I have a confession to make; I can’t stop listening to podcasts. For years now, people have asked me what book I’m reading/listening to and most of the time I shamefully mumble something about not having much time, or finding it difficult to discover new books I like. This, however, is a bold-faced lie. The truth is that podcasts have taken over my life. I listen to them when I’m cleaning, driving, getting ready, falling asleep, waking up, cooking (ok, that’s a stretch – more like microwaving). Just ask my husband who so graciously hid his eye rolls for almost an entire year when every other sentence out of my mouth was “I was listening to This American Life…”
To all of you who are reading this asking, “What’s a podcast?” – my response is: only the greatest invention to be popularized by the smartphone. Imagine being able to listen to your favorite radio broadcast at any time, in any place. Or consuming bite-sized documentaries that are delivered to your phone automatically and captivate from the first minute. And the best part is that anyone (even you!) can make and distribute a podcast, making the range of content available absolutely remarkable. I know what you’re thinking, “But Allison, how do we know what is worth listening to and what’s not if anyone can make anything?” Never fear. That’s what I’m here for.
Below you will find a list of some of the best freely-available podcasts around. They cover a breadth of topics to suit anyone’s interests as well as provide an easy route to discover something new. Most smartphones have a podcast app preloaded on the device at purchase where these titles can be found. They can also be found on the respective websites for each cast.
And once you’ve listened through this list and decided to become a podcaster yourself, come on down to the King Road or West Toledo branch libraries where our recording studios are waiting to turn your podcast idea into my next obsession.
This American Life
No list of podcasts would be complete without This American Life. One of the longest running NPR offerings, Ira Glass’s iconic radio show looks at different aspects of life in America (and sometimes beyond) and offers new perspectives on ideas of all kinds. So many people you’ve probably heard of have contributed to TAL including David Sedaris, David Rakoff, Sarah Vowell, John Hodgeman, and many (many, many more). Personal favorites of mine are episodes 107: Trail of Tears and 199: House on Loon Lake.
If you’ve heard of any of these, chances are it’s Serial, the smash-hit from 2014 that dove deep into a murder that took place back in 1999. Because it’s unsolved? No. A man named Adnan Syed is currently serving time for the crime. But should he be? Sarah Koenig investigates and tells the story episode by episode, sometimes only hours after she has learned new developments herself. If you want a story that is all but guaranteed to hook you, this is where you should start. (Seriously, before this no one would have guessed that cell phone records could be so enthralling.) This one requires serial listening (Get it? ;) ) so you’ll want to start with Ep. 1: The Alibi.
Polar opposites and conversational wizards Jad Abumrad and Robert Krulwich explore all things science in a way that feels a little closer to performance art than information sharing. From the beautifully haunting contributions of the late Oliver Sacks in episodes such as “Oliver Sacks’ Table of Elements” to episodes like “The Ceremony” that are just plain creepy, Radiolab is a show for those people who are fascinated by the intricacies of the world we live in.
I like to call this “Are You Afraid of the Dark: Adult Edition.” Lore takes true stories that frighten and disturb and turns them into campfire-style tales. Recently made into a TV show as well, it is best if listened to on a long night drive or with the lights dimmed. Fans of The Twilight Zone will appreciate its anthology-style storytelling and the added bonus is that these stories actually happened. Where to start? Ep. 2: The Bloody Pit
Malcolm Gladwell is very likely a familiar name to you from his best-selling books Blink, The Tipping Point, and What the Dog Saw. In Revisionist History, Gladwell takes all the energy and enthusiasm he has for storytelling and applies it to ideas that we think we already understand. His brand of thinking deeply on topics that seem obvious on their surface works especially well in the podcast format. Check out “Hallelujah,” in which Gladwell examines the idea of genius and how it emerges in individuals.
Radiolab Presents: More Perfect
A podcast about the Supreme Court of the United States? Really? Yup. And it’s even better than you could ever imagine. From tales of its inception to the cases being argued today, More Perfect delves deep into the backstories of the people behind the cases and offers an in-depth view on how the court arrives at its decisions. Personal favorites of mine include “Kittens Kick the Giggly Blue Robot All Summer,” which looks at the very early years of the court while it was still finding its place in our system of law and “The Political Thicket,” in which we see just a glimpse of the pressure that serving on the court entails.
Embedded reporting is a long-standing tradition within the journalism field, but with Embedded (the podcast), Kelly McEvers takes this to the next level. By focusing in on a story currently in the news and placing herself in the center of the action, McEvers provides a unique type of insight into issues that can seem too big to be ever fully understood. In the gripping episode “The Capital,” McEvers ventures to the murder capital of the world, El Salvador, and spends 24 hours in the capital city, San Salvador, where she witnesses first-hand the gang violence that grips the nation. It’s edge-of-your-seat listening and just one example of an overall stellar body of work. Intrigued? – Check out the entire list of casts.
What? Think I forgot about you, sports fans? Never. 30 for 30 will be familiar to you as a fan of sports/watcher of ESPN. The TV show has established itself as the most excellent avenue to the behind-the-scenes (off-the-field?) stories of the athletes we love. The jump to podcast was only natural and has only improved the long-form sports story. Whether it’s the tale of Madden and his videogame domination or the fight to open Wrigleyville up to night games, 30 for 30 is a must-listen for any die-hard fans who seek to know more about their favorite teams/players/sports than what you can get from just watching the main event.
Stories from the National Public Radio archives celebrate moms and motherhood. Stories so compelling you’ll stay in your car to hear them through – even if you’re sitting in your own driveway. Wait Wait . . . Don’t Tell Me! host Peter Sagal captures your attention with colorful tales for and about moms.
Funny, comforting, and nostalgic, kind of like Dad. Driveway Moments for Dad is over 100 minutes of NPR at its finest. You’ll want it for your father and yourself, and for those you know who frequently finds themselves in their driveways, tuned to NPR, listening to the end of a story.
NPR Funniest Driveway Moments includes stories and interviews from your favorite NPR commentators and guests such as David Sedaris, Sarah Silverman, Carl Reiner, Mel Brooks, Dame Edna, Larry David, Darryl Littleton, Justice Stephen Breyer, Jonathan Winters, Phyllis Diller, Steve Martin, Lily Tomlin, and more. Literate, intelligent, and droll, each tale is worth hearing again and again, and now you don’t have to stay in your car to do so.