Table of Contents
- Related Lists
- This American Life
- Snap Judgment
- 99% Invisible
- You Must Remember This
- Reply All
- Missing Richard Simmons
- Slow Burn
- 10 Critical Role
- 9 Hardcore History
- 8 My Brother, My Brother And Me
- 7 Pod Save America
- 6 The Black Tapes
- 5 Lore
- 4 Homecoming
- 3 Serial
- 2 The Teacher’s Pet
- 1 This American Life
- 5 Current Affairs Podcasts To Keep You Up To Date With World Affairs & Make You Feel Like A Genius
- The 20 best new podcasts of 2019
- This American Life – “Cars”
- WTF – “President Barack Obama”
- Radiolab – “Space”
- Getting Doug with High – “Jack Black”
- The Moth – “The Moth Presents Anthony Griffith: The Best of Times, The Worst of Times”
- Reply All- “The Takeover”
- S-Town – “Chapter II”
- Welcome to Night Vale – “Pilot”
- 99% Invisible – “Milk Carton Kids”
- Hardcore History – “Prophets of Doom”
- CANADALAND – “VICE: An Oral History”
- You Must Remember This – “Charles Manson’s Hollywood”
- Serial – “The Alibi”
- Love + Radio – “The Living Room”
- Mike and Tom Eat Snacks – “Haagen-Dazs Vanilla Ice Cream”
- The twelve best podcast episodes I’ve ever heard:
- 1. Werner Herzog on The Portal
- 2. Elon Musk on the Joe Rogan Experience
- 3. Kevin Kelly on the Tim Ferriss Show
- 4. Ryan Holiday on You Made It Weird
- 5. Mary Oliver on the On Being Podcast
- 6. Derek Sivers on the Tim Ferriss Show
- 7. Louis C.K. on WTF with Marc Maron
- 8. Brian Cox on the Joe Rogan Experience
- 9. Maria Popova on the On Being Podcast
- 10. Naval Ravikant on the Joe Rogan Experience
- 11. Jocko Willink on The Tim Ferriss Show
- 12. Lance Armstrong on the Joe Rogan Experience
- A Baker’s Dozen: Bob Lazar on the Joe Rogan Experience
- I’m always on the lookout for great listens:
This is a list of the 10 most downloaded podcasts of all-time. (Note. These podcasts were chosen based on the analytics of several authoritative sources including Stitcher, Chartable and PodBean.)
1. Serial. This award-winning podcast blends investigative journalism with non-fiction storytelling and tells one story—a true story—over the course of a season.
2. This American Life. As of writing, This American Life is the most popular podcast in the United States, with around one million people downloading each episode.
3. Dr. Death. Reported and hosted by reporter Laura Beil, Dr. Death is a story about a charming neurosurgeon surgeon, 33 patients, and a spineless system.
4. Radiolab. A two-time Peabody Award-winner, Radiolab describes itself as “a patchwork of people, sounds, stories and experiences centered around One Big Idea.”
5. The Daily. Hosted by American journalist Michael Barbaro, The Daily discusses the biggest stories of our time, told by the best journalists in the world.
6. Stuff You Should Know. Listen to Josh Clark and Chuck Bryant explore everything from genes to the Galapagos in this podcast from HowStuffWorks.com.
7. S-Town. S-Town is a new podcast from Serial and This American Life, hosted by Brian Reed, about a man named John who despises his Alabama town and decides to do something about it.
8. Planet Money from NPR. From the producers of This American Life, Planet Money describes itself as a fun evening with a friend discussing the economy.
9. TED Talks Daily. Listen to more than 2,000 TED Talks from remarkable people, including expert speakers on education, business, science, and beyond.
10. POD Save America. Jon Favreau, Dan Pfeiffer, Jon Lovett, and Tommy Vietor are joined by journalists, politicians, comedians, and activists for a freewheeling conversation about politics and more.
- The 10 Best Podcasts of All-Time
Or, browse all podcast recommendations.
Long-form nonfiction storytelling has proved to be a crucial format for the development of podcasts, providing an early example of what the medium could offer the world. Before the onset of podcasts, narrative-oriented radio shows like Radiolab and This American Life were, in many ways, ill-served by the structural constraints of radio distribution. Consider: If you, as a listener, were to miss the first establishing minutes of a story when you switched on the radio, you probably wouldn’t get the impact of what the producer was trying to do. And who knows when you would be able to hear it again.
Free from the cavernous limitations of the broadcast clock and armed with the expectation that listeners can follow complex narratives from the very beginning, podcasting offered audio producers and documentarians the opportunity to be more focused — and experimental — with the stories they can tell. And, as this list demonstrates, they obliged: They gave us radio shows free to push past the boundaries of what was previously possible; podcasts that took you around the globe and deep into the heart of America; podcasts that sought to bend history into the present; podcasts that broke the internet out into the real world.
You can call this genre by any number of names, but we’re content to call it “narrative nonfiction.” For more than a decade, this has encompassed a variety of storytelling formats, from weekly magazine-style character profiles to in-depth political histories to hardcore reporting from war zones. But the genre is always changing. Just in the past year, we’ve seen new shows that sharpen the standards to perfection (see Lost Notes, from KCRW) and shows that warped and reworked them altogether toward new ends (see Richard’s Famous Food Podcast).
While the future of the genre looks exciting, this list aims to look at the most influential shows that got us to this point, the titles that helped evolve the whole project of audio storytelling. Their subjects and formats may vary, but they all share a common DNA: The best of the nonfiction genre is defined by deliberate construction, making them fundamental pillars of podcasting as a whole.
This American Life
An obvious way to kick off this list, but as long as we’re in the business of discussing essentials, where better to start? Most podcast listeners — new, casual, obsessive, professional — are probably already familiar with This American Life, which initially started out as a thoroughly offbeat radio show that eventually became a revered purveyor of fine audio documentaries for multiple platforms, including (and especially) podcasts. This American Life is the kind of show that the Filmspotting podcast would call a “sacred cow,” in that its importance to the medium is so broadly accepted that it may well be redundant and unproductive to bring it up. Nevertheless, the fact of the matter remains: Without Ira Glass and company, we wouldn’t have a lot of the podcast world, or the public radio world for that matter, that we see today.
