Podcasts have been all the rage in the past couple of years; anyone who’s anyone seems to have started a podcast of their own or is a die-hard fan of one. Bill Gates, Logan Paul, even Addison Rae’s mother all apparently have something to say about something, and every finance bro, true crime junkie, or political geek also seems to be swearing by one podcast or another. Truly, podcasts are growing to be one of the most popular forms of media in today’s day and age, and one of the most peculiar too. In a world full of screens, just what is it about podcasts that make them so attractive? For one month, I listened to podcasts to try to see what all the buzz has been about around these seemingly simple audio bites, and here’s what I’ve learned.
1. Podcasts are incredibly convenient
As a high school junior currently living through a somewhat-post-pandemic period in the world, you could say that my Google Calendar has been looking less like an overview of my week and more like one continuous series of tasks after another. I simply don’t have the time to mindlessly consume media like I used to. Here, podcasts conveniently step in. Anywhere and everywhere you could possibly be, you could be listening to a podcast. On my morning commute, in between (and even during) classes, at home doing chores, I listened to the morning news scoop, grisly true-crime tales, and various captivating audio dramas. Podcasts just make everyday life a bit more interesting. It gave me a momentary escape from whatever bland task I was up to and educated and entertained me on a multitude of topics. For teens who are extra busy, most podcasting platforms also come with their own speed adjustment settings, so you can binge-listen to several accounts of horrific mass murders at 2x speed!
Photo by cottonbro from Pexels
2. There’s a podcast for everyone and everything
Prior to discovering podcasts, I used to praise YouTube for having so many niche communities out there to uncover and enjoy for all. Now, compared to the world of podcasts, what once seemed like an ocean of different subgroups on YouTube producing niche content now just seems like a puddle. Podcasts are the definition of diversity. On Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Stitcher, and other platforms, there is a multitude of different channels and hosts covering a vast array of different subject areas. It’s well known that there are many podcasts out there that are praised for their coverage of true crime, current events, or financial advice, but upon actually opening up Apple Podcasts and browsing around, I found that these are far from all that podcasts cover. Everything from talk shows to audio documentaries is available to listen to online, and due to the ease at which one can make podcasts, you’re sure to find at least one that’ll catch your attention. Here are some of my favorites from my month of tuning in!
Photo by Bryan Catota from Pexels
For Current Events & Politics
Now a staple of my daily routine, Morning Edition from NPR brings you an hour-long news brief every day. Often broken up into 18-20 different segments regarding different topics, you can skip around the program and pick and choose which specific parts of the news you’d like to hear about without wasting time on the news you don’t care about or are already familiar with. Updated every weekday at 5 am EST, you’re sure to get the freshest news coming from interviews with experts and people experiencing current events first-hand. By listening to this podcast every morning as I get ready for school, I’ve become much more knowledgeable about the world around me as well and more thoughtful too, not to mention my APUSH history teacher now loves me for it!
While Morning Edition gives you shallow knowledge of a broad range of current events, The Daily by The New York Times dives deep into specific hot topics in today’s world. Ranging anywhere from 20-50 minutes, each podcast episode thoroughly educates you on subjects you’ve sort of heard about but aren’t quite entirely familiar with. Like Morning Edition, The Daily updates five days a week by 6 am EST, and by listening to this podcast and Morning Edition, I now not only know about what’s going on in the US and the wider world, but I now have a basic grasp on why these things are happening and the gravity they hold on other things in my life. Both of these podcasts truly make me feel like an educated, responsible citizen.
For Educational Resources
For my history buffs out there or those who are trying to become one for various classes or AP tests, look no further than Anti-Social Studies hosted by Emily Glankler! Made for people either in high school or “for people who wish they had stayed awake in high school,” this podcast is perfect for those studying world history, US history, and US government. Glankler, the host, explains abstract historical concepts with the type of humor and pop culture references only a high school teacher could pull off, and indeed, she makes the podcast seem just like a conversation with the cool history teacher from your high school. By studying with Anti-Social Studies, my grade in social studies has dramatically gone up, and that’s all thanks to the ease and simplicity with which Glankler explains her topics.
