4 Years of Podcast Listening
It was November 2014, and I kept hearing about this podcast called Serial, which was first released on October 3, 2014. I was in Utah for my best friend’s wedding, and shortly before boarding my flight home I decided to download several episodes. I’d never listened to a podcast before, but on that flight home I was captivated by the story! I didn’t want to go to bed that night so I could finish listening…and I’ve never slept since. Just kidding! The next morning, I picked up where I left off – listening while I was getting ready for work, driving into the office, and then on my way home – when I finished the season.
And I was ready for more! I loved the medium – listening and learning while doing other things. It became an amazing way to learn, have fun, and make otherwise idle time (such as commuting) into a more enjoyable and productive experience.
My high school gym teacher once told me that “power cleans are like cheating for girls.” Let’s ignore the fact that he said “for girls” and I think the same lesson can be applied to podcasts: they’re like cheating – for people. Without taking any more time out of my day or changing my routine, I was able to learn so much. And because there are over half a million podcasts out there, there is a podcast for pretty much everything! This means I could use podcasts to get the news, music updates, and hear interviews with thought leaders, authors, and celebrities. I could learn industry-specific information to enhance my career, discover topics, stories, and perspectives I hadn’t considered before, while also indulging in podcasts about my innocent pleasures.
Over the last four years, I’ve listened to A LOT of podcasts. At one point I calculated I was listening to 20 hours of podcasts each week – though speeding up many episodes, so it didn’t actually take 20 hours! (It was fun, but I certainly don’t listen at the pace anymore.) During the last few years, I’ve found some amazing shows. I’ve discovered I can get really into a podcast for several months and then take a break from it completely and find something totally new, which means I’ve listened to several different shows. This post is designed to share the best of everything I’ve listened to over the last four years!
The Benefits of Podcasts
In case you’re not already hooked on podcasts, here are 10 reasons I love them:
- They’re free!
- You can learn a bunch of stuff
- They cover a wide variety of topics – something for everyone and every interest
- They introduce you to people, perspectives, and stories you might not come across otherwise
- They go deeper on a topic than you would scanning headlines or Twitter – but don’t require the commitment of a four-year degree
- They turn idle time into productive time
- You don’t need to find more time in your week to start listening (think getting ready, driving, working, going to the gym, etc.)
- You might find yourself working out longer just to keep listening
- You can increase your knowledge specific to your chosen field of work or in preparation for a career change
- They’re interesting, funny, informative, shocking, educational, and inspiring!
A Few Notes
- It took me some time to find the right podcasts for me – and the right number of podcasts to subscribe to.
- Because they’re free, there is very little barrier to entry. Try some podcasts, and if you don’t like what you hear, simply pick another!
- Sometimes I do have to unsubscribe or skip episodes because I recognize I still need quiet time in my life – and become more intentional about the podcasts I listen to.
- Just because you subscribe to a podcast, doesn’t mean you have to listen to every episode.
- I started listening by using the default app on the iPhone. I now use the app Overcast.
- I’m not a machine or a robot, and I haven’t listened to every podcast ever – remember that’s half a million podcasts! If there’s something missing you think I should check out, please let me know!
- In my lists below any podcast descriptions found in quotes were taken directly from the show’s website.
- Finally, I want to say I’ve noticed a significant lack of representation among women and minorities in many podcasts, especially among shows hosted by thought leaders and interviewers. I’m trying to be more aware and conscientious of this as I choose what I listen to.
Alright, let’s get to the lists!
Stand-alone seasons are a great way to learn about one topic or story in a series of several episodes. They’re often binge-worthy, very well researched and produced, and don’t require the commitment of a weekly show producing episodes indefinitely. (Also note that when I list the number of episodes for each of these stand-alone seasons, I’m only including the main episodes and not any bonus episodes that might have been released subsequently.)
- Serial, Season 1
- “A high-school senior named Hae Min Lee disappeared one day after school in 1999, in Baltimore County, Maryland. A month later, her body was found in a city park. She’d been strangled. Her 17-year-old ex-boyfriend, Adnan Syed, was arrested for the crime, and within a year, he was sentenced to life in prison. The case against him was largely based on the story of one witness, Adnan’s friend Jay, who testified that he helped Adnan bury Hae’s body. But Adnan has always maintained he had nothing to do with Hae’s death. Some people believe he’s telling the truth. Many others don’t.”
