I used to dip in and out of podcasts during moments of transition—on the subway heading to work, while walking to meet a friend for dinner, sitting in the waiting room of my dentist’s office. I can’t do any of those things anymore, but my craving for podcasts has only increased.
In the strange and disconcerting times of the coronavirus pandemic, I need a reassuring voice to inform me how the world has changed overnight (again!) when I wake up in the morning. I need something to distract me while on long runs (six feet away from everyone, of course). I need tips on how to navigate this shelter-in-place existence: I want to bake but have no baking powder and cannot find any on the internet or any grocery store in my New York neighborhood—what do I do?
As usual, I’ve found solace in podcasts. I’ve been tuning into informative shows that keep me up to date on news and delighted to discover a crop of pop-up podcasts that are responding specifically to the coronavirus and its more serious problems (staying safe) as well as its less serious problems (how do I work in the same apartment as my partner?). I’ve fallen back on old stalwarts that offer an escape into movies and weird internet mysteries. And I have gotten plenty of requests from parents for shows that might help them balance working from home and caring for, educating or just distracting their children now that schools are closed. Podcasts can help there too!
Here’s a list of podcasts that will help to keep you sane, informed and entertained during these trying times.
Podcasts that give you the news you need
The New York Times‘ daily podcast, hosted by journalist Michael Barbaro, continues to be an essential news resource. Recent episodes have offered urgent coronavirus coverage, including interviews with politicians like New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, a tragic conversation with a doctor in Italy whose hospital is out of beds, forcing impossible decisions about who lives and who dies, and stories about restaurant workers and ride share drivers who are facing layoffs and dire dips in business. Donald G. McNeil Jr., a science and health reporter at the Times, has been a frequent guest. Early to sound the alarm, he has continued to doggedly urge individuals and lawmakers to take the necessary steps to slow the spread in the U.S.
FiveThirtyEight Politics Podcast
Remember when the Democratic primary was dominating the news cycle? That moment feels far away right now, but the 2020 election is still barreling toward us. This politics podcast from statistician Nate Silver’s FiveThirtyEight has been an excellent resource for measured coverage. The show takes a data-based approach to examining the election, though on-the-ground reporting from Clare Malone is a necessary boost to supplement the analysis of FiveThirtyEight’s primary model. Since COVID-19 hit the U.S., Silver and his team have turned to examining how its spread has impacted politics and could affect the results of the 2020 election.
Coronavirus: Fact vs. Fiction With Dr. Sanjay Gupta
CNN’s chief medical correspondent Dr. Sanjay Gupta, who has always been able to explain complex scientific concepts in a digestible way, is the voice of reason that you need to quote when explaining to your kids, parents or neighbors why it is so important that they stop going over to their friends’ houses for awhile. He dispels misinformation about COVID-19 and provides the crucial updates that people need to figure out how to go about their lives safely. The episodes are bite-sized (about 10 minutes each), which makes them an easy listen when you’re brewing your morning coffee.
Staying in With Emily and Kumail
If you saw The Big Sick, you already know Emily V. Gordon and Kumail Nanjiani’s love story: After they’d gone on just a few dates, Gordon got very sick and fell into a coma. Nanjiani spent the time by her bedside, getting to know her parents. The couple (who wrote the film together) are now married and currently sheltering in place—Gordon is immunocompromised, which means she and Nanjiani began to socially isolate earlier than most. Gordon and Nanjiani used to host a video game podcast, so they’re nimble with the format. They share funny, sweet and relatable stories and tips from their life working from home together that offer a much needed boost. An extra incentive to listen: All the proceeds from the podcast will be donated to charities working to address the pandemic.
Salt Fat Acid Heat cookbook author and chef Samin Nosrat (who also stars in a Netflix show of the same name) and veteran podcaster Hrishikesh Hirway (West Wing Weekly, Song Exploder) are teaming up to answer all your quarantine cooking questions. Need to bake a cake but have no baking powder? Have no idea what to do with the bags upon bags of beans you grabbed in a hurried, panicky trip to the grocery store? They’ve got you. Just record a voice memo with your question and email it to their account. The podcast is set to premiere later this week.
Our Plague Year
Sometimes we just need to know we’re not alone in experiencing the strangeness of our current crisis. Joseph Fink, the creator of popular fiction podcasts Welcome to Night Vale and Alice Isn’t Dead, invites other writers onto his podcast to share their thoughts and document the moment, from apocalyptic authors seeing versions of their fictional tales play out in real time to memoirists who share how their lives have been upended in short monologues.
