Like many people, I used to find my daily commute to be a mundane and boring task. However, ever since I found this magical thing called podcasts, my commute has suddenly become my favorite part of the day. So much so that my co-workers have all seen me siting in the parking lot just to finish up the last few minutes of the show.
Podcasts have gain popularity in the recent years. According to Edison Research, a fifth of Americans listened to podcasts every month. The month of March is a "Podcasts Awareness Month" of sort where the hosts of many shows that I am listening to are encouraging their listeners to share their favorite podcasts with friends/family/co-workers etc. Hence why I am creating this list!
What is a "Podcast" and How Do I Listen to One?
A podcast is basically an internet radio show that you can listen to any time you want. You can either stream it on the web or download it to your device using a podcast app which there are several for both iOS and Android.
Overcast for iOS
While Apple default Podcast app works okay, my favorite podcast app for iOS is Overcast (Free on iOS App Store). Once you create an account, all of your subscription and listening progress will be synced across all of your device. It even come with an Apple CarPlay app if your car infotainment head unit supports it!
Pocket Casts for Android
I have not used an Android phone as my daily driver for a while now but when I did, my favorite podcast app was Pocket Casts ($3.99 on Google Play). While it's not free, Pocket Casts has beautiful UI with all your subscription laid out in an easy-to-see grid. You can also create an account and sync your subscription and listening progress very much like Overcast. It is also cross-platform, making it perfect for those who own and use both iOS and Android device.
And now, to my list of 7 Podcasts to For New Listeners
This American Life
A staple in almost all of the podcast lists that I've seen out there, This American Life is actually a weekly public radio broadcast that has been going on since 1995 - now available to be listened to any time, anywhere. The 1-hour long show consists of several "Acts" that go with the week's theme. There are investigative stories, personal anecdotes, fiction, songs, poetry and everything in between.
I have many favorite episodes but if I have to pick one that is the most memorable to me, it would be the first episode that I listened to called 129 Cars. The show hosts spent a month at a Jeep dealership in Long Island as they try to meet the 129 cars monthly sales goal for a big payout from the manufacturer. Like many, I do not have a very favorable opinion of car dealerships or car salesmen because of my not-so-great experience with many of them but it is very interesting to see what is happening on the other side.
The main host Ira Glass, which I consider the true Podfather (Sorry, Alex Blumberg), has quite a cult follower. Even a dog dressed like him! There are great many podcasts that spun off from This American Life including the next one on the list.
If podcasts were like indie music before 2015, Serial would be the band that popularize the genre to the mainstream. Hosted by Sarah Koenig of This American Life, Serial is an investigative journalist-styled podcast that follows one story, week by week, for the whole 13 episode season. There are now two completed seasons.
I highly recommend new listeners to listen to Season One, which follows the story of Adnan Syed who was found guilty for the murder of his girlfriend, a high school senior Hae-Min Lee. Sarah takes the listener through all the detail of the case: looking through the evidences, talking to experts, and interviewing Adnan himself. You will be taking on a "he is guilty!/he is not guilty!" roller-coaster ride as the season goes on. The story has captivated many listeners and brings the spotlight back to the case much like what Netflix has done with the Making of a Murderer docu-series and the Steven Avery case.
The internet is a big place and if you are a like me, you probably very rarely venture far away from your favorite section of the internet. Reply All, hosted by Alex Goldman and P.J. Vogt, is a show about all the interesting, funny, weird, scary, sad, happy and other emotions from every corner of the internet. There are also recurring segments like "Yes, Yes, No" where their boss, Alex Blumberg, asks them to explain the tweet that he saw but did not understand. "Super Tech Support" where P.J. and Alex G. went WAY out of their ways to solve people's technical support issues.
My absolute favorite episode of the show is about Zardulu, a New York-based mysterious artists/social manipulator who claimed responsibility for the Pizza Rat video in the New York City subway that went viral in 2015. Yeah....Zardulu....the name have already make you curious, right?
Oh and P.J.'s laugh is really very contagious!
Another entry from NPR, Planet Money is a podcast that explains the economy to the everyday people like me. Each episode takes on one economic story that you often do not hear or read anywhere else such as how Blackberry becomes popular in Argentina or why truffles are so expensive. The shows are 15 to 20 minutes long, twice-weekly on Wednesday and Friday, just the perfect length for a short commute.
One of my favorite recent episodes is Finding the Fake-News King where the hosts tries to understand the fake-news phenomena by tracking one story all the way back to its source. You will be surprise to find out who is behind it!
This one is a must for the design buffs out there, 99% Invisible is a podcast that take a look at the stories behind the design that are everywhere but often invisible to us. The show does not just look at "design" in the traditional sense (product design, architecture) but also at things like policy, community, culture and more.
What does the tune Für Elise reminding you of when you hear it? Ice cream truck? A tune that auto-plays from your Casio keyboard? To the people of Taipei, it is the sound of the garbage truck. The episode Separation Anxiety explores how Taipei dealt with its trash problem and clean up its streets.
The host Roman Mars had used Kickstarter to raise the money for producing the show. 99PI broke the record as the most funded journalism project on Kickstarter.
The era internet and especially social media has made our attention span shorter and shorter. We seem to know about everything but at the same time know nothing because information are getting presented to us in short headlines and snippets. That's why I believe it is especially important to have a show like Reveal, an engaging, investigative journalism podcast that takes a topic, often time very current and relevant, and dig deep into the story.
One of the most fascinating stories was the story of the Catholic Church scandal that was brought to the forefront again two years ago with the release of the Academy Award winning movie Spotlight. The Reveal team investigated what happened after the Boston Globe story was published.
Remember, there's always more to the story.
Oyez! Oyez! Oyez!
From the creator of Radio Lab, More Perfect explores the inner working of the highest court in the land, the United States Supreme Court and how the decisions of its nine elite members have the potential to shape the nation for many decades to come. The podcast helps me understand the Judicial branch of the government better which I think is especially relevant today.
But do you know that the Supreme Court has not always been so "supreme"? My favorite episode of the podcast, Kitten Kick The Giggly Blue Robot All Summer, looks at a case that make the court what it is today. There is also (a slightly outdated) mnemonic at the end of episode that will help you remember the names of all the 8 (soon to be 9?) supreme court justices.
So, that's it for my recommended list for new listeners. This is just some of many great podcasts out there so I encourage you to go out and find the ones to your liking by searching in your podcasts app. Don't forget to share what the favorite ones that you come across in the comment section below!