Same goes, I should add, for Radiolab. Revolutionary in its time, Radiolab pioneered an entire frontier of narrative sound design, one that’s heavy on showmanship and even heavier on emotional impact. The podcast has gone through phases over the years, growing from an initial focus on science and philosophy to include subjects of more concretely societal orientation, like government, society, and how we live with each other. (This is on display, most evidently, with More Perfect, Radiolab’s spinoff about the Supreme Court.) These days, the team functions as a kind of special-projects unit. Each new episode, released somewhat unpredictably, lands with a minor jolt of electricity, and is always a cause for some excitement.
Snap Judgment’s tagline is “Storytelling with a Beat,” and it’s not joking around. At its heart, it might seem like a traditional anthology podcast, albeit one that tends to favor stories with sharp edges. But that’s not the whole story: Snap Judgment is chiefly differentiated by a palpable verve that injects a sense of energy and style into a format that, frankly, tends to be pretty staid and buttoned down. It’s also super fun, which is a feeling very few shows, particularly within the nonfiction narrative genre, tend to actively pursue. Another essential aspect of the show is its origin story: Snap Judgement is the brainchild of Glynn Washington, who received the opportunity to make it after winning a public-radio talent search back in 2010. Good thing, too: It remains one of the most successful attempts to open up the form.
Roman Mars’s 99% Invisible is an institution in more ways than one. On the one hand, it is the preeminent source of stories about design and the relationship between people and the physical world. (Also: ruthless acts of vexillological criticism.) And on the other, it’s the cornerstone of Radiotopia, a beloved independent podcast collective that’s working hard to help — for lack of better phrasing — Keep Podcasting Weird. And as the podcast begins to close out its first decade of existence, it has also begun to find new grooves for itself: namely, as a potential facilitator of future podcasting stars, as in the case of Avery Trufelman, a staffer whose work was highlighted in a recent miniseries called Articles of Interest.
You Must Remember This
Podcasting is rich in the history genre, but You Must Remember This, Karina Longworth’s ongoing spelunks into various unexplored corners of Hollywood history, remains a standout entry. Since launching the podcast in 2014, Longworth has consistently used it to make genuine contributions to the way we think about the dense mythologies of the Hollywood of yore, particularly when revisiting specific personalities whose layers and truths are often glossed over by broader scholarship. You Must Remember This is a fine example of podcasts as a vessel of individual exploration; it is an extension of Longworth, a vital component of her overall output (which now includes a number of books), and a channel to experience the materials and stories in brand new ways.
Probably the first great podcast to come out of the post-Serial era. Ostensibly “a podcast about the internet,” Reply All is a consistent source of fantastic stories about the lives we live in the digital age. Led by WNYC alums PJ Vogt and Alex Goldman, the show intimately gets the mix of horror and wonder that defines the contemporary experience of technology, using that awareness to extract greater meaning. More pertinently, though, is the fact that Reply All features a fully evolved aesthetic, one that draws inspiration from but moves past the base public-radio sound that continues to govern so many other attempts at nonfiction narrative audio storytelling. If it maintains its consistency, we wouldn’t be surprised to see it succeed This American Life as the standard-bearer of podcasts for the modern age.
Brian Reed’s 2017 seven-episode portrait of the extraordinariness of an ordinary life, set in rural Alabama, is unprecedented in a number of ways. It’s composed with a power and economy common only in novels. It’s uncommonly challenging, setting up camp deep within what some may find to be ethically complicated territory. And it’s wildly ambitious, fitting the scope of a whole world into the life of one man. The individual at the center of the story, John B. McLemore, is a figure unlike any other, compelling and upsetting in equal parts. There’s nothing quite like S-Town, and I doubt we’ll hear anything else like it ever again.
Missing Richard Simmons
So, there are a lot of things we can say about Missing Richard Simmons, Dan Taberski’s part-biography of the celebrity fitness icon and part-attempt to figure why he withdrew from the public eye, suddenly, a few years ago. We can say it’s fairly controversial, given its relationship to the question of privacy as it pertains to public figures. We can also say that it definitely whipped up a frenzy. We can even say that the way it ended (which we won’t spoil, in case you haven’t heard it yet) was super underwhelming (okay, maybe that was a spoiler), though understandable given what was happening behind the scenes as the last few episodes were being produced. But I think Missing Richard Simmons’s enduring legacy should be the way it highlighted the fact that podcasting is still a largely undefined medium. Far from just being a space to adapt stuff that could go on the radio, podcasting offers creators of all kinds — including former operatives of non-scripted television, like Taberski — the opportunity to play with new, unexpected boundaries.
“Cinematic” is a word that gets thrown around a lot to describe stuff outside of film, and while some interrogation of the usage is generally recommended, I think it really should apply to Caliphate, the New York Times’ audio documentary that follows a section of foreign correspondent Rukmini Callimachi’s reporting on the Islamic State. You can discern tangible directorial intent from each scene in Caliphate, resulting in a series that never once gets bogged down in busywork. Callimachi and her producer, Andy Mills, take listeners deep into situations that are likely far outside the scope of their everyday life — in war zones, in source meetings filled with tension, in domestic settings rendered terrifying by paranoia. The level of immersion that Caliphate conveys remains unparalleled, as no other podcast brings you, the listener, deep into the heart of conflict both literal and ideological.
Slow Burn has one of those hooks that’s both super simple and endlessly expansive: what was it like to live through a historically potent moment? The first two seasons, led by Leon Neyfakh, expressly focused on presidential scandals — Watergate and Clinton-Lewinsky, respectively — and they ended up being fantastically executed audio documentaries that echoed America’s current (very current) political environment in spectacular fashion. Neyfakh has since branched out and continued doing politically oriented audio documentary work with his show Fiasco. Slate, meanwhile, has decided to bring Slow Burn into a whole other arena: hip-hop. Later this year, Slow Burn will return with a new host, Joel Anderson, at the helm, applying its framework to the murders of Tupac Shakur and the Notorious B.I.G. I’m willing to bet that the transition is going to work out just fine, and that Slow Burn is probably going to be around for a very long time.
