10 best episodes from the news podcast Philadelphians should be listening to

Go beyond the daily churn to dive deep on local issues.

Why hosts Shai Ben-Yaacov and Annette John-Hall

Why hosts Shai Ben-Yaacov and Annette John-Hall

Kimberly Paynter / WHYY
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In 2019, the news cycle is relentless. Trying to keep up with the churn can feel hopeless if not depressing — with the added twist of not having enough time to really process what’s actually going on.

Enter The Why, which dives deep on a single topic each day.

The podcast, which is produced at Billy Penn parent organization WHYY, celebrated its first birthday with bagels last month. Now we’re celebrating by listening back through the archives.

With each 15-minute pod devoted to a single news story, the show offers the opportunity to explore local events with a little breathing room. Co-hosts Annette John-Hall and Shai Ben-Yaacov work with producers and interns to bring you a new episode every Monday through Thursday.

Here’s our picks for the best of The Why from its first year.

Shark soup: Why an activist investor is after Campbell’s

Campbell’s soup was founded across the river from Philly over a century ago. At first, the company sold just three products: French peas, fancy asparagus and tomatoes.

In this episode, you’ll catch up on the full history of the soup savant — plus why canned soup has fallen out of fashion, and how a secret investor is trying to raise profits by any means necessary.

Bonus: you’ll hear a sweet anecdote from co-host Shai Ben-Yaacov recounting the old Campbell’s ad in which a snowman ad melts into a kid after just one sip.

Sharing the road: Why cyclists feel vulnerable in Philly’s bike lanes

Speaking of Shai, who doesn’t want an inside look at the co-host’s commute? This chapter of The Why starts out with a ride along as he bikes the nine miles from his home to work — and the multitude of challenges that the journey presents.

In Philadelphia, cyclists have been injured and killed as they try to share the road with cars. This episode dives deep into the dangerous conditions in a conversation with WHYY’s PlanPhilly editor Ariella Cohen.

A House of God divided: Why this lesbian minister left the United Methodist Church

When the United Methodist Church voted to strengthen its ban on same-sex marriage, it sent ripples through the community of LGBTQ clergymembers.

Rev. Dr. Karyn Wiseman, a lesbian minister who lives in Montgomery County, visited The Why team for this powerful episode. She tells her whole story, recounting her childhood growing up in rural west Texas and the difficult decision she made to come out while working as a minister.

“I knew that if we announced it at that moment that anyone in the church could file charges against me for being a homosexual,” Wiseman said. “I knew what was coming.”

The Philly woman who videotaped a million hours of TV

The MOVE bombing. The creation of the internet. The moment Magic Johnson announced he was HIV+. When you record roughly a million hours of TV, you’re bound to catch some pivotal moments.

Her whole life, Marion Stokes toed the line between hoarder and collector. She filled 70,000 VHS tapes with a constant stream of TV news. The Philadelphian is arguably the first person to document so much of the news cycle as it existed before the internet. In this episode you’ll hear from filmmaker Matt Wolf, who produced a documentary explaining why she did it.

Why is there a Hepatitis A outbreak in Philly? One answer: poop

Never really thought I’d catch co-host Annette John-Hall saying the word “poop” on air, but life comes at you fast. It became a necessity to talk about such bodily functions after a Hepatitis A outbreak struck Philly’s Kensington community over the summer.

WHYY’s PlanPhilly reporter Jake Blumgart walked The Why crew through the spread of the communicable illness, which swept the neighborhood due to the high presence of people experiencing homelessness, and thus forced to empty their bowels on the street.

It sounds gross, but I promise, the episode is super interesting.

The secret way some got a gender-neutral Pa. driver’s license

Starting in 2020, Pennsylvanias will be able to get an X gender marker on their driver’s license, instead of just M for male and F for female.

But this Why episode reveals that some people were already doing that. The show’s producer Alex Stern found Philadelphians who hacked the system of the traditional gender marker. Basically, they scribbled a unique letter onto PennDOT’s gender change form — and then they had to meet a special employee named Linda, who always let it slide.

‘Row house’ or ‘rowhouse’? Philly’s debate over a space

A fact: many great stories start with a social media debate. The infamous ‘row house’ vs. ‘rowhouse’ debate is a prime example.

WHYY data reporter Ryan Briggs wrote a story mentioning the quintessential Philadelphia dwelling, and was incensed when his editor changed the spelling from one word to two. So he decided to investigate.

Chatting with a historian from the National Park Service, plus journalists from all over the city, he found that rowhomes have been distinct to Philly since the 19th century. They’re a part of our identity — and most people spell them as just one word.

Female cops face a blue wall of silence when reporting sexual harassment

Former Philly Police Commissioner Richard Ross resigned over the summer after failing to address sexual harassment allegations, and deputy Christine Coulter has temporarily taken his place as acting commissioner.

This 17-minute powerhouse of an episode compiles extensive research from four reporters to reveal the gender discrimination that persists on Philly’s police force. It begins with a compelling look at what women went through when they tried to integrate into Philly’s police force in the 1970s — including misinformation about periods, naturally.

Her daughter went missing. Then the social media attacks began

South Jersey resident Dulce Alavez went missing in September, after the 5-year-old girl was allegedly kidnapped in a park. Her mother Noema Alavez Perez has been steeped in tragedy ever since.

So why is she the target of backlash on social media?

WHYY reporter Ximena Conde explains the criticism Perez has been encountering online — much of it racist. As she tries to find her daughter, she’s been accused of being a sex worker, and even selling her daughter to traffickers.

When a real-life doomsday cult built a cave in Philadelphia

In this Halloween ep, Shai met up with producers Alex Stern and Kelsey Hanson way out in Wissahickon Park to uncover a spooky story. The trio toured a creepy cavern called Hermit’s Cave, led by an expert wearing Renaissance-style clothes.

That very location was home to the country’s first-ever doomsday cult.

Please listen to this episode, if only to catch big Scared Annette Energy — apparently the co-host has always hated ghost stories.

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WHYY, Media