Skye Gould/Tech Insider
Podcasts have become excellent sources for great storytelling, interviews, and journalism.
From a few minutes to more than an hour, podcasts give content creators a chance to speak directly to their listeners free of distractions, and give listeners a new way to expand their minds during their daily commutes.
We have a lot of podcast nerds at Tech Insider. So we collected our favorite podcasts, which are equally informative and enjoyable, across our four big areas of interest: technology, culture, science, and innovation.
We've included links to each of these podcasts' best episodes, but you can find all of them in iTunes or through your favorite podcast app.
As a co-production of Tech Insider and Marketplace, "Codebreaker" is dear to our hearts in the newsroom. But it's also got some of the smartest storytelling about technology you can find anywhere.
"Codebreaker" moves past newsy takes to ask big questions about technology's impact on our world. The first season began with three simple words: "Is It Evil?" Ben Johnson, the host, asked that question of internet porn, virality online, and even software updates — finding depth and nuance to each topic you probably never knew existed.
"The Decisive Machine"
Another Gimlet show, "Surprisingly Awesome" is part science, part technology, part bar room debate.
It brings together the filmmaker Adam McCay of "Anchorman" and "The Big Short" fame and Adam Davidson of The New York Times Magazine and NPR's "Planet Money" (he also had a hand in "The Big Short.") Their conceit is that each episode one of them finds a topic that might seem dry or boring (broccoli, free throws, adhesives) and tries to convince the other that it's surprisingly awesome.
The show is still new; there have been just seven episodes so far. But they all manage to unfold untold layers of science-y tech-y awesomeness in their boring-seeming subjects.
"The Smoking Tire"
This recommendation comes from Tech Insider's resident auto geek, Aaron Brown. "The Smoking Tire" is the ultimate show for gear heads and enthusiasts, hosted by Matt Farrah and featuring interviews with everyone from car racers to designers. But it goes beyond narrow technical obsessions or fandom — they find people with compelling stories around how they live with and love their cars. I got way into it when I checked it out, and I barely drive.
"A Van Down by the River"
"Around the World"
"Song Exploder" should be a kind of niche show for hardcore music nerds, but its so much more than that. Host Hrishikesh Hirway sits down with musicians to talk about how they make their music, and the results are part artistic masterclass, part gadget nerdfest, part biography. It's fun, enlightening, and entirely unique on the internet.
"99 Percent Invisible"
If "Hidden Brain" reveals the unseen patterns that shape our behavior, "99 Percent Invisible" uncovers those that shape the design of our physical world. Past episodes have covered architecture, gadgets, fine art, and fashion. Host Roman Mars finds the human stories behind each of those subjects, and tells them in a friendly, unconcerned voice of a man who spends his days hanging out with his kid in the Bay Area sun — a fact he'll remind you of regularly.
"Children of the Magenta"
"What's the Point"
Nate Silver's blog FiveThirtyEight has grown into a small but mighty data journalism fiefdom, with three podcasts about sports, politics, and data. "What's the Point" is the most compelling and widely interesting of the three, using the tools of data journalism to explore the world and understand it in new way. Host Jody Avirgan begins each episode by discussing a "significant digit" — that is, a number he finds interesting — with a person on the street. The FiveThirtyEight crew loves numbers, and they'll make you love them too.
"Rating Subjective Experiences Is Hard, But Fandango Is Really Bad At It"
"What Polls Can’t Tell Us About Faith In America"
In just under a year, BuzzFeed's "Another Round" has already converted its two hosts into podcast stars that rival Ira Glass or Marc Maron. Heben Nigatu and Tracy Clayton interview all-star guests, go deep on race, politics, and culture, and get into alternately hilarious and gripping dialogues about subjects ranging from blue whales to Kanye West's lyrics about mental health.
Both were writers for Buzzfeed, not performers or radio personalities, before "Another Round" took off. And they told "Longform" host Max Linsky that they're still getting comfortable in their new roles. However, to hear them ask Hillary Clinton "Do you ever look at the state of black America and say 'Wow [Bill and I] really f---ed this up for black people?'" or explore rich people Tinder with Hannibal Burress, you'd never know it.
