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Review Cold Tapes Winter Over



COLD TAPES: Winter Over is a gripping murder mystery set in the depths of the Antarctic winter, told through a cache of meticulously crafted audio files.

As I’ve gotten older and my friends have started going out less, we’ve begun to swap boozy nights out for increasingly bizarre murder mystery parties. Usually, an industrious volunteer will choose a theme (space cowboys, the set of a 1970s porn film, a 1950s office party, that sort of thing…) and proceed to write a murder mystery plot line so nutty and so ridiculous that the group will spend the evening in fits of laughter. At the start of the night, we’ll usually gather in one room as the writer reads out a painstakingly detailed opening narrative as the rest of us wait in giddy anticipation for the clues that will form the night’s plotline.

I had that same feeling – of giddy anticipation – when I listened to the first episode of COLD TAPES: Winter Over from Free Turn. A murder mystery set against the backdrop of Antarctica’s six-month Winter Over, COLD TAPES centres around the suspicious death of a 33-year-old behavioural scientist Andrew Fairfield. The story is told through a series of ‘found’ tapes including phone calls, police interviews and personal recordings. We start with the moment DCI Tessa McCallister of the Met Police is invited to investigate a murder 9,000 miles away due to the ‘jurisdictional nightmare’ created by The Arctic Treaty. As the story unfolds, the listener becomes privy to the intertwined lives of a small group of international scientists and crew stationed on a remote research base, Bowers Wilson.

A nice idea for a fictional true crime podcast, sure. But what makes this show all the more interesting is the chance for audience participation. Inquisitive listeners are given the chance to win a £10,000 cash prize as well as earning the esteemed title of British Super Sleuth 2024 at Crime Con London 2024, described as ‘the ultimate True Crime event.’

To win the prize, participating detectives will need to explore up to 20 hours of audio content including the victim’s audio diaries, police interviews and other evidence. They’ll also need to demonstrate their ability to notice subtle clues, discrepancies and anomalies as well as showing their critical thinking skills. At a time when internet sleuthing is at an all time high (to a point where it’s even begun to hamper the investigation of real murders) COLD TAPES: Winter Over seems like the perfect outlet for a population hooked on true crime.

As I begin to make my way through the ‘found’ tapes, I find myself wanting to scribble down clues in a tiny policeman’s notebook. The victim’s finger appears to be fractured, there’s an untranslated tattoo written in Chinese script on the victim’s body, an inkling of a love triangle between crew mates… I’m in. To make the series, Free Turn worked with police officers, polar adventurers, and researchers to ensure the experience was as authentic as possible. And, even a casual listener would be able to tell they’ve taken the same meticulous approach to all elements of the show, including the immersive sound design. We hear phone calls cut in and out due to the poor Antarctic internet signal, latex gloves rustle their way through the autopsy and a body bag shuffle as the victim’s body is moved onto a gurney.

Also helping to bolster the show’s believability is an incredible performance from the actor behind DCI Tessa McCallister. Her persistent yet firm approach helps guide the listener through a number of difficult conversations with begrudging scientists, each with an acute case of cabin fever and many of whom are growing increasingly suspicious of the ominous sounding ‘Keony Industries’ funding the entire Antarctic mission. This story, which dances between unexplained mysterious psychotic events, interpersonal drama and strange global conspiracy theories clearly wants to be more than your average fiction podcast.

In fact, Gemma Batterby, COO and Founder of Free Turn, describes COLD TAPES as ‘a cerebral challenge and an intricate puzzle’ and that’s definitely what this is. So much so that the lengthier episodes, made to sound unedited, occasionally leave too much room for the listener to lose the thread. 20 hours of content will no doubt prove too much of an undertaking for some. But, then again, there’s nothing like the promise of £10,000 to keep people listening. A truly creative way to increase your listen-through rate.

Even more innovative than the £10k prize pot, though, is the podcast’s exclusivity model. A £5 ticket to enter the competition gives listeners the chance to binge the series ad-free, as well as giving them access to exclusive additional content. The only question that remains is how many listeners will actually be hooked enough to pay the £5 entry fee?

No matter what the outcome, Free Turn is clearly thinking of creative ways to incentivise listeners to pay for podcasting. Which, in such a turbulent time for industry, feels desperately needed.

COLD TAPES: Winter Over is out April 15th. The competition to solve the case closes on Friday 6th September, 2024. Listen on Apple Podcasts, Spotify and other popular podcast apps >>

Beth WatsonBeth Watson is a freelance writer and full-time podcast enthusiast, currently working as a Content Discovery Manager for BBC Sounds. Prior to the BBC, she was Marketing Lead at Message Heard where she worked on launching and growing impactful podcasts such as Conflicted, Power Lines and Who Robs a Banksy.


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