Podcasts to keep parents sane
Mom and Dad Are Fighting
Slate’s long running parenting podcasts is the best of the best. Hosts Dan Kois and Jamilah Lemieux are not childrearing experts, but they are a pair of relatable parents (and journalists!) who each episode share their triumphs and—often more importantly—fails in parenting. Recently, they have been sharing stories and strategies about taking care of and even educating kids (ranging from toddlers to teens) while working from home. New cohost Elizabeth Newcamp, who was already homeschooling her kids, is a particularly useful resource in these chaotic times. She offers tips on creating realistic schedules for children while parents work from home.
This NPR podcast regularly offers listeners help with the basic aspects of human life, from how to sleep better to how to save money. (The podcast even has sub-podcasts — Life Kit: Parenting, Life Kit: Health, Life Kit: Money.) As more Americans are asked to shelter in place, we’re all trying to figure out how to navigate our lives anew—how to work from home, how to homeschool kids, how to distract ourselves with good television. Life Kit’s short episodes offer advice on all those issues and creative solutions, like encouraging your kids to tap into their own self-motivation and pursue passion projects like learning an instrument or experiment with baking while they have this time at home.
Podcasts to keep kids sane
If you’re looking for G-rated a way to keep your kids entertained that doesn’t involve paying for a Disney+ subscription, WBUR’s Circle Round may help. The podcast, created by parents, adapts folk stories from around the world. Aimed at kids aged 4 to 10, the beautifully narrated episodes are between five and 20 minutes long and, like the folktales they are adapted from, teach lessons about kindness, manners, sharing and the like. Episodes are narrated by celebrities like Jason Alexander.
WHYY’s adventure story Eleanor Amplified is aimed at a slightly older set of kids (elementary school and tweens). The show centers on a world famous radio reporter who foils various villains with her dogged investigations into corporate conspiracies. Expect lots of fun old-timey accents, a la His Girl Friday. While the show doesn’t dole out morals, it does elucidate for children the value of journalism and uncovering the truth at a moment when we are all desperate for information.
The Kids Are All…Home
This new podcast from Pineapple Street Studios is designed by kids for kids stuck at home because of COVID-19 school closures. The creators solicited homemade podcasts from kids all around the world offering tips on how to stay safe, the activities they’re occupying themselves with and even snack ideas. Beyond being adorable, hearing other kids navigate the challenges of the coronavirus may help make your little one feel less alone. Perhaps your kids will be compelled to make their own podcast for the show—they’re soliciting episodes from around the world—which could be a fun and productive parent-child activity to pass the time.
Podcasts to distract you
Alex Goldman and PJ Vogt host this long-running podcast about Internet phenomena that recently produced what the internet has decided is the best podcast episode ever. The internet is not wrong. In “The Case of the Missing Hit” the Reply All team attempts to help a man who recalls a Barenaked Ladies-esque song from his childhood with perfect clarity but cannot find any trace of it on the internet figure out the name of the song and the artist who recorded it. Early on, they enlist a band to recreate the song from this one man’s memory, and things quickly escalate from there. It’s an episode that has plenty of twists and turns but also elucidates how ridiculously dependent we have all become on Google to fill the blanks in our memories. While “The Case of the Missing Hit” is certainly a standout episode, Reply All has long been a must-listen.
Blank Check With Griffin and David
To keep from getting anxious or stir crazy, a lot of us have been turning to movies. Blank Check will give you the perfect excuse to binge many wonderful (and many hilariously awful) films. David Sims, The Atlantic‘s film critic, and actor Griffin Newman meticulously analyze various directors’ entire filmographies, dedicating an episode to each of their movies. They record long (like, many-hours long) discussions of the works of Steven Spielberg, Kathryn Bigelow, Hayao Miyazaki, Nancy Meyers, M. Night Shyamalan, Jonathan Demme and many more. The hosts and their rotating guests perform plenty of laugh-out-loud bits. But this show stands out because of Sims’ and Newman’s sharp artistic insights. When else will you have the time to watch dozens of movies and listen to conversations that have a longer runtime than said films? (That is, unless you’re homeschooling several children and working after bedtime, in which case, see above.)
Last Days of August
This isn’t an uplifting podcast, but it is an absorbing one. Jon Ronson, author of So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed, delves into the life of August Ames, an adult film star who died by suicide after writing a controversial tweet. This show could have evolved into the sort of irresponsible, prurient true crime series that litter the podcast charts these days. But Ronson refuses to play amateur sleuth and states from the outset that, despite Ames’ friends suspicions, he does not believe that Ames was murdered. There are other mysteries at play, though. Ultimately, Ronson offers a nuanced portrait of a lonely and complicated woman struggling in an industry that simultaneously worshipped and demeaned her.
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