A month ago, if you asked me what my favorite podcast was I would have paused awkwardly and asked, “What’s a podcast?” A lot has changed since discovering this free, fun, and wonderful form of entertainment. I’ve gone from binge-watching to binge-listening. While unpacking boxes and boxes of junk for my dorm room, I listened to six straight hours of The Moth storytelling. NPR’s incredible show Serial made a splash, but there’s a whole world of digital radio out there to help make your morning commute, crowded subway rides, and grocery lines so much more interesting. There are podcasts that tell moving stories, ones that’ll make you choke with laughter, and others that are enlightening and thought-provoking. So, without further ado, here are a few suggestions for the next time the Shuffle Music option has lost its luster and you want a good story.
The Moth: The Moth features stories told live, without notes, at Moth events around the country. The storytellers are chosen by lottery at the event, so their excitement comes through in their stories. Hearing about other people’s life experiences is incredibly moving. One of my favorite episodes featured a man who lived next to the notorious most-wanted criminal, Whitey Bulger, for years; another, the author Neil Gaiman’s relationship with his father. The stories are moving, engaging, and make you feel connected to other people in a profound way.
The Memory Palace: Calling all history buffs! Each episode of the Memory Palace dives into a small, quirky, unexpected episode in history that you certainly wouldn’t find in a textbook.
This American Life: This weekly journalistic-nonfiction show delightfully explores a different “theme” each week. Ira Glass’s nerd charm introduces the multiple “acts” that all bring a different perspective to the week’s theme, which range from things like “The Land of Make Believe” to “Not It!,” whatever that means. Sometimes they devote the entire hour to one story. The shows uncover corners of the world you never could have found out about otherwise. Luckily This American Life has been on the air for a long time, so you can listen to the archives while waiting in anticipation for next week’s episode.
Reading Lives: Literature is meant to be read, but also to be talked about. This podcast invites people in the literary world to talk about their favorite books. Get ready to have your own reading list grow infinitely.
Fresh Air with Terry Gross: This show is also my daily dose of news, with a twist. The host, Terry Gross, interviews prominent cultural figures from filmmakers and authors to scientists. Terry Gross’s voice is like a lullaby. Perhaps because she is so relaxed and kind, her interviews always reveal hidden insights that people might be reluctant to share elsewhere. Also, Fresh Air “airs” daily, so you’ll never run out of new things to learn and people to hear from.
99% Invisible: The next time you want to know about the history of wonder bread or revolving doors, tune into this never-ending source of random facts. 99% Invisible devotes each episode to uncovering overlooked aspects of design, architecture, and activity that we take for granted.
Freakonomics Radio: The spin-off podcast of the famous book series attests it will “show you the hidden side of everything.” Not sure if it’ll quite get around the hidden side of everything, but it will certainly give you a lot of material to impress people with at a party.
The Nerdist: You get to listen to your favorite actors, writers, and entertainers ramble through hilarious conversations with comedian and interviewer Chris Hardwick. Guests sound like their relaxed, authentic selves. Best part? You get to be a part of the party.
Finally, in honor of Wet Hot American Summer’s comeback, listen to Michael Ian Black and Michael Showalter’s hilarious, rambling conversations on their podcast Topics. They tackle “topics” like love and time travel, but really it’s just a blast to hear two old friends delight in talking to each other.
All of these podcasts are available for download and subscription through the iTunes store. Happy listening!
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