"Madam Secretary, What's Good?"
"To Be Young, Gifted, and Black"
"The Moth" is one of the acknowledged greats in the podcastosphere. Its premise is simple: People get up at "Moth" events all around the country and tell true stories from their lives without notes. "Moth" producers identify the best of those stories and either put them up on their podcast or workshop them for recorded retellings.
Recent tellers have included Suzanne Barakat, a doctor and activist whose brother and sister-in-law were killed in a hate crime; Carolyn Martin, who as a teenager told her boyfriend she was becoming a nun; and the author Neil Gaiman. "The Moth" tales are often hilarious, sad, surprising, or deeply weird — sometimes all four at once.
Listen to any of their podcast episodes to get started.
"Strangers" takes the idea behind "The Moth" to a new place. Lea Thau, "The Moth"'s former director, finds and interviews people with interesting, compelling stories — then takes herself out so you just hear their experience. The pace is slower, more introverted and less punchy than "The Moth." There's no live audience — you almost feel like you're hearing a story from inside the teller's head. Like "The Moth," Thau's subjects include a massive range of people and their stories often have twists and turns you'd never expect. Thau often supplements the episode with personal stories of her own.
"The Teacher Who Couldn't Read"
"The Memory Palace"
"The Memory Palace" host Nate DiMeo is a one-man podcasting machine. He researches interesting, off-beat historical moments, writes them up in a lush storytelling prose, records himself reading them, and lays them over with strange, spooky music. The show looks to the periphery of major historical narratives and finds personal stories of mostly unknown figures. DiMeo makes a project of getting in his subject's heads, so listening to their stories is almost like disappearing into their worlds.
"High Above Lake Michigan: Special Platinum Edition"
"This American Life"
For radio and podcast fans, this show needs no introduction. The show, with its now-kinda-famous host Ira Glass, first broadcast on the radio in 1995 and has spent the last 21 years scouring the US for funny, sad, and weird stories that expand our understanding of what it is to be an American. Each episode tells a variety of stories (or sometimes just one) on a single theme.
"Somewhere in the Arabian Sea"
"The Slate Political Gabfest"
One of the longest-running and most popular podcasts in political journalism, "The Slate Political Gabfest" features three former Slate writers discussing and debating the latest news in politics. Emily Bazelon is a staff writer for The New York Times Magazine and legal expert. David Plotz is CEO of the website Atlas Obscura. And John Dickerson hosts CBS's "Face the Nation" and moderates the occasional presidential debate. Together they make a crack team for dissecting and shedding new light on the week's news.
Start with their latest episode or this best of 2015 special.
"Call Your Girlfriend"
This recommendation comes courtesy of Tech Insider innovation reporter Leanna Garfield. "Call Your Girlfriend" is a round table on life, politics, and culture. Each week, "long-distance besties" Ann Friedman and Aminatou Sow call each other to discuss their thoughts on the news. They tackle each subject from an "unapologetically feminist" perspective — and utterly without a filter.
"Follow Your Arrow"
"WTF with Marc Maron"
Marc Maron is an angsty, neurotic, brilliant comedian. He's also an excellent interviewer who says he does what he does for the joy of asking people questions — though he's built one of the most popular podcasts on the internet in the process. Each episode brings on a new famous person to talk about their life, their work, and what it feels like to be them. Maron often begins the often-quite-lengthy-episodes with extended ramblings about his own life, which is alternately hilarious, sad, and bizarre.
"President Barack Obama"
"Sir Patrick Stewart"
"The National Podcast"
"The National Podcast" is a brand-new show, but it's already the best culture podcast in iTunes made by and for younger millenials — 90s kids too young to actually remember the 90s. No one involved with this project is older than 25, and that's the perspective hosts Jon Schneidman and Stephen Rees bring to their show. They began with a look at the new TV show about the O.J. Simpson trial and have since gone deep on the Oscars, presidential politics, "The Life of Pablo," and Antonin Scalia. For college kids and others in their early twenties, this is the new culture show to listen to.
