Two years ago, I was faced with a challenge: how to spend my time riding the New York Public Transportation System. After exhausting my music collection and a short stint with Candy Crush, and finding that I did not always want to read, I turned to podcasts. I had listened to two or three in college, to pass the time while walking to my next class or waiting for the bus. And since New York, my list of podcasts has grown extensively. So much so, I feel compelled to share them!
So without further or due, in alphabetical order, my favorite podcasts (as of February 2016):
The first podcast on my list is definitely me letting my geek flag fly. I truly stumbled on The Adventure Zone by just exploring different links to different podcasts, and lo and behold I found a Dungeons & Dragons Podcasts.
In this podcast, three brothers and their dad embark on a magical journey, fighting evil, saving the day, but mostly just causing hilarity and hijinks that has on more than one occasion caused an involuntary snort of laughter.
Can you enjoy this podcast without being familiar with/interested in DnD? I don’t know. I don’t think I would recommend it to someone unless I knew that they might be interested in more of a narrative. You really do have to start from the beginning to fully enjoy this podcast because there is an overarching storyline throughout the episodes. However, if this is something that you enjoy, I highly recommend it. It is funny and witty and the story is well written.
Ask Me Another
I could not tell you where I discovered most of these podcasts. And Ask Me Another is no different. But when people ask me for a podcast to listen together, this is probably my go to. Just recently, I was driving from Jersey to Baltimore with my friend Katie, and we had a blast yelling out answers to the puzzles or chuckling to witty banter between hosts Ophira Eisenberg and Jonathan Coulton.
Now I have a particular fondness for this show for many reasons, but especially because of their use of puns. Several times the live audience will groan at the use of a play on words… and it just brings me endless joy.
So if you like cheesy-on-the-edge-of-witty humor, trivia, word games, and probably the best guests (which include but are not limited to: George Takei, Neil Gaiman, and Sir Patrick Stewart) ever! Then I highly recommend this podcast.
I found Bunker Buddies as I started to explore more of the Maximum Fun trove after discovering The Adventure Zone. It is hosted by one of the brothers from the previously mentioned podcast (Travis McElroy) and his friend, Andie Bolt. Bunker Buddies is a comedy podcast about preparing and surviving apocalypses (possible and impossible).
With practical (and impractical) advice, Travis and Andie hypothetically explore different scenarios or aspects of survival in dire situations. They also bring on several guests to talk about different apocalypses ranging from aliens to zombies to natural disasters.
Also it asks the important question: You’re in a bunker for 1-5 years, and you only have one movie/TV show/box set to entertain you. What do you chose?
(For me the answers are: On The Town/Mythbusters.)
Death, Sex, & Money
I found Death, Sex, & Money through advertisements of another podcast. Or maybe a preview. Either way, this is one of those shows that I must immediately listen to when there’s a new episode.
As the title might suggest, this podcast talks a lot about the hard stuff. How it affects to a person, a relationship, and life in general.
What is refreshing about this podcast, is that they don’t just have “famous” people on the podcast, but will also find stories in their listeners. The stories are frighteningly human and there have been times when I felt that I should not be listening to the conversation happening. But that’s what this podcast is all about: talking about things people don’t talk about, but should.
I am pretty sure I found Invisibilia through This American Life. And while it is still very new with only six full episodes available, I quickly became addicted and binged all six episodes in a matter of days.
The premise is: exploring phenomena that we generally cannot experience through the five senses. Probably the episode that first blew my mind was the one about how blind people can use echolocation not unlike a bat. The episode is entitled How to Become Batman.
Hosts Lulu Miller and Alix Spiegel tell brilliant stories that put the world into a different perspective. I find myself often finishing an episode by promising to try and approach the world a little bit differently. And I think that’s amazing.
This was the first podcast I remember regularly listening to. It was the only good thing that I got out of a bad relationship. And luckily The Moth retains no bad memories, at least for myself. What captured me instantly were the pure human stories that was shared on stage. Ones that had me laughing so hard I cried or so sad that I… cried. There’s a lot of crying.
But only because it’s so empathetic. You hear stories from all walks of life. All different, yet wonderfully told. One of my favorites is told by Andy Borowitz called An Unexpected Twist. Be warned: strong language. But had me laughing so hard that I was crying in my car and people driving past probably thought I was insane.
With this podcast, you can really expect truly human stories that are hilarious or heartbreaking or hopeful or a combination of sorts. Stories that are multi-layered with hopes and flaws and I cannot recommend it enough. This is also what I like to call a “starter” podcast.
