The fact that I’m writing this while listening to Radiolab’s “Blood” is more or less indicative of how dedicated I am to the art of listening to podcasts. I’ve honed it down to a skill at this point, and because of that, I wanted to share some of the most noteworthy podcasts that I’ve come across. In no particular order, these are my top seven suggestions.
Alright, I know I said that these were in no particular order, but Radiolab holds a special place in my heart. This podcast is what got me hooked on podcasts in the first place. Radiolab describes itself as a show about curiosity, and that’s easily the best characterization I can think of. Melding science, beauty, and just a dash of intrigue, Radiolab spins stories you’ve never heard of or thought about into a tapestry that combines everything from serious discussions about cancer to more frivolous talks on K-pop.
Notable Episode:“Space,” which delves deep into the Voyager Golden Record and its revolutionary effect on science and space travel.
2) Love + Radio
Love + Radio is a podcast about the minutiae of life. Its episodes are all drastically different from each other, and many of them tackle what it means to be human—ranging anywhere from interviews with a friend by a urinal to discussions about the darkest human characteristics.
Notable Episode:“A Red Dot”– I won’t lie to you, this episode made me feel unsure about who I was and what I stood for. It’s a dark piece that deals with sex offenders. It focuses specifically on a man named Frank, who’s also the primary narrator throughout the story. The meat of the episode comes from listening to Frank’s tale and what it means to have a mark against you for a lifetime.
3) The Black List Table Reads
If you like movies, The Black List Table Reads is the podcast for you. The Black List is a not-so-secret catalogue of scripts that have only a screenwriter to their name. Some notable films that have been picked up after getting listed are The F-Word and Carol, which gives you an idea of how excellent these really are. The Black List Table Reads gives life to these scripts by bringing actors to read one every month, which are played in full on the podcast as “ear movies”.
Notable Episode:“Terrible Parents”– Everything about this episode is hilarious. The concept is familiar enough that you can predict its path, but the way that the writer (Kevin Oeser) depicts the story is so good that you’ll want to re-listen immediately after it ends.
If you haven’t heard of Serial, it’s probably because of your terrible internet connection due to living under a rock. Serial deals with season-long mysteries, breaking down every aspect of the case and explaining it to listeners. The creators delve into their topics with gusto, unafraid to overturn every leaf in order to find out–if not the truth–then as many truths as possible.
Notable Episode:“The Opposite of the Prosecution”– Personally, I believe that this episode was a turning point in the story of Adnan with the Innocence Project being brought in. To me, this episode marked the moment that Serial went from telling the story to actively participating in it, and that changed everything.
5) Welcome to Night Vale
This is one of the spookiest yet most beautiful podcasts that I’ve ever heard. Framed as a radio show set in the small, desert town of Night Vale, you’re led through the peculiarities of the town through the eyes (and voice) of the narrator, Cecil. Don’t be put off by the haunting music and eerie characters though—Night Vale is not so different from any other town.
Notable Episode: “Old Oak Doors Part A & B”– Over the course of 84 episodes, WTNV has grown from a small, independent podcast to a world-touring phenomenon, a growth that’s likely owed to its story arcs. “Old Oak Doors” is the conclusion to the podcast’s first real arc, and it’s an hour-long epic full of action and romance. Listening to it, you can’t help but think back to where the characters were in the beginning and reminisce about how far they’ve come.
Divvied up into short bursts of gruesomely fascinating vignettes, Criminal is a podcast that delves into all the different aspects of the criminal world, from the courts to the crimes themselves.
Notable Episode:“Hastings”– With a particular relevance to today’s world of gun violence, this episode depicts the after effects of a school shooting—or rather, the lack of a school shooting. In a school that came under threat, yet survived without any casualties, “Hastings” begs the question of when we deserve to call ourselves victims.