Podcasting reached a watershed milestone last fall when the now infamous Serial program became the fastest podcast in iTune history to achieve 5 million streams or downloads. The show quickly gained a loyal cult following as host Sarah Koenig laid down a breadcrumb trail of details as she investigated the mysterious death of a popular high school girl.
Although the runaway success of Serial was certainly an outlier, the latest data from the Pew Research Center indicates the medium of podcasting has shown particularly strong growth over the past two years.
No surprises there, especially given the rise of accessible technology (and apps like Overcast, Stitcher and a host of others). Perfect for people who are plugged-in and on the go, podcasts let you get your fix of storytelling, news and views—whenever and wherever you choose.
As the field of podcasts expands and diversifies, it can be hard to keep track of what shows to keep on the top of your Favorites list. While the landscape is wide and you can basically find a podcast about anything (or start your own if not!), here is a round up of podcasts to listen to, from the tried-and-true shows to up-and-coming indies. For even more suggestions, check out last year’s list.
Fresh Air: One of public radio’s most popular and beloved programs, host Terry Gross gets chummy with a wide variety of writers, doctors, actors, and politicians. We love the wide variety of topics the program has to offer, including the latest in medicine, literature, social justice, religion, and so much more. The radio talk show has been on the air since 1987, and the podcast often includes extras that didn’t make the original broadcast.
This American Life: A master class in the art and craft of storytelling, each week host Ira Glass presents a theme and related stories around the theme. Around since 1995, every show can be an opportunity to laugh, cry, think or be surprised about the depth of human experience through the lens of everyday life.
Radiolab: Nerdy is the new sexy, which is good news for Radiolab, a show all about curiosity and finding connections and meaning in the latest discoveries in science. We love the unique voice and use of investigative journalism to evaluate the toughest questions in science, philosophy and humanity.
Freakonomics: Ever wondered if energy efficiency is actually efficient? Want to learn about how to make a good television ad? Freakonomics, which was first a book, then a movie, and now an award-winning radio show challenges the norm and offers a peculiar take on what you’re probably not already thinking about.
Big in 2015
Serial: If you’ve somehow managed to miss the Serial train, hop on board — this interesting, addicting and award-winning show, released in October 2014 is an “audio game changer.” The format of telling a nonfiction story over multiple episodes generated fervent water cooler talk in the same way that the best television shows dramas capture our hearts and emotions. Season 2 is due out this fall!
Invisibilia: Hosts Lulu Miller and Alix Spiegel (who cut their teeth creating both Radiolab and This American Life) seek to understand the intangible forces that shape human behavior and psychological phenomena. These ladies dive into the deepest, darkest corners of the mind to reveal the emotions that lead to our actions.
WTF with Marc Maron: Standup comic Marc Maron also has had a breakout year. He’s not new to the scene — his podcast began in 2009, and television show Maron debuted in 2013. This year, though he had two particularly notable guests: Fresh Air host Terry Gross (who is rarely an interviewee) and President Barack Obama, who stopped by Maron’s garage in LA to record a fascinating talk.
99% Invisible: This short and thoughtful program explores the design and architecture of every day details we might never otherwise notice or consider. As a company of creators and innovators, we love the opportunity to get inspired by the stories the lay behind life’s smallest details.
Indie, Up and Coming
Hidden Brain: In this new show from NPR, host and NPR science correspondent Shankar Vendantam connects scientific studies and data with people’s everyday lives. The result is a fascinating look at the role the unconscious mind plays in human behavior — it’s a show that will make you think twice about the way you live.
Mystery Show: Starlee Kine takes the concept of private detective into the digital era, solving mysteries “that can’t just be found by Googling,” for example, just how tall is Jake Gyllenhaal? As a This American Life producer, Kine is a fantastic storyteller, and you’ll find that like most things, it’s not about the destination, but the journey.
Hardcore History: At Levi Strauss & Company, we know the importance of drawing from the past to creating a better future. But not all of us can remember our history as well as we’d like —luckily there’s Dan Carlin’s unorthodox take on history, which makes learning simultaneously interesting and fascinating. With his unique style and sense of humor, Carlin recounts significant historical events while making observations and posing critical questions about today’s society.
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