"The Life of Pablo and Death of Scalia"
"The Podcast v. O.J. Simpson"
N.W.A.P. brings together political and cultural commentary from an explicitly black male perspective. The hosts go by their Twitter handles: @fivefifths, @Smooth_Orator, @Taut_7, and @negroid_android. @fivefifths (AKA Vann R. Newkirk II) is one of the most popular cultural writers on Twitter, edits Seven Scribes, and was recruited by Ta-Nehisi Coates to write for The Atlantic. Their conversations offer great insights on life, politics, and pop culture, and they address their listener mail in more depth than any other podcast on the internet..
"Reparations, Valentine’s Day Sex, Affirmative Action and More!"
"Mizzou, HBCU’s, and a Shady Police Officer"
Politico's Glenn Thrush hosts this interview series with America's most important political players. Thrush has a talent in these extended interviews for getting them to go, ahem, off message and reveal things they might not elsewhere. His guests end up talking in personal ways about their beliefs and lives. (Did you know Speaker of the House Paul Ryan is a huge heavy metal fan?)
Recently, he got Barack Obama to kinda-sorta endorse Hillary Clinton in the primary and candidate Ben Carson to claim Obama was "raised white."
"President Barack Obama"
"Ben Carson: Obama was 'raised white'"
For science fiction and fantasy fans, as well as anyone who likes a good story, "Imaginary Worlds" is a must-listen show. Host Eric Molinsky thinks in deep and interesting ways about how and why storytellers create new universes for their characters, and the processes involved in bringing them to life. His passion for the subject is completely infectious, and with such a vast variety of topics, this may be the most binge-able show on the entire list.
"Fixing the Hobo Suit"
"The Expanded Universe"
In the public radio podcast pantheon, "Radiolab" is second to none — or perhaps one, Ira Glass's "This American Life." The show is one part science, one part storytelling, one part investigative journalism, and one part bonkers audio experiment. Co-hosts Jad Abumrad and Robert Krulwich are radio masters, and every new episode is a massive treat.
"The Story Collider"
"The Story Collider" is a storytelling show like "The Moth," but focused entirely on science. Many of the tellers are scientists, recounting all the things that have gone right and wrong in their labs. But many more are writers, comedians, and other everyday folks with stories about how science has touched their lives. "The Story Collider" proves that science and art aren't opposites, and that in fact they go together beautifully.
"Rachel Fairbank: Scientist or Subject?"
"Jonaki Bhattacharyya: Losing Control"
"Freakonomics: A Rogue Economist Explores the Hidden Side of Everything" was a blockbuster book in 2005 by University of Chicago economist Steven Levitt and New York Times journalist Stephen J. Dubner. It showed how the laws of economics govern everything from the Ku Klux Klan to parenthood. Since then, they've parlayed that success into a series of collaborations, with "Freakonomics Radio" being the most entertaining and interesting. Each episode explores a new concept through the lens of economic principles.
"How to Save $1 Billion Without Even Trying"
"How Did the Belt Win?"
"Invisibilia" is an NPR podcast created by a "Radiolab" alum and a "This American Life" alum about the unseen patterns and untold possibilities of human behavior. They've explored how blind people might be able to use sound to see well enough to climb trees or ride bikes, why snakes freak us out so much, and just what exactly is the power of pheromones. There's only been one short season so far, but their Twitter account says a new one is coming in June and we can't wait.
"How to Become Batman"
"Our Computers, Ourselves"
This show grew out of the same "This American Life" episode as the Oscar-winning movie "The Big Short." Its goal is to explain the economy and economics in ways that are actually fun to listen to. Some of the stories are podcast exclusives, some also show up on NPR shows like "All Things Considered" and "This American Life."
"If Elected President"
"The Giant Pool of Money"
"Lexicon Valley" is a show from Slate about the science and culture of the English language. Hosts Mike Vuolo and Bob Garfield begin with the premise that language is a living thing, where the rules are just what speakers make them. They're interested in the histories of words like "hootenanny" and the future of everyday words that take on new meanings. Their banter and love for their subject makes this linguistics show way more compelling than you could probably imagine.