The last few years have been the era of the podcast. We’ve seen everything from investigative journalism to tabletop roleplaying games made into these delicious audio treats. They make our morning commutes and our weekly chores that much more bearable. Also we can learn a thing or two, which is a nice bonus. Some of these podcasts have even become TV shows. Imagine that.
But while everyone has their podcast niche, there are a handful of undeniable greats. This list varies per person, of course, but here’s our list of the 10 Best Podcasts Of All Time.
RELATED: Top 10 Best Movies Of 2018
10 Critical Role
With Dungeon and Dragons’ recent popularity in mainstream culture, it only makes sense for us to include this iconic D&D sort-of-podcast. Critical Role is actually a web series and the audio is uploaded as a podcast, but we’re still counting it. Listening to professional voice actors play D&D is far more entertaining than it sounds, and Dungeon Master Matt Mercer does an amazing job weaving a story for his players.
The episodes can be a bit long though, so it can take a while to get through all of the episodes. The group is currently on their second campaign dubbed “The Mighty Nein.”
9 Hardcore History
Hardcore History is our pick for best informational podcast. Listening to 5 hours of Dan Carlin talk in excruciating detail about a historical event might not be everyone’s cup of tea, but listeners are guaranteed to learn something new. This podcast started all the way back in 2006 and covers topics from the Bubonic Plague to the Asia-Pacific War.
Since the podcast is episodic, new listeners can pick a topic of their choosing or just start from any random episode. There are a few topics that are more than one episode long though, so people should just make sure they start at part 1 of a topic.
8 My Brother, My Brother And Me
This is our pick for the best nonsensical podcast. Described as a comedic advice podcast, it’s pretty much just three brothers spouting hilarity for an hour. The show started in 2010 and has since gained something a cult following. Notable fans include Lin-Manuel Miranda, who even snuck in a few My Brother, My Brother and Me references into his musical, Hamilton.
There are over 400 episodes out, so for people looking to get into a podcast that they can binge listen, this is a pretty good choice. Just don’t blame us if you start talking like the McElroy brothers. It can be a bit contagious.
7 Pod Save America
Our choice for best political podcast has exploded into something of a media empire. Originally started by a group of former Obama staffers in 2017, the group has since created Crooked Media. They now not only release articles and tour the country, they’ve also launched several other podcasts, covering topics from pop culture to activism. The Pod Save America crew has figured out how to talk to frustrated millennials about politics in a way they understand.
RELATED: 10 Uplifting Reality Shows To Watch On Netflix
But fair warning, as the name of the media company suggests, they’re not looking to explore all sides of the conversation. For listeners who aren’t interested in the liberal argument, this may be a podcast to avoid.
6 The Black Tapes
The Black Tapes falls into the interesting category of fictional podcasts. The creators edit the show to sound like an actual podcast with a host and interviews, but the events that occur are fabricated. The podcast follows host Alex Reagan who investigates supernatural cases with skeptic and paranormal investigator Dr. Richard Strand. The Black Tapes does a great job pulling the listener into this world of creepy occurrences and conspiracy.
Currently, there are 3 seasons of the show out, but there will be a fourth season coming out at some point. Also, just a pre-warning, the show can get a bit creepy, so we recommend not listening to this alone at night.
Lore has also become a TV show on Amazon Prime, but there is something spookier about listening to these stories instead of watching them. It almost feels like we’re hearing ghost stories around a campfire, except we get to avoid the whole camping thing.
Like The Black Tapes, Homecoming is fictional, but it plays as more of a radio drama than a podcast. Told through conversations, the story follows Heidi, who used to be a caseworker at a mysterious facility treating military veterans. The show is exciting and mind-bending and stars actors that most people would recognize, including Catherine Keener, Oscar Isaac, and David Schwimmer.
Amazon Prime recently made the podcast into an impressive TV show starring Julia Roberts.
The first season aired back in 2014 and centered around the 1999 murder of high school student Hae Min Lee. This is arguably the most popular of the three seasons and fed into our love of true crime, but season 3 is definitely worth a listen as well. Host Sarah Koenig gets an inside look at the Cleveland courthouse and paints a vivid picture of how our judicial system works and the problems most of us don’t usually see.
2 The Teacher’s Pet
This Australian investigative podcast takes a look into the disappearance of Lynette Dawson back in 1982. It’s a fascinating listen because throughout journalist Hedley Thomas’ investigation, everyone seems to know who’s responsible, but for over 30 years, no one has been arrested. The podcast uncovers new evidence and it’s easy to get frustrated and wonder why police never investigated some of these leads.
The Teacher’s Pet is a well-made, well-researched, and incredibly interesting podcast. At the time it aired, things were happening real-time, which gives it a sense of urgency, despite Lyn Dawson having disappeared over 30 years ago.
1 This American Life
The O.G. podcast. This American Life was the podcast before podcasts were even a thing, which is why it gets the number one spot. It’s an hour-long radio show that covers a theme generally told in three acts. Each act follows a different story, and all of them are captivating. It’s no surprise since the show has been going on since 1995; Ira Glass and co. have had plenty of time to perfect their craft.
Pretty much all of the 600+ episodes are worth a listen. A few of our favorites are “The Break-Up” and “The Feather Heist”, but honestly, new listeners should just look at the list and just go for an episode.
What are your top 10 podcasts? Let us know in the comments!
NEXT: 18 Reality Shows You Completely Forgot About
advertising Share Tweet Email Comment Related Topics
5 Current Affairs Podcasts To Keep You Up To Date With World Affairs & Make You Feel Like A Genius
Podcasting has become absolutely huge in the last couple of years, overtaking other platforms to become the way to get your voice heard. There are an incredibly vast array of different podcasts available; think of any topic, no matter how niche, and there’ll be a podcast on it. With this in mind, current affairs podcasts have really come into their own in 2018, becoming an easier-to-digest, on-the-go option for news buffs who don’t have time to pick up a paper or even scroll through an app.
My obsession with podcasts (like many) started with true crime. From Serial to Dr. Death, Someone Knows Something to In The Dark, documentary-style murders really suit the platform and have helped to build it into what it is today. I’m not just a one trick pony however; I love podcasts to do with mental health (Jen Gotch Is Ok Sometimes; Mentally Yours), beauty (Fat Mascara; Breaking Beauty) and anything funny (3 Girls, One Keith; My Favourite Murder).
