Sometime ago I solicited my coworkers and Facebook friends for podcast recommendations. I got quite a few, gave most a chance, and found a few favorites. As I greatly appreciate the work all these (and some other) people are doing to bring great content to life, I thought I should recommend them.
Note: I almost always listen to podcasts while driving, and I find Overcast to be fantastic.
Hooniverse Podcast is the only podcast on this list that didn’t come from the recommendations mentioned above — I’ve actually been following these guys for well over a year now, as my good friend Blake Z. Rong was a co-host for the first 111 episodes. Yes, I’m still following it even though he’s no longer there.
Hooniverse Podcast is the main of the Hooniverse podcasts (a fact I just discovered), and can be best described as “car banter”. The hosts and guests talk about general car stuff, from old cars to new to nonexistent, from wrenching to shopping to racing, from beer to relationships to bodily functions. Guests range from the Ring Brothers to Justin Wilson, and always fit well into the banter mindset. Tangents are aplenty, though recovery usually comes relatively quickly, and audio issues both take away from and add to the experience.
Full disclosure: I’ve been mentioned on the podcast several times, which totally makes me Internet famous (not).
Invisibilia is the podcast that got me hooked on the medium.
I had previously only listened to Hooniverse, and gave Invisibilia a shot as per above mentioned Mr. Rong’s recommendation. Right from the start I loved the mood and subject matter, and the fascination I experienced while listening to the first full episode.
The podcast “explores the intangible forces that shape human behavior — things like ideas, beliefs, assumptions and emotions”. The first episode dives into the history and power of thoughts, with some incredible findings. Other episodes look into fear and fearlessness, seeing without eyes, and how categorization makes our world manageable, for example.
Highly, highly recommended. (Note to self: check out other NPR podcasts.)
Serial is crack in podcast form.
Fortunately, the first season finished before I started listening, so I was able to binge through it in just a few days. In fact, I binged through the first seven episodes in one drive from San Jose to Los Angeles. I was giving a whirl to a number of podcast recommendations, and after the first episode I quickly tapped my phone like a lunatic to download a few more. It was the only podcast I listened to on that drive, neglecting the other ten or so I had queued up.
The first season of Serial tells the story of a 1999 murder of a Baltimore high school student and her ex-boyfriend who was eventually convicted of her murder. Far from a mere recollection, the podcast actually dives into evidence and testimony, questioning and finding holes in everything. Perhaps the most amazing aspect of it is the host’s access to the convincted ex-boyfriend, as she recorded frequent phone calls with him during the entire production run.
While I recommend every podcast on this list, Serial is easily my favorite. I eagerly await the second season, which will report on a different story.
This American Life
This American Life is a true classic. I’d heard of the show so many times before and dismissed it for no good reason, but now I eagerly await every new episode and am hatching a plan to go through the 500+ past shows.
The format of This American Life is interesting — there’s an episode host who introduces the theme and adds commentary throughout, but most of the content comes from the authors of the stories themselves. The vast majority of it is non-fiction, often touching on current events, and the stories are always captivating. Some of the shows I’ve loved so far talk about Americans living in China and a GM-Toyota venture that could’ve saved GM two decades early.
Website: This American Life
Damn Interesting is fantastic, and I can’t describe it better than the project describes itself:
Damn Interesting is a small, independent project dedicated to the dissemination of legitimately fascinating but obscure true stories from science, history, and psychology. We reject the fashionable practices of placing quantity over quality and hyperbole over accuracy; we simply tell intriguing true stories as often as we can manage.
It’s worth noting that Damn Interesting is more than just a podcast, as the audio actually comes from articles primarily intended for reading pleasure. If you choose to devote your attention to the project, you will learn about a World War I fighter pilot with everything to prove, three Swedes who attempted to fly over the North Pole in a hydrogen balloon, and the race to 0K, just to mention a few.
I’m still making my way through the podcast’s history, and am currently on episode 19 of the 24 published so far. The remaining five episodes are already queued up, and I’ll have to read the pre-podcast articles at some point as well.
Radiolab is a rather famous podcast with a distinct audio style unlike any other I’ve heard so far. I don’t know how to describe it, so you’ll have to go and have a listen for yourself.
The show features scientific and philosophical stories, and is very educational. I’ve only listened to a few episodes so far, but the stories have all been incredible. I’ve learned that Nazi prisoners used to work on American farms and have followed a couple’s quest to discover the impact of donating their late young child’s body, for example.
Reply All is easily the nerdiest podcast here, as it’s literally about the Internet.
Really fun stuff with very qualified guests, and highly educational, given that these stories are rarely the primetime of Internet talk.