- 12 episodes
- Note that the other seasons of Serial are also popular, but I think Season 1 still sounds out as the best!
- “John despises his Alabama town and decides to do something about it. He asks a reporter to investigate the son of a wealthy family who’s allegedly been bragging that he got away with murder. But then someone else ends up dead, sparking a nasty feud, a hunt for hidden treasure, and an unearthing of the mysteries of one man’s life.”
- 7 episodes
- Making Oprah
- “The inside story of a TV revolution. In this new WBEZ podcast, Oprah Winfrey tells the behind-the-scenes story of her iconic TV talk show, along with producers, staffers, TV executives, and ratings rival Phil Donahue. The three-part series chronicles the show’s scrappy roots in Chicago, its rise to daytime dominance, and the powerful sway Winfrey came to have in American life.”
- 3 episodes
- Note that this is now listed under Making Obama, their next season – and might be something else by the time you read this. Who knows!
- Ponzi Supernova
- “As Bernie Madoff’s $65 billion dollar Ponzi scheme collapsed and the Wall Street financier went behind bars, he left behind a mystery. Hosted by journalist Steve Fishman, Ponzi Supernova is an original audio series that questions how and why Madoff was able to get away with the largest con in history and who may have helped. Drawn from hours of unheard conversations with Madoff from prison, as well as interviews with law enforcement and victims, the series takes a hard look at what happened while tracing still unfolding effects.”
- 6 episodes
- Dr. Death
- “We’re at our most vulnerable when we go to our doctors. We trust the person at the other end of that scalpel. We trust the hospital. We trust the system. Dr. Christopher Duntsch was a neurosurgeon who radiated confidence. He claimed he was the best in Dallas. If you had back pain, and had tried everything else, Dr. Duntsch could give you the spine surgery that would take your pain away. But soon his patients started to experience complications. And all they had to protect them was a system ill equipped to stop the madness.”
- 6 episodes
- In The Dark, Season 1
- “Child abductions are rare crimes. And they’re typically solved. For 27 years, the investigation into the abduction of Jacob Wetterling in rural Minnesota yielded no answers. In the most comprehensive reporting on this case, APM Reports and reporter Madeleine Baran reveal how law enforcement mishandled one of the most notorious child abductions in the country and how those failures fueled national anxiety about stranger danger, led to the nation’s sex-offender registries and raise questions about crime-solving effectiveness and accountability.”
- 9 episodes
- Patty Has A Gun, The Life and Crimes of Patricia Hearst
- “In February 1974, a radical organization called the SLA shocked America with the kidnapping of 19-year-old heiress Patricia Hearst. But within weeks, the young woman known to the world as “Patty” would do something even more disturbing: She would join her captors in their violent crimes. It created a chilling question that still divides America today: Was Patty Hearst a victim of brainwashing, or did this California college student willingly become an armed terrorist? With help from expert analysts, this CNN podcast re-examines the evidence. For more on the Patty Hearst kidnapping, watch CNN’s “The Radical Story of Patty Hearst” on Sundays at 9 p.m. beginning February 11.”
- 7 episodes
- If you don’t want to read an entire book about it – as I suggested here, this podcast series is a great alternative. (If you read and liked the book, this is still a great supplement.)
- Seth Godin’s Startup School
- “Seth Godin is a thought leader in the marketing and business world. In this rare live recording, hear Seth as he guides thirty entrepreneurs through a workshop exploring how they can build and run their dream business.”
- 15 episodes
- Bikram, a 30 for 30 Podcast – Season 3
- “Bikram Choudhury’s fitness revolution brought a yoga boom to America. But his guru status enabled increasingly dark behavior. Julia Lowrie Henderson delves deep into the complicated world of Bikram Yoga.”
- 5 episodes
- Note: This is definitely hard to listen to at times.
