I’m a huge fan of podcasts. I listen to them all the time — in the shower, on the subway, when I’m walking around New York City and, of course, when I’m traveling. But, obviously, traveling isn’t in the cards right now, I’m self-isolating in NYC where great podcasts are a blessing.
If you’re looking for something to keep you entertained when you’re not working. Check these out.
P.S. Don’t forget to save them to your phone in case there’s no wifi where you’re going.
Best Podcasts: News, Culture, and Information
SideDoor (Smithsonian Institution)
Sidedoor is such a great podcast, I’m thrilled I stumbled upon it. Consider the 154 million historical objects the seven Smithsonian Institutions have in their possession and then consider all their backstories how filled with drama, humor, intrigue, gripping details they must be. That’s Sidedoor in a nutshell. The host, Lizzie Peabody, is witty and engaging and a great storyteller. The podcast is also highly produced making it a great listen.
Everything Everywhere Daily Podcast (Gary Arndt) – New
Just as the title suggests, host Gary Arndt tackles topics across genres to give readers short (about 10 minutes) fascinating nuggets of trivia-perfect information, the kind you didn’t know you’d care about until you heard it. Some of my favorite episodes include Cursus Honorum, an explanation of the unusual political hierarchy that could determine the fate (the families) of men of senatorial lineage in ancient Rome. The Man Who Fed the World, why Nobel Peace Prize winner, Norman Borlaug, is said to be “Humanity’s Forgotten Benefactor.” In The Most Famous Song in the World, you’ll learn about the “legend” of Happy Birthday, and in The Real Life Dexter, well, I think you can guess what that’s all about.
The Y Travel Podcast (Caroline and Craig Makepeace)
Friends and fellow professional travelers Caroline (Caz) and Craig Makepeace, left the 9 to 5 22 years ago to explore the world and haven’t stopped since, and have shared their experiences along the way with an avid readership.
The couple has two young daughters who are better traveled than most 40-year-old adults, and until recently (before the Pandemic) were home-schooled on the road. Last year, they documented their year-long RV exploration of the western United States.
What I love about the Y Travel podcast is that Caz and Craig keep it real. Yes, travel is a spectacular way to make a living but it’s far from easy. They don’t white-wash the difficulties and are willing to discuss the issues that affect a family constantly together. They also serve up valuable city guides and travel tips that will satisfy both novice and experienced travelers.
Byers Market (NBC News)
I first became aware of journalist Dylan Byers’ work from his daily newsletter. It’s chockfull of intel about the powerbrokers and c-suite execs and their shenanigans in media, entertainment, and technology. His podcast is no different. As of this writing, there are only three episodes posted for this weekly show. Dylan doesn’t fool around. His first show he’s one-on-one with Facebook’s Sheryl Sandberg, and he pulls no punches. He followed with mega-mogul Barry Diller, and the most recent podcast is with Adam Mosseri, the relatively new head of Instagram. Together they talk about the platform’s influence on our culture.
If you followed the Harvey Weinstein case, than you know the name Ronan Farrow. He was one of the Pulitzer Prize-winning journalists at the center of the story when it broke. In this podcast, named after his best-selling book with the same title, Farrow discusses his two-year struggle to bring the Weinstein story to light. The twists and turns and astounding revelations (like NBC deliberately shut his investigation down, he believes, to appease Weinstein) are beyond explanation. You can’t make this stuff up. Farrow is a great storyteller, and he augments the podcasts with very compelling interviews.
Overheard at National Geographic (National Geographic)
This excellent podcast by National Geographic takes you backstage to meet the explorers, photographers, and researchers who bring us all the extraordinary stories for which the publication is known. From underwater pyramids and an Egyptian murder plots to the Zombie Mice of Marion Island and the truth about women and the early NASA programs, each story is fascinating, look at this crazy world of ours.
The Daily (New York Times)
Hosted by New York Times journalist Michael Barbaro, The Daily is my morning go-to podcast at home and on the road. Topics focus on a single newsmaking story of the day and include one-on-one interviews with Barbaro’s colleagues who byline the coverage. Episodes give listeners with a behind-the-scenes look at the journalistic process, history of the topic, and context of major issues facing the world. Many episodes feature real people affected by the news. Don’t expect an audio version of a nightly newscast,The Daily is far more intimate and heartfelt.
