Back in 2009, I wrote about podcasts and how much I liked them. I felt compelled to because I’d been listening to podcasts for years already and had gained so much from them. Surprisingly, most of the shows I listed back then are still around and several of the remain relevant to me.
Since then, beginning with the wildly popular Serial, the podcast landscape has changed dramatically. The audience has grown easily tenfold, the number of shows has exploded, and the caliber and professionalism has transformed market. Many of the podcasts on my old post were either just recordings of existing radio programs, or produced by enthusiastic amateurs. Now, real money is being made through advertising and/or direct listener support. Now many shows are part of fledgling networks of shows such as Gimlet Media and Panoply.
Additionally, now there are podcasts about podcasts, how to make podcasts, and how to market and make MONEY from podcasts. There are newsletters that review or promote podcasts they have discovered and some podcasts are crossing over to TV and movies!
I have become so enamored of the medium I’ve wanted to start my own and even have made moves in that direction. But I may be spending too much time listening to make one. It’s a lot more work writing, recording and editing a show than just putting in the earbuds and hopping on the elliptical at the gym. Still, the pull is there. I may get it done one day.
The Main Podcasts
Until I do, here’s a list of some of my current favorites if you’re looking for recommendations. These are in no particular order. My actual subscription list is much much longer. So this is just the current highlights. These are the podcasts for which I eagerly await every episode. I time my workouts and bike rides around them. They make me laugh out loud, cry, and ponder. Often all in the same episode. I rate and review them on iTunes and I support them financially when I can.
Juts a note: I link to the websites of each show rather than to the iTunes source since you may want to use another tool for listening like Stitcher. And the websites often have lots of additional information and resources surrounding the shows.
Dan Carlin’s Hardcore History: Hardcore is right. I recently finished listening to a single, 6 hour episode called The Celtic Holocaust! Well researched deep dives into a section of history, old school style: Just Carlin, talking in to a microphone. No whiz bang production, music, sound effects. But each episode is so well-written and spoken, it’s hard to stop listening.
Very Bad Wizards: Two guys, one a professor of psychology, one a professor of philosophy, take on a variety of gnarly topics of morality, reality, and pop culture. Tamler Sommers (philosophy) and David Pizarro (psychology) make the discussion of these potetnially weighty topics not so heavy. In fact, they are really entertaining.
Waking Up with Sam Harris: Harris is a neuroscientist, philosopher and author. These long, in-depth interviews with writers and thinkers from many disciplines is consistently challenging, stimulating and often spell-binding. I have purchased and read several books after listening to episodes.
Left, Right and Center: An oldie (it was on my original list) but goodie. The show features commentator of various political leanings in discussion about the current news. Through the years of listening, the personnel has changed and the show has expanded from a half hour to an hour. But the consistency has remained.
On the Media: Another long standing favorite, this show gets to the heart of so much of what we are bombarded with in the news and public affairs. Brooke Gladstone and Bob Garfield are skeptics of much of what is produced by the media and they dig in to stories that illuminate the otherwise dark corners of our shaped reality.
Crime Writers On: Four writers have a fun and fascinating conversation on true crime, fictional crime, crime podcasts and TV shows, criminal justice and aspects of pop culture. I’ve been a fan of crime fiction and true crime stories for years and that’s what drew me to this show. But the conversation, led by Rebecca Lavoie with her boisterous and infectious laugh, touches on so many issues I always come away entertained and informed.
The Gist: Mike Pesca used to be a sports commentator on NPR. That’s how I knew him, anyway. But he broke the bondage of sports to sport his own podcast about, well, whatever Mike wants to talk about. He usually has an opener on a topic in the new, then an interview, then a kind of rant he calls the spiel. 30 minutes, but the guy can talk fast, so you get a lot of bang for your buck. Often very funny, and always insightful.
I linked to Serial above. The original season was a fantastically told story of a murder and trial that took place in Baltimore. This series really did help change the face of podcasting in its themes, writing, and production values. Season two was good, but not nearly as compelling. It’s unclear if there will be another season and if so, when. But the producers created another true crime podcast called S-Town (actually it’s Shit Town, but for some reason they blushingly use the lame obfuscation in the title). S-Town, takes you into the world of rural, small town America. The storyteller is a producer on This American Life and it’s as much about his own journey as it is the incredible characters he encounters in Shit Town.
Hi Phi Nation: Another philosophy based podcast but here, ideas are explored through real life stories and interviews. Host Barry Lam has a knack for pulling out thoughtful questions and themes and pointing us to further reading and exploring. There have only been 10 episodes their blog promises a new season sometime, “late fall”.
The Daily: A relatively new podcast from the New York Times, the Daily (it’s really not daily, only on weekdays) focuses on one or two main stories from the paper, and then a short summary of other important news. All about 30 minutes.
Origin Stories: New to my list of must listens, this show produced by the Leakey Foundation is, as their site describes: “…about what it means to be human and the science behind what we know about ourselves and our origins.” If you like science and how it can help us inform who we are, this is worth your time.
I could go on. And on, and on. As I say, my list is rather long. But enough about ME. I would love to hear you opinions on these or any other show or podcast resources. Feel free to comment.