Holiday Road: Podcasts to Keep You Occupied
I know it’s not quite time, but I’m sharing my “what I’m into” a little early this month, to hopefully help you prepare for holiday travel/sleeping in a guest bed/maintaining sanity during “I’ve got to get out of the house” jogs! It seems like the more times I drive the same path (for me, that’s between Nashville, TN and Montgomery, AL), the more varied options I need to keep me occupied. While I’m sure I’ll overdose on Christmas music on my drive home after Thanksgiving, I’ll likely alternate between podcasts and audiobooks on my drive down.
Every week I get a text or see a post of Facebook or Twitter asking for podcast recommendations. Every month or so I see the “I’m thinking about getting into podcast” post. While I’m not an expert (although if you want to talk to one, I can hook you up with some master podcasters), I can make recommendations not only about which podcasts to listen to, but also what to look for in general if you’re just now getting into them. Here are my tips:
Consider when you’re going to be listening. If you listen to audiobooks, chances are you’re used to dealing with cutting off a story mid-stream once you’ve reached a destination, finished a run, ended your workday, etc. If you listen to podcasts, you can actually seek out casts that fit the timing you’re looking for! For example, on my morning commute (about 40 minutes), I’m not going to start an hour long podcast, because I’d like the entire story to wrap up before I have to get out of the car. On a drive to visit family, I want longer episodes and will even save several episodes so that I can listen to one topic for the entire drive.
There’s no FOMO in podcasts. I mean, Serial may be the exception, but typically there’s not one single podcast that everyone and their brother is listening to. Find what you like and go for it! If you don’t like it, for goodness sakes stop listening. I’ve stopped MANY History and True Crime podcasts for various reasons – life is too short to force yourself to consume media you don’t enjoy. At the end of the day, no podcast is actually looking to provide you with breaking news (know your mediums, people), so it’s FINE. Listen to what you like. Seek recommendations from people you like. Give recommendations to people you like. Enjoy what you enjoy!
Two recommendations for finding your favorite podcast:
Start broad and go niche! I have examples right on my iPhone. Do you love pop culture? Start with something like The Popcast with Knox and Jamie, which touches on music, movies, TV, the entertainers themselves, societal trends, and maybe you’ll find out you REALLY love music…so then try Deeper Cuts! Deeper Cuts might lead you to Wireless Nights with Jarvis Cocker, or, even more niche, the Yes Music Podcast, I don’t know. Whatever you like. The possibilities are endless.
Find a network. I had NO IDEA podcast networks existed, but they do! I first found Homecoming on the recommendation of a friend, and then immediately downloaded everything Gimlet produced (with varying results, which leads me back to “there’s no FOMO in podcasts – delete it if you don’t like it). Wondery, Radiotopia, NPR (obviously) – there are some great networks out there and they produce varied material. Like AMC, but for your ears only.
To get specific but not that specific, I listen to LOTS of podcasts. LOTS. I’m currently following around 20 and am looking to replace some that are winding down with definite ends. If you’re looking for something new to dive into, here are my current recommendations (and sorry that I'm a monster and haven't linked anything - I use iTunes for all my podcasts, but maybe you don't? I don't want to make assumptions):
from The Paragon Collective: Full disclosure: I haven’t listened to this one yet. But with Denis O’Hare, Kristen Bell, RuPaul, LeVar Burton, I feel pretty good about this one (especially since out of almost 1,000 reviews, they maintain 4.5 stars). This fictional, 10 episode podcast is a murder mystery set in the 50s. Episodes seem to be about half an hour long.
from Gimlet: If you haven’t listened to this yet, and you’re a fan of any prestige TV show in the past 10 years, you’re majorly missing out. Currently (and likely finally) at two seasons, these half hour episodes tell the story of a secret military program in Florida. Bonus!: Season two also includes supplemental, free iBooks to tell you perspectives of “off-audio” characters. BURIED LEAD: Catherine Keener, Oscar Isaac, David Schwimmer, Amy Sedaris, AND MORE. Episodes are about half an hour longer; season one has an “after show” (Groan, I know) included at the end, but I just skipped those. This podcast is finished, so the 20 or so episodes that have been released are the full series!