The New Yorker Radio Hour (The New Yorker / WNYC )
For those who love the magazine, the podcast is a wonderful complement to the brilliant writing and journalistic prose. For those who don’t, and perhaps a bit intimidated by the 7,000-word articles, the podcast is a great way to dip your toe in. Editor David Remnick conducts the majority of insightful interviews and covers a broad mix of topics from politics and the #MeToo movement to Hollywood and world news.
Host Guy Raz talks to entrepreneurs who’ve created products or businesses that have become a phenomenon. Think Bobbi Brown, the cosmetics titan, Maureen and Tony Wheeler who started Lonely Planet, Barbara Corcoran the real-estate mogul, Dave Gilboa and Neil Blumenthal from Warby Parker, Kevin Systrom and Mike Krieger from Instagram and many others. The interviews take listeners from the original spark of an idea and moves through the brilliant and dreadful decisions, market challenges, as well as the triumphs and failures that led to eventual mega-success.
Recode Media (Recode)
Journalist Peter Kafka has covered the intersection of Media and technology for years and has a friendly but no-nonsense interview style. He’s not antagonistic but if he wants to know something he’ll keep asking until the person stops side-stepping. His guests range from editors of major news organizations (I loved his interviews with David Remnick, editor of The New Yorker, Radhika Jones of Vanity Fair, Michael Barbaro of The Daily)) and platforms (Spotify CEO Daniel Ek and Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey), to entertainment figures (Billions producer Brian Koppelman, Get Out producer Jason Blum, Godless co-creators Steven Soderbergh and Scott Frank ) to those you might not expect (Pod Save America co-host Dan Pfeiffer, The Martian and Artemis author, Andy Weir, documentarian Ken Burns).
Full disclosure: Peter is a friend of mine from my days in media as a Communications and PR executive at Condé Nast.
Fresh Air (NPR)
Whenever I swap favorite podcasts with friends it’s rare that Fresh Air doesn’t come up.Whenever I swap favorite podcasts with friends, Fresh Air always comes up. Host Terry Gross is a consummate pro and has talked to the biggest names in politics, entertainment, science, society, literature… I could go on and on. Her interviews are always interesting and thoughtful, and while some people she books don’t interest me, that is the exception, not the rule. (A surprising bit of trivia: She conducts most of her interviews remotely. I’m shocked because the conversations feel so intimate I always assumed her guests were sitting next to her.)Whenever I swap favorite podcasts with friends it’s rare that Fresh Air doesn’t come up.
Pop Culture Happy Hour (NPR)
A lighthearted discussion among four devotees of music, movies, T.V., and books is what you’ll find on this Wednesday and Friday podcast. NPR’s Linda Holmes, who edits the website’s pop culture/entertainment blog is the “official” host but is accompanied by three other colleagues. Via a roundtable discussion, they each offer their opinions about the subject in a casual, fun and humorous way. You can tell from their interaction they are all good friends and they often crack each other up which makes me smile. To be honest, I don’t agree with a lot of their likes and dislikes (they hated Three Billboards Outside Ebbings, Missouri. I mean….), but no matter, I enjoy listening to the banter, and their observations are often spot on. Glen Weldon, a regular, is hysterical—I rarely see his take on things coming, which makes his humor even more agreeable.
Recode Decode (Recode)
Host Kara Swisher is probably the country’s top technology business writer/editor /commentator, a co-founder of Recode, a contributing writer to The New York Times, and a ball-buster. She’ll take on CEO’s, politicians, technologists, celebrities. You name it. She speaks her mind, especially if she believes people aren’t taking responsibility for their actions (yeah, you Mark Zuckerberg). Swisher has extensive knowledge of the industry after covering Silicon Valley for years and listeners benefit from her decades-worth of contextual expertise. Highly respected yet feared, Swisher somehow maintains genuine positive relationships with those she’s taken to task. It’s not an easy line to walk. Did I mention she’s funny too?
The Longform Podcast (Longform)
If you’re into great journalism, Longform hosts Aaron Lammer, Max Linsky, and Evan Ratliff interview outstanding non-fiction writers about their lives, how they got their starts, big stories they’ve worked on and how they approach their reporting. Two particularly interesting episodes are with Maggie Haberman and Rukmini Callimachi from the New York Times. Also worth a listen is Tina Brown (Vanity Fair and Talk Magazines), Kara Swisher (Recode), and Hillary Clinton.
