Podcast Podium: The Hurricane Tapes

BBC World Service is churning out podcasts at a neck-breaking rate, and while some of them are incredibly dry, some of them are fascinating. Thankfully The Hurricane Tapes sits on the latter half of the spectrum – it’s a compelling and relevant crime serial that shines a light on the culture of today.

Rubin Carter was a famous boxer in America in the 1960s, until he was wrongly convicted for a triple homicide and falsely imprisoned for 20 years. This story is fairly well known, having been adapted into 1999’s The Hurricane and Bob Dylan’s “Hurricane”, but recently a long-forgotten box of tapes containing interviews and monologues from the important parties was discovered, shedding new light on the case. The Hurricane Tapes podcast uses these to tell the full story of Carter and his incarceration.

The podcast covers Carter’s childhood, the crime itself, and the perspectives of the many different characters involved in the crime and trial. Many of the interviews and recordings were previously never aired or made public, and there’s a wide range of views and perspectives beyond those actually present in the case.

After an admittedly messy introduction to the case, the podcast takes the form of a Serial-esque true crime story, with each episode focusing on different aspects to the case. Thankfully it doesn’t linger too long on any individual aspect of the case, as this is the main problem with certain similar podcasts, and instead covers enough ground that the case feels fully covered.

One problem the podcast has is that it cuts between interviews, archival recordings, and narration at quite abrupt and surprising times – often it’s hard to tell what’s being shown until the interviewer remarks on something. After a while it becomes easier to interpret what’s being played, but be prepared to be taken aback in the first episode.

The true subject of the podcast is interesting given American society today – Carter’s story was defined and destroyed by racist acts and police prejudice, two issues commonly reported on today. Interviewees make clear the long history of police violence, as well as the way some perpetuated these ideas at the time. While The Hurricane Tapes won’t completely redefine how you look at the world, and doesn’t particularly shed a new light on current events that would be obscured without it, the podcast is worthwhile as a warning that history repeats itself.

The Hurricane Tapes is produced by BBC World Service. The first two episodes were released on Monday 14th January, and subsequent podcast episodes are to be broadcast each Monday.

Tom Bedford

Updated: Jan 22, 2019

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