Everyone loves a good story. Our bodies even react favorably to good stories. It doesn’t matter if you read it, watch it or hear it, a good story is too hard to pass up.
So enter the world of podcasts, which is full of good stories.
Podcasts are all the rage right now, and that can probably be attributed to the break-out success of “Serial“, the “This American Life” spinoff that is a true-crime drama told in episodes (more on that in a moment). Of course, a wildly successful production isn’t enough to make an entire genre or platform popular. Technology has played an important role. Smartphones and iPods have made it easier than ever to take audio with you and played via headphones while working out or even via bluetooth-connected cars during your commute. Then, factor in the low cost to produce a podcast (a microphone and some audio editing software on your computer) and how advertisers are jumping on board, making the audio platform profitable, it is clear why podcasts are popping up all over the place.
In fact, nearly a quarter of Americans aged 12 or older have or do listen to podcasts with some regularity, according to data gathered by the Pew Research Center. In fact, according to Andrew Meola of Business Insider:
“Almost 20% of U.S. adults ages 18 to 49 listen to podcasts at least once a month.”
I’m part of that percentage. In fact, I listen to podcasts on a daily basis. What follows is a rundown of what I listen to and why. Keep in mind my listening habits are shaped by my interests, so before you decide podcasts aren’t right for you, look around and see if there is anything of interest to you. There is a podcast for nearly any interest. Sports? Politics? News? Cooking? You name it, there’s a podcast for it.
Without further ado, here is my “now playing” list of podcasts.
This is the one that started it all. “Freakonomics” was the first podcast I ever started listening to, and it is great. It is a research and data driven podcast where the host, Stephen Dubner, “explores the hidden side of everything.” Obviously, the focus is on economics, but the show looks at the economic implications in a wide variety of subjects. For example, a recent episode looked at the country’s obsession with lawns and asked the question if the costs — financial, environmental and otherwise — are worth the benefits. The podcast spawned from a book written by Dubner and Steven D. Levitt, who is the William B. Ogden Distinguished Service Professor of Economics at the University of Chicago. Seriously, if you listen to one podcast on my list, it should be this one. It’s fascinating.
“The Daily” is produced by the New York Times and hosted byMichael Barbaro. It comes out five days per week and is usually 20 minutes long. It provides a quick recap of the important news of the day in a “narrative news” format, and the interviews are top notch. It is a great way to get caught up on what’s going on in the world. I have to admit, I am struggling to describe this podcast more, though. It’s just a simple, yet effective, podcast for news lovers. I’m a huge news nerd, so it is perfect for me. What’s more, there is even rumors of “The Daily” coming to the weekends. In short, if you don’t get a lot news in your daily media consumption diet, subscribe to this podcast.
On The Media
“On the Media” is another news-orientated podcast I love. At its core, it is a press criticism show, and it takes on issues currently being covered in and faced by the media. The opinion and insights the show’s hosts, Brooke Gladstone and Bob Garfield, truly make me think and consider new points of view. Also, the interviews they conduct are a study in quality journalism. For people who are interested in journalism, this show is a must-listen. It is a product of WNYC Studios, and new episodes come out every Friday with a bonus episode usually appearing in the subscription feed earlier in the week.
“The Kicker” is also a media criticism show. It is produced by Columbia Journalism Review and hosted by David Uberti. This show really plays on my journalism-nerd tendencies. It is a conversational podcast with audio clips of the news sprinkled in. The host and his guests discuss the news of the day with a focus on how different media outlets are covering those news events. It also touches on the business of the media and how different companies are fair in the ever-changing world of the news. It’s fascinating. If you are interested in the news, give this one a listen.
“Serial” is the podcast poster child. It is a spinoff of “This American Life” and revisits the case of a murdered high school girl and her boyfriend who went to prison for the murder, despite his adamant denials of any involvement. I’m about halfway through Season One, and I love it. It is enthralling. It is the perfect mix of storytelling and journalism. I can see why it skyrocketed to the top of the podcasting charts.
“S-Town,” much like “Serial,” is a spinoff of “This American Life” and follows a similar structure of its predecessor. It follows the story of John B McLemore, who says he lives in “Shit Town, Alabama” and hates it. The story is fascinating and heartbreaking. I couldn’t listen to the episodes fast enough. Yes, I have already listened to this in its entirety, but I would listen to it again. This podcast, and the life of John B for that matter, are inspiring to me. Listening to this podcast made me want to start a podcast, which is an idea I’m still tossing around in a serious fashion.
“Jerdcast” is a podcast for journalism nerds. It is basically a talkshow where journalism educators come on and talk about the cool things they are doing. It’s not necessarily a highly produced podcast, but the content is enlightening and, as S-Town does, inspires me. Outside of just creating a podcast, though, it makes me want to do more with my journalism courses I teach. The only downside to this podcast is it isn’t produced on a regular basis. In fact, the last episode came out all the way back in March 2017. That’s disappointing. I’m hoping, since the host is an educator, the episodes will start flowing again once school starts up again.
Pod Save America
“Pod Save America” is a political podcast produced by former staffers for President Obama. It is not partisan and pretty biased, but it is striving to elevate political discussion. It is very funny, entertaining and informational. However, I no longer subscribe to the podcast. I keep it my list to download when I need a podcast to pass the time, but the production schedule these guys are on is insane and anxiety inducing. They produce at least two episodes each week and each one is often nearly an hour and a half long. I can’t keep up, especially with the other podcasts I listen to. It’s good, though. If I had more time, it would be a permanent member of my subscription list. (I actually produced a low-quality podcast talking about this podcast. You can check that out here if you are interested.)
Welcome to Night Vale
Much like the aforementioned “Pod Save America,” this is one I no longer subscribe to. “Welcome to Night Vale” has been around too long, and I don’t feel like I can ever catch up. I started from the beginning, and I loved it. It has been described as “A Prairie Home Companion” meets Stephen King, and that is a pretty apt description. It is a community radio show in the fictional town of Night Vale, which is a town filled with strange and other-worldly happenings. It’s intensely entertaining. I would love to still be listening to it, but the compulsive side of me won’t let me just start with the latest episode. I feel like I need to start at the beginning in order to understand everything that is going on. Of course, that means I would need to listen to the 110 episodes that have already been released. Just thinking about how far behind I am induces mild panic. However, if you aren’t as strange as me but love a strange story, jump into the world of “Welcome to Night Vale.”