Now hear this: The 5 Cleveland podcasts you need to add to your rotation right now

From the trailblazing early days of WHK to the glory days of WMMS, Cleveland has long been a radio powerhouse, and that tradition carries on with a host of great podcasts produced locally. This week, FreshWater Cleveland officially joins that fold with its own new podcast, FreshFaces, featuring inspiring Cleveland trailblazers and hosted by contributing editor Jen Jones Donatelli.

In honor of our podcast debut, we've rounded up five local podcasts that deserve a spot on your proverbial playlist—from seasoned storytellers to intrepid investigators.

If you love FreshWater Cleveland, you’ll love … FreshFaces: Cleveland certainly has its fair share of dreamers, doers, and do-gooders, and FreshWater Cleveland’s new FreshFaces podcast puts them squarely in the spotlight.


Presented in partnership with Evergreen Podcasts, the concept was inspired by FreshWater Cleveland’s editorial focus on the “people, places and projects shaping and transforming Cleveland”—isolating the first part of that equation to conduct in-depth interviews with catalytic local talent.


Jen Jones DonatelliThe podcast is hosted by contributing editor Jen Jones Donatelli, who says she’s excited to see FreshWater Cleveland’s content pop off the page onto a podcast platform. “Our driving mission at FreshWater is to spotlight the stories not being told elsewhere in Cleveland media,” says Jones Donatelli. “This podcast allows us to do just that by giving voice to Cleveland’s unsung heroes and changemakers.”


The first four episodes highlight the four Fresh Innovator award recipients that FreshWater Cleveland helped to select and honor at the Cleveland Leadership Center’s Spark 2019: Grit to Great event in August. They are Steph Buda of Kids of 216; Jacquie Gillon of Black Environmental Leaders; Tom Gill of Urban Community School; and Shelly Gracon of Glo Cleveland/EVOLV.


Tammy WiseFreshFaces launched this week and will roll out four episodes before year’s end, with the goal of continuing into 2020. It’s part of a larger growth plan for FreshWater Cleveland, which includes a new community correspondent program and various On the Ground initiatives.


“Our readership has been growing exponentially over the last year, and we have been looking for ways to extend the FreshWater brand and expand our content creation," shares publisher Tammy Wise. "When the opportunity to work with Evergreen Podcasts presented itself, we knew a podcast was the perfect next step.”

Listen to the first episode here:

If you love NPR and storytelling, you’ll love … 7-Minute Stories: Want to spend seven minutes in podcast heaven? You may want to give Aaron Calafato’s “7-Minute Stories” a listen. Conceived in the vein of late monologist Spalding Grey, the podcast calls on Calafato’s own storytelling skills honed in New York City cafes and live performances across the country.

“I realized the way I built my larger monologues was actually by piecing together smaller story vignettes and stringing them together,” explains Calafato. “These little story vignettes usually lasted—coincidentally—about seven minutes. So, when I decided to launch the podcast in 2018, I thought these short stories could stand on their own as pieces of compelling micro-content.”


Aaron CalafatoAudiences seem to agree—one of Calafato’s stories was featured nationally on NPR’s “Snap Judgment” show, and CNN’s Van Jones likened the experience of listening to Calafato to watching heavyweight boxer Rocky Marciano fight.

According to Calafato, some of his biggest inspirations stem from his own family’s stories, including his grandfather’s experiences with immigration as a first-generation Italian-American and his father’s myriad challenges during childhood. “Those two men were the greatest storytellers I know, and all of their tales inspired me to center my life around the art of story,” Calafato says.

Calafato relies on his training as an actor, an “emotionally driven and photographic memory,” and observant nature in crafting stories like “Me, Cameron Crowe, and The Myth of Elizabethtown” and “Barnes & Noble: A Love Story.” The show also occasionally features special guests like Dennis Kucinich and MELT Bar and Grilled’s Matt Fish.


Overall, Calafato is looking to provide some bite-size, digestible content for people who have trouble fitting inspiration and entertainment into their overbooked schedules: “The [seven-minute format] is tailor-made for people who love storytelling but have the reality of limited time during their busy days.”


If you love unsolved mysteries, you’ll love … Amy Should Be Forty: Move over, “Serial”—there’s a new must-listen podcast in town. Marking the 30-year anniversary of Amy Mihaljevic’s disappearance, “Amy Should Be Forty” made the “Top 15” of all iTunes’ “True Crime” podcasts and the “Top 100” of all Apple podcasts within three days of launching in late October.


