Are you looking for something new to fill the time when you’re driving in your car, commuting to the office, working out at the gym or just relaxing at home? Do you crave a good story or want to learn more about current events, history or food?
You need podcasts!
Podcasts are essentially talk radio, but they are on demand so that listeners can hear what they want when they want. You can download the audio files to listen anytime, anywhere and at your own pace on your laptop, smartphone and other mobile devices.
With more than 600,000 podcasts available—almost all of them free—varying in quality from slick productions recorded in professional studios to a guy sitting in his garage recording with his phone, there’s something wonderful and compelling for everyone. That said, with so many options it can be overwhelming to know where to start…
The easiest way to collect and organize podcasts is on your smartphone or other mobile device. iPhone users have a free built-in Apple Podcasts app, and Android users can listen to podcasts through Google’s built-in music app Play Music. And of course, there are plenty of third-party apps available.
Besides asking friends and family members what they listen to, here are some of my favorite sources for finding podcasts…
Look at the iTunes Podcast Ranking Chart to see what the most popular shows are during the current week (iTunesCharts.net/us/charts/podcasts).
Peruse offerings from large podcast studios that typically offer solid choices with excellent production values. These include: All Things Comedy Network (AllThingsComedy.com)…Gimlet (GimletMedia.com)…Radiotopia (Radiotopia.fm)…National Public Radio (NPR.org/podcasts)…and I Heart Radio (iHeart.com/podcast).
Social media also can be a helpful place to find recommendations for podcasts that you will enjoy. Try the Facebook groups “Podcasts We Listen To” and “The New York Times’s Podcast Club.”
Some of the Best
If you want something new to delight your ears and mind, here are a bunch of podcasts you’ll love, broken down into popular categories…
• If you like true-crime dramas: Serial. Hosted by Sarah Koenig, this show investigates one crime each season over the course of about 12 episodes, or 8.5 hours’ worth of listening. It has been a monster hit since its 2014 premiere, having been downloaded more than 350 million times. In fact, it’s largely credited with popularizing podcasts among the general population, thanks to its compelling interviews, vivid characters and a story line with mysterious twists and turns. Season one examines the conviction and life-prison sentence of a Baltimore teenager named Adnan Syed, who may or may not have murdered his ex-girlfriend.
Others worth checking out: Dr. Death is about how the medical system failed patients who were treated by a charming but dangerous doctor. S-Town investigates a son from a wealthy family who has allegedly been bragging that he got away with murder.
• If you need a laugh: Wait Wait…Don’t Tell Me! offers archived shows from the hour-long weekly radio program produced and broadcasted by National Public Radio. On the program, celebrity panelists and contestants are quizzed in humorous ways about that week’s politics, cultural events and international news.
• If you are a history buff: Slow Burn is like an audio version of a Ken Burns film documentary. It is a miniseries that excavates the underexplored subplots and forgotten figures of recent political history and manages to find gripping parallels to the present. Season one captured what it was like to live through Watergate…and season two focuses on the saga of Bill Clinton’s impeachment.
• If you are looking for insights into your relationships and behavior: Happier with Gretchen Rubin. This podcast from the happiness guru and best-selling author of The Happiness Project looks at the latest research and offers practical advice for feeling more satisfaction and less stress when you spend money, talk to your kids and connect with your spouse.
Others to check out: Where Should We Begin? with Esther Perel, features candid conversations with and surprising truths from conversations with real couples. Arming the Donkeys, with best-selling author Dan Ariely, has fascinating interviews with experts on decision-making, irrationality, morality and more.
• If you like fiction: Homecoming recently became a big-budget Amazon series with Julia Roberts, but it started out as a podcast. This psychological thriller—told in roughly 30-minute chunks—is centered on a caseworker at an experimental facility trying to help soldiers transition back into civilian life. It is presented in a collage of telephone calls, therapy sessions and overheard conversations with a star-studded cast of voices including David Schwimmer from Friends…Oscar-nominated actress Catherine Keener…and Star Wars star Oscar Isaac. LifeAfter, sponsored by General Electric, is reminiscent of the old Ronald Reagan–hosted General Electric Theater radio dramas—but this version has a modern twist. This sci-fi story is told in 20-to-30-minute episodes that follow an FBI employee named Ross, who spends his days conversing online with his dead wife, Charlie.
Others worth checking out: Limetown is a fictionalized detective story about the disappearance of more than 300 people from a small town. Welcome to Night Vale is comprised of community updates from a small town where every conspiracy theory is true.
• If you like nonfiction/documentary storytelling: Family Ghosts. Each hour-long episode looks at a mysterious figure whose legend has followed a real-life family for generations, from grandmothers who secretly operated international jewel-smuggling rings to siblings who vanished without a trace. The Habitat tells the story of when NASA enlisted six strangers (three men, three women) to live in a remote, otherworldly environment in Hawaii for a year in order to research the relationships, feuds and social dynamics of one day sending humans to Mars. In seven 30-minute episodes, this podcast captures the whole engrossing social experiment.
Others worth checking out: Dirty John, hosted by Los Angeles Times writer Christopher Goffard, is a tale of love, deception, forgiveness and survival. Heavyweight, in which Jonathan Goldstein—longtime producer on NPR’s This American Life—tries to help people resolve lingering guilt, unsolved mysteries and other issues from their pasts.
• If you want to sound fascinating at dinner parties: Gastropod, hosted by journalists Cynthia Graber and Nicola Twilley, is for serious foodies. Each episode looks at the hidden history and surprising science behind food—from America’s forgotten fruit, the pawpaw, to what it really means when your stomach grumbles, to reminiscing about when Jello-O was the ultimate status symbol. TED Radio Hour NPR is the audio sibling to the world-famous TED Talk videos—short powerful talks sponsored by a California nonprofit foundation. Each hour-long episode focuses on a single topic such as the ethics of deception…how to rekindle creativity…and the science of colonizing Mars. (Of course, you also can go right to the source and watch the full-length TED Talks at TED.com.)
One More Podcast You’ll Love
The Bottom Line Advocator Podcast! Bottom Line president Sarah Hiner talks to our most fascinating experts, delving deeper into ways to live better and feel better. No topic is off limits, as Sarah and her guests help listeners take charge of their sleep…memory…weight…medications…relationships…marriage…money…and so much more.