I’d say that 97.6% of the time, if you see me on campus with earbuds in my ear, I’m listening to a podcast. 2.3% of the remaining time, I’m listening to an audiobook. Don’t get me wrong; I like music, or whatever, but podcasts…that’s the stuff.
Here’s my list of the top five podcasts you should be listening to in no particular order, at all, whatsoever:
- 99% Invisible. Never mind my huge man-crush on Roman Mars, the host. Ostensibly about design (the title comes from the idea that good design should be “99% invisible” to the untrained eye), the podcast talks about the creation of the type character we all know as a “hashtag” (Episode 145- “Octothorpe”), a phone booth in the middle of the desert that became something more (Episode 202 – “Mojave Phone Booth”), or a story about how Soviet kids in the 1950’s listened to banned Rock & Roll records (Episode 194 – “Bone Music”). Roman Mars and his friends will open your eyes to the built world around you in ways you never imagined. Must Listen Episode: 140 – Vexillionaire.
- The Memory Palace. OK. I’m a history major, and I could say that Dan Carlin’s Hardcore History is amazing, and it is, but I won’t consign you to a podcast that takes months between new episodes and when you finally get one, it’s 6 hours long. So, I give you the Memory Palace. For 9 to 15 minutes, every two weeks, Nate tells you a story from history, or something inspired by history. There usually aren’t dates or anything to remember, only what happened. The episodes stay with you long after you’ve heard them. Must Listen Episodes: Notes on an Imagined Plaque to be Added to the Statue of General Nathan Bedford Forrest, Upon Hearing that the Memphis City Council has Voted to Move in and the Exhumed Remains of General Forrest and his Wife, Mary Ann Montgomery Forrest…; Dreamland; Fifty Words Written after Learning that the Arctic Bowhead Whale Can Live up to 200 Years; A White Horse (the second-best podcast episode ever made).
- Hello Internet. I struggled adding this one. The podcast is hosted by CGP Grey and Brady Haran, two YouTube content creators of educational videos. Grey and Brady are complete opposites; but their genuine love for each other comes through in every episode. In its 4-year run (so far) the community of listeners has embarked on Wikipedia Vandalism (do a wiki search for “Grenfell Center, Adelaide’), voted by mail for the “official flag” of Hello Internet (I realized I was addicted when I spent two hours [TWO HOURS!] listening to these meatheads counting the votes – also, Flaggy Flag forever.), and has sent that flag into space. Recurring segments like “Sportsball Corner,” “Plane Crash Corner,” and “Brady’s Papercuts” give the podcast, which is, at its core, just two dudes talking, a continuity that you don’t find in many other podcasts. I can’t recommend an episode to get started. You’ve got to start at episode 1. They’ll be there when you catch up.
- S-Town. “S-Town,” family-friendly for “Shit-Town,” is a spinoff from the hugely successful podcast “Serial,” which is, itself, a spinoff from the long-running NPR program This American Life. Never mind all that. “S-Town” is a seven-episode podcast concerning a man named John who hates the town he lives in. He emails This American Life in the hopes that they will investigate a murder that he is certain happened, but he has no proof. Meet John. Meet Brian, the creator of the series. Listen all the way to the end. The last episode of S-Town is the greatest single podcast episode ever created, in my opinion. Must Listen Episode: Every freaking one, if you’re ever going to understand the last one, which is the best ever.
- Astonishing Legends. Scott Philbrook and Forrest Burgess are, I must say, two relatively rich guys with nothing to do. So they made a podcast. It’s a good one, though. Those of us of a certain age remember the TV series “In Search Of,” where Leonard Nimoy would talk us through (albeit with cheesy reenactments) stories of the unexplained. Scott and Forrest do the same thing, and they sometimes cover the same subjects. The thing that sets them apart, however, is that they take a deep dive into the topic they are pursuing. For example, they devoted 4 episodes, each about an hour and a half, on the “Somerton Man,” a mysterious person found dead on a beach in Australia in 1948. They straddle the balance between skepticism and belief in each of their episodes. They’re worth a listen. Must listen episode(s): Dyatlov Pass (Part 1 and 2).
Honorable Mention: Reply All. Hosted by P.J. Vogt and Alex Goldman, Reply All calls itself a “podcast about the internet,” but The Guardian calls it “an unfailingly original exploration of modern life and how to survive it.” Let’s face it. We all live two lives. There’s the life we live in the real world, and then there’s our virtual life, the one on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and wherever else we go online. P.J. and Alex aren’t mindless cheerleaders for the internet. It’s a place of infinite wonder, and a place of infinite malfeasance. But they try to make sense of it, every two weeks. Must listen episodes: #36 – Today’s the Day; #102 and #103 – Long Distance (Part 1 and 2); #44 – Shine on You Crazy Goldman.
There are definitely more popular podcast than the ones I have mentioned here (I’m looking at you, Joe Rogan…you too, Marc Maron) but these are the ones that I go back to episode after episode. Your mileage may vary; after all, we are into different stuff. Give podcasts a try. If you have an iPhone, there’s already an app pre-loaded that will enable you to download episodes. If you have an Android, there are free apps available that will download them for you. Listen to podcasts. They will change your life.