I love podcasts, so it makes me really happy that in the past several months they have seemed to explode in influence and popularity. (Thank you, Serial!) Podcasts have been around for several years, but as they grow in popularity the number of really good ones keeps growing too. The best part about podcasts is that they can be consumed any time it’s convenient and there isn’t a limitation what you can consume – interviews, history, current events, sports, preaching, leadership/business, and so much more.
Here are my current top 10 podcasts (in no particular order).
**Of course I couldn’t include The Happy Rant. That would be super braggy, and we can’t have that. But it is awesome.
1) The Nerdist
Comedian Chris Hardwick and crew visit with guests about life, love, comedy, acting, creativity, and whatever else crosses their minds. The most fascinating parts of this podcast are the anecdotes guests (a true A-list roster) share and how comfortable they become quickly. It sets the stage for a delightfully unpredictable and educational experience. (I feel obliged to say this often features NSFW language and occasionally gets crass.)
Alec Baldwin is the most delightful and charismatic sort of smarmy. As the host of this podcast he interviews a who’s who list of guests about their careers and endeavors. He manages to interject himself into the conversation often enough to make you smirk and roll your eyes but not so much as to take away from the guest. As an actor, Baldwin is at his best when he’s interviewing other performers and artists. The conversations they have about creative process and the work of making art are tremendous.
A podcast for the curious, hosted by Roman Mars, 99% Invisible has a bit of marijuana haze about it as it is mesmerized by those pieces of life and geography and history that go, well, 99% unnoticed. (“Whoa. Cooooool!) Think of the lane lines on the highway or the signage in an airport. What do you know about it? Likely nothing. Well, this podcast will solve that! It is smart without being academic and you will never fail to learn cool stuff.
Radiolab is like the oldest sibling to 99% Invisible’s second child. It is crisp, smart, and high achieving as it explores deep questions of science and life. It touches on the philosophical on occasion but sometimes breaks down things like football or professional wrestling. But ALWAYS in a smart, non-rube way. It’s also one of the best-produced and edited shows out there. Combined with the research and wit of the hosts (Jad Abumrad and Robert Krulwich) Radiolab is a pretty genius show.
5) The Starters
Before it was a show on the NBA TV network, The Starters was a podcast based out Canada for folks who love NBA basketball. The group of guys who host it is equal parts hilarious, self-deprecating, and well informed about the NBA. They are fans and analysts, but not the suit and tie ESPN blowhard type of analysts. It is a fun and smart podcast. If you dig the NBA you’ll love it.
Simply the best storytelling week-in and week-out of any outlet anywhere. They find stories where you’d never have thought stories could exist and then they tell them in the most compelling and accessible manner possible – never over done. They have some missed now and then, sure, but usually that’s because they tried something risky and it didn’t work. And that’s why This American Life keeps ticking along without wavering; they always try stuff. Oh, and they have Ira Glass as the host and producer and he, of course, is a genius.
The hosts, Chuck and Josh, are kind of like a more friendly and less awkward Sheldon and Leonard (The Big Bang Theory). They’re snarky without being jerks and funny without being comedians. And they’re definitely smart. The show explores the depths of a whole variety of subjects ranging from ancient history to the human digestive tract to politics and entertainment. If you want a crash course in . . . stuff in a fun way, this is the show for you. You will learn more in 30 minutes than you ever anticipated and have fun doing so.
8) Grantland Podcasts – Lowe Post, The Grantland NFL Podcast, The B.S. Report
I really only listen to the sports podcasts from Grantland (and not even all of those), and they are really good. Grantland has complied a tremendous group of experts on their various sports and pop culture emphases. Sometimes they feature guests. Other times they are the hosts talking in-depth. For fans of fill-in-the-blank these are great, fun podcasts.
I play fantasy baseball, football, and basketball and my favorite way to keep an edge (or try to) is the podcasts from CBS. ESPN has a whole line up of fantasy sports podcasts too, but like everything from ESPN they’re heavy on flash, light on substance, and more than a bit full of themselves. The CBS podcasts feature hosts who know their stuff and have a good rapport with each other making them informative and fun. If you play fantasy sports you should absolutely listen.
Criminal is like a mix of This American Life and Serial. Each week (or so) they share a true crime story, some unsolved and some solved. Unlike Serial they actually end their stories, though, and usually in less than 25 minutes. If you like mysteries, good reporting and story telling, and true crime this podcast is one to check out. It is intriguing and enjoyable and wastes no time telling strong stories.
I love storytelling and good writing. The Moth is a storytelling podcast featuring various writers, journalists, comedians and just plain old normal folks telling short stories. The only reason it didn’t make the top 10 is that it has a bit of the college talent show shortcoming: the best performances are incredible, but the bad ones are cringe-worthy. The great part about a podcast is you can just hit skip on the bad ones and move on.
Season one was a phenomenon. They did something new with the medium and with storytelling that hadn’t been tried (at least not with any success) before. It is absolutely worth listening to and formulating your own theories about the crime committed. The fact that the future is an unknown for Serial keeps it out of my top 10. Season 2 may be awesome or it may be a dud. Let’s hope it’s the former, and if so I’d happily put it right at the top of my list.