Podcasts are on the up and up, with more than 67 million Americans tuning in monthly and an astounding 42 million weekly. And, as you’ll hear time and time again throughout this series, if you’re not one of them…you’re missing out.
But with so many options out there, it can be overwhelming for a novice podcaster. So, we decided to poll our most veteran, passionate, and (at times) obsessed podcast-lovers over a series of blogposts to create a master list of the absolute must-listen shows. After all, we’re all about professional and personal growth here at ADG – not to mention anything as quirky, fun, and over-the-top awesome as some of the podcasts you’ll hear about in this series.
To kick things off, let’s hear from resident Project Manager slash podcast aficionado, Sam Branchaw:
So, how did you first get into podcasts?
I was intimidated by the vast number of podcasts, so I avoided them until my wife convinced me to try this new podcast that everyone was talking about called Serial. I loved it, but even after that I didn’t know how to continue until she pushed me to my second podcast, Startup (keep reading to hear more about it). The funny thing is, once you get into podcasts, you start finding other people who are into podcasts too, and then you all share recommendations and your list continues to grow.
What are some of your favorite podcasts?
It’s hard to make just one list. I think podcasts are really broken up into three very different categories, so here are a few of my favorites from each:
Ongoing storytelling shows typically feature well-produced reporting of interesting stories around a common theme. From this category, I would recommend:
This podcast is “a show about the internet” and all of the craziness that happens there. Some pieces are serious journalism, while others delve into the ephemera of “weird Twitter” and memes in an attempt to understand how and why the internet is the way that it is. Every episode is different, and every episode is pretty fantastic.
Recommended episode: #91 “The Russian Passenger” (and the follow-ups “Beware All” and “What Kind of Idiot Gets Phished?”), about how easy it is to get hacked.
Average length: 35 minutes
As a show about “the decisions that shape the design of our world,” host Roman Mars focuses on all of the things that we don’t notice in the world and how they dramatically shape our experience of life. Sometimes it’s about the process of getting an emoji added to Unicode, sometimes about how Camden Yards changed the way people think about and experience baseball, and sometimes about why Frank Lloyd Wright decided to completely change the way middle-class houses were built – but no matter what the subject, every episode will change the way you look at part of the world.
Recommended episode: #199 “The Yin and Yang of Basketball,” about how small rule changes completely changed the way basketball is played.
Average length: 20 minutes
In Season 1, Alex Blumberg decides to start a podcasting company and record every conversation he has, from interviews with investors to negotiating with his cofounder. After the first season, the show begins focusing on the challenges of starting, growing, and sometimes shutting down startups. No matter where it focuses, it brings the listener into the joys and heartaches of the startup culture that shapes our world today.
Recommended episode: Just listen to Season 1, which is amazing. Also, S03 E04, “Dear Music Fans…,” which is about the rise and fall of Grooveshark.
Average length: 35 minutes
Phoebe Judge hosts a show about all sides of true crime and law enforcement. She interviews a real bank robber, she looks at a cop who has to recover evidence from the bottom of the La Brea Tar Pits, and she goes back to examine the sale of corpses from nineteenth century prisons.
Recommended episode: #51 “Money Tree” (and the follow-up “The Checklist”), about the craziest case of identity theft you will ever encounter.
Average length: 20 minutes
Interview/discussion shows typically feature a relatively unproduced conversation between 2-3 people (or sometimes just one person talking). Some examples include Stuff You Should Know, The BS Report, and How I Built This. Personally, this isn’t my favorite style unless it’s about one of my sports teams.
Serialized storytelling shows are usually limited-length series, either in mini-documentary format or a fictional audio drama. I’m going to go ahead and say that if you haven’t listened to Serial already, you need to. Also, you’ll notice that I don’t mention specific episodes for these – that’s because you really do need to listen to the entire series from start to finish. Here are my recommendations for serialized shows:
A man from self-described S***town, Alabama calls a reporter to ask him to investigate a murder. When the reporter shows up, another death occurs, and suddenly the reporter is taken in an entirely new direction. While this sounds like an amazing novel, it’s all true, and it’s one of the best productions I have ever heard.
Average length: 50 minutes (7 total episodes)
In an audio drama starring Catherine Keener, Oscar Isaac, and David Schwimmer, questions swirl around the mysterious government program called the Homecoming Initiative. It’s tense, exciting, and super fun.
Average length: 20 minutes. So far, there have been 12 episodes over 2 seasons.
So, there you have it – straight from a podcast newbie-turned-expert’s mouth. Stay tuned for recommendations from some of our other podcast-crazed Creatives over the next couple of weeks. And if you have a recommendation of your own, comment below – we’d love to hear your input!