As of late, there’s been a lot of “hype” around podcasts, new releases of podcasts, & the like.
As it turns out, podcasts have, in fact, been around a long time. However – they became mainstream (hate that word) when Serial Season 1 “dropped” in 2014. Affiliated with This American Life (a NPR podcast that’s been around for years) & reported by Sarah Koenig, a TAL correspondant, Serial’s first season centered around Season 1 investigated the 1999 murder of Hae-Min Lee, an 18-year-old student at Woodlawn High School in Baltimore, Maryland, & possible suspects. In 2015, it won a Peabody Award for “its innovative telling of a long-form nonfiction story.”
So, yes. Serial is what set podcasts on fire; it’s what caught the world’s attention; it’s what made podcasts “mainstream.” But podcasts have been around forever – & not to brag…but I’ve been an avid listener since age 9, if not younger.
Let’s start off with the question: what is a podcast? According to Wikipedia, it’s “a digital audio file made available on the Internet for downloading to a computer or mobile device, typically available as a series, new installments of which can be received by subscribers automatically.”
Basically – it’s a TV show, fiction or non-fiction, except it’s just for your ears. Another question: what podcasts are out there? The numbers on your podcast section of the iTunes store will prove to you that there are endless search results, subjects, & types of podcasts. You can find podcasts about cooking, crime, daily life, LGBT issues, women’s issues…the list goes on & on, & I don’t need to tell you about all that you can discover on the iTunes podcast section. You can find that out quite easily for yourself. But what podcasts do I listen to, & why?
Let me just say this: I have learned a lot more about politics, science, & the nuances behind criminal justice (& the justice system in general) than I have in my high school classrooms. That’s why I think podcasts are such an important thing to have in one’s life – they will teach you so much, in under an hour…& I can promise you that if you find the right one, you most certainly will not be falling asleep.
You might’ve figured out by now what kinds of podcasts I like best: that would be investigative journalism, crime, interviews, & storytimes. Some of these sound kind of shallow…right?
Wrong! “Storytime” is kind of a shallow word, it’s true. It’s one we’ve come to associate with clickbait-y YouTube videos (with no real content behind them. But podcast storytimes are so, so much more. Let’s take The Moth, one of my favorites, as an example: The Moth is described as “The Art & Craft of Storytelling” & sells itself as “true stories told live.” Basically: The Moth is a bunch of people gathered into an auditorium, a smaller room, or some space in between those two, where people are picked to tell their stories for the audience. The range of topics is huge – which is what makes these so special. Some speak volumes to me – others, I quietly pass on. That’s the beauty of The Moth. Everyone is so different, everyone has a different story to tell, & some of them will mean the world to me, while others I will not or cannot relate to. It’s given me perspective on how everyone has a past, everyone has troubles, everyone has a story to tell…no matter how small or seemingly insignificant.
Onto another favorite: This American Life. This American Life was practically the soundtrack to my childhood. My parents were (& still are) huge fans of NPR – “fake news,” as Donald Trump would call it. I grew up listening to This American Life, Wait Wait Don’t Tell Me, & Fresh Air, to name a few. This American Life, however, has stuck with me as I continue to age.
This American Life is probably described best by the creators of This American Life: “a weekly public radio show broadcast on more than 500 stations to about 2.2 million listeners. It is produced in collaboration with Chicago Public Media, delivered to stations by PRX The Public Radio Exchange, and has won all of the major broadcasting awards. It is also often the most popular podcast in the country, with another 2.5 million people downloading each episode…There’s a theme to each episode of This American Life, and a variety of stories on that theme. Most of the stories are journalism, with an occasional comedy routine or essay. There’s lots more to the show, but it’s sort of hard to describe.”
So. They’re right – it’s kind of hard to describe This American Life, & you’d probably understand it better by giving it a listen. Just know that it’s award-winning for a reason – there is a huge range of topics, people, & emotion on this podcast. It truly does describe the American life…and every American’s life is different. This is why the podcast continues to prosper. Narrated & produced by Ira Glass (cousin of composer Philip Glass – fun fact), his soothing voice will relax you…or even be what puts you to sleep (in the best way possible).
I’ve listened to This American Life in every setting imaginable: downloaded onto my iPhone or even my first little iPod Shuffle on a 6-hour plane ride to Europe, on a tourist train covering Colorado’s mining terrain, on a boat in the Adriatic Sea, on my bed as I recovered from surgery, or in my backyard as I lounged in the sun. TAL travels everywhere with me, & tears come to my eyes if I even consider the option of it ever “shutting down.”
One more long example – then I’ll provide you with a short list of my favorites – things you should give a listen! Ted. Talks.
Ted Talks are also an amazing series of YouTube videos. Like This American Life (& The Moth!) they cover a huge range of topics, feature a wide range of people, & will make you laugh, cry, or both. I have never been let down by a Ted Talk – the hosts, Robert Krulwich & Jad Abumrad have a wonderful camaraderie. One never outshines the other, yet they maintain a balance of banter, humor, & serious debate that’s truly delightful to listen to. At the same time, they present peoples’ stories in the most respectful manner. That’s storytelling – & journalism – at its finest.
