival”


And don’t forget, of course, our own podcast. Every two weeks, we bring the pages of our magazine and website, as well as our events series, to life through your earbuds and your car stereo through enlightening, entertaining conversations with our authors or story subjects. Please be sure to check it out!

Beth Spotswood is Alta's digital editor, events manager, and a contributing writer.
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