Highly renowned by many critics as an incredibly useful and relatable podcast to listen to, Life Kit, also from NPR, tackles a wide variety of common issues people face, such as how to approach talking with your parents about hard issues or how to give a good toast. Life Kit sits down and interviews experts and authors in things like dog training, mindfulness, comedy, and more to deliver reliable advice to listeners at home going through all kinds of difficulties. Through listening to this podcast on and off over the past month, I’ve become more self-reflective and aware of myself as well as more prepared to tackle certain emotions and issues in my own daily life.
For Social Commentary & Talk Shows
Edges podcast, though likely discontinued, is still quite a worthwhile listen –perhaps even more so now that it’s entirely binge-able. From the co-creator of The Penumbra Podcast, Edges takes a look at real queer love stories. With episodes ranging from 9 to 50 minutes, the podcast is great for both on-the-go listens as well as full-focus listens too. The podcast dives deep into the heartfelt stories of queer people who have loved and been loved through an interview-type format where the host, Harley Takagi Kaner, asks various LGBTQ+ people they know about an experience they’ve had with queer love. Both an entertaining and impactful listen for people of all backgrounds, sexualities, and gender identities, I’d recommend the Edges podcast to anyone in the mood for a short, heartfelt story.
Red Wine Talks
Both a podcast and Youtube video series, Red Wine Talks follows the thoughts, ideas, and experiences of the extraordinary and entertaining Damon Dominique, an American living in Paris, and his various friends who he’s met on the road traveling aimlessly. As hilarious as it is insightful, Dominique and his friends talk about everything and anything that’s on their minds for around 20-50 minutes, which can include topics ranging from how life is living abroad to their opinions on the possible detrimental effects of social media on social activism. Always a thoroughly enjoyable, hilarious listen, I find myself laughing and hanging on to every word uttered on the podcast as well as feeling more cultured and thoughtful every time I tune in.
For Audio Dramas & Fiction
The Penumbra Podcast
One of the first, and best, podcasts I have ever had the pleasure of listening to is The Penumbra Podcast. The podcast, created by Harley Takagi Kaner, who also hosts Edges, and writer Kevin Vibert, follows a somewhat unusual structure as it produces two separate and independent stories that come out with new episodes in between the episodes of the other story. One of the narratives featured, the Juno Steel series, centers around a private detective on Mars in a sort of sci-fi-meets-noir type of narrative. At some points of the audio drama, I’m spitting out my drink laughing, and at others, I’m bawling in my room about the intonation of someone’s voice. The other narrative, which peers into the world of the Second Citadel, also holds much the same sort of emotional power over me except it’s in a medieval fairytale-like setting now instead of some dingy town in the far reaches of the galaxy. On top of having such wonderful storytelling, the cast of characters showcased are all very diverse, as one of the goals of the creators of the podcast is to show more representation of all different sorts of people. It’s truly one of the best podcasts out there, in my humble opinion.
The Magnus Archives
Despite being an absolute wimp when it comes to horror of all sorts, The Magnus Archives from Rusty Quill, as terrifying and real as it feels, is one of the few examples of the genre that I honestly adore. Told as sort of an anthology to begin with but eventually evolving into sort of a more cohesive story, this podcast tells horror differently than one might be used to. Instead of cheap scares or having all the horror aspects coming from some big bad monster, The Magnus Archives tells horror with a purpose. With several episodes detailing horror having to do with capitalism, the struggles of mental health, climate change, and more, the podcast shows that it doesn’t exactly tell horror for horror’s sake, but it tells it with the goal in mind of conveying a greater message overall. It’s the horror that makes you think.