- “Football star Aaron Hernandez went from the bright lights of the Super Bowl to a convicted murderer in a few years. The Boston Globe’s Spotlight Team…takes a hard look at the crisis facing football through the lens of Aaron Hernandez’s life and terrible crimes. Did a brain badly damaged by football contribute to Hernandez’s violent behavior? Did he keep secrets about his sexuality that collided with a hyper-masculine football culture? Did elite coaches and teams look the other way as Hernandez was spiraling out of control? Spotlight uncovered new documents, audio, and interviews to go deep into the story of what happened to Aaron Hernandez, and what it means for those of us who cheer on a violent game.”
- 6 episodes
- Dirty John
- “Debra Newell is a successful interior designer. She meets John Meehan, a handsome man who seems to check all the boxes: attentive, available, just back from a year in Iraq with Doctors Without Borders. But her family doesn’t like John, and they get entangled in an increasingly complex web of love, deception, forgiveness, denial, and ultimately, survival. Reported and hosted by Christopher Goffard from the L.A. Times.”
- 6 episodes
- “How did Larry Nassar, an Olympic gymnastics doctor, get away with abusing hundreds of women and girls for two decades? Believed is an inside look at how a team of women won a conviction in one of the largest serial sexual abuse cases in U.S. history. It’s a story of survivors finding their power in a cultural moment when people are coming to understand how important that is. It’s also an unnerving exploration of how even well-meaning adults can fail to believe.”
- 8 episodes
- Note: This is extremely difficult to listen to, but it’s also extremely important. I’m taking this one slowly and thoughtfully.
- The Dream
- “What if we told you that with zero experience and only a few hundred dollars down, this podcast could change your life? Well, we’d be lying. This season on The Dream, Jane Marie dives into the world of pyramid schemes, multi-level marketing, and all the other businesses that require their members to recruit their nearest and dearest in hopes of a commission. Join us as we trace the path of get-rich schemes from Jane’s roots in rural Michigan all the way to the White House.”
- 11 episodes
I’m calling these podcasts classics because they’re some of the most popular podcasts and also the most recommended, which means many of them are the podcasts I listened to first (after Serial Season 1). Others just didn’t fall neatly into another category, so here we are. And, I have to say that while many of these helped get me into podcasts, I don’t regularly listen to most of them any more. That’s not a knock on any of them – it’s just the beauty of podcasts. After a while, there’s something new and exciting to try!
- This American Life
- “There’s a theme to each episode of This American Life, and a variety of stories on that theme” – as they say, “There’s lots more to the show, but it’s sort of hard to describe. Probably the best way to understand the show is to start…”
- TED Radio Hour
- “A journey through fascinating ideas, astonishing inventions, and new ways to think and create – based on riveting TEDTalks from the world’s most remarkable minds.”
- Planet Money
- “The economy explained. Imagine you could call up a friend and say, ‘Meet me at the bar and tell me what’s going on with the economy.’ Now imagine that’s actually a fun evening.”
- Freakonomics Radio
- “Discover the hidden side of everything with Stephen J. Dubner, co-author of the Freakonomics books. Each week, Freakonomics Radio tells you things you always thought you knew (but didn’t) and things you never thought you wanted to know (but do) — from the economics of sleep to how to become great at just about anything. Dubner speaks with Nobel laureates and provocateurs, intellectuals and entrepreneurs, and various other underachievers.”
- 99% Invisible
- “A tiny radio show about design, architecture & the 99% invisible activity that shapes our world.”
- Revisionist History
- “Revisionist History is Malcolm Gladwell’s journey through the overlooked and the misunderstood. Every episode re-examines something from the past—an event, a person, an idea, even a song—and asks whether we got it right the first time. Because sometimes the past deserves a second chance.”
- Stuff You Should Know
- “If you’ve ever wanted to know about champagne, satanism, the Stonewall Uprising, chaos theory, LSD, El Nino, true crime and Rosa Parks then look no further. Josh and Chuck have you covered.”
- Code Switch
- “Ever find yourself in a conversation about race and identity where you just get…stuck? Code Switch can help. We’re all journalists of color, and this isn’t just the work we do. It’s the lives we lead. Sometimes, we’ll make you laugh. Other times, you’ll get uncomfortable. But we’ll always be unflinchingly honest and empathetic. Come mix it up with us.”