But recently, the podcasts that have really been interesting me are those that make me feel smarter. Current affairs are not something I am constantly up to date with, but listening to a daily podcast with the need-to-know top lines helps me to feel like I’ve got my sh*t together a little more. There’s nothing more satisfying than being able to drop in some smart-sounding facts into daily conversations and feeling like you can impress with your political, newsy knowledge.
I’ve always been more interested in what goes on across the pond in the U.S. but I’m trying to get on board with happenings over here too, and think my top five current affairs podcasts below represent this.
The Daily is hosted by the always chipper-sounding New York Times staffer Michael Barbaro. The podcast is released (as its name suggests) every weekday and explores a different emerging news story or wider issue every day. It’s usually a discussion of the previous day’s biggest political story, but sometimes takes on a cultural issue and invites guests on to offer comment. Some of my favourite episodes this year included 30 April, which shared an informative yet deeply emotional story about the North/South Korea divide, and 2 April, where Barbaro discusses prison reform with Jared Kushner taking centre stage.
Listen on iTunes now
‘Best Of Today’
Quickly jumping across the Atlantic to reach our very own shores, BBC Radio 4’s current affairs podcast is basically the Brit version of The Daily. Every day, you’ll hear the most important top line stories of the moment, along with political discussion and cultural analysis from around the world. And the best bit? Each episode comes in a super short snippet of around five minutes, so you’ll be all caught up on everything by the time you reach work in the morning.
Listen via the BBC website now
‘The Cut On Tuesdays’
The Cut has become a go-to platform for young women with a keen interest in politics, culture and style, so it was only natural that they launch their own podcast. The Cut On Tuesdays is still relatively new, but takes on a timely cultural topic of discussion each week in a unique and interesting manner. So far, they have debated the “Sh*tty Men Media List” and related it to a similar act of defiance by women at Brown University in 1990, and right-wing extremism with a first person narrative.
Listen on iTunes now
Combining my keen interest in American political and cultural issues with my need to be more informed on happenings in my own country, Mid-Atlantic discusses news and current affairs that are affecting both the U.S. and the UK. Recent topics have included “Trump’s Beef With McCain and Racism In British Politics” and “Kavanaugh’s Me Too Moment And The Calls For A Second Referendum On Brexit.” A nice way to bridge the gap between us and our American cousins, and feel clever both sides of the pond.
Listen on Acast now
‘Stuff You Should Know’
Not strictly a current affairs podcast, Stuff You Should Know introduces you to subjects and stories you have always wanted to learn more about. So yes, it’ll make you feel just as smart as daily news podcasts. The hosts, Josh and Chuck, cover everything from key moments in history to how things like marathons and police line-ups work. This one will make you an absolute fact machine and you’ll be the most sought-after pub quiz team member every time.
Listen on Acast now
The 20 best new podcasts of 2019
It’s been a huge year for podcasts – you may have noticed, everyone’s getting in on the act from The Obamas to Ron Burgundy. Some of the most established names have returned with new series’ – from Have You Heard George’s Podcast? to My Dad Wrote A Porno, Dear Joan and Jericha to The Adam Buxton Podcast.
Those were a handful of the returning big hitters, if you like. But 2019 has been notable for the sheer number of brilliant new launches. New podcasts about everything: tech money scams, BMX-riding grannies, Charles Manson’s toe nails, the football world cup and Dolly Parton. Whether you’re into comedy, music, true crime, mystery, current affairs, travel, media, scandal, sport or history, the past 12 months had something to offer.
Since July 2019, we’ve been trying to navigate the colossal amount of podcasts out there and find the best ones with NME’s fortnightly column Podcasts For The People. It’s a recommender, one with tips from us and you (NME’s readers). If you have downtime during the holidays, check it out, you might discover something new.
In the meantime, of the brand new podcasts that arrived this year, we recommend you start with these. Enjoy listening.
Oasis in 1994 (Michel Linssen/Redferns)
20. The Last Bohemians
Many of the best podcasts represent the voices not being heard elsewhere. This interview podcast puts the spotlight on female pioneers in arts and culture – those trailblazing individuals who were often beating the drum for their beliefs long before the mainstream caught up. Bonnie Greer, Molly Parkin and Cosey Fanni Tutti were some of the guests, and their conversations are feisty, heartfelt and bursting with wisdom.
Where to find it: Audioboom, Spotify and other podcast apps
Start with this episode:
19. Hunting Warhead
Important to say: some people may find the content of Hunting Warhead disturbing. This collaboration between Canadian broadcaster CBC and Norwegian newspaper VG delves into the sinister world of child abuse communities on the dark web. Reporters were looking into a local story in Scandinavia when unexpectedly their investigations tapped into an international undercover plot to capture the perpetrators. The subject matter is heavy, but also highlights the important work of those trying to stop this kind of criminality – that’s especially brought to light by the voices of the innocent families it impacts.
Where to find it: Spotify, CBC website and major podcast places
Start with this episode:
18. Sex Power Money
The companion podcast to Sara Pascoe’s best selling book of the same name seeks to destigmatise conversations around sex work, stripping and porn. It works because the comedian doesn’t pretend to be an expert as she speaks to sex workers, law makers and activists. It’s an education, as well as (often) a laugh. Above all it demonstrates how when people don’t talk openly about a sometimes controversial subject no-one learns. You can’t help but have your mind expanded by the conversation with Niki and Laura from the English Collective of Prostitutes.
Where to find it: Audioboom
Start with this episode:
17. You’re Dead To Me
What’s the thing you remember about learning history at school? That in the most part it was boring, right? A bunch of places, dates and names in some kind of order that rarely stuck much later than lunchtime. Enter: You’re Dead To Me a podcast about history that sneakily embeds those nuggets of information by being pretty funny. Each episode focuses on a different historical figure, era or people (examples: Joan of Arc, The Aztecs, Lord Byron). Resident history boff Greg Jenner is joined by an array of keen-to-learn (sometimes clueless) comics.
Where to find it: BBC Sounds
16. Passenger List
A fictional mystery thriller inspired, in part, by the true story of the disappearance of Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 in 2014. Passenger List is about a transatlantic plane that went missing with more than 250 people on board, now presumed dead. Lead character Kaitlin Le’s twin brother was on the aircraft but she’s not convinced by the official reasons being put forward by the authorities to explain its fate. Via her own vigilante investigations she begins to shed light on some alternative theories about how and why it may have vanished.
