For radio’s entire existence, it has been linear. The show you want to listen to is on at a certain time, and if you miss it you likely won’t hear it again. Likewise for television.
In recent years, however, television has gone through a sort of revolution. On-demand services such as Netflix or Hulu have upended the traditional regularly scheduled programming by offering content on your schedule instead of one set by a network executive. As podcasts grow in popularity, they are now doing the same thing to linear radio.
The humble podcast has existed for over a decade, but is just now finally starting to gain popularity, thanks in no small part to one of the most popular podcasts ever, Serial. If you’ve ever heard of any podcasts at all, that’s the one. There are a plethora of options out there, on any topic you could possibly conceive. Some are terrible, and some rank easily among the best radio ever produced.
If you haven’t listened to a podcast before, it’s really quite easy. If you’ve got a computer, a smart phone, or a tablet, you’ve got everything you need to unlock more free content for your listening pleasure than you could possibly consume. If you’re on a smart phone or tablet, open up your app store and just do a search for “podcasts”. You’ll find a not-so-short list of applications that will allow you to search for, subscribe, and listen to any podcast out there. Likewise on your computer, there are applications that allow you to listen, or you can often listen directly from the web page of the individual podcast.
Podcasts range in quality from some guy in his parent’s basement who knows a lot about a video game, to professionally produced pieces by the likes of NPR, APM, and many other major news and entertainment agencies. There have even been companies sprouting up whose sole focus is the production of podcasts, such as Gimlet Media.
Regardless of your passions, interests, and hobbies, there is a podcast for you. To get your started, however, here’s a short list of podcasts that you should absolutely listen to. You can start from the beginning, or jump on board with the newest episode. Quick warning, they’ve all set the bar of excellence very high.
- Reply All
A show about the Internet.
This one comes out of the aforementioned Gimlet Media. It bills itself as “a show about the Internet”, but it’s really much, much more. Episodes range from funny and goofy to serious, fascinating, and even heart-wrenching. I’m not ashamed to admit that is the only podcast to ever make me cry while listening to it.
- Hidden Brain
A conversation about life’s unseen patterns.
NPR has a small army of absolutely fantastic podcasts. This is one of their newest, but also one of my favorites. Social sciences correspondent Shankar Vedantam explores how unconscious bias affects human behavior. It may sound boring, but he’s able to make it understandable, relatable, and truly enthralling.
Sometimes the truth is more frightening than fiction.
Lore has, by far, the least amount of production of any of the podcasts on this list. That doesn’t matter, though, because Aaron Mahnke has quite a way with words. Eerie, haunting, and at times even terrifying, Aaron explores the truths behind the ghost stories, monsters, and evils of the past. Some you’ve heard of and some you’ll wish you hadn’t.
- Decode DC
A reliable, honest, and entertaining podcast about Washington DC’s people, culture, and politics.
There are no shortage of political podcasts out there to bring you the latest news, opinion, and polling. There are far too few, however, that seek to educate. Decode DC tackles a different issue each week and attempts to make bring the tradition, customs, and politics of DC out of the shadows.