I first delved into podcasts in 2005 when podcasting meant firing up iTunes and manually adding the shows I wanted to listen to my iPod, I couldn’t find a lot of quality content at the time and I soon forgot all about them. From then forward the default podcast app was relegated to my “Junk” folder where it stayed through 4 iPhones. Then I got a great new job that came with a not so great commute. As I worked my way through music radio with its 5 song repeat, talk radio with its fear mongering B.S. and endless NPR fundraising drives I found myself hungry for something different. Then a friend told me I needed to check out Dan Carlin’s podcast. From there I was hooked.
Podcasts are, simply put, awesome. Podcasts allow the audio-only media format to do something that radio doesn’t, for the most part, allow by giving highly niche topics breathing room without constant ad or news interruptions.
Out of school and in the workplace, my learning is usually limited to continuing education for licensure renewal and the 30-60 minutes of reading I get in each night. Podcasts allow for self-improvement in whatever small bits of time you have. The podcasts I’ve put together below are what I turn to during the time I spend commuting, woodworking, DIYing, home improving or even while mowing the lawn. They’re approachable, entertaining and have something real to offer.
Before we get started, if you want to truly enjoy your listening experience, you’re going to need a podcast app. You might be wondering why, as iOS comes with one baked in, but I’m here to tell you the Apple podcast app blows. Do yourself a favor and download Overcast now!
Below are 10 of the best podcasts I’ve found out there in topics ranging from finance and politics, to history and science, to interviews with extremely interesting people.
Those of you that listen to NPR will be familiar with Planet Money. The economics centered podcast is amazing at taking very complex topics and breaking them down for laymen like me in 15 to 20 minute episodes. Ever wondered what it’s like to setup a shell company in the Cayman islands or how the open office concept got its start? You’ll be surprised how much you learn from this podcast given it’s fun, light and never too serious demeanor. This one is a must listen.
Dan Carlin’s Hardcore History
Hardcore History proves that history doesn’t have to be boring or dry. Dan Carlin is an author and radio talk show host who has a somewhat unorthodox way of thinking, which he applies to his discussions of history. He collects piles of information on a topic and then unloads his wealth of knowledge and unique perspective in a long-format (3+ hour) show, which often span multiple parts. If you’ve ever wondered what Apaches with modern weapons might be like or how the Mongols managed to gain the reputation as the greatest warriors in history, you’ll love this show.
Musician Hrishikesh Hirway deconstructs music to help us better understand exactly what went into the songs we love. Hrishikesh’s podcast gets the artists themselves (Iggy Pop, Weezer, Spoon, The Postal Service to name a few) to share an overview of their creative process and allow us into their head. It’s a stunning podcast and Hrishikesh has a unique ability to get sometimes reclusive artists to share their highly personal processes.
Renowned data cruncher Nate Silver and the FiveThirtyEight team cover the 2016 election, tracking the issues and “game-changers” every week. It’s data heavy, incredibly interesting and it helps to cut through the chatter and see what’s really shaping politics.
Design is everywhere in our lives. Roman Mars, explores those things that have shaped our lives, our experience, and our world but which often exist in the periphery. If you enjoy exploring those things we don’t normally think about, such as the origin of fortune cookies or how flags get their designs you’ll want to give this one a listen.
Reply All is a show about the internet, a bit vague, I know, but the show really takes advantage of its large breathing space. You’ll learn how the internet affects people, how people shape the internet, and why this system of tubes is the way it is.
On Taking Pictures
Whether you rely on your camera phone for photos or you’re a photog with two D5’s attached to you by Black Rapid straps at all times, there’s something for you here. Photography is unique in that it combines art with science and philosophy. On Taking Pictures explores all three and how they contribute to the photography process.
Basic Brewing Radio
I live in Denver, craft beer is kind of a thing here, I also home-brew as a hobby. Home-brewing combines so many great things, it’s science, it’s creativity, it’s art, it’s cooking.
This podcast provides tips, advice, and expert anecdotes that will keep any home-brewer or beer enthusiast interested.
All the Books!
Like reading? This podcast is all about new releases and book recommendations. It sticks to no single genre but instead presents the best new page turners and lets you decide from there.
Gamers With Jobs
There are hundreds of podcasts devoted to gaming, few of them are aimed at adults who have real lives, real jobs, real responsibilities and real paychecks. Some of use like to game but don’t/can’t spend all of their time gaming, Gamers With Jobs is the self-described “gaming podcast for mature gamers.” Like games? Bring home a paycheck? This one is for you.
WTF with Marc Maron
Marc Maron got his start in comedy clubs where he rubbed shoulders with contemporary megastars. Now, he brings those same big names on his show for hour-long discussions. It’s not educational in the traditional sense, but Maron’s ability to have honest conversations with some of the more reclusive big names out there, including Barack Obama, is not only admirable but will give you plenty to chew on. His interview with Louis CK was named by Slate as the best podcast ever recorded.
The second podcast on the list hosted by Dan Carlin is on here for good reason. In Common Sense, he brings his uncommon thinking and unapologetic rhetoric from Hardcore History and applies it to politics. While the political talking heads point accusing fingers at each other, Dan’s finger is pointing right at the heart of what everyone should be thinking about when it comes to politics.
The Infinite Monkey Cage
Physicist Brian Cox and comedian Robin Ince from BBC Radio 4 host this humorous look at science’s big and small questions. Topics like space tourism, the apocalypse, and parallel universes are all explored with the help of a guest panel and plenty of laughs.
America’s Test Kitchen
America’s Test Kitchen is the resource for learning how to cook. Not only does the group produce a great TV show, cookbooks and a blog, but they also have an excellent podcast. You’ll get great tips, challenges and interesting food talk from experts.
That’s my list. These podcast get me through my daily commute and help me expand my mind during an otherwise wasted period of time. If you’ve got a favorite that I missed please share it in the comments below!