Best Storytelling Podcasts
WeCrashed: The Rise and Fall of WeWork (Wondery)
The problem with meteoric success is that there’s a good chance you’ll crash. Just ask Unicorn wunderkind, Adam Neumann, the man who grew WeWork into a company valued at 47 billion dollars, he was lauded and admired and considered one of the most charismatic CEOs of all time. But his stratospheric rise hit a wall as soon as he thought he could “change the world,” and to do that he was ready for an IPO. That was his downfall. No sooner did Wall Street get a look at his numbers, his house of cards came tumbling down. It’s a fascinating story.
Bad Batch (Wondery)
From Wondery and Laura Bell, the creators of Dr. Death comes Bad Batch, another true tale about the medical industry. Patients looking for a cure-all become violently ill after being injected with a new “miracle cure” created from stem cells. Were the vials tainted? Do stem cell treatments even work? Bell investigates the snake-oil promises of a multi-million dollar company selling its cure-all to doctors nationwide. It’s a fascinating yet frightening podcast detailing a scam on the level of Theranos.
The Mysterious Mr. Epstein (Wondery)
A detailed look into the life and crimes of billionaire Jeffrey Epstein from a poor college dropout to private school teacher to Wall Street wiz and billionaire pedophile. The episodes include poignant interviews with some of the women caught in Epstein’s twisted web.
The Shrink Next Door (Wondery)
This story is beyond tragic. It’s the tale of esteemed psychiatrist Isaac Herschkopf, shrink to A-listers and celebrities, who insinuated himself into his patients’ lives then systematically destroyed them. One such patient, Marty Markowitz, lived next-door to veteran journalist Joe Nocera, a columnist for Bloomberg and the host of the podcast. Over time, as Nocera gets to know Markowitz, he unravels a web of deceit, manipulation, and malpractice that kept Markowitz emotionally imprisoned for over 30 years. What’s worse is Herschkopf is still practicing.
The Ballad of Billy Balls (Crime Town)
What do you get when you mix a young woman’s quest for answers, a murder-mystery; 1980s punk culture on the lower east side of new york; child neglect; addiction; soul-searching; the fragility and strength of familial bonds, and personal reflection? The Ballad of Billy Balls. Narrator / creator Io Tillet Wright is uncommonly honest and compelling in this telling of a family history mangled by the loss of a great love, the domino effect of repercussions, and the questions around a murder she’s determined to solve.
Packed with twist and turns and crazy, unexpected surprises, you’ll find it hard to believe this six-episode podcast is true. But it is. I can’t begin to write a summary that will do this podcast justice, but I’ll give it a go.
Half sisters Rasha Pecoraro and Yvette Gentile host a podcast that delves into the mysterious and often bizarre life story of their mother, Fauna Hodel.
To begin with, Fauna’s biological mother, Tamar, gave her up after meeting Jesse Lee, an African American woman in a casino bathroom. She told Jesse Lee Fauna’s father was black, and her family wouldn’t except the baby, but that wasn’t the truth. It took years for Fauna to unravel the real story and, in doing so, discovered secrets about Tamar and the fact her grandfather, a locally renowned surgeon, was a prime suspect in the famous Black Dahlia murder. (Elizabeth Short, nicknamed the Black Dahlia, was tortured, killed, exsanguinated, mutilated, cut in half and left posed in an empty neighborhood vacant lot in 1947.) And if all that wasn’t enough, the Hodel family saga also includes domestic violence, incest, orgies, courtroom drama, addiction, singer/songwriter Michelle Phillips, and Salvadore Dahli. It’s a fascinating listen.
The Dropout (ABC News)
The Dropout proves the smartest people on the planet can be duped. Just ask the professional journalists, entrepreneurs, venture capitalists, tenured professors, a major drugstore chain, and the politicians who fell for what is one of the biggest frauds in history.
At 19, Elizabeth Holmes dropped out of Stanford to launch Theranos, a tech company promising a device that would provide low-cost diagnostics for hundreds of conditions using only a pinprick and a drop of blood. She said she would revolutionize the healthcare industry. Unfortunately for Elizabeth, though she raised well over a billion dollars and promised the moon to her investors and business partners, her technology didn’t work. But heaven forbid she’d tell anyone. ABC News chief business, technology, and economics correspondent Rebecca Jarvis, unpacks this gripping tale from Theranos’ lauded beginnings to its current infamous present.
