One day, while I was studying abroad in England, one of my professors excitedly mentioned Radiolab’s Colors episode. I raised my hand and I said something silly like “What is this Radiolab you speak of?” and he looked at me incredulously. I think he assumed, being from America, I would most certainly have heard it on air. When I got home, I immediately googled it and found myself listening to episode after episode.
I couldn’t believe my luck. There was a whole wealth of information and quality storytelling to be had for free! Things to listen to while on trains, while washing dishes, while cooking, while drawing, while eating, while walking! Shortly after I started listening to podcasts, I wondered, “how did I ever live without these?” I continue to wonder it to this day.
Science, nature, and everything in between. Radiolab tells incredible stories driven by curiosity about the world around us. This show will make you excited and confused about what it means to be human. It’s also one of the most exciting shows to listen to in terms of editing and production. The music, choir back-ups, and other sounds make the show an incredible listening experience. (Their recent spin-off series More Perfect, about the Supreme Court, is equally well-produced and enthralling.)
Random Favorite Episode: Bliss
- 99% Invisible
Design should be 99% invisible, doing most of and its best work beneath the surface. 99pi uncovers the small and large stories mostly unnoticed and unknown to most of us from architecture to pop culture, answering questions from “Why is food always flying in restaurant commercials?” to “What happens when my package is lost by the U.S. postal service? Where does it go?”
Random Favorite Episode: Structural Integrity
I love mysteries, but not necessarily murder mysteries. Criminal isn’t a crime podcast in the usual sense of that genre. In “Deep Dive”, a Sergeant dives into tar pits outside of Los Angeles to look for evidence. In “It Looked Like Fire”, Ed Crawford, a Ferguson protester, became part of an iconic photo when he threw a canister of tear gas back at officer lines. In “Perfect Specimen”, a 500-year old tree is murdered. The variety of crime and definition of what makes for a criminal act is incredibly interesting.
Random Favorite Episode: Triassic Park
- Stories Unbound
While this show is ostensibly geared toward kid lit artists and authors, the interviews Shawna JC Tenney leads reveal insights into any creative process and are especially helpful for those thinking about entering the world of publishing. Her interviews with art directors, authors, artists, and stories about her own experiences going to conferences and starting critique groups are really insightful.
Random Favorite Episode: Interview with Giuseppe Castellano (Part 1)
- This American Life
There’s a reason This American Life (or TAL) is a stalwart of public radio and one of the most popular podcasts ever, it’s consistently really, really good. Each episode has a theme and three to five acts of different stories based on that theme (with the occasional episode devoted to one story). TAL is often storytelling at it’s most inventive and empathetic. While not every show may be for you, there’s such an incredible range of emotion and topic, you’re sure to find something that really calls to you.
Random Favorite Episode: Fiasco!
- Elise Gets Crafty
Elise Blaha Cripe is an entrepreneur who runs a planner business called Get To Work book. Her focus is on goal-setting and creating a process that works for your creative output. On her show, she often interviews other small business owners and bloggers, from the creators of Artifact Uprising to the creator of the 100 Day Project hashtag phenom. I find her episodes to be really inspiring and invigorating. There’s nothing like hearing about the successes and failures of others to get you thinking about your own creative projects’ success.
Random Favorite Episode: On Working to Live Vs. Living to Work
- Song Exploder
First, Hrishikesh Hirway’s voice. Second, my mind has been blown on a routine basis by this show. Song Exploder consists of interviews with musicians asking them to break apart their hit song to its most basic elements and tell how it came to be. After hearing how all the small parts of a song came to be recorded, you get to hear the whole song fully produced. You will never listen to music the same way again. (Also, a fascinating look at the creative process of great musicians.)
Random Favorite Episode: Dustin O’Halloran
You know when you wish you could be best friends with a podcast host? For me, that’s Lea Thau. Her show consistently challenges my default of not interacting with strangers. I live in New York, but it’s all too easy to just shut out the fact that all these amazing people are living around me and commuting with me and going to the same places as me. I’ve often more annoyed than open and empathetic, but listening to Strangers has made me consider the lives of others more than I ever would have otherwise. If you’re a human, this show is for your ears. (Lea shares some more of her personal life than other hosts do, but I enjoy that. I feel like it fits the show’s tone and the motto “don’t be strangers.”)
Random Favorite Episode: Alaska Bingo
- On Being
Krista Tippett’s interviews with scientists, artists, theologians, and more really get you thinking. On Being and Strangers share some similarities in theme, but they are totally different in execution. While Strangers often focuses on a specific event or storyline told in a long first-person segment, On Being is an interview and more academic in its questions about how multiple events and the arc of a person’s life have led them to develop their ideas and ideals. A question Krista always asks is “What is your spiritual background?” which is always one of my favorite answers to listen to.
Random Favorite Episode: Alain de Botton – A School of Life for Atheists