Where to find it: Apple Podcasts and other major apps
Start with this episode:
15. The Jump
Being the iconic frontwoman with Garbage is just one of Shirley Manson’s talents – she can now add podcaster to that list. While there are plenty of musician-talks-to-musician podcasts out there – George Ezra And Friends, Jessie Ware’s Table Manners – Manson’s matter of fact approach is refreshing. She’s a natural broadcaster, which is why she coaxes so much great conversation out of her impressive roster of guests who in this first series, which included Karen O, Big Boi, Courtney Love, Perfume Genius and Neko Case. Hopefully there will be more.
Where to find it: Spotify, Apple and other podcast places
Start with this episode:
14. The Mysterious Mr Epstein
The Jeffrey Epstein saga – one of the biggest stories of the year – has provided a succession of disturbing revelations. The wrongdoing is far-reaching, and complicated. If you’ve only caught fragments of what’s happened, The Mysterious Mr Epstein provides a comprehensive backgrounder. It explains how the American financier and convicted sex offender twisted his position of influence and consistently evaded the authorities. Not an easy listen, but an important one explaining a scandal that’s far from concluded.
Where to find it: The Wondery website, Spotify and more
Start with this episode:
Pixies’ Joey Santiago and Black Francis
13. It’s A Pixies Podcast
This was immediately appealing for a couple of reasons. 1) Pixies are notoriously guarded, so a podcast offering pretty much unrestricted access was an unlikely surprise 2) This kind of music podcast has been rarely, if at all, explored before. It joins Black Francis and the band in the studio in Upstate New York as they made their latest LP ‘Beneath The Eyrie’. And it’s packed with day-to-day insight – ideas blossoming into songs, candid conversations between members and new material (each episode would conclude with a fresh track). Essential for Pixies fans, but also maybe a blueprint for other artists wanting to capture that creative magic.
Where to find it: All major podcast apps
Start with this episode:
12. Unheard: The Fred And Rose West Tapes
Some abominable crimes took place at 25 Cromwell Street. The abuse and murders committed by Fred and Rose West are some of the most sinister in modern British history. Howard Sounes was a tabloid newspaper reporter investigating the crimes in the ‘90s. In this series he revisits the period via a collection of recovered tapes and his own memories. At the time – more than two decades ago now – it was a media frenzy. Sounes takes the time to piece together a holistic picture around what happened, and make an attempt at trying to understand where the motivation came from which led to the atrocities.
Where to find it: Apple Podcasts, Player FM and other podcast platforms
Start with this episode:
11. Stay Free: The Story of The Clash
More than four decades since their inception, the music and the message of The Clash continues to endure – it feels particularly resonate in this moment of political and social unrest. Public Enemy’s Chuck D is at the helm for this podcast released back in the spring. The show doesn’t just retrace the journey of one of Britain’s most influential bands but also gets under the nails of how Joe Strummer, Mick Jones, Paul Simonon and Topper Headon were battling for progress on social inequality, injustice and climate change. Sound familiar?
Where to find it: Spotify
Start with this episode:
10. Intrigue, Tunnel 29
The division of Berlin post-WW2 generated many extraordinary human stories. Perhaps none more so than that of Joachim Rudolph, who along with a small group of collaborators, dug a hole underneath the wall in order to help reunite friends and families from the West and East halves of the city. Not only was this physical task perilous, but it also had to take place under the noses of the notoriously barbarous Stasi security forces. That a American TV crew got involved mid-way through is yet another unlikely twist in this most remarkable piece of history.
Where to find it: BBC Sounds and other major podcast apps
Start with this episode:
9. Pleasure Studies
A podcast by Feist not about Feist. The Canadian artist produces and poetically introduces each of the 8 episodes in this deeply emotional series. The premise and storytelling is wonderfully simple. Individuals – grouped together under one common theme or subject – speak openly about their experiences. Take for example the Young Up: Aspirational Bragging Rights – where three inspirational older women discuss how age is a number not an obstacle when it comes to becoming a BMX champion or going on tour with a grindcore metal band.
Where to find it: Acast, Spotify and more
Start with this episode:
You know how some things are so fascinating you can’t look away? Yeah, that’s Murderabilia, a podcast about a fascinating/dark marketplace for grim collectibles that you didn’t know existed, let alone found compelling, until you start listening. These morbid artefacts – lockets of hair from serial killers that kind of thing – are being bought and sold all the time, often just on shady Facebook groups. Poppy Damon and Alice Fiennes meet some of the buyers and sellers to explore the trend, all while returning to the fundamental question of – why?!
Where to find it: Audible
Start with this episode.
Football podcasts are among the most popular out there – from passionate fancasts to celebrity punditry. Giant takes a different tact: think of it more like the audio sibling of Asif Kapida’s sporting documentaries about Diego Maradona or Ayrton Senna. Each of the six episodes are delicately put together. In particular, The Magnificent 7, which speaks to a notable player from each of the tournaments leading up to 2019’s record breaking Women’s World Cup, does an excellent job of charting the development of the sport. A beautiful podcast about the beautiful game.
Where to find it: Spotify
Start with this episode:
6. The Next Episode
The Next Episode is unlike anything else on this list – that’s because they give themselves the freedom to sound different from one instalment to the next. A podcast chameleon. The only real remit seems to be to make topical podcasts that are relevant to a young audience. That means the themes, presenters and format frequently change. However, the gold standard level of their journalism stays constant, whether they’re looking into abusive behaviour in the music industry or asking whether fashion is accessible for everyone?
Where to find it: BBC Sounds
Start with this episode:
5. The Sun King
The influence of media mogul Rupert Murdoch is well-known, and arguably right now after five decades (with Fox News and Trump in the White House) it’s at its peak. David Dimbleby – his first major project post-Question Time – narrates this podcast about how the Australian newspaper man came to be one of the most influential people in the world. The short answer is a controversial mix of ruthlessness, decisiveness and skin so thick you couldn’t drill through it.
Where to find it: Audible
Start with this episode.
