Our Ten Favorite Podcasts
When you spend as much time driving as we do, you end up listening to the radio a lot. Just listening to music can get old though, so we have found quite a few podcasts that we enjoy to fill our truck time. Over the last 10,000 miles, we’ve checked out quite a few podcasts, kept some, discarded many, and have several on our “if there’s nothing else to listen to” list.
So here are our 10 favorite podcasts, plus 5 of those that ended up on that “if there’s nothing else to listen to” list.
Our Top Ten
Our favorite podcasts fall into the story telling category. These four feature real people telling true stories in some way, shape or form. If you like sitting around telling and hearing stories, these will tickle your fancy.
Hosted by Glynn Washington, Snap Judgment is probably our favorite podcast. It’s a weekly one-hour show featuring 3-5 stories on a specific theme, for instance “Road Trip” or “Sugar & Spice”. Nearly every Snap Judgment show we’ve listened to has been excellent with engaging stories and high quality production.
This American Life
This American Life (TAL, for short) is hosted by Ira Glass. It’s similar to Snap Judgment in that it’s about an hour long, once a week, and features 3-5 stories on a specific theme. Some of the stories take on a more investigative journalism slant, such as trying to recreate the Coca-Cola secret recipe, and some are just really creative like their annual Poultry Slam at Thanksgiving.
TAL went through a three-month period of hit-and-miss recently, but other than that, it’s top-notch material.
The Moth’s tagline is “True stories told live without notes” and you can actually see this one live if you’re in Chicago, New York, Los Angeles, or Louisville, KY. It looks like some other live shows are popping up around the nation too, so check the Events page on The Moth website. We’ve been to one show in NYC and 3 in Louisville. It’s a great night of entertainment at only $8 per person.
The Moth podcast features 1-2 stories a week taken from The Moth live shows. Each show only runs 15-20 minutes with stories that are almost always entertaining, touching, or in some other way just great stories.
Rounding out our 4 story telling podcasts is the newest one on the block, discovered just a couple months ago. Risk is hosted by Kevin Allison, featuring people telling “true stories they never thought they’d dare to share in public”. Just like the others, each show sticks to a theme, but unlike the others, most of these aren’t good to listen to with your young kids. Some of these stories are downright raunchy, though always enjoyable, as long as you aren’t one to blush too easily.
Politics & Economics
We don’t just stick to listening to other people’s stories. We also try to keep up a little with what’s going on in the world with a little politics and economics.
Dan Carlin’s Common Sense
Common Sense is a weekly-ish politics podcast hosted by Dan Carlin. Typically running 30-60 minutes, this is “taking everybody to task,” bipartisan politics. Like us, Dan doesn’t stick to “Democrats vs. Republican” politics like the major media stations do. Dan breaks down impending and new legislation, political candidates, the whole dog-and-pony show we call the election cycle, and any number of other issues.
If you are extremely invested in one party or the other, you probably won’t enjoy this show (though it could be good for you to hear a different opinion). On the other hand, if you’re one of a growing number of Independent voters, Common Sense just might fit better with your politics than major media stations.
For you history buffs, Dan Carlin also hosts Hardcore History. We’ve found that an hour is about the right length for a podcast for us, so his history shows are just too long for our liking, ranging from 1.5-5 hours.
Planet Money is an economics podcast that actually makes economics interesting. This isn’t about supply and demand curves or similar topics that put you to sleep in Macro & Microeconomics. These shows tend to take an issue and look at it in a way a non-economist can grasp. For instance, a recent show looked at what services a government should and shouldn’t provide by discussing lighthouses and autopsies. Other shows have dug into the Greek financial crisis, China’s economy and even the amount of money Katy Perry’s success has really made for her record label. These shows come out twice a week and usually run 20-30 minutes each.
History & Science
Aside from stories and politics, we also like to learn a little something about history and science while we’re at it.
Stuff You Missed In History Class
Stuff You Missed In History Class is hosted (currently) by Sarah Dowdey and Deblina Chakraborty. While they aren’t always the most exciting or engaging hosts, the material is usually very, very interesting, discussing historical topics like “Who was the real Lone Ranger?” and “5 Gangsters To Know”. You can expect 1-3 shows a week, running 20-30 minutes, typically. [Edie always says “yay” when this one comes on!]
Radiolab is a lot like This American Life in that it takes a more investigative journalism angle, but the topics are usually more science-focused. The show is hosted by Jad Abumrad and Robert Krulwich with shows every couple of weeks. They put out two types of shows, “Shorts” that are 20-30 minutes, and full-length one-hour long shows. Some recent themes were “The Bad Show,” which looked at the dark side of human nature, and “Patient Zero,” looking at the case that kickstarts an epidemic (including the Stetson hat).
Then there are times that we just want to listen to music. We have plenty of our own, but sometimes it’s fun to listen to music picked by someone else. These two podcasts are recent discoveries that cover our bases there.
Coverville is exactly what it sounds like. Once or twice a week, you get a 45-60 minute long show featuring cover songs along some theme. Sometimes it focuses on a particular artist, such as the Steve Earle episode featuring covers of Steve Earle songs and Steve Earle covering other artists. Other times it’s a show focusing more on a theme, like the show with the 13 most-covered songs containing the word “dance” in the title, or on a particular movie, like Wayne’s World.
Sound Opinions is a weekly, one-hour music podcast similar to Coverville, except it features original music, not covers. A recent theme that we’ve really enjoyed (and that spanned two shows) was “1967 – The Album As Art” looking at music from that year. Music in those shows included The Beatles, Pink Floyd, Love, and The Velvet Undergound, plus commentary and opinions from the hosts.
Science Talk is a Scientific American podcast that comes out once or twice a week, or sometimes once every couple weeks. It covers some interesting scientific topics like fecal transplants (go ahead and reread that), the Large Hadron Collider, and the internet. It’s typically informative, though not usually as engaging as our ten favorites.
CBC Radio’s DNTO (Definitely Not The Opera)
Definitely Not The Opera is a weekly 75-minute podcast from Canada. It’s basically a Canadian version of This American Life and Snap Judgment. It’s not usually as enjoyable as either of those, though it’s still a good one to have for those times when you have a lot of time to listen and want some more stories to listen to.
PRI: Selected Shorts
Selected Shorts is also storytelling, though not true stories told by real people. It’s readings of various short stories ranging from a two-part reading of James Joyce’s The Dead to stories by Japanese author Murakami. Some of these have been good, some have been not-so-good.
BBC Documentaries is another one that we listen to here and there. The stories are usually interesting, though at the rate of 2-4 podcasts a week, typically running 20-30 minutes each, we have trouble keeping up with them all. This covers some interesting investigative journalism topics like entering the world of Syrian opposition forces, looking at the economic aftermath of hosting the Olympics, and North American ice hockey.
And last, but not least, there’s StoryCorps, another story podcast, but on the very short end. Each episode is under 10 minutes, featuring a single story touching on some human interest story, from how a couple met to what life is like with Alzheimer’s or an electrolarynx.
We’re always interested in new podcasts. What are your favorites?