"Seven Centuries of F--ks"
"Sarah Palin's Pronouns"
Beloved avatar of all things science and friend of Tech Insider, astrophysicist Neil DeGrasse Tyson has a radio show and podcast about his scientific discipline and favorite subject: the cosmos. The show calls itself "the first and only popular commercial radio program devoted to all things space," and that's exactly what it is. Tyson explores the latest news in astrophysics and answers questions his listeners might find confusing. He also sometimes talks about other issues in science, and Bill Nye is a frequent guest. National Geographic recently adapted the show for television.
"Colonizing Mars with Bas Lansdorp"
"Tour of the Solar System"
Vox's Ezra Klein, Sarah Kliff, and Matthew Yglesias love to get into the weeds of politics and policy in their reporting. So they made a podcast about it. Rather than follow political horse races or debates on the floor of congress, they pride themselves on keeping their show focused on research and ideas (though they did recently devote an episode to Donald Trump.) It's a great window into the future of ideas in government and innovation — not to mention many things in the present most of us find impossible to understand.
"Can the government trick you into losing weight?"
"Retirement Age, Terrorism, and C-Sections"
"All Songs Considered"
"All Songs Considered" is the best show on the radio or internet for discovering new and innovative music. Robin Hilton and Bob Boilen host, and have an infectious love of genres from rock and roll to classical to hip-hop. A team of music writers (that once included Carrie Brownstein of the band Sleater-Kinney and IFC's "Portlandia") fill in the gaps.
"The Year In Music 2015"
"The Worst Songs of All Time"
"Longform" is a website devoted to celebrating and promoting great longform journalism. Their podcast has the same mission, going deep in interviews with authors, journalists, and even other podcasters about their work, writing, and methods. They do a great job at following the ways journalists are adapting to the changing media landscape.
"Heben Nigatu and Tracy Clayton"
"The TED Radio Hour"
TED Talks are still a great way to learn about new ideas in technology, science, arts, and innovation. "The TED Radio Hour," hosted by Guy Raz, uses those talks to tell stories around themes like endurance and getting organized. If you love TED talks, you'll love this show.
"Believers and doubters"
"Playing with perceptions"
This recommendation comes from Skye Gould, Tech Insider's in-house graphic designer. "Design Matters" explores creativity in conversations with "designers, writers, artists, curators, musicians, and other luminaries of contemporary thought." It's a great show for people looking to think about creative work in new ways.
As the podcast universe expands, there's more room for experimentation. "The Message" is a science fiction story told in the style of a science podcast — though, like listeners to Orson Welles' "War of the Worlds" broadcast in 1938, I didn't realize that when I started listening. It tells the story of a team of code breakers who uncover a signal from an alien world, and where that discovery takes them.
Start with Episode 1.
"The Axe Files"
David Axelrod gained notoriety in political circles as one of the architects of Barack Obama's 2008 "hope" and "change" presidential campaign — and later as one of the folks who worked on the president's early policies and helped him ward off Mitt Romney. Now he's an academic, directing the University of Chicago Institute of Politics. In that capacity he records interviews with what he calls "fellow practitioners" of the political arts, people from across the ideological spectrum who've made an impact on American politics.
Because many of his interviewees are his former allies and foes, Axelrod's discussions are far from straight interviews. From the early days of the show, he's managed to make news, like getting Romney to dish on Donald Trump. But the best part is the new pathways he opens to thinking about government.
"Sherriff Tom Dart"
"Here's The Thing"
"Here's the Thing" is an interview show hosted by Alec Baldwin. Yes, that Alec Baldwin. The guy from "30 Rock" and "Pearl Harbor." He's not a journalist, and it shows in the unusual places his conversations with his guests go. It features conversations unlike anything else on the radio or in your podcast feed.
"Amy Schumer grew up in a nude house"
"Jimmy Fallon will never make fun of you"