I love me some good podcasts. Nothing better to entertain, inform and enlighten you on a road trip. Here are a few of my favorites, roughly in order of those I most frequently listen to, to those I seldom listen to. At least this is the order that I have in my BeyondPod Smart Playlist.
This American Life
Well ... duh. This seems like a no-brainer. This American Life, the long-running public radio show from WBEZ in Chicago, must be one of the most-listened-to podcasts in the world, I would think. I just wish they didn't have quite so many re-runs and cross-overs with other podcasts I listen to.
Another no-brainer. It was no surprise to me that Serial's first season grabbed many people's attention. But season two was much less interesting to me. I'm curious to see what they come up with next.
I've been listening to Planet Money since it first came out around the 2008 financial crisis. It provides some good insights into the role of finance and economics in the world around us. I ordered their T-Shirt back when they did a project following the production of the shirt from the cotton fields to the finished product.
This one left me so sad and confused, almost despairing. No closure, no real sense of who's the good guy and who's the bad guy. Just a bunch of people living their lives, given the circumstances the world gave them. A great view into a small town, but more significantly, the unique, mysterious, ingenious mind of a lonely man wrestling with his demons. John B. McLemore was quite a unique person, but with many of the same kind of problems that so many people have. Maybe if he hadn't been so intelligent, the things that depressed and saddened him wouldn't have had such an impact on him. I wish he'd been able to find a way through them.
Judge John Hodgman
From the "I'm a P.C." guy, acting as a “fake internet judge,” a very fun podcast, with Jesse Thorn as his bailiff/co-host. They take up generally low-stakes conflicts between couples, family members and friends and somehow spin an hour-long show out of questions such as, “Are Machine Guns Robots?” and “which technique for peeling a banana is correct?”
I recommend listening to the series from the beginning to enjoy the references back to previous episodes. How else are you really going to appreciate Bat Brothers Home Renovations or the Canadian House of Pizza & Garbage?
RadioLab, another podcast I've followed from its beginning, has deal with some really fascinating and difficult scientific and ethical topics. It's a show that definitely makes you think about things, maybe even change your opinion or perspective on an issue.
I do miss the feel of the early episodes when they were dealing with grand questions and topics like, “Who Am I?”, “Emergence”, “Where Am I?”, “Time” and “Space.” Since they've explored those larger, more abstract topics, they've moved to more of a story-telling style reminiscent of shows like This American Life.
I've really only listened to a handful of Science Vs episodes, but I particularly like the Ghosts episode. It's a nice mixture of humor and audio and scientific examinations of both ephemeral and real-world issues.
From the makers of RadioLab, More Perfect is all about the U.S. Supreme Court, and much more entertaining and moving than you would expect for that topic. I was particularly moved by the episode covering a case that led to one justice's nervous breakdown and another involving the complications arising a couple adopting a Native American baby and the historical and cultural ramifications involved in that .
After discovering The Moth Podcast, I became a bit obsessed with this sort of live storytelling of true events. It's pretty addictive, at least for me. The types of stories range all over the place, from life on the streets, to fancy-pants balls. The stories really are as varied as human beings can be, and that's part of what makes it great. You get these little insights into other people's lives that you probably would never otherwise get. Sometimes they're comforting, feel good stories that you might feel at home listening to in front of a fire. Others are heart-rending and make you wonder how human beings can even survive some types of experiences and keep going on. Overall, just some great stories told live in front of an audience, with no notes or script.
This podcast talks about the things that you can't see, hear, taste, touch and feel, that influence your life: ideas, beliefs, theories, emotions. It talks about these topics with in both scientific and storytelling styles. Check out The Personality Myth episode.
Podcasts I Wish I Had Time For
So many podcasts, so little time. Sometimes I almost wish my commute was longer so that I could listen to more. Almost.
Here are a few of those I wish I had time for.
- Reveal, from The Center for Investigative Reporting
- Bullseye, about what's good in popular culture
- Lore, a podcast about the frightening history behind common folklore
- Reply All, a podcast about the internet' that is actually an unfailingly original exploration of modern life and how to survive it
- Still Buffering, two sisters try to help bridge the gap between the teenagers of yesterday and today. "How do you party?" "What do I do with all this hair?"
- The Turnaround, featuring conversations with prominent interviewers about their careers and their craft
- This Is Actually Happening, first-person stories that explore what happens when everything changes
- Note to Self, a weekly reminder to question everything. Is your phone watching you? Can texting make you smarter? Are your kids real?