My love for podcasts began in the library. Learning how to shelve books was surprisingly difficult, initially requiring much of my focus. My skills eventually progressed and I could simultaneously listen to music and navigate the book stacks. Eventually, during a long summer shift with plenty of shelving and little else, I dove into the world of podcasts. I opened up SoundCloud, an app mostly for listening amateur music, and tried to find some talk radio. I landed on StarTalk, hosted by TV astrophysicist Niel DeGrasse Tyson with a rotating comedian co-host. By the end of the summer I had listened to every episode.
Originally, I only listened to podcasts at work. Now, I listen while driving and cooking. I listen while walking my dogs and I listen while training for my half marathon. Podcasts, with their rich narratives and bright personalities, have enriched my life.
Below is a list of my favorite podcasts.
This is the best news podcast. I often tune into NPR for news, but with their long-form reporting it’s unlikely that I’ll listen long enough to have a good sense of the news. BBC’s Global News Podcast is a medley of stories from every continent. It is clear that BBC judges the importance of a story on its long-term impact on a group of people, never ignoring a group because they lack political relevancy or economic influence.
The host Anna Sale’s goal is to talk about death, sex, and money, three things she claims we think about a lot but hardly discuss. This podcast was one of my recent discoveries after deciding to explore other podcasts by WNYC, since they make my favorite one Freakonomics. The episodes I have listened to were a blend of storytelling, reporting, and interviewing, three aspects of a podcasts producers often isolate.
This podcast reminds me of the nuance and complexity that lies behind any headline. Embedded chooses a story and dives deep, investigating how it affects individuals and their communities. Often it results in a reporter traveling and immersing themselves in a new situation or culture.
Freakonomics is consistently my favorite podcast. I eagerly wait for Thursday morning so I can listen to Stephen Dubner pick apart a topic from an economist’s point of view. The hodgepodge of interviews, academic studies, and personal anecdotes that make up Freakonomics leave me with a new perspective every week.
I recently discovered Homecoming. It is the first fictional podcast I have heard. Homecoming tells the story of a caseworker working for a shady government contractor that overstepped in a highly consequential way. It is nothing like an audiobook; it jumps between time and place, with brilliant audio that goes beyond voice acting and sets the scene. It is a perfect podcast for binge listening that doesn’t make your head hurt.
Another podcast by NPR, making it predictably detailed, fascinating, and genuine. It explores the invisible forces that guide and influence us, be it fashion or emotions. It blends personal stories into a wider theme brilliantly.
Okay, so I was skeptical about this podcast at first. I soon learned that it takes a topic related to the economy, explores all the tangents around it, and makes it fun. It is an enjoyable way to be informed.
What’s Reply All about? The internet I suppose. What is it really? It’s a show hosted by two charming men with seamless chemistry. It seems like a playground for them to follow all the crazy ideas they have related to the internet, whether it is allowing people to call them for 48 hours straight or going to India to investigate one specific call center that happened to contact them.
Serial was and is a huge deal. I only listened to the first season, which explored a cold case and the convicted murderer behind it. In it, the journalists uncover new evidence and interview witnesses and other people related to the case. Serial, as most good investigated journalism does, reminds you to question everything.
The depth and range of Neil DeGrasse Tyson’s knowledge makes StarTalk Radio worth listening to as long as he is a part of it. It’s a show that takes great strides to make important science interesting and fun.
Each season of Startup intimately follows the progress of a new startup company. The first season follows the founding of Gimlet, the podcast company that produces Startup. Gimlet also produces Reply All and Homecoming so getting a behind-the-scenes look was fascinating. Unfortunately, this podcast has made me start conversations with friends in business that I am entirely unqualified to take part in.
This is an educational podcast about women, gender, and sex. They explore the sociology, psychology, and history behind different issues. Beyond educating myself, I love this podcast because I want to model the way the hosts talk about gender issues with openness and inclusivity but without losing attention to detail or downplaying historical context.
This is my go-to podcast for some perspective. Historical stories remind me that the things I see as ubiquitous were not always so and that news headlines that seem so unprecedented may not be. The past was a weird, unpredictable, complex time, just like today. Times may change but much about the human condition perseveres.
I listen to Stuff you Should Know partially to learn but mostly as a mood booster. I feel like the hosts, Josh and Chuck, are my best friends. Their attitude that everything is interesting if you explore it deep enough is a refresher.
I get the sense that This American Life is the most popular podcast of all time. Actually, Serial may be the most popular podcast of all time, but it is a spinoff of This American Life. Each show has a theme separated into multiple acts. The format of the show varies widely but you can count on touching first-person narratives and powerful investigative journalism by host Ira Glass and his team.
The podcasts I listen to were stumbled upon through internet searches or recommendations embedded in other podcasts. There are a ton of different high quality podcasts that I don’t listen to and tons of obscure niche podcasts that I could never listen to. There are multiple podcasts about the podcast Serial, for example. Below is a list of podcasts I’ve listened to a few times, know they are awesome, but haven’t had time to explore fully.