Give the Ted podcast a listen, but also check out some of the wonderful TedTalks on YouTube. I especially recommend Rupi Kaur’s talk (author of Milk & Honey), Eleanor Longden’s talk (an emotional & extremely engrossing talk that humanizes those with severe mental illness), & Jennifer Brea’s talk (particularly emotional for me to watch, as it dealt with chronic pain & invisible illnesses – both issues extremely close to my heart). However, these are just a drop in the ocean. Chances are, if you’re struggling with something, & don’t know where to turn: type in ______ ted talk on YouTube. A Ted Talk just might be your temporary therapist. You’ll feel comforted, discover new worlds, & learn empathy, sympathy, & love.
So – those are just a few podcasts that I have a lot of love for. But! For those who’re itching for more, here’s a longer list of podcasts that are either old favorites or new discoveries. Regardless, they’re engrossing, they’re educational, & they’re entertaining.
- Pod Save America/Pod Save the World
- Both cover politics. Pod Save America is my favorite of the two & it’s very funny. Former Obama White House staffers run the podcast, & have very intelligent, funny discussions/banter. Thanks to their notoriety in the political world, they also have a lot of famous guests (Katie Couric is just one example). Pod Save the World is run by the same guys (who own the company “Crooked Media”) & it covers a lot of the same issues – except they’re worldwide issues, not just U.S. issues. Both are very funny, extremely easy to listen to, & you’ll learn a lot. If you feel like world news & politics are difficult to digest/understand – but still want to know things – these two might be your saving grace. I love these guys!
- Casefile True Crime
- Obviously about crimes, like serial killers, kidnappings, etc. I wouldn’t recommend listening if you’re sensitive to topics like murder, rape, kidnapping, etc. Most of these are historical (1800s & onwards) & most occur in Australia & Britain (the host is Australian) though there are a few in America as well. I’ve learned a lot from these, but again – this is a sensitive topic, not to be taken lightly, so tread carefully if you have any issues with topics like those mentioned above.
- Tavi Gevinson, founder of Rookie Magazine, started a podcast along with the with her publication! This is new to the podcast world, but it’s already on some top iTunes charts. So far, Tav’s interviewed Lorde (squeal!!) & a few others.
- Like Rookie Magazine, the podcast deals with womens’ issues, young girls’ issues, & self-acceptance, body-positivity, self-love, & celebrities & artists that are all on board with these messages! It’s a great starter if you’re not much of a reader, but a fan of topics like those mentioned.
- (LISTEN. TO. SEASON. ONE)
- Season 2 is good, but I like Season 1 the best. I’ve already given a pretty detailed description of Serial above, so I don’t think any more explanation is necessary – just go listen to it!!!!!!
- This American Life
- Truly…an iconic part of public radio. This is amazing. I eagerly await Sunday evenings for its weekly release. So many topics, so many amazing characters. Sometimes it’s funny, sometimes it’s sad, sometimes it’s political, etc. Great great great.
- Like Serial, this show is affiliated with This American Life. It’s VERY interesting, deals with mental illness, LGBT folks, suicide, etc. Some topics might be sensitive for some, so beware! I will say I didn’t like the first episode all that much. This podcast takes some time to get into. It’s not my favorite podcast out there, but it’s interesting & worth a listen nonetheless.
- Fresh Air with Terry Gross
- Another NPR classic. There are lots of amazing interviews with a lot of famous people: authors, actors, singers, etc. Topics vary widely depending on who’s being interviewed! It’s kind of like a talk show, but audio only. I’ve learned a lot of interesting trivia on various famous people thanks to this podcast.
- Radio Lab
- Again…NPR! Radio Lab contains a lot of science-y stuff. However, it also covers social justice, discrimination in the police force…things like that, too. Ask yourself what isn’t covered in mainstream media: Radio Lab has probably done an episode (or more than one!) on one of these topics. It’s a great way to learn more about what America has shoved under the bed.
- Stuff You Should Know
- Literally just a podcast about stuff you should know. Again, I really like the vibe between the two guys hosting the podcast. Since there’s a lot of things you should know, the topics are super diverse – love!
- The Moth
- One of my favorites (as mentioned above). This is a podcast for storytellers; it’s a live event where people come forwards & tell stories. Each week has a different theme or topic. The stories are all amazing, & vary so vastly in emotional range! It’s great because no matter what, you’ll find something to relate to. & that’s what makes storytelling so wonderful.
So…there you go! If you didn’t know what a podcast was, now you do! & if you already knew, maybe you have some new things to check out. Either way, I hope I gave you another entertainment outlet; there’s a lot of things out there on the Internet…not all of it is reliable content! It’s fun to mess around, but it’s also great to learn things. I think podcasts are a great combination of fun & education. Remember you can always learn more – even as a young (or old!) adult.
If you’re already a podcast junkie (like me!) what’re your favs? Let me know in the comments below; maybe I’ll find some new favorites, too!