At 19, Elizabeth Holmes dropped out of Stanford to launch Theranos, a tech company promising a device that would provide low-cost diagnostics for hundreds of conditions using only a pinprick and a drop of blood. She said she would revolutionize the healthcare industry. Unfortunately for Elizabeth, though she raised well over a billion dollars and promised the moon to her investors and business partners, her technology didn’t work. But heaven forbid she’d tell anyone. ABC News chief business, technology and economics correspondent Rebecca Jarvis, unpacks this engrossing tale from Theranos’ lauded beginnings to its current infamous present.
I’m not a sportsperson. That said, stories having to do with sports figures or issues associated with sports I like. In fact, Real Sports with Bryant Gumbel on HBO is one of my favorite shows. It’s all about good storytelling. Gladiator appealed to me for this reason.
This documentary podcast examines the life, incarceration, and death of Aaron Hernandez, a New England Patriots super-bowl star turned murderer. The Boston Globe Spotlight team (made famous by the movie of the same name) is the journalistic engine behind the show, which means the reporting is first-rate. Questions they investigate focus on whether Hernandez’s violent behaviors stemmed from brain injuries he sustained during his career; if he had conflicting sexuality issues causing him turmoil, and if the team’s management looked the other way so he could keep playing.
Interviews, audiotapes of Hernandez, and the shocking results of his brain autopsy supplement this intriguing eight-episode podcast.
Malcolm Gladwell Revisionist History (Panolpy)
Gladwell, best known for his best-selling book The Tipping Point, has created an engrossing 10-episode podcast (now in its third season) that per the show notes “re-examines something from the past—an event, a person, an idea, or even a song—and asks whether we got it right. “
Gladwell is a fantastic storyteller and always weaves a narrative that is surprising, interesting, and well researched. He’ll explain how people came to believe one thing but why that belief is askew or downright false plus the greed, ignorance, societal, or political factors that influenced perceptions. Set time aside for this one, you won’t want to miss anything.
Caliphate (New York Times)
New York Times Terrorism reporter Rukmini Callimachi takes listeners along on her quest to understand ISIS better. They recorded this ten-part series over a year, giving listeners a fly-on-the-wall perspective of her investigation. She records a series of interviews with a former ISIS member about his indoctrination from a Muslim idealist, about his days as a soldier, and his eventual desertion. I was surprised to learn how systematic and strategic ISIS is in its recruitment. I almost understand how the escalating baby steps approach they used to seduce men into doing things they never imagined. When she travels to Mosul to seek tangible evidence of ISIS members and practices, it’s an eye-opener. I also learned a lot about the reporting process, including her concerns about manipulative sources, being lied to, and how she navigated the investigation to confirm the details she uncovered eventually. (FYI–This show not for everyone. There is strong language and descriptions of violence.)
Outside Podcast (Outside Magazine)
As you might expect, there is a variety of exciting stories about adventure on this podcast from Outside Magazine. The “Science of Survival” are my favorite episodes. As the title suggests, these incredible stories discuss how people in harrowing circumstances managed to stay alive. Ice storms, boat wrecks, plane crashes, mountain climbing, hypothermia, pretty much anything you can imagine out in the wild someone has faced it and, surprisingly, lived to tell about it.
S- Town (From the Creators of Serial and This American Life)
When this podcast first came out, it was downloaded 10-million times in four days. I started listening on day three. This is not an easy podcast to describe, it has so many twists and turns. It’s difficult not to give something away, but I will try.
The story begins with Brian Reed, a producer at This American Life, receiving an unsolicited email from John B. Macklemore, a man living in Woodstock, Alabama. Macklemore, the people in his hometown, are ignoring claims a murder. Intrigued but not convinced there’s a story, Reed emails with Macklemore over several months and becomes drawn in by his eccentric personality and wild beliefs. Eventually, Reed accepts Macklemore’s invitation to visit his home and subsequently pulled into an engrossing, unimaginable rabbit hole. I promise, no matter what you imagine will happen along the way, this story will keep you riveted and guessing. (P.S. Once you’ve listened (and not before, there are too many spoilers), check out an interview on Alec Baldwin’s Here’s the Thing podcast where he discusses the making of the S-Town. It reveals a lot of really interesting behind-the-scenes tidbits.)
Best True Crime Podcasts
Hunting Warhead (CBC Production) – New
An investigative series about the take down and eventual incarceration of the leader of the world’s largest online child exploitation website. It’s a shocking story that’ll have you cheering for the police and journalists from Norway, Australia, United States, and Canada on a mission to bringing the Dark Web network to justice. You’ll be surprised and horrified by who is responsible.
