In an age when technology has advanced far beyond families listening in on Roosevelt’s fireside chats, radio programming still exists – only in a much more portable form. Over 100 million people listened to a podcast per week in 2019. Podcasts are free and can be listened to while doing practically anything, from commuting, to working out, to tuning out your professor.
YouTubers, Bachelor alumni and journalists alike have taken to producing this ridiculously accessible form of media, making the number of podcasts balloon up to 850,000 – and that’s just on iTunes. However, with this mass availability, it can be difficult to know what podcast to play. Unlike the next big blockbuster or Netflix series, podcasts aren’t frequently advertised or seen trending on social media. All the podcasts I love I’ve heard about via word-of-mouth. Luckily for you, you don’t need to know an avid podcast fan to become one. I’ve compiled my top podcasts sure to spice up the walk to class, long drive home or an afternoon of folding laundry – all available free of charge on Apple podcasts and various other streaming services.
This podcast, hosted by actor Dax Shepherd and Monica Padman, is my go-to for a long drive. Each episode is 120 minutes, making it the longest of my favorite podcasts. Celebrity guests such as Elizabeth Banks, Bill Hader and many others open up to Shepherd about their childhoods, relationships and careers. At the end of every episode Padman “fact checks” the conversation, providing researched information on statistics Shepherd mentioned.
In “Armchair Expert: Experts on Expert,” Shepherd talks to guests with less recognizable names who are experts in their fields, such as scientists, professors or authors. The thing that makes “Armchair Expert” such a noteworthy podcast is Shepherd’s vulnerability. His willingness to openly discuss addiction, atheism, fatherhood and finances – along with his willingness to listen to differing opinions without hate – prompts his guests to speak openly. These interviews are far from the surface level stuff typically broadcast by celebrity gossip magazines. Whether it’s Bill Nye talking about climate change or Chelsea Handler discussing how her brother’s tragic teenage death rerouted her life, “Armchair Expert” has genuinely changed the way I view the world.
My personal favorite episodes are those featuring Monica Lewinsky, Adam Devine and Tony Hale.
“Heavyweight,” hosted by Jonathan Goldstein and produced by Gimlet media, dives into questions of peoples’ pasts in an attempt to gain answers. Always wondered why your best friend in sixth grade quit talking to you? Wanting to find your birth mom? Wishing you knew why you got cut from the basketball team? Goldstein is ready to make every phone call and deep-dive necessary to find an answer.
Goldstein’s balance of witty commentary and heartfelt storytelling make this podcast something special. This quirky host is always down for a quirky plotline. My favorite episode is “Rob,” in which a man named Rob tells Goldstein that he broke his arm as a kid. Rob’s entire family, however, doesn’t remember him breaking his arm, claiming that it never happened. Goldstein talks to childhood friends, finds old photographs and even seeks out medical records on his quest to find the truth.
Often times, the “answers” are less black-and-white conclusions and more personal closure. “Heavyweight” reminds listeners that the messiness of their past doesn’t mean a chaotic future. My other favorite episodes include “Jesse,” a man who finds the driver who hit him in a devastating accident, and “Rose,” a girl who has always wondered why she was kicked out of her college sorority without warning.
I listen to “Up First” every morning as I walk to class. The National Public Radio (NPR)-produced news podcast gives a 10-15 minute rundown on the three top stories for the day. Uploaded every morning at 5 a.m., this podcast is reliable in both content and access.
While it is definitely a left-leaning podcast and can get a bit monotonous with its selection of President Trump as the primary story most mornings, NPR is a reputable and trusted news source. “Up First” is great for anyone who doesn’t have much time in the mornings but still wants to stay up-to-date with the major happenings in Washington.
Another NPR podcast I love to listen to is “How I Built This,” in which Guy Raz interviews individuals who started big-name businesses. The founders of Starbucks, Southwest Airlines, Kendra Scott, Bumble and many others have all sat down to talk about what inspired them to start their business, all the bumps in the road and how they managed massive growth.
This podcast is always inspirational. Listening to the daunting challenges some of the biggest businesses in the world overcame makes their success stories all the more motivating. Many guests give practical advice for anybody looking to start their own business. Additionally, the podcast always features an up-and-coming entrepreneur to help them gain exposure.
My favorite episodes include “Spanx: Sara Blakely” and “Patagonia: Yvon Chouinard.”
These last podcasts are more niche, but still noteworthy. Television recap podcasts are some of my favorite podcasts, but these recommendations are only applicable to those who watch the corresponding television show.
“Here to Make Friends” is a Bachelor recap podcast hosted by HuffPost writers Emma Gray and Claire Fallon. There’s nothing like listening to two well-educated feminists dissect a show focused on rushed heterosexual romance. Each episode summarizes and critiques an episode of “The Bachelor,” “The Bachelorette,” or “Bachelor in Paradise” – complete with special guests and all egregious actions ranked on the “Feminism Fail Scale.”
It’s the perfect combination of snark and fangirling, ready to make listeners laugh out loud and to help regenerate a few of the brain cells killed off while watching America’s favorite guilty pleasure.
Maybe The Bachelor isn’t your thing and you prefer mockumentary, paper-centered comedies. Yes, I’m referring to “The Office.” “Office Ladies” is a podcast hosted by Jenna Fisher and Angela Kinsley, who played Pam and Angela on “The Office.”
Fisher and Kinsley recap each episode of the hit comedy in chronological order, providing funny insights into both the production of the show and their personal lives. They discuss scenes that never made it to air, the provenance of certain props, and behind-the-camera details. They also answer fan questions about the show. Notice a bit of discontinuity? Ever wondered why Kelly sits in the back of the office when everyone else in her department sits up front? This podcast is a must-listen for any avid “The Office” fan wishing they could go back and watch the show for the first time again.
Don’t let the multitude of free podcasts at your fingertips become overwhelming. These six different podcasts are all great starting points to help you turn any moment into a moment of discovery.