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 traveling. What’s great is there are so many great podcasts to listen to across multiple genres nowadays. I’ve compiled my favorites, and I will keep adding them to my list as time goes on.
P.S. Don’t forget to download them to your phone if there’s no wifi where you’re going.
Best Podcasts to Listen To In: News, Culture, and Information
Jump with Traveling Jackie (Traveling Jackie)
Adventure travel pro Jackie Nourse started her podcast “Jump with Traveling Jackie” in 2014, long before it was cool (she also founded the blog Traveling Jackie). While many travel podcasts feel a tad stuffy (I think), Jackie converses with her guests as if over cocktails and you’re at the table. Humorous asides, genuine sentiment, and first-person knowledge, each episode is packed with useful and candid information you only get when hanging out with friends.
Her episodes range from solo commentary, interviews, and “raw personal accounts” of travel worldwide. Her vibrant personality is infectious and will inspire you to hit the road, which, if you want, you can do with Jackie since she also leads adventure trips to destinations like Patagonia and Croatia. Her tag line is, “Let this show be a source of travel advice and inspiration, and remember that in the end, it’s YOU who takes the leap.” With over 1.8 million downloads and counting, it’s clear many of her listeners are inclined to jump.
You’re Wrong About (Michael Hobbes and Sarah Marshall)
Tonya Harding, Lady Diana, Killer Clowns, the Tuskeegee Syphilis Study, Koko the Gorilla, and Nancy Grace are just a few of the topics journalists/hosts Michael Hobbes & Sarah Marshall tackle in episodes of You’re Wrong About but with a unique twist. The two use books, newspaper articles and conduct expert interviews in their research to engage in some pretty fascinating and thoughtful discussions. The basic premise is simple (quoting Sarah Marshall from a 2020 Livestream).
“To look at stories from our media history that we broadly misconstrued at the time or we were paying attention to the wrong thing or potentially there was information that was not available to the public but came out later that allows us to see the things that happen in a different light.”
The two engage in smart and snappy banter with the perfect dose of sarcastic humor, making each episode the ideal blend of real food for thought and genuinely entertaining.
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)
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 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 R.V. 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 issues that affect a family that’s always 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. In 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 then 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 Egyptian murder plots to the Zombie Mice of Marion Island and the truth about women and the early NASA programs, each story is a 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 go-to morning 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 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 complements its brilliant writing and journalistic prose. Editor David Remnick conducts most 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 the 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 he’ll keep asking if he wants to know something 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). Industry types like Spotify CEO Daniel Ek and Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey), and entertainment figures (Billions producer Brian Koppelman, Get Out producer Jason Blum, Godless co-creators Steven Soderbergh, and Scott Frank. Including some 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 P.R. executive at Condé Nast.
Fresh Air (NPR)
Whenever I swap favorite podcasts with friends, rarely, 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 figures in politics, entertainment, science, society, literature. I could go on and on. Her interviews are always interesting and thoughtful, and while some 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.)
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 manner. You can tell from their interaction they are all good friends, and they often crack each other up, which makes me smile. 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 leading 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 CEOs, 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). After covering Silicon Valley for years, Swisher has extensive knowledge of the industry, 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 your time are interviews with Tina Brown (Vanity Fair and Talk Magazines), Kara Swisher (Recode), and Hillary Clinton.
Best Podcasts to Listen To: Storytelling
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.” His downfall was his quest for an IPO. 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)
This podcast is a detailed examination of 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 podcast host. 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 trans man’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 he’s determined to solve.
Packed with twists and turns and crazy, 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 their mother, Fauna Hodell’s mysterious and often bizarre life story.
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 that her family wouldn’t accept the baby, but that wasn’t the truth. It took years for Fauna to unravel the real story. She discovered that 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.)
As 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 Dali. It’s a fascinating listen.
The Dropout (ABC News)
The Dropout proves the smartest people on the planet can be suckers. Just ask the professional journalists, entrepreneurs, venture capitalists, tenured professors, a major drugstore chain, and the politicians who fell for 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 promised she would revolutionize the healthcare industry. Unfortunately for her, the technology didn’t work after raising over a billion dollars by promising the moon to her investors and business partners. ABC News chief business, technology, and economics correspondent Rebecca Jarvis unpack this gripping 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. 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 investigated focus on whether Hernandez’s violent behaviors stemmed from brain injuries he sustained during his career, whether he had conflicting sexuality issues, 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 are part of this intriguing eight-episode podcast.
Malcolm Gladwell Revisionist History (Panolpy)
Gladwell, best known for his best-selling book The Tipping Point, has created a fascinating 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 surprising, interesting, and well-researched narrative. 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 seduce men into doing things they never imagined. It’s an eye-opener when she travels to Mosul to seek tangible evidence of ISIS members and practices. 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 is not for everyone. There is strong language and descriptions of violence.)
Outside Podcast (Outside Magazine)
As you might expect, there are numerous 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, there were 10 million downloads 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 of murder. Intrigued but not convinced there’s a story, Reed emails 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 is subsequently pulled into a fascinating, 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 Podcasts to Listen To: True Crime
Hunting Warhead (CBC Production) – New
This is an investigative series about the takedown 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 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’d 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 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 podcast 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 break down 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.
An award-winning health and science writer, Laura Beil tells a horrifying story about Dr. Christopher Dunsch, a Texas neurosurgeon. Dunsch botched surgery after surgery throughout his career, 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, 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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