First, some background and context, because I’m a super persnickety podcast listener:
- I think podcasts, like anything else, need to be interesting and timeless. If an episode is useless or pointless to listen to three months after its publication, then its a bad episode; if that describes most episodes, then it’s a bad podcast for me.
- I don’t like most politics or tech news podcasts, mostly because they end up guilty of the above.
- I don’t like comedy podcasts, much to my chagrin.
- In my experience, most interview-style podcasts are more marketing/PR than actual information. Obviously that’s a broad brush (and a couple of the podcasts on this list are interview podcasts!), but in general I feel like the ROI on interviews are low.
- This list is constantly evolving. It was last edited in August of 2017. (And I’m always looking for new things to listen to!)
There are three podcasts that I will recommend to anyone, unprompted, while talking about things completely unrelated. I will pester you to listen to these podcasts until, frustrated, you show me on your phone that you’ve downloaded them. I like them that much.
Love + Radio
Bizarre and fascinating stories of the arcane parts of love and humanity, immaculately produced and unveiled with a tender, temperate eye. You will never be bored listening to Love + Radio.
Weighty and sublime. It’s important to approach Hardcore History more like an audiobook than a conversation: Dan’s work is meticulously researched, packed with references and information, and delivered with a certain passionate eccentricity. It takes some time to become aligned with his narrative tics (amongst which volume is chieftain), but you will be rewarded with ornate and fascinating glimpses into history.
Short, elegantly produced dives into obscure designs and architectures throughout the modern world.
These are more niche podcasts, but they’re still very fun and well-done if you have an innate interest in the subject matter.
You Must Remember This
A pleasant, fascinating look into Hollywood’s past, specifically dealing with the countervailing forces of the silver screen and the political climate.
The West Wing Weekly
I mean, if you like the West Wing you’ll like this — otherwise, it probably won’t be up your alley. The interplay between disaffected insider Malina and passionate fan Hrishikesh is great, and they do a good job of dissecting both the politics and the craftsmanship of the episode in methods that are both critical and considerate.
Good background noise
These aren’t, like, groundbreaking (and some of them break my rules!), but sometimes you just need something to listen to on your commute or while you’re prepping for dinner.
This American Life for Internet addicts: usually bubbly (thanks to the effervescent hosts) and light-hearted looks at technological culture with occasional deep-dives into more heady subjects.
The Lowe Post
It’s a typical basketball interview podcast, which on its own isn’t super exciting, but Zach Lowe is a shrewd analyst and a gifted interviewer. The most interesting parts of the show are less about basketball, and more about the basketball industry: the arcana of being in management or being in sports journalism.
Fast food economics is probably the aptest way to describe Planet Money, as perhaps most symbolized by them dedicating an episode to discussing the new budget in twenty minutes. They deserve a lot of criticism for mostly disengaging with nuance and aiming for a certain type of ‘anecdote + data point’ storytelling that plagues a lot of NPR, but it’s still entertaining and educational.
The only hangout podcast I really listen to. Ryan and Greenwald (specifically Ryan) suffer from some of the hot-take proclivity that The Ringer writ large suffers from, but discuss media with just the right level of intellectualism — not too abstract, not too blockbuster. Greenwald — having previously served as Grantland’s weekly television critic and now graduated to the world of TV writing — has consistently terrific views on the television climate, and I have found recommendations from them to be pretty much impeccable.
And that’s it! I hope you find something worth listening to (and, if you have any suggestions, please let me know!)