While I’ve always loved the idea of being a loyal radio listener, it often turned out to be too hard to fit into my life. All the best stuff seemed to air when I was at work or otherwise indisposed. This was probably why I was such an early adopter of podcasts; here finally was the chance to hear radio shows on demand and the fact that it was over the Internet meant that you didn’t have to be limited to local (or heck, even national) stations.
My first podcast love was NPR’s Most Emailed Stories which was exactly what it sounds like: a compilation of the day’s most popular stories from various shows. Mind you, this was in 2005, back when good podcasts were still few and far between. After listening to this program religiously for the better part of a decade, I recently learned that it was discontinued in an effort to gear listeners towards other programs. While it’s a real shame that it’s no longer (NPR, I’m talking to you!), at least it comes at a time that can legitimately be qualified as the golden age of podcasts – today there’s no dearth of excellent titles to mend my wounds!
After being a relatively niche format for years, podcasts seem to have struck it out to the mainstream and exploded in popularity in just the past year. No show is probably as responsible for this as Serial which became the first blockbuster of the genre. If you’ve been living under a rock and have not heard it yet, you can check it out here and consume it binge-style!
But first things first, what is a podcast?
Technically a podcast is an mp3 file that you can directly download and store on your device (smart phone, tablet or mp3 player) or of course on your computer. Word of caution: don’t forget to delete them when you’re done listening – important for not exploding your memory on a regular basis (speaking from experience, eh?).
And how exactly do you go about listening to them?
I personally prefer the application Downcast on my iPhone which also lets you synch across devices although I have not tried this feature. It is not without its bugs however, namely the fact that it does not always update all recent episodes for a show (rare but it happens). In those cases I go for Stitcher.
While podcasts were just “radio shows on demand” for a long time, kind of like the catch-up TV of radio, nowadays they are a genre on their own with many existing only on the Internet as a native format. Podcasts are blossoming so much at the moment that there are gazillions of them out there. But don’t let that scare you: if you aren’t enjoying them already, this highly subjective list may just give you some ideas to get started. Also they are free for the most part. So what are you waiting for??
This is the long-time podcast classic that has dominated the iTunes charts for ages. You may of course remember some distant past when TAL was only a radio show on NPR but it’s not hard to imagine what the podcast format must’ve done to their audience numbers. In any case it is excellent journalism with many classic episodes under its belt that are at turns informative, emotional and very very human.
The best thing to do is to subscribe to the podcast feed so that episodes are downloaded as soon as the program airs. After one week, you have to pay for them on iTunes.
Spin-off from the This American Life staff, Serial is an extremely gripping real-life whodunnit story where even the producers don’t know the ending. The story of Adnan Syed, a high school student who was convicted for the murder of his ex-girlfriend in Baltimore told in Rashomon-like fashion where the “truth” is frustratingly elusive.
As in real life, in other words.
Remember “Hey faggot”? Those of you who consumed free weeklies like The SF Advocate and New York’s Village Voice in the 90s will know what I’m talking about! Again harkening back to a pre-digital era, Dan Savage was the no 1 sex & relationship advice columnist in the universe who was syndicated in newspapers all across the US.
If you have no idea what I’m talking about, it’s time you discovered him. This guy dishes it out like no other and you are sure to be enlightened (or at the very least, highly entertained) no matter where you are in your life and relationships. Besides who can not love a man who started something like the It Gets Better project?
Raunchy, human and wise.
Longtime TAL producer Alex Blumberg decides to strike it out on his own and leaves behind an illustrious public radio career to launch his own start-up company to do what he knows best… producing top-notch podcasts.
Even if the subject doesn’t sound interesting to you at first, this is a fascinating look into the cutthroat world of Internet start-ups with their relentless pitching, sharky investors and disheartening statistics plus routine business fare like how to choose a partner (turns out almost as emotional as a romantic partner!), how to choose a name for your brand, how to decide if you want to make it into the big league or stay a “lifestyle company”… The first season is all about Gimlet Media, Blumberg’s podcast company, while in season two they follow another start-up that is trying to revolutionize the online dating business.
As is always the case with this team, very well-produced, entertaining and informative.
Mark Maron with his characteristic blend of dark comedy, self-deprecating ways (a typical East Coaster living in LA) and probing interviews. Be sure not to miss this episode with the late Robin Williams; it’s a thing of beauty.
Have I mentioned that this feels like the golden age of podcasts? It seems like not a day goes by when I don’t discover another great title so it takes lots of restraint not to inundate you with an insanely long list. I will resist that urge… but not before giving you a few more anyway. So here are my runners-up!
Invisibilia – a newcomer to the scene from public radio – the episode How to Become Batman about a blind man who can move through the world like a person with sight was an instant classic for me. Storytelling at its best.
The Longest Shortest Time aka parenting! This is another recent addition to my playlist that talks about all kinds subjects related to parenthood from funny to touching to taboo.
Reply All, A Show About the Internet – I guess that tagline means nothing and everything at the same time; there are endless subjects to cover and some very surprising ones. This is another one from aforementioned Gimlet Media. I was particularly touched by this early episode about a brilliant man who overcomes his intense anxiety through technology.
Of course what’s an Omnivorist all-time favorite list of podcasts without talking about food and health? In order not to overwhelm everybody, I will soon publish those as a separate list so stay tuned!