Photo by Eleanor Petry

The award-winning series pulls no punches.

The Heart podcast explores intimacy and humanity beyond your comfort zone. Each episode utilizes the sounds that make up those emotions. Kissing. Breathing. Whispers. First you notice the intimacy. When you settle in, you notice the humanity.

Sure, some people are listening to the show for the “tits and ass,” as creator and host Kaitlin Prest puts it. But its raw emotion is more powerful. Along the way, Prest and her team set a new standard for audio quality in podcasts, combining sound effects, music, narration, and the beautiful art of pacing (which is often just the absence of sound) into a comfortable bed for Prest’s storytelling.

There are no punches pulled. The show grapples with sex and love, yes, but also ideas like gender identity, feminine men, consent, and relationships. Any given episode will show you a side of yourself that you didn’t know existed, for better or worse.

The Heart originated in 2008 as a college radio show on CKUT. The local McGill University station in Montreal began airing the show on the first Wednesday of each month. It started as a four-woman anarchist collective. Many iterations, nine years, and one podcast network named Radiotopia later, the show averages more than 2 million listens a year.

The Heart Episode art by Jen Ng

During Prest’s days with CKUT, she went as far as making a band poster for her first episode of the show. “I made this flyer and put it up everywhere. I remember doing it in Photoshop,” she tells the Daily Dot. “I still have it and it’s pretty embarrassing to look at… but I was so proud of it.”

That DIY spirit lives on with her work. The podcast is a living, traveling entity with important aesthetics.

“Every single time you interact with The Heart, you know that you’ve crossed into another world. Like when you go to the website, you feel you’ve crossed into the universe of The Heart,” Prest says. “When you go to our events, I decorate the space, I bring all my carpets and pillows and lamps and build it out on this way so that you feel like you’re entering the womb. That’s something that I really strive for.”

The Heart team is one of the best when it comes to creating a sound environment listeners can escape into. It’s like living in your own imagination. It’s hard to find a “best of” list of podcasts that doesn’t include the show these days: It’s so engagingly produced and mixed that your brain has to work overtime. The Heart has likewise been named a Peabody finalist and has won awards from Third Coast, a premier audio festival. In 2015 the show won a Prix Italia, a broadcasting award from Italy.

Each episode digs deep into a narrative of something that affects us personally in one way or another, and they do it in the beautiful capsule of serialized mini-seasons that span anywhere from one to 10 episodes. Despite the extensive back catalog, listeners can enjoy a complete product meant to exist as a sum of its parts.

“I don’t want to have a bi-weekly show,” says Prest. “I want to have a show that releases eight episodes a year that are perfect. I think the serialized format is something that I’ve always been really drawn too.”

A recent example is the “No series that just finished its run. For four episodes, Prest explores her own past consent or non-consent scenarios in an attempt to contextualize the experience for listeners. Some of these people may need help processing something in their lives, and it’s nice for them to be able to hear these stories. But it’s also therapeutic for Prest.

the heart Episode art by Jen Ng

“I want people to engage in the complicated terrain of emotion. Making things about sexuality or about our relationship to our bodies or about consent or about all those things,” she says. “All those things that sort of live within the private sphere or the intimate sphere, those are the things that are most interesting to me as a person.”

The final episode in the series is a must-listen. Here the team addresses listener queries about “No” without a filter. Just like it’s always done, the show takes on and talks through the tough questions.

Jeff Umbro runs the Podglomerate, a podcast network and production company, and hosts his own podcast interviewing creatives about the one story they’ve always struggled to tell. Follow him on Twitter @JeffUmbro.

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