- “Investagating a strange world.”
Pop Culture and Sports Podcasts
- Rolling Stone Music Now
- “The writers and editors of Rolling Stone take you inside the biggest stories in music. Featuring interviews with our favorite artists; what’s playing in the office; expert insight on the week’s biggest music news; and much more.”
- “The Times’s pop music team on music news, new songs and albums, and artists of note.”
- Rob Has a Podcast
- If you’re into Survivor, check out this podcast where they break down “the decision-making, strategy, and absurdity of CBS’s original reality competition experiment”
- Also, if you’re into Survivor and I don’t know that about you, please email me.
- If Survivor isn’t your thing, you can also check out Rob’s other podcasts for more TV show recaps and discussions.
- Pop Culture Happy Hour
- “Pop Culture Happy Hour is a fun and freewheeling chat about the latest movies, television, books, comics and music.”
- ESPN’s 30 for 30 Podcasts
- “30 for 30 Podcasts, from ESPN Films and ESPN Audio, are original audio documentaries from the makers of the acclaimed 30 for 30 film series, featuring stories from the world of sports and beyond. The show offers captivating storytelling for sports fans and general interest listeners alike, going beyond the field to explore how sports, competition, athleticism and adventure affect our lives and our world.”
- I specifically noted Season 3 of this podcast in the “Stand-Alone Seasons” list above because that season was devoted to one story while the other seasons have instead told one story per episode.
Business and Finance Podcasts
- How I Built This
- “Guy Raz dives into the stories behind some of the world’s best known companies. How I Built This weaves a narrative journey about innovators, entrepreneurs and idealists—and the movements they built.”
- Financial Independence Podcast
- “On the Financial Independence Podcast, I dissect the brains of some of the most well-respected fientists in the field to discover their techniques and strategies for achieving financial independence. Join me for interesting and informative discussions on money, investing, and all things related to early retirement and financial independence!”
- The Fizzle Show
- “The Fizzle Show is a podcast for creative entrepreneurs and honest business builders who want to earn a living doing something they care about.”
- The Rich Roll Podcast
- “Each week Rich delves deep into all things wellness with some of the brightest and most forward thinking, paradigm busting minds in health, fitness, nutrition, art, entertainment, entrepreneurship & spirituality. Intimate, deep and often intense, these are not interviews. They are conversations. A weekly aural dance designed to provoke, educate, inspire and empower you to discover, uncover, unlock and unleash your best, most authentic self.”
- The James Altucher Show
- He does a lot of interviews with people before their books come out, so I find his show to be a great way to discover new (mostly non-fiction) books – and honestly, sometimes the podcast summary is a better use of time than committing to the entire book.
- WTF with Marc Maron
- I recommend this episode with Jennifer Lawrence.
- Here’s the Thing with Alec Baldwin
- “Alec Baldwin brings listeners into the lives of artists, policy makers and performers.”
- I recommend this episode with Jerry Seinfeld.
- Oprah’s Master Class: The Podcast
- “Everybody has a story. Now, stories from some of the biggest voices on the planet are available on the go with Oprah’s Master Class: The Podcast…listen to candid life lessons from actors, public figures, musicians and athletes, all hand-picked by Oprah—and all in their own words.”
- Sounds Good with Branden Harvey
- “Sounds Good with Branden Harvey is a weekly podcast hosting hopeful conversations with optimists and world-changers about the unique experiences that drive them to use their influence for good. Episodes are released every Monday.”
- FiveThirtyEight Politics
- Usually weekly on Mondays, with emergency podcasts as the news necessitates
- NPR Politics Podcast
- Usually a couple times a week
Daily News Updates
- The Daily
- “This is how the news should sound. Twenty minutes a day, five days a week, hosted by Michael Barbaro and powered by New York Times journalism.”
- Today, Explained
- “News comes at you fast. Join us at the end of your day to understand it. Monday to Friday, Today, Explained will be available in time for your evening commute. All killer, no filler. Hosted by Sean Rameswaram.”
- Up First
- “NPR’s Up First is the news you need to start your day. The biggest stories and ideas — from politics to pop culture — in 10 minutes.”