The percentage of Americans who say they’ve never listened to a podcast is steadily shrinking, but it’s still pretty large — 67 percent, according to a 2015 survey by Edison Research and Triton Digital. I’m going to assume for a minute that you’re in this uninitiated group. You know what podcasts are, and you’re vaguely aware that everyone’s been talking about a show called Serial. But you’ve never had time to figure out how to listen to podcasts, and you don’t know what’s out there to listen to.
This article is for you.
First off: if you don’t know how to download and listen to a podcast, just watch this amusing video from Ira Glass and his neighbor Mary. It’s only three minutes long.
Okay, now you’re ready to go. But finding good stuff to listen to is a little harder. That’s mainly because the world of audio programming is still being roiled by technological change and a burst of new talent and formats. There’s been little or no decline in the audience for terrestrial radio (that’s just a retronym for standard AM or FM broadcasts). But since 2005, when Apple added podcasts to iTunes and the New Oxford American Dictionary named “podcasting” as the word of the year, audio creators have been launching hundreds of new podcast-only shows each year, in genres ranging from talk to longform narrative storytelling to comedy. That means there’s a show for every niche and interest.
I’ve been expanding my own podcast listening diet lately, so I thought it might be fun and useful to share my current list with Xconomy readers. If there’s time in your day that you usually fill with music or terrestrial radio—say, when you’re commuting, exercising, cooking, or doing housework—then consider trying one of these shows instead.
I made one of these lists once before, back in 2014. Some of the shows I listed then are still among my favorites. But there are also a bunch of new additions, mainly because of what one analyst has called the Serial Effect. The blockbuster success of the This American Life spinoff has cleared the way for the emergence of commercial and non-profit podcasting networks like Radiotopia, Gimlet Media, Panoply, and Earwolf. We’re truly in the midst of a golden age for audio creators and listeners.
The list below includes every podcast to which I’m currently subscribed. I mainly listen using the Podcasts app baked into Apple’s iOS. There are plenty of other good ways to get podcasts on your iOS or Android device, including Stitcher, Overcast, and soon, Google Play Music.
99% Invisible — Roman Mars’ awesome show about architecture and design. My favorite podcast of all time.
Benjamen Walker’s Theory of Everything — Reliably quirky and provocative.
Criminal — Phoebe Judge’s extremely artful show about real-life crime stories and the imprint crime leaves on victims and perpetrators.
Ctrl-Walt-Delete — Banter on the latest computers and media gadgets from Walt Mossberg and Nilay Patel at The Verge.
Dan Carlin’s Hardcore History — Super-long and rambling but fascinating lecture/essays about history.
DecodeDC — Everything you always wanted to know about our dysfunctional Congress, from former NPR Capitol Hill reporter Andrea Seabrook.