Also check out: Limetown
History Extra Podcast
This podcast from the BBC supplements their monthly History magazine. I love that it provides what could be standard and dry historical info in a multitude of ways – interviews, keynotes, real audio, “field trips” – I just love it! Bonus!: They sell the magazine at Barnes and Noble, and you can get a US subscription through most eReaders if you’re a history and info junkie like me. Early in the podcast’s history, the monthly episodes were about an hour long. They’ve moved to a weekly format and shorter episodes (about half an hour), but will have the occasional long episode if they’re airing a keynote presentation.
Also check out: A History of the World in 101 Objects, Stuff You Missed in History Class
Do you want a podcast that talks about high art but also Arsenio Hall? LOOK NO FURTHER! Seriously, though, these guys would probably hate being boiled down to that, which is fair because it’s so much more… This is only the second music-related podcast I’ve downloaded, and it’s encouraged me to look for some niche artist and/or album podcasts as I have with TV. I’ve gotten to hear about albums I love, and be introduced to albums I will love soon. Bonus!: Spotify playlist! And only six episodes to date, so it’s super easy to dive in and catch up quickly. Episodes are between 30 – 40 minutes long.
Doctor Who: Mutter’s Spiral Podcast
One for a niche audience! These friends recap Doctor Who AND Sherlock, and provide convention updates at a couple of Doctor Who cons. Bonus!: Triva! Long term friends hosting a podcast. Friends who regularly interview and/or otherwise include other friends. This podcast is basically all a bonus. Episodes are about 90 minutes long.
Doctor Who: Verity!
Once again, a nice little niche. This global cadre of ladies curates not only episode recaps, but also special themed episodes around a larger, annual theme. They’re also wonderful, wonderful people. Bonus!: Extras! Episodes, which could be their trademark games like In Defense Of… (forcing contestants to take a defensive stance on lackluster topics), or a short episode around breaking news. “Regular” episodes are around 90 minutes long; however, the Extras! are usually shorter.
How Did This Get Made?
from Earwolf: Long long long time fan. Confession: I don’t listen to every single episode – I used to, but it was a commitment. Instead, I listen to episodes if I’ve seen the movie or love the special guest. Bonus!: June, Paul, Jason. Heart eyes. These episodes are pretty long – regularly 90 minutes, sometimes longer. Keep in mind, they’re recapping full movies.
The Popcast with Knox and Jamie
from Wondery: Like The Watch (mentioned below), there’s not an area of pop culture that Jamie and Knox don’t touch upon. Some episodes are Potpurri episodes, but most are curated around specific topics. They’ve been going strong for several years, so if you can’t listen start to finish, I recommend starting with the “The Nos of…” episodes. Bonus!: Looking for movie/book/PODCAST recommendations? Jamie and Knox end each episode with their lights – usually what to check out AND what not to. Episodes are around an hour long.
from BBC Radio: This is the third podcast I ever listened to (after Serial, which is coming up later), and the one I recommend most often. Released on a seemingly seasonal basis, this podcast takes popular songs in many, many genres and allows different listeners to tell their stories related to the songs. It’s entertaining, sometimes enlightening, and always touching. As mentioned, they release episodes seasonally so it’s easy to jump in wherever you like! Bonus!: Holiday episodes! Look for their Holiday music (maybe three or four) casts for good driving music. Episodes are around half an hour long.