Notorious BIG and Tupac Shakur
4. Slow Burn: Tupac and Biggie
Technically Slow Burn isn’t a new show, they’ve previously delivered authoritative programmes revisiting historic moments like the Watergate Scandal and the impeachment of Bill Clinton. But thematically this is a departure for them, delving deep into the stories of two of rap’s most notable figures – Tupac and Biggie. But wider context is where this show excels – the role those musicians played in the enduring frictions between west coast versus east coast hip hop, the relationship between black communities and the police and why so many questions still surround the murders of two icons.
Where to find it: Apple Podcasts and other major podcast apps
Start with this episode:
3. Dolly Parton’s America
Welcome to “The Dollyverse”. This show launched in the autumn has been a huge success for good reason. So much has changed in America since the ‘60s – culture, music, attitudes. There’s also a lot of division. Yet one person to this day can still bring even the most opposed people together – Dolly Parton. And this is where DPA is so smart. Dolly’s career – easy to forget how many incredible songs she’s written – has somehow tracked, captured and, in some cases, led these significant progressions in society. It’s not just the definitive story of Dolly, but in some senses, a nation, too.
Where to find it: Apple Podcasts, Spotify and other places
Start with this episode:
2. Listen Up – The Oasis Podcast
‘Definitely Maybe’ remains one of the benchmark debut albums, and this podcast launched to salute its 25th birthday. The four-part series rewinds the clock to summer 1994, setting the scene for the moment the Gallagher brothers went stratospheric. In it musicians like Peter Hook and Lars Ulrich recall how Oasis’ attitude caught their eye. You also get Alistair Campbell (Tony Blair’s spokesperson at the time) remembering how Noel and Liam quickly became figures of significant cultural influence. In short, Listen Up captures and bottles the excitement (and chaos) of one of the most impactful arrivals in British music.
Where to find it: Apple Podcasts and other major apps
Start with this episode:
1. The Missing Cryptoqueen
This is a podcast about a real-life missing person and the extraordinary sequence of events that preempted her disappearance. Dr Ruja Ignatova is the founder of OneCoin – a “cryptocurrency” launched a couple of years ago that rapidly achieved viral success. Company evangelists called it the “Bitcoin Killer”, and promised it would change banking forever. But ultimately it duped investors into parting with their savings, thinking they were early adopters in the Next Big Thing. Hundreds of millions of pounds from all over the world were sunk into the scheme, and then Ignatova disappeared. Host Jamie Bartlett and producer Georgia Catt attempt to track her down, and uncover the truth in this gripping mystery.
Where to find it: BBC Sounds and more
Start with this episode:
Did you know that every day one of your family members starts their own podcast? Yeah, it’s a lot. There are enough podcasts to make the first-time listener feel fairly overwhelmed about dipping their toes into the podcast pool. Where do you start? Which shows are worth your time? How do you find the best episodes? We’re here to assist. As pretty big podcasting fans, we’ve come up with a list of some of our all-time favorite episodes. This way you can dip in and out of different shows, sampling only the finest of goods. Here are the best podcast episodes of all time.
This American Life – “Cars”
For over 20 years, Ira Glass and co. have created some of the most engaging narrative radio journalism you’ll find on the airwaves. That’s a slightly boring way of saying they produce great stories. Those stories are also packaged up and offered as podcasts, and you have hundreds of episodes to choose from should you wish to give This American Life a whirl. We suggest you do. Our pick of the litter is “Cars,” an episode that first aired in 2013. “Cars” takes you inside a Long Island car dealership at the end of October 2013, when a seemingly insurmountable quota needs to be met by month’s end. What we love about the episode—and this is something you find in a lot of This American Life productions—are the characters. You meet a hot-shot salesman who closes every deal he touches. You meet the ultra-stressed dealer who’s constantly sweating bullets. You meet a lot of guys who sound like they live in Long Island. They all come together for a story with the same suspense as a summer blockbuster, only it all happens at Town and Country Jeep Chrysler Dodge Ram in Levittown, New York. Listen
WTF – “President Barack Obama”
This one was a tough call and we’d be remiss if we didn’t mention the other episode we were considering. So before we dig into the Obama episode of WTF With Marc Maron, we want to quickly say you should also listen to the Louis C.K. episode, which plays out like a therapy session between two former friends, who decide to hash out their differences. It’s incredibly honest and will catch you off guard. While that episode is fantastic, the episode where Maron sits down with then-sitting president Barack Obama marked a milestone in the podcast world. Here was the president devoting time to a medium many didn’t view as all that relevant. While it was huge for WTF (the episode was downloaded 735,063 times in 24 hours), it was enormous for podcasting in general. Is it the best episode of WTF? Probably not. But it is the most important. Listen
Radiolab – “Space”
With help from Neil deGrasse Tyson and Ann Druyan, the Radiolab team tackled the topic of space back in Season 2. But to describe “Space” as simply about space is doing this episode a disservice. What’s so beautiful is the way the episodequestions our importance in something so vast, starting with a love story between Druyan and Carl Sagan and zooming out with Neil deGrasse Tyson to take in all that’s out there. Is there talk of aliens? Yes. Is there talk of black matter? Yes. Is there a ton of great music and sound effects? It is a Radiolab episode. You’ll be left astonished, in awe, and feeling very, very small—and maybe that’s kinda wonderful. Listen
Getting Doug with High – “Jack Black”
Doug Benson is a notorious pothead. For evidence, simply give any one of his podcasts a listen. Never is that fact more blatantly obvious than on Getting Doug with High, a podcast where he invites celebs to smoke with him. Normally this produces a lot of giggles, some obscure thoughts, and generally a good time. That was not the case when Jack Black visited. The actor doesn’t enjoy a good high, leading to a good dose of paranoia and Black hiding behind his rolling chair. It’s cringeworthy, uncomfortable, and damn hard to turn off. Watch
The Moth – “The Moth Presents Anthony Griffith: The Best of Times, The Worst of Times”
The Moth is a show we’ve talked about before. The idea is simple: a person gets a mic and tells a story. When it’s at its best, it moves you emotionally, it changes you and sticks with you. No Moth story has done that more than the one Anthony Griffith told back in 2003. Griffith was a comic at the height of his career, getting ready to perform on The Tonight Show when a doctor called to tell him his two-year-old daughter’s cancer returned. What was supposed to be the best of times, became the worst of times, as Griffith struggled with the fact that no one wants to see the clown cry. Just make sure the tissues are close by. Listen
