Maybe you’ve heard your friends talking about listening to podcasts while they work out or walk to class. Maybe someone you know has mentioned how it seems like “everyone has a podcast nowadays!” From Russell Brand and Snoop Dogg to Lena Dunham and Tyler Oakley, hosting podcasts has become a veritable craze in the past few years as people have realized from listening to classics like This American Life and Serial that podcasts are more than just on-demand talk shows or audio stand-up comedy. They’re a veritable art form that has room for just about anything under the sun in terms of subject matter, style, and format.
Since the podcast boom, finding podcasts that fit one’s interests, are pleasing to the ear, and haven’t been discontinued can be like finding a needle in a haystack. Not every podcast works for everyone, and genres intersect so much whilst formats vary so widely that it’s difficult to sort through all the options to find something you like. This post is meant to be an introduction to podcast classics that were or still are at the top of the charts, because that says a lot about their appeal to the general public. In the future, I’ll make more genre-specific recommendations, but if you’re new to podcasts, these are certainly some shows I’d 100% recommend you check out so you can kind of get an idea about what you sort of content you may like to listen to in the future. (All of them are available on the Apple Podcasts app or on Stitcher!)
The titan that started it all, brought to you by the creators of This American Life. If you ever ask someone about podcasts, odds are they’ll ask, “Have you heard about Serial?” This true-crime, investigative journalism podcast hosted by Sarah Koenig has two seasons out right now, each focused on a different crime. The first follows the trial that put teenager Adnan Syed in prison in 2000, whilst the second covers the desertion and subsequent abduction of US soldier Bowe Bergdahl. An easy podcast to get hooked on, Serial’s short seasons and effective storytelling make it an easy, captivating listen and have kept it on iTunes’ top 20 since its release in 2014.
#2 Welcome to Night Vale
Imagine the weird small town vibes from Twin Peaks, a dose of surreal romance straight out of Black Mirror’s San Junipero, and the weird science from Fringe, all wrapped up in a radio show format hosted by the dulcet baritone voice of Cecil Baldwin, the best voice actor you’ve never met. Created by Joseph Fink and Jeffrey Cranor, Night Vale is an ongoing audiodrama that’s been on iTunes top 50 since its debut in 2012. This one is...hard to explain, but if you like mysteries, indie music, and stories where the paranormal is really the normal, give this one a try.
#3 My Favorite Murder
This show centers on true crime, but with a comedic twist, representing the other approach to true crime commonly found in podcasts when they aren’t following Serial’s investigative example. Hosted by Karen Kilgariff and Georgia Hardstark, every week these women each pick a murder or crime story and tell it to each other, creating a cathartic outlet for the morbid fascination with murders a lot of people have but never talk about. These ladies add positive vibes to every episode without ever crossing the line into being disrespectful about the crimes they’re retelling, and really do manage to make every episode hilarious, heartfelt, and intense, all at the same time.
#4 Stuff You Should Know
Part of the insanely instructional HowStuffWorks network, this show gives you a 40-60 minute crash course on nearly everything you can think of. Impeachment and internships? Yep. The history of soda? You got it. Jack the Ripper? Of course. Hosted by Charles “Chuck” Bryant and Josh Clark, these two guys are gonna calmly guide you through everything you should ever know. Not one you need to listen to in order, this podcast is ideal for picking and choosing episodes on subjects you’re interested in or just letting the playlist roll if you’re ever having trouble sleeping. Even though these dudes crack jokes often, their voices are so mellow that this is a relaxing or naptime podcast if there ever was one.
Lore is another titan that has now even been adapted to an Amazon series and a book collection. Usually 20-30 minutes long, each weekly episode (all written and hosted by excellent narrator Aaron Mahnke) contains a mix of folklore and urban legends centered around a particular theme, like vampires, ghost ships, or strange childbirth stories. Always well researched and with a great ambience thanks to a selection of background music and creepy sound effects, Lore is spooky, captivating, and informative. A definite must-listen if you’re into the paranormal and/or appreciate the more can-you-believe-this? side of history.
Each of the previous podcasts is emblematic of a particular popular genre of podcast, but is by no means the standard nor the norm, so if you like the idea of one of these podcasts but don’t enjoy listening to the show itself, odds are there’s something similar out there that might do the trick. Expect more recommendations in future posts, but for now, check these shows out. Great for working out, commuting, or just passing the time, podcasts are a good way to both entertain yourself and usually learn a little something along the way.
Written by Mariana N.