The Strange Case of Starship Iris
The Strange Case of Starship Iris is another sci-fi recommendation on this list, and it also, as many audio dramas do, has a variety of different characters from different diverse backgrounds in its narrative. The story centers around Violet Liu, who rapidly gets wrapped up with intergalactic rogues and entangled in a large government conspiracy. With episodes around 40 minutes long and some high-quality sound design, this podcast truly does feel like watching a TV show in your mind. It’s perfect for people who don’t really have the time to sit down to stream shows anymore but still crave content to fill their hearts. Additionally, for fellow lovers of the found-family trope in media, The Strange Case of Starship Iris is sure to hit just that sweet spot for you all, as it did for me.
As the last sci-fi drama rec I’m putting down this article, Wolf 359 may seem just like some other podcasts listed above, but as someone who’s listened to and enjoyed all of these recommendations, I can definitely tell you that it stands out from the crowd. Already highly acclaimed by various people I know as well as critics online, Wolf 359 feels different from these other audio dramas because of the tone of the show and how it can switch between absolutely hilarious workplace-prank types of stunts to heart-wrenching scenes about trust and betrayal. The story follows a bored space crew out collecting data on one of the many stars out in space in the future where pretty much everything is the same (at least, many of the pop culture references are the same) besides the fact that the Earth has made drastic advances in space technology over the years, which is how this story is able to take place. The team gets wrapped up in a tale of government corruption and conspiracy, and no one knows how they’re going to make it back to Earth. With episodes around 20 minutes, an addicting storyline, and all four seasons fully finished, this is the ultimate binge-listen.
Lastly, A grabbag of Random, niche recommendations
Even if you haven’t heard of 36 Questions, you’ve probably heard it somewhere or another, likely on TikTok. This podcast breaks existing standards and norms around podcasting by being a podcast musical. Despite not having the stage presence and visuals that Broadway is known for, 36 Questions delivers a truly theatrical performance in the way its sound design is expertly crafted and in the way that the songs are just so catchy. Featuring Hamilton‘s and Frozen‘s Jonathan Groff as well as performer Jessie Shelton, the podcast, separated into three acts and a trailer, follows a young woman trying to save her marriage in crisis by using the infamous 36 Questions to Fall in Love with her husband. This podcast is delightful and touching for audiences young and old, and it’s unequivocally the first of its kind in terms of transcending the podcasting medium.
Everything is Alive
Everything is Alive is a cute, sort of peculiar little podcast that at first glance you wouldn’t think would be as compelling or thought-provoking as it is. The podcast’s premise is that the host of the show interviews inanimate objects about whatever they’d like to talk about with him. From cans of Cola to lampposts and socks, everything, truly, comes to life in this show. As absurd as it may sound, the things these objects say speak volumes to the human condition and really induce deep self-reflection on the part of the listener. You might find yourself emphasizing with a Sharpie marker or crying over a vending machine by listening to this podcast, and that’s entirely okay! With episodes averaging out to about 20 minutes, there’s never a bad time to listen to these things talk.
4. Podcast Creation 101
Ever dreamed of becoming an influencer, but were too scared to put your face online and have someone find you out? Now, you can avoid that hassle by, you guessed it, podcasting. With the advancing popularity of this audio-form medium, the ease with which one can create podcasts has also advanced. Just from your standard day-to-day smartphone, you can record, edit, and broadcast your voice out to the world. On platforms like Spotify’s Anchor, Podbean, Spreaker from iHeart, or even Youtube, you can create your own podcasts for little or no cost, which fuels creators from all sorts of different backgrounds to create podcasts with such a diverse range of different topics and niches. Additionally, this is a great option for school newspapers or journalism classes that are looking to modernize from ye olde paper news channels to forms that a student body might actually tune in to.
Photo by Anna Tarazevich from Pexels
From my month of listening and learning about all that podcasts have to offer, I’ve found that I’m… sort of a more well-rounded person now? It’s true. I’ve been more up-to-date on current events, more knowledgeable about a wider range of topics, and more joyful now that I have exciting new stories to listen to and obsess about every week. While life has largely stayed the same sort of dystopian hell on the outside, having a nice warm voice to listen to rattle on and on about some cool new murder mystery case or how to finance for college makes it all sort of feel just a bit more bearable.