A Twin Peaks Podcast: A Podcast About Twin Peaks
from Entertainment Weekly: This is clearly niche. If you’ve watched season three, I highly recommend this. If you’re CURRENTLY WATCHING, then I think this would be awesome to listen to at the end of each episode. I’m still listening even though I finished the series a few months ago, and the little things Darren and Jeff point out have inspired a rewatch. Bonus!: As EW insiders, these guys were invited to/attended lots of premiere parties and other special events. I love hearing their industry stories! Tip: I am currently reading Mark Frost’s original Twin Peaks’ dossier book, and I wish I’d read it before I listened to the podcast. It’s not 100% necessary, but if you’re a superfan (who hasn’t yet listened to the ‘cast), just something to consider… These are on the longer side; episodes are between one to two hours. This podcast series has wrapped up with the third season of Twin Peaks, so all of the episodes that have been released are the full run of this one!
from The Ringer: As a long time fan of The B.S. Report (I have actually burned the 90210 episodes onto CDs and mailed them to people) and then Grantland, I LOVE The Watch. Because I’m not as steeped in TV and film as I used to be, I don’t listen to every episode, but I do score the “available” list – common highlights are Chris Ryan and Andy Greenwald talking about TV and music. Bonus!: Chris and Andy TIMESTAMP their episode notes, so you can easily skip spoilers for things you haven’t seen yet, or just skip things you aren’t planning on seeing. Kudos for that. I honestly have no idea how long these are, but Chris and Andy spend anywhere from 10 to 30 minutes on a segment, usually. I’m sure sports and show-specific ones are longer?
The West Wing Weekly
from Radiotopia: SMART PEOPLE BEING SMART – not only a pretty good description of The West Wing, but also my favorite thing about The West Wing Weekly. Hosted by Song Exploder’s Hrishikesh Hirway and Sorkin Player Joshua Malina, I love this recap+ podcast. The majority of episodes are recaps with supplemental interviews from current political insiders (including Justin Trudeau!), insiders who consulted on the show, as well as cast and creatives. Bonus!: 1. Again, Trudeau. Other highlights are the non-recap episodes with Snuffy Walden and Martin Sheen. Episodes are between an hour and 90 minutes.
Also check out: This Week in Time Travel, Pod4Ham
from Wondery: Full disclosure – this one has only been recommended to me, but I haven’t given it a good listen. There are two seasons, so I decided NOT to listen to season one and listen only to season two so that I didn’t have too many back episodes to catch up on. We’ll see how it goes – it gets recommended so often in other casts I like that I imagine it’ll be great! Episodes are around 45 minutes long.
from Gimlet: Currently between the first and second season, it’s a great time to catch up on Crimetown. This podcast takes a look at organized crime in “less obvious” cities – the first season centered on Providence, RI, and was an eye opener! The hosts mainly tell the story, but also use interviews and real audio, as well as…Bonus!: They have some really interesting tangential episodes that dive into the stories of some of the background characters (and they are characters, these wiseguys). Episodes are between 30 and 40 minutes.
from Radiotopia: My cousins turned me onto this after talking about a particular episode where someone realizes a stranger is living in the attic. SHOCKING that I’d listen, honestly, but I did. I love that episodes are pretty short and matched to the topic, and the topics are SO wide ranging. Phoebe and team interview criminals, reporters, law enforcers, investigators; it’s really unique and wonderful. Also, for people who enjoy True Crime but can get bogged down and blue, you’ll enjoy the balanced stories that allow for bright and positive episodes! Episodes are between 15 and 35 minutes long (perfect for a work commute!).
from Wondery: The mother is complicit. Sorry not sorry. I’ll never stop staying that. (And by mother, I mean the “wife’s” mother. You’ll see what I mean.) This was a green light of Jamie’s on the Popcast, I think, and it. Is. FASCINATING. I devoured this podcast in one trip to Alabama and back. Just wait until you hear it. Episodes are around 50 minutes long. I’m not sure if there will be a second season of this one or not – while I think it’s a topic that transcends one occurrence, the title itself is pretty tied to the story. Just a heads up that the released episodes might be the entirety of this podcast.
