BBC Sounds
End of Days (Radio 5 Live) | bbc.co.uk
Beyond Today (Radio 4) | bbc.co.uk

I went to the launch of a new app the other day. (Just writing that makes my knees creak.) It was a celeb-packed, wine-and-nibbles party at the Tanks at Tate Modern, and Mabel and Craig David and Chic all performed. In between songs, Claudia Winkleman, Greg James and Dotty made some jokes. General party vibe? Congenial, chatty, quite staid. But that seems about right when you remember that it was a shindig to celebrate a new virtual button on your smartphone.

The new button is orange, with a big S on it. This stands for Sounds. For, lo, the new app is BBC Sounds, and the Beeb is immensely proud. At the party, director general Tony Hall and James Purnell, director of radio and education, went onstage to talk about “responding to your tastes, your moods”, “playing with form and content” and “public service running through its veins”. Amazing what an app can do, really.

None the wiser? Let me explain. The big idea is that you download the app and then go to BBC Sounds for anything audio (apart from long-form audio books). Music, news, drama, documentaries, true crime, comedy – if you want it in your ears, you start with the orange button. The app lets you click through to any live BBC radio station, but it also offers you other forms of listening, from podcasts to playlists. You want music to cheer you up? Here’s a big beats hip-hop playlist “to keep you moving”. You’d like to know how Rita Ora made her album? Try this short behind-the-scenes doc. How about something spooky for Halloween? Here’s a selection of drama, music and stories. (Also a five-minute pumpkin-carving soundscape, and an explanation of why we carve pumpkins in the first place: I listened, it’s lovely.) All the BBC podcasts you might enjoy are here, plus a few non-BBC ones (Guilty Feminist, Griefcast). If there’s any you really enjoy, you can subscribe.

Sounds is easy to use, though I found the programme information a little tricky to access, and the search – as ever with the BBC – isn’t sensitive enough. (Looking for the new 5 Live podcast about the Waco siege, I typed in “5 Live Waco”, but only got old programmes). My other main problem is there isn’t enough content. “Spooky Sounds” only offered me 11 shows; “Be Curious” just 10. The BBC has thousands of amazing audio programmes! If you browse podcasts via, say, the Apple Podcasts app, you have 16 categories to choose from, and within each, at least 20 series to try. Sounds needs to feel as packed as Netflix in order to properly work.

BBC Sounds – video

Anyhow. To celebrate the new app, the BBC launched a couple of new podcasts, including the aforementioned 5 Live Waco series End of Days (make sure you use a capital D in search, or it won’t turn up: insert rolly-eye emoticon here), and Beyond Today, a 20-minute podcast that delves deeper into the big stories of the Today programme.

Beyond Today, presented by Tina Daheley, is an attempt to mimic the New York Times’s successful The Daily programme, and the two shows I’ve heard aren’t bad. The first, about whether the UK has enough money, had too many audio tricks; the second, about an Iraqi Instagram star killed for being too provocative, was very good (though the word “flaunt” should be banned, especially when used to refer to women). It would be nice for the programme to refer to actual breaking news, as in The Daily’s “here’s what else you need to know” end section, but it’s not a bad start. A few days after the Beeb, the Guardian launched its own daily, behind-the-scenes-of- journalism podcast, Today in Focus, which I’ll review next week.

And End of Days, exclusive to the Sounds app, is a gripping tale. I hadn’t realised that many of the Waco cult victims were from the UK, mostly recruited from the Seventh-Day Adventist church. End of Days talks to their families and friends. There are moments when you want more specifics (the first episode is vague as to what David Koresh actually talked about), but it’s a very interesting show.

Three spine chillers so Halloween lasts longer

The Fear
greatbigowl.com

Devised and hosted by comedy writer Sarah Morgan, this podcast asks three questions of its guests: their favourite scary scene from film or TV; something that made them scared as a child; and a fear that they still have now. Guests include Richard Osman, Alice Lowe, Carrie Quinlan and plenty of others of the standup ilk; the chat is open and revealing. (Robin Ince is on the most recent Halloween Spectacular and is super lovely.) The sound production has improved a lot since The Fear joined Great Big Owl’s podcast offerings for its most recent series.

The NoSleep Podcast
thenosleeppodcast.com
In 2010, a Reddit forum, itself called NoSleep, became a place for people to post original scary stories. An online version of telling spooky stories round the campfire, the podcast version started a year later. Created by Matt Hansen, hosted and produced by David Cummings, NoSleep the podcast offers short horror fiction, atmospherically read by Cummings. As a horror-wimp, I approached this podcast with caution, but it’s very enjoyable and weirdly comforting to listen to while under the duvet in the dead of night.

Spooked
spookedpodcast.org
Another spooky stories podcast, although this show’s tales are read not only by American men and women, but by Irish, English and French readers too. The major difference is these stories are true (I have only heard one that isn’t) and the readers have all experienced the spooky situations themselves. Lots of haunted houses, the odd haunted Swiss chalet, a spooky clown (is there any other kind?) and several children who can see things that accompanying adults can’t…

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