Dateline NBC ( NBC News )
It’s funny, I haven’t watched Dateline in years, but as a podcast, I really dig it. Great storytelling and high production value. You’ll find current and classic episodes of the show’s compelling true-crime mysteries, documentaries, and in-depth investigations.
Gangster Capitalism (C13Originals)
If you were intrigued by this year’s infamous college admissions scandals, you’ll want to listen to this podcast. Andrew Jenks, an award-winning documentarian, goes deep into the case with exclusive interviews, telephone recordings of the parents, and a breakdown of all the players from the celebs to the c-suite executives who perpetrated the scams.
The Murder Squad (Exactly Right)
Each week retired cold case investigator Paul Holes and investigative journalist Billy Jensen, examine an unsolved murder, kidnapping, or missing person. In discussing the details, they hope listeners, and the amplification powers of podcasts and associated social media will be able to help them track down the criminals responsible. It’s an interesting and entertaining premise. I especially enjoy it when Holes details the behind the scenes efforts that go into solving capital crimes.
The Man in the Window (LA Times)
This is the story of home invasions, rapes, and murders committed in several multiple neighborhoods in different regions of California in the 70s and 80s. The press dubbed the “criminals” by different monikers: The Cordova Cat, the Visalia Ransacker, the East Area Rapist, the Creek Killer, the Diamond Knot Killer, the Original Night Stalker and most famously, the Golden State Killer. It took 40 years for the police to realize it was one man: Joseph James DeAngelo.
This six-episode, tightly-crafted podcast includes conversations with victims, police, and investigators. It examines DeAngelo’s past, and the hysteria he caused while he waged war against the world. A recording of DeAngelo harassing one of his victims made the hair stand up on the back of my neck.
To Live and Die in LA (Tenderfoot TV & Cadence 13)
New York Times best-selling author and contributing editor, Neil Strauss, takes the listener along on a real-time investigation into the disappearance of model/actress Adea Shabani. Strauss along with a private investigator hired by Shabani’s family, sift through suspects, conduct interviews, and zero in on aspects of the case the police missed. It’s interesting to hear how they breakdown a lot of the clues and pull together a theory based on incomplete information. I can’t say too much without including spoilers, but I enjoyed it.
Dr. Death (Wondery)
First, I have to say the following. If you have a hospital stay on the horizon don’t listen because it will freak you out.
Laura Beil, an award-winning health and science writer, tells a horrifying story about Dr. Christopher Dunsch, a Texas neurosurgeon. Throughout his career, Dunsch botched surgery after surgery, leaving patients who trusted him paralyzed, in excruciating pain or worse. Beil includes commentary from doctors, patients, and friends of Dunsch. If you’re like me, you’ll be shocked and appalled to learn why he was able to get away with destroying so many lives before being brought to justice.
Sword & Scale (Wondery)
I am morbidly fascinated by true crime stories, murder, and serial killers, and Sword & Scale is my crack. Host Mike Boudet brings his bi-weekly, hour-long episodes to life with interviews, 911 recordings, court testimony, police interrogations, and other media to give listeners a full accounting of a crime and the justice system’s response. Some of these stories are mind-boggling and gruesome. People are crazy! As an example, what I am talking about, the podcast’s companion website categorizes episodes by the following headings: Single Murder, Mass Murder, Torture, Manslaughter, Sexual assaults, Mobsters, Court Cases, Heists and Bizarre. Sword & Scale is the audio equivalent of a car crash, and I can’t stop listening. WARNING: This podcast is not for the faint of heart. (I know, I know. I must be pretty twisted to love this but I own it.)
Hell and Gone (How Stuff Works)
This is a podcast by a friend of mine Catherine Townsend. When she lived in New York and I knew her she was a journalist. Today, she’s also a private investigator and kicks ass. Catherine’s story focuses on a murder she obsessed over for years. A young woman named Rebekah Gould, and a close friend of Catherine’s sister, was brutally murdered 14-years ago and left by the side of the road. The crime took place in the Arkansas Ozarks where Catherine grew up, and the mystery still occupies locals to this day. Catherine, determined to solve the murders, moves back to her hometown and takes listeners with her. Follow along as she goes over the facts, fables, half-truths, and rumors and interviews with friends and family.
What podcasts are you listening to?
I’d love to hear what podcast(s), you recommend and why. Please let me know in the comments below.
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