Reply All- “The Takeover”
Reply All, a podcast from Gimlet, is about technology and the way it integrates into our lives. Since it launched in 2014, it’s been a constant on our must-listen list. While most shows are exceptional, our favorite comes from June 25, 2015, when Reply All released “The Takeover.” Thomas Oscar is a 17-year-old who creates one of the most bizarre Facebook groups you’ll ever hear of, one about a fake company that “shifts units.” Quickly, people starting applying for fake jobs at this fake company, and Oscar started hiring these people. After a few days, there were employ handbooks, rules, and everything else there would be in an office—only no office. Think Office Space pumped into your ears. Listen
S-Town – “Chapter II”
Before we tell you about this episode, we must warn you that we’re trying our best to avoid a pretty huge spoiler. Still, it’s incredibly hard not to give some of it away without talking about the finest episode of S-Town, a podcast that has been downloaded more than 40 million times. Okay, consider yourself warned. “Chapter II” stands out because of how it ends, because up until that point you thought you had an idea of where the show was going. What was once a whodunit murder mystery morphs into something else entirely. The build up to the final few minutes is really a 40-minute profile on John B. McLemore, the principal character of the show and an all-around unique individual. McLemore is a sort of recluse in a small Alabama town. He’s brilliant but resigned to a life caring for dogs, clocks, and the maze he built in his yard. All we’ll say is, there’s a reason the show has been downloaded so many times. Listen
Welcome to Night Vale – “Pilot”
Few podcasts have garnered the rabid following that Welcome to Night Vale has. Created in 2012 by Joseph Fink and Jeffrey Cranor, the podcast tells the tale of a fictional town, Night Vale, where everything feels very Stephen King-y. Presented as a radio report that details the news of the town, the vibe of Welcome to Night Vale is decidedly creepy and surreal. You’re going to want to listen to all 100+ episodes, but we highly recommend you start with the pilot, as it sets the stage for everything that unfolds. Within seconds of hearing the host talk of the new dog park full of hooded figures that you shouldn’t approach, you’ll feel you’ve slipped into some sort of surrealist ghost story—and you’ll love every second of it. Listen
99% Invisible – “Milk Carton Kids”
99% Invisible, which is hosted by the soothing, slightly robotic sounds of Roman Mars, is about all the work that went into things we never think about. How did the fortune cookie come about? Why did inflatable men become a staple at used car lots? There are a lot of fantastic episodes, but we’d recommend starting with “Milk Carton Kids,” a deep dive into the creation and distribution of milk cartons with missing children’s profiles on them. Did you know that 5 billion milk cartons were printed with these images? Surely it must have been helpful, right? Listen and find out. Listen
Hardcore History – “Prophets of Doom”
You want an incredible history lesson? Well, you’re not going to get it in a 20-minute podcast designed for your morning train ride. Hardcore History episodes are long, with some topping the 10-hour mark. Luckily, the finest in our opinion is a paltry 4 hours, so it’s basically nothing. “Prophets of Doom” takes listeners back to the time shortly after Martin Luther lead the charge of the Protestant Reformation, as new group of prophets descended on the German town of Munster. It’s a story well-known in Germany, but one rarely heard stateside. Munster was a town ready to explode at the time—and that’s exactly what it did. Listen
CANADALAND – “VICE: An Oral History”
We have to admit, CANADALAND is not one of our regular podcasts. That’s not a knock on the show, we just never thought to turn to a podcast about Canadian issues and topics. That said, when a friend tipped us off to this episode, we tuned in immediately. As the name suggests, “VICE: An Oral History” is about the humble beginnings of VICE. Few know or remember that what is now a mega media company with its own TV network was once a humble magazine in Montreal. This episode brings together people who were there when VICE was The Voice of Montreal, a community newspaper in the ’90s. Listen
You Must Remember This – “Charles Manson’s Hollywood”
You Must Remember This is a podcast by Karina Longworth that brings to life the forgotten stories from early Hollywood. Of all the work Longworth has done, her magnum opus is the season on Charles Manson. (Yes, this is a whole season, not just one “episode,” because you can’t break this up.) The episodes in the season deal with life in the late ’60s and early ’70s and this man from outside Hollywood who sought stardom. When that stardom wasn’t given to him he revolted against those in charge. Charles Manson’s story is one that intersects with the Hollywood elite numerous times, clearly in devastating ways. It’s also the story of lost hope and the promises of Hollywood in that era. It’s very worth your time. Listen
Serial – “The Alibi”
Serial was, perhaps, the first smash hit podcast. It did not slowly grow an audience; it popped up and within a day everyone was talking about it. As with others on this list, it’s hard to pick an episode in the middle because you really need to get in on the ground floor. You want episode one, “The Alibi.” You’ll meet Adnan Syed, a young man in jail for the murder of his ex-girlfriend, Hae Min Lee. But something seems wrong. Things don’t add up. Syed says he’s innocent. There are reasons you might believe him. And so begins one of the most captivating true crime podcasts ever created. Listen
Love + Radio – “The Living Room”
Love + Radio, or L+R, is a show from PRX (Public Radio Exchange) that simply deals with real people. But whereas other shows about real people always want to teach you something, L+R simply wants to tell you a story. The finest of those stories can be found in the episode titled “The Living Room,” in which a woman starts noticing her new neighbors. To be fair, it would be hard to miss them—they were always naked. This voyeuristic endeavor became the start of a one-sided relationship. Diane starts comparing her life to the life of the new couple across the way. It’s kinda sweet, kinda uncomfortable, and completely impossible to turn off. Listen
Mike and Tom Eat Snacks – “Haagen-Dazs Vanilla Ice Cream”
Mike and Tom Eat Snacks, or MATES, never received the audience it deserved. Hosted by Michael Ian Black and Tom Cavanagh, the show revolves around the comedic duo picking a snack, eating a snack, and rating a snack every episode. Of course, the show constantly goes off on hilarious tangents, so the snacks are only a small part of why you should revisit this now defunct podcast. We love almost every episode. Since we have to pick, however, we’ll give a slight edge to the “Haagen-Dazs Vanilla Ice Cream” episode for the ridiculous comparison of the Haagen-Dazs factory vs. the Ben & Jerry’s factory. As with anything comedic, trying to explain why it’s funny rarely works, so just go listen. Listen
The twelve best podcast episodes I’ve ever heard:
By Ethan Maurice | September 16, 2019
I love podcasts—not quite as much as books—but they accompany daily tasks from driving, to cooking, to working out in the most engaging, fruitful of ways.