Hollywood & Crime
from Wondery: I adore the host of this podcast. Her voice (and I apologize for not knowing her name, even though I’m sure she says it every episode) is so soothing, and Diane Sawyer-esque. The first two seasons of this podcast (I started listening from the beginning after several were out) are about the Black Dahlia murders in Hollywood immediately after WWII. They play to my History and True Crime interests. You’ll definitely want to listen to this one from the beginning of season one. Bonus!: As a filler between seasons two and three, the host jumps over to another Hollywood & Crime companion podcast, Young Charlie. Look down in the list for some info… Episodes are around 45 minutes long.
from Hollywood and Crime and Wondery: Y’all, who knew this would be the most timely podcast I listen to? With only three episodes aired, I’m sure the hosts are beside themselves with today’s news. I don’t know why, but I find this fascinating, and as mentioned earlier, I really enjoy the host. Given the subject, I could possibly see me putting this one aside, as I have probably four or five other True Crime podcasts, but we’ll see. Episodes are about 45 minutes long.
from This American Life: This is pretty much where it all started for me. Serial is the second podcast I ever downloaded, and the first that I had regular, in-depth conversations with people about. The release of season 1 coincides with me starting a new job, so it was a major way I connected with people in a new environment. I met a new group of people on social media as a result, and started seeking out podcasts holding this as the standard. (I also started noting the layout of every Best Buy parking lot I encountered.) The first season sets the bar for investigating podcasting (if that’s a thing, which, thanks to Serial, I think is a thing) and while the second season didn’t connect with me for many reasons (which we can discuss if you want), it continued in a high quality vein. I hope there’s more to come from Sarah Koenig and Serial. Bonus!: S-Town (see below). Episodes are between 30 minutes and an hour, with most around 45 minutes long.
from Serial and This American Life: From Serial, this podcast about a man in small town Alabama touches on many, many nerves. I can’t go into much detail without ruining the journey for you, but this one is short and sweet. Highly recommended and if you have a drive under 10 hours for the holidays, pretty easy to knock out quickly. Bonus!: The website for this podcast has a lot of images and info – but if you’re spoiler averse make sure you listen first, THEN visit the site. Episodes are between 45 and 75 minutes long. While everyone I know would love follow up information on this story, this one has wrapped up, and anything released will represent the entirety of this podcast.
This podcast centers around the unsolved murders by the Boston Strangler – but also allows that it might have been multiple killers. Quasi-immersive and very interesting, the host actually goes back to the scene of some of the incidents. Bonus!: In one of the later episodes, they revisit an apartment of one of the survivors – with one of the survivors! Eek! Episodes run around 45 minutes, but can go from between half an hour and a full hour. I’m not sure if there will be additional episodes of this podcast, so you may be able to catch up on this one easily.
Up and Vanished
A direct descendant of Serial, I have a love/hate relationship with this podcast (which we can chat about if you’ve given it a listen). There is an almost endless supply of material here, as the episodes can be grouped into three main categories: a) numbered episodes provide background information, as well as up-to-date news; b) Case Evidence is co-hosted by investigators who talk in-depth about pieces of evidence from the numbered episodes; c) Q&A episodes are co-hosted by lawyers who answer listener questions. If you are a new listener (and it’s TBD if this podcast is wrapped up…although supposedly they’re prepping for a new case in the new season as we speak), I recommend listening to the numbered episodes from the beginning, and then going back and filling in as you get caught up. There’s just SO MUCH CONTENT! Bonus:! This is a current case with lots of recently breaking news. It keeps it interesting! Episode length varies quite a bit, from half an hour to about 90 minutes, but tending toward the one hour or less mark.
Also check out: You know, I have listened to a LOT of True Crime podcasts and stopped listening to about half of them after an episode or two...or maybe even five minutes. For me it has so much to do with the way the host approaches and relays the information, and there are so many options out there. The entire genre itself may not be for you.
MY BIG REQUEST:
I love to read and travel, but don't download any podcasts on those topics. What do you recommend? Do you have any recommendations that fall into the above categories? Send them my way!
While unconventional, I'm posting this as a part of Leigh Kramer's What I'm Into link up - what are you into this month? Join the conversation!