The podcast is hosted by WKYC Channel 3 journalist Andrew Horansky, featuring contributions by investigative reporter and one-time Scene writer James Renner. Renner grew up near the site of Mihaljevic’s abduction and believes he may have encountered her killer as a child.


In exploring the still-unsolved, now notorious mystery of Mihaljevic’s kidnapping from a Bay Village shopping center and subsequent murder, Horansky speaks to Mihaljevic’s family and friends—as well as case investigators—to reveal more layers of the story. Even three decades later, the chilling story still has the potential to rock listeners to the core (especially considering its setting of Bay Village, then ranked by Family Circle as the country’s sixth safest city).


Five episodes long, the WKYC podcast has been deemed by Vulture as “swift, hard-hitting, and the sort of disturbing [content] that will make even the most seasoned true-crime aficionados wonder if they really have heard everything.”

If you love personal and career development, you’ll love … The Passion Pit: As an avid podcast listener, Rebecca Popovich found herself listening to podcasts from an anthropological standpoint—and gradually realized she might want to start one of her own.


“I found myself analyzing the interview styles, content setup, and production [elements] of each podcast I’d listen to,” says Popovich, a native Clevelander. “I was always curious about how the interviewers organized their content, how they designed the flow of conversation, and how the podcasts worked behind the scenes.”


Rebecca Popovich recording their Passion Pit podcast.Now Popovich gets to put all that research into action with her Passion Pit podcast, which “gets real about the good, the bad, and the inevitably ugly of personal development and business ownership.” The podcast is inspired by her experiences building her practice as a financial coach and advocate with WestPoint Wealth Management, a Cleveland-based boutique financial planning firm.

Popovich debuted the podcast in July, and so far, there are 11 episodes that delve into topics like self-sabotage, “haters 101,” finding purpose, and dealing with stress. Two of Popovich’s favorite episodes to date feature intentional living consultant Jenna Thibault and life coach Sophie Shiloh.

The idea is to highlight challenges and setbacks commonly experienced by women entrepreneurs, from anxiety to impostor syndrome to shame. “We ask each of our guests to get vulnerable about their setbacks and share personal development topics that they are currently navigating, as opposed to simply sharing their success stories and wins," shares Popovich. "The truth is, we all experience these things, and there is something very powerful in understanding you are not alone.”


If you love local theater, you’ll love … On the Boards Ohio. A new podcast is taking Northeast Ohio’s theater scene from stage to the airwaves, thanks to Arts Radio Network—which is run by Cleveland transplants Caroline Breder-Watts and John C. Watts.


The two started Arts Radio Network back in 2009, when they resided in South Florida and Breder-Watts worked as a local arts host and producer in public media. When they moved to Ohio three years ago, they found a whole new array of fodder for their venture.

“We were frankly blown away by the Northeast Ohio theater community, and excited to be able to tell the stories of these companies and performers,” says Breder-Watts, who works as a pledge producer at Ideastream. “It's simply one of the most exciting, most vibrant theater communities in America—the whole world needs to lean more about it.”


Together, they’re accomplishing that with On the Boards Ohio, a term derived from an old theatrical term that means “treading the boards, or acting on the stage,” according to Breder-Watts. So far, episodes have highlighted the BorderLight festival, the Cleveland Playwrights Festival, and the theater department at Shaker Heights High School, among others.

Recurring features include “Role of a Lifetime,” in which local actors share the role they’ve always wanted to perform onstage, and “Timesteps: The Northeast Ohio Theatre Oral History Project,” modeled after the NPR series “StoryCorps” with an upcoming look at Cleveland Public Theatre.


Breder-Watts is gratified to have been a part of the podcasting world for many years—and excited to see it evolving. “When we started Arts Radio Network in South Florida, we had many podcasts for different disciplines on the site, but the one thing I remember is that we had to explain to people what a podcast was,” says Breder-Watts. “This was right before the format exploded, and now there's a truly crowded field out there.”

We have a feeling On the Boards Ohio—and the other four podcasts listed here—won't have any trouble standing out.

Want even more great listening 
recos? Check out our first edition of Now Hear This, and be sure to subscribe to FreshFaces.