As but one human, I’ve only listened to a tiny fraction of all the podcasts ever recorded. However, I’ve scoured the web for quality conversation for half a decade now, and for perspective alone, consider each episode below well worth the time investment.
I could write about how valuable podcasts are for expanding awareness, allowing one to choose their influences, and how this list is just as much as a study of my own choices, but these things are easily inferred.
Let’s dive right in.
1. Werner Herzog on The Portal
If anyone today possesses what the ancient Greeks called “divine madness” it’s Werner Herzog. He’s obsessed, a verging upon crazy filmmaker, who pushes the limits of himself, his cast, and his art. For instance, read about the incredulous production of Fitzcarraldo, in which they re-enacted the story of pulling a ship over a mountain in the jungles of Peru to build an opera house under identical circumstances, with a ship that weighed ten times as much. His willingness to stand and think alone is most inspiring.
2. Elon Musk on the Joe Rogan Experience
Elon Musk might go down in history as superhero or supervillain, but “super” is sure to be attached to his recollection. Elon co-founded Paypal, sold it, and bet the entire fortune on simultaneously founding companies in three necessary, new industries—solar energy, electric cars, and privatized space exploration—all of which he largely succeeded at. He also harbors great fear of Artificial Intelligence and his newest company, Neuralink, is well on the way to eliminating the barrier between our brains technology, because, “if you can’t beat em, join em.” I find this utterly terrifying. This episode is a casual, honest exploration of the views and ambitions of what might be our century’s most influential human mind.
3. Kevin Kelly on the Tim Ferriss Show
Kevin Kelly is the founder of Wired Magazine. He’s future-obsessed, wildly curious, and truly “marches to the beat of his own drum.” I first listened to this interview in Playa del Carmen, Mexico a year and a half after graduating college. Kevin’s prolonged wander years were the proof I needed that one could take time to explore far and wide before diving deep into a career.
4. Ryan Holiday on You Made It Weird
Ryan is one of my favorite authors. I’ve always felt oddly akin to him. Most of his books are modernizations of Stoic principles with titles like The Obstacle is the Way and Ego is the Enemy, phrases he tattooed on his forearms as forever reminders. After finishing a perspective-quaking ten-day Vipassana meditation retreat last fall, I was so excited about this profound link between Stoicism and Buddhism I discovered that I wrote Ryan. It turned out he was already writing a book about it, which comes out this October.
5. Mary Oliver on the On Being Podcast
In her poem The Summer Day, Mary Oliver penned that perfect line: “Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?” She spent most of hers writing poems while wandering about fields and forests and coastlines enrapt with the beauty of the natural world. I listened to this podcast while lifting weights in a small, stale apartment gym. Afterward, I walked home in tears, gazing at the sunlight peeking through the pines.
6. Derek Sivers on the Tim Ferriss Show
This was my first-ever favorite podcast episode. Derek is a one-of-a-kind human. A musician, circus ring leader, and founder of a company called CD Baby which he sold for $22 million and donated the entirety of to music education charities. A sort of modern, bassackwards sage, he loves doing things the opposite way and has delivered a handful of super popular TED Talks.
7. Louis C.K. on WTF with Marc Maron
This might be the most honest podcast ever recorded. Louis and Marc knew each other as starving, nobody stand-up comics in New York City and explore that time and most everything since—beginning with the demise of their relationship. Across the web, people often cite this as the best podcast episode of all-time.
8. Brian Cox on the Joe Rogan Experience
Brian Cox is the English version Neil deGrasse Tyson. He was also a famous, long-haired 90’s pop keyboardist, which is simultaneously so hilarious and awesome. He brims with wonder while explaining the infinite complexities of space and quantum physics in graspable terms, and it’s utterly infectious. By far, this is the best conversation on space I’ve ever heard.
9. Maria Popova on the On Being Podcast
Maria is the brilliant mind behind Brain Pickings, which I believe one of the most fascinating, insightful works on the web. A master of distilling old works into timely wisdom, she’s dedicated her life to the exploration of the “common record” of humankind and seems to live with one foot in the present and the other in eternity. This conversation offers vastly different ways of looking at our time, world, and our place in it.
Naval founded AngelList, a super successful startup investment firm that made a lot of money. While such financial accomplishments lend tremendous ethos in our culture (I’m not particularly on board with businessmen being our greatest heroes), the greatness of Naval, and this conversation, reaches far beyond business. It’s loaded of wisdom from a remarkably wise, well-rounded, genius—the “bang for your buck” of listening to this guy speak is off the charts.
Jocko is a badass ex-Navy Seal and the last guy I would pick a fight with in the universe. I believe his core message of “discipline equals freedom” to be the unsung backbone of any endeavor. While most of us need not be anywhere near the Jocko level, virtually all undertakings largely rest on the shoulders of discipline. Jacko puts a big foot in this universal principle and tells some intense stories.
12. Lance Armstrong on the Joe Rogan Experience
This podcast episode isn’t as profound as it is culturally relevant. Recorded long after Lance’s fall from the world’s most famous cancer-conquering hero to the world’s most famous cheater—the story of the destruction of his life and charity is quite tragic. However, I found how his family’s struggle to deal with public disgrace oddly beautiful. It’s an eye-opening account of how brutally handle the shortcomings of our public figures.
A Baker’s Dozen: Bob Lazar on the Joe Rogan Experience
I’m still skeptical as to whether other intelligent life has visited Earth, but Bob Lazar’s account of studying a craft of extraterrestrial origin near Area 51 as convincing as that sentence sounds crazy. I’m not taking sides, just pointing at what might be the most curious conversation I’ve ever heard.
I’m always on the lookout for great listens:
Have a podcast episode you love that you think belongs on this list?