The Mystery Show
So far everything I have listened to that has come out of Gimlet Media I have absolutely loved. And The Mystery Show is no exception. It pulled me in with charm and kept me with genuinely human stories.
The concept: Starlee Kine (whose name I absolutely love) solves mysteries whose answers can’t be found with a simple google search. Such as: Where did a VHS store in Manhattan disappear to? Did Britney Spears really read her friends’ book? Why does someone have LOVE911 on their vanity plate?
Not to mention it has a pretty yet whimsical theme song.
This is probably one of my most favorite podcasts on this list. Every time I see Reply All has a new episode out, I immediately move it to the front of the queue.
How they describe the show: It’s a show about the internet.
But it’s so much more than that. What it really does is humanize the people behind the stories about the internet. PJ Vogt and Alex Goldman do an excellent job telling all sides of a story, uncovering the story behind internet sensations, and solve technological mysteries. They also have segment where they explain internet goings on to their technology-challenged boss, Alex Blumberg.
While the subject matter and the tone changes from episode to episode, it is always relevant. And therefore, highly recommended.
What Radiolab can accomplish with their unique way of storytelling–a mix of interview and auditory story telling–immediately grabbed me. It becomes so immersive with added sound effects, use of existing audio, and amazing story tellers.
There is no overwhelming theme on Radiolab… well, I take that back. If I were to assign it a theme, I would say it is: wonder. It seems like the only criteria for a story is that it has to be fascinating in some way. It’s like that one friend at the party that goes “Did you know…” and then sparks a whole conversation on this one topic.
They have a way of approaching subjects, like American football, and just showing that such a regular thing that we take for granted is multi-layered in our history and our culture. If you like This American Life, you will love Radiolab. And speaking of This American Life…
This American Life
If you listen to NPR or podcasts, you know about This American Life. Consistently in the top five podcasts on iTunes, it has earned it’s spot not just with excellent reporting and story telling, but it shows an effort to show both sides of an argument as human.
They also have done performances, such as this holiday special where the majority of the episode is spent on an improvisation show.
My favorite episodes are when they talk about relevant issues in our world. One in particular that I love is a two parter: The Problem We All Live With (Part One, Part Two) where they talk about school segregation. (An issue that is very relevant to me, living in Baltimore, MD.)
This show challenges my empathy by forcing me to see both sides of a problem. And it’s not so much as different sides of the same coin but just more than one point of view from different peoples with relevant wants and needs. And you might be able to pick a side, but I challenge you to look for a solution. (Another recommendation: A Not-So-Simple Majority.)
The Track with Ryan Swift
So this is definitely a podcast with a niche market. But it is one that is immediately bumped to the front of the queue when a new episode appears. The Track with Ryan Swift interviews major players in the swing dance community from teachers, scene leaders, DJs, musicians, and legends.
What I love most about this podcast is how Swift talks about the more pressing matters about the community, such as recent abuses of power and how are competitions affecting the scene.
If you’re not involved in this community, I don’t know how much you’ll get out of this podcast. But if you are interested in swing dance and its community, this is a good source.
or previously known as The Untitled Podcast with Patrick Rothfuss
Upfront: I love Patrick Rothfuss. He is one of my favorite humans on the planet. I have actually met him and only cried a little bit! Best known as the author of The Name of the Wind and A Wise Man’s Fear (both of which I love unconditionally and will recommend to anyone who enjoys a well written fantasy novel), Rothfuss continues to impress me by running a charity full time and just generally being an awesome human being.
So when he announced on his blog (previously linked) that he was doing a podcast, I immediately subscribed. And it is delightful. One of my favorite things to do when there is a new episode is eat lunch while listening to it, because it really does feel like you’re in a room with friends who are just shooting the breeze. Pat talks a lot about writing and his charities and just general being a good person. It’s a great slice-of-life podcast that I can wholly recommend to anyone, even if you haven’t read his books (even though you should 😉 ).
Wait, Wait… Don’t Tell Me!
One of the first podcasts I listened to (and immediately became obsessed with) was Wait, Wait… Don’t Tell Me! I remember seeing references to this radio show, and forget what actually made me reach out and listen to it, but I love it.
It’s a fun way to stay on top of some of the more superfluous (but still entertaining) news. But I enjoy it most for the hilarious banter between the rotating cast of panelists and their host.