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. I do most of my listening during trips in transit: long-haul flights, lengthy drives. On a recent trip through Québec, listening to podcasts kept me entertained while driving from one adorable small town to another on long mind-numbing stretches of highway.
It goes without saying that whether or not you’ll like a podcast is highly subjective, but I wanted to share some of my favorites with you and perhaps you’ll find something here you’ll enjoy on your next trip.
NEWS AND INFORMATION PODCASTS
THE DAILY (NEW YORK TIMES)
Hosted by New York Times journalist Michael Barbaro, The Daily is my every morning go-to podcast at home and on the road. Topics focus on a single important 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. In many cases, in-depth interviews with people across the country directly affected by the news are given a voice. 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 pros for which the publication is known. 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 wide 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.
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 has on don’t interest me, that is the exception, not the rule. (A surprising bit of trivia. I just learned that most of her interviews are conducted remotely. I’m shocked because the conversations feel so intimate I always assumed her guests were sitting next to her.)
POP CULTURE HAPPY HOUR (NPR)
A lighthearted conversation among four devotees of music, film, TV, 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 always 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. On Fridays, they have a great segment that ends the show called “What’s Making Us Happy This Week”where the hosts tell listeners, well, I think you can guess.
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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’s isn’t interested in being salacious, she just not afraid to speak 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 though equally feared, she somehow manages to maintain her relationships with those she’s taken to task—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 from publications such as The New Yorker and the New York Times 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.
GREAT STORYTELLING PODCASTS
MALCOLM GLADWELL, REVISIONIST HISTORY (PANOPLY)
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 an amazing story-teller 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. While many podcasts are great for background noise, set some 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 better understand ISIS. The ten-part series was recorded over a year and gives you 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 methodical and strategic ISIS is in its recruitment. I almost understand how the escalating baby steps approach they use could 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. Her concerns about manipulative sources, being lied to, and other factors she had to navigate to confirm the details she uncovered. (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 interesting stories about adventure on this podcast from Outside Magazine. My favorites are episodes that fall under the heading of “Science of Survival.” As the title suggests, these are unbelievable accounts of people in harrowing circumstances and how they managed to endure. 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 broke records for being downloaded 10-million times in four days—I think 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 claims a murder has been committed in his town and everyone knows but has chosen to ignore. Intrigued but not convinced there’s a story, Reed begins an email dialogue with Macklemore and over several months is drawn in by his eccentric personality and wild beliefs. Eventually, Reed accepts an invitation to visit Macklemore at his home and from there he’s pulled into an engrossing, unbelievable rabbit hole. I promise that no matter what you imagine will happen along the way, this story will keep you engrossed 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.)
TRAVEL / PHOTOGRAPHY PODCASTS
AMATEUR TRAVELER PODCAST (CHRIS CHRISTENSEN)
Chris Chistensen has been recording his popular podcast since the days when podcasts were initially in fashion and then quickly went out again. But thankfully for us, we’ve come to our senses and podcasts rule. Chris has over 600 episodes in his archives. Some focus on the highlights of a city while others may discuss an entire country. Chris speaks to fellow travelers who have a local understanding of a destination or has returned from a recent trip. While there is plenty of inspiration, there’s also a great deal of practical information about where to go, what to see and do.
TRAVELING IMAGE MAKERS (UGO CEI AND RALPH VELASCO)
Producers, hosts, and photographers Ugo Cei and Ralph Velasco, interview photographers about their visual style, challenges, and adventures, along with roundtable discussions that include planning and scouting locations, favorite gear, and other topics at the intersection of photography and travel. Check out episodes with Sherry Ott from Ottsworld and Juliana Dever of Clever Dever Wherever, and Dave Bouskill of The Planet D, three of my friends and fellow travelers who have great stories to tell. Yours truly did an interview about my amazing trip to the Altai Mountains in western Mongolia.
TRUE CRIME PODCASTS
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.
The six-episode podcast is narrated by Laura Beil, an award-winning health and science writer who 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 AND 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 criminal justice system’s response. Some of these stories are absolutely mind-boggling and gruesome. People are crazy! To give you a sense of what I am talking about, the podcast’s companion website categorizes episodes by the following headings: Single Murder, Mass Murder, Torture, Manslaughter, Sex Crimes, 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)
A new podcast by a friend of mine Catherine Townsend. We haven’t seen each other in a while but when she lived in New York she was a journalist. Today, she’s added private investigator to her CV and she kicks ass. Catherine’s story is about a murder that she’s 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 unsolved crime still occupies locals to this day. Catherine, determined to solve the crime, moves back to her hometown and takes listeners with her. Follow along as she pours over the facts, fables, half-truths and rumors and interviews with friends and family. I’ve only been able to listen to one episode so far, and I am hooked.
WHAT PODCASTS DO YOU LOVE?
I’d love to hear what podcast(s), you recommend and why. Please let me know in the comments below.
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