My Podcast Favorites
I’m a big fan of spoken audio and spend (read: waste) in excess of two hours a day listening to podcasts. I listen during my commute to and from school, while exercising, and at home as background noise to tasks that do not require my full and undivided attention. There’s perhaps nothing lamer or more predictable for a millennial than to say something like, “Hey, let me tell you about this podcast I listen to.” Having said that, below are some of my favorite genres and podcasts that you should absolutely check out.
My favorite: Hang Up and Listen
Slate’s sports podcast takes its name from what sports talk radio callers often say after an on-air comment/question, but the podcast is a departure from the typical radio-jock conversation about sports. Hang Up and Listen covers sports with an appreciation for all the ways in which sports fandom is both awesome and indefensible. Hosts Josh Levin and Stefan Fatsis bring in a third guest to discuss one or more of three topics covered in a week. My favorite part is the final “Afterball” segment where Levin and Fatsis—both journalists—talk at length about a sports-related story they’ve uncovered. I’ve been saying “Tetris for Jeff!” ever since this “Afterball” from Levin a few weeks ago.
Also great: Deadcast
Harry Potter’s and my favorite site has a weekly sports podcast that is delightfully immature and smart as has always been Deadspin’s brand.
My favorite: FiveThirtyEight Politics Podcast
Years ago, Nate Silver created an algorithmic model to forecast player and team performances in Major League Baseball. For some reason, he switched his focus to something less important: forecasting US elections. Silver built what would become the current FiveThirtyEight website that covers politics, sports, and science. On the site’s weekly politics/elections podcast, Silver speaks with three others about recent news in American politics in the context of polling and the site’s forecast model for upcoming elections. The millennial hosts joke around throughout and thank each other at the end, adding some light to the darkness of Trump-era politics news.
Also great: The Weeds
Matthew Yglesias is one of my favorite people to read and listen to. He, Sarah Kliff, Ezra Klein, Dara Lind, Jane Coaston, and other Vox writers talk about news and policy on a now thrice weekly podcast that’s not about marijuana.
My favorite: The Dollop
One guy tells a story from American history to another guy who doesn’t know said story is the premise of The Dollop. Since both guys are professional stand-up comedians, it’s way funnier than a textbook. Episodes usually cover stories about people in America’s past who fought or helped entrench systemic injustices, so it’s kind of Howard Zinn with dick jokes. Dave Anthony who researches and tells the story and Gareth Reynolds who listens and responds irreverently are particularly on their game during live shows like Episode 262 on the American boxer Jack Johnson.
Also great: Hardcore History
Episodes of Hardcore History from podcast pioneer Dan Carlin drop a couple times a year, are typically three to five hours, and never disappoint. He covers big topics like World War I and the Mongol Empire in multipart series and lesser known stories like my favorite Hardcore History episode Prophets of Doom on the Münster Rebellion of the 16th Century.
My favorite: The Daily
Leading up to the 2016 election, the New York Times’s Michael Barbaro had a podcast called The Run Up, which showed he’s a star in the medium. He now hosts the Times’s daily podcast, which is called The Daily, which everyone listens to, and which is required listening. One of the conundrums of news consumption post 11/8/2016 is how much attention to pay or not pay to the racist chancre in the White House. The NYT and The Daily have made the decision to put the Trump administration front and center in most episodes. That said, Barbaro and others cover other US and world news and consistently get amazing and moving audio from first-hand accounts like this episode that had me crying on my morning commute.
Also great: The Gist with Mike Pesca
Mike Pesca used to co-host Hang Up and Listen but now hosts a daily podcast also from Slate. Pesca’s inimitable approach and style to speaking about politics, sports, comedy, and other things in the news make me want to borrow his brain to go about the world for a day.
My favorite: Keep It
Hopefully Crooked Media, which was started by some J. Crew Obama dudes and has gotten crazy popular, will have proved instrumental in successfully flipping the house in a week. One thing they have already done successfully is brought in an awesome trio to host a culture podcast. Ira Madison III, Kara Brown, and Louis Virtel gab each week about the things and people they want more of or are tired of. When listening, I’m usually either laughing or googling because all three have great timing and because I’m a loser who knows nothing about pop culture.
Also great: How Did This Get Made
Everyone once in a while, this movie podcast that has been around forever covers a bad movie I’ve seen. The three comedians who banter about awful movies from the near and distant past had the correct take a few years ago that Con Air from 1997 is both a terrible movie and an amazing movie.
My favorite: Crimetown Season 1
Jen and I used to live in Providence, Rhode Island. If you told us in 2014 that Providence has a fascinating history and rich culture, neither of us would have believed you. But Providence and Rhode Island are great and have a lot to offer, including a sordid past around organized crime and corrupt public officials. I first got interested in the symbiosis of crime and politics in Providence when I read The Prince of Providence about former mayor Buddy Cianci. The podcast Crimetown from Gimlet covers Cianci and a whole lot more in the Ocean State going back to the 1950s. Season 2 about Detroit, Michigan just began, and I’m looking forward to listening to it.
Also great: S Town
From the This American Life and Serial people, S Town is perhaps the biggest and most popular podcast ever. It’s annoyingly good and has made me an annoying proselytizer of it.
My favorite: WTF with Marc Maron
Comedian Marc Maron has done close to a thousand episodes of his twice weekly interview podcast WTF. Maron is a funny stand-up and a staggeringly good interviewer/conversationalist. My favorite episodes of the podcast were his early ones where he spoke to fellow comedians for over an hour about their lives, their struggles, and how Maron was a dick to them back in the 1990s. The Maron of WTF is not a dick nor an aggressive questioner. Amazingly, every guest, whether it be a lesser-known comic, a movie star, an old-time musician, a national treasure, Maron’s parents, or President Barack Obama, comes off as comfortable and authentic shooting the shit with Maron.
Also Great: Black on the Air with Larry Wilmore
Between 1999 and 2012, I missed almost no episodes of The Daily Show with Jon Stewart, and Larry Wilmore was one of the reasons. I've always found Bill Simmons insufferable, but his ventures, Grantland and The Ringer, have included writing and podcasts from some of my favorite people. Wilmore’s interview podcast from The Ringer, Black on the Air, includes great conversations with people from politics, sports, and media.
other podcasts in my feed
Weekday: Today Explained
Culture: The Moth
Interview: The Ezra Klein Show
Interview/Politics: Off Message
Comedy: Doug Loves Movies
Interview/Comedy: You Made It Weird