As the bard once wrote, “When sorrows come, they come not single spies, but in battalions.” And when spy podcasts come, they too would seem to come in battalions. This week on a spy-themed edition of “Wherever You Get Your Podcasts,” OZY’s new audio newsletter, we visit NRA conferences, Russian hair metal concerts, Iowa cornfields — and the many other places where undercover agents tend to gather top-secret intelligence and provide top-shelf ear candy for the listening hordes.
Sean Braswell, Head of Audio
pod of the week
A Real-Life ‘Red Sparrow’?
You probably remember Maria Butina, the red-haired Russian charged in 2018 with acting as a foreign agent to forge back-channel ties between the Kremlin and the Trump campaign via groups like the NRA. Butina pleaded guilty and served her sentence before being deported to Moscow and now . . . is appearing in Wondery’s latest true crime drama Spy Affair. “The truth, as you Americans say, is in the eyes of the beholder,” Butina tells host Celia Aniskovich, and the story she weaves will leave you wondery-ing whether she was a harmless politico mixed up with the wrong people or a calculating operative.
The newly designed F-150 is purpose-built to be the toughest, most efficient workhorse ever. This is what happens when you merge premium-grade muscle with finely tuned intelligence and design: a beast with brains. Its aluminum-alloy body carries the load with a torture-tested steel frame to help you work smarter and harder.
1. Was the CIA Behind One of the Cold War's Biggest Rock Songs?
The 1990 power ballad “Wind of Change” by the German band Scorpions was catchy, timely and an instant sing-along anthem. But was it a CIA-constructed ploy to undermine communism at the tail end of the Cold War? In Wind of Change, from Pineapple Street Studios, New Yorker writer Patrick Radden Keefe investigates a surprisingly credible and Argo-esque conspiracy theory and delivers a fascinating romp through music history, intelligence agency craft and hair metal antics in the process.
2. Field of Schemes: The Spy in the Cornfield
Ghosts of long-dead baseball players may not really emerge from Iowa cornfields, but sometimes Chinese spies do. In True Spies, from SPYSCAPE, Hayley Atwell and Vanessa Kirby narrate some remarkable tales of real-life spy operations, including an eye-opening look at a Chinese operation to steal valuable genetically engineered corn seeds and the FBI’s efforts to stop it. A cornfield, it turns out, can hold a surprising amount of intellectual property and espionage appeal.
3. Bringing a Nazi ‘Butcher’ to Justice in Brazil
Can a balding, overweight, 40-something Israeli spy who looks like an accountant track down one of the most notorious Nazi fugitives in South America? Good Assassins: Hunting the Butcher, from bestselling author Stephan Talty and iHeartRadio, tells the story of Mossad agent and master of disguise Yaakov “Mio” Meidad and his risky mission to kill Herbert Cukurs, a 64-year-old escaped Nazi murderer known as the Butcher of Latvia.
If you enjoy hearing true, real-life spy stories straight from the agent’s mouth, then I Spy, a podcast from Foreign Policy and introduced by the Emmy Award-winning actress Margo Martingale (The Americans), has you covered. In the mid-1970s, Martha Peterson was the first female operations officer assigned by the CIA to the Soviet Union, and in “The Widow Spy” episode, you’ll hear how her first sojourn in Moscow went south, including her abduction by the KGB and the use of a specially designed poison pen.
2. A Former Top Spy at the CIA Tells All
Few men can say they know more about the greatest risks facing America than former CIA Deputy Director John McLaughlin. In a revealing interview on The Carlos Watson Show, McLaughlin talks about how successful the Russians and Chinese have been at manipulating U.S. elections, and he shares old stories, including the time he briefed President George H.W. Bush in the Oval Office on the Berlin Wall two days before the wall came down.
No audio deep dive into the world of spies would be complete without drawing from the vast and intricate world of spy fiction. And what better way to start than to listen in on some British spy junkies, led by Spybrary host Shane Whaley, as they relive the glory that was Ian Fleming’s second James Bond novel, Live and Let Die, as if they’re discussing it when it debuted in 1954? Did you know that the novel, which Fleming completed before his first Bond classic Casino Royale was published, originally bore the less catchy title The Undertaker's Wind?
Long before there were branded podcasts sponsored by corporations and starring our favorite celebrities, there were . . . branded radio shows sponsored by corporations and starring our favorite celebrities. One of the best was Cavalcade of America, an anthology drama series sponsored by the DuPont Company, which in the weeks following the end of World War II broadcast a brilliant 30-minute spy thriller called “Spy on the Kilocycles.” It starred Henry Fonda as a government agent in his first performing role after leaving the armed forces himself.
1. Public Radio Entering the Podcast Subscription Market
It’s not just Spotify and Apple getting into the paid podcast subscriber business. NPR is also planning a podcast subscription program that will allow, but not require, listeners to directly support their favorite podcasts and receive sponsorship-free versions of individual podcasts in exchange for subscription fees. The new system will also share revenue with member stations.
2. Independent ‘99% Invisible’ Sells 100 Percent of Itself to SiriusXM
If NPR embracing subscriptions wasn’t a big enough blow to audio purists, then the sale this week of indie darling 99% Invisible to SiriusXM may officially herald the audio Armageddon. The beloved podcast about the hidden influence of design in the world and its silky-voiced creator, Roman Mars, will now fall under the auspices of Stitcher, the podcast platform that SiriusXM acquired last year for $325 million.
3. Clubhouse Partners With NFL for Draft Room Chats
Audio social platform Clubhouse logged more than 10 million downloads in its first year, and Bloomberg reports that it’s valued as high as $4 billion. Clubhouse’s latest gambit is partnering with the National Football League for this week’s draft. The NFL is hosting a series of draft-themed rooms on Clubhouse for experts and fans alike to weigh in on player assessments, picks and more. If you’ve got some thoughts on the picks thus far, you too can join the action.
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