I’ll admit it: I’m late to the podcast game.
When my company ordered us to work from home at the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, I suddenly had time to work on my health and go for a walk every morning. After three months, I tired of listening to my music playlists, so I gave podcasts a go. I never did like audio books, but after trying out a few shows, realized that an audio program could keep me interested if there was something I could learn from it.
Over the last few months, I’ve discovered some really great shows to feed my knowledge, and a few simply to entertain. I also happen to have some brilliant friends who host podcasts and if you are into their topics, then please, by all means, try listening to their shows.
Here, in no particular order, are my podcast recommendations.
- THIS PODCAST WILL KILL YOU
- THE BIOLOGY OF SUPERHEROES
- STUFF YOU MISSED IN HISTORY CLASS
- THIS AMERICAN LIFE
- IN VOGUE THE 1990s
- 30 FOR 30/ESPN INVESTIGATES
- PLANET MONEY
- DRIVING THE GREEN BOOK
- DAVID TENNANT DOES A PODCAST WITH…
- A SASSY LITTLE PODCAST FOR GETTING OVER IT
- NORTH OF 40
- BLEAV IN EVERYTHING USC WITH NARA WENG
THIS PODCAST WILL KILL YOU
My absolute favorite podcast. I never liked biology and never once entertained the idea of medical school because… I never liked biology. However, this show’s two excellent hosts – collectively referred to as the Erins – make epidemiology fun and interesting. I listened to an episode every day for three months straight until I got through all of them. I’m gearing up for a second round. It’s THAT good.
You might think that there’s no way this show will interest you but don’t knock it until you’ve tried it. You might be surprised. They also bring in occasional guests, some with their own podcasts, which is how I discovered the utterly delightful Biology of Superheroes which you’ll see next on this list.
Each episode highlights a particular disease, and the Erins organize the show into segments detailing (a) the biology (how the disease works), (b) history of the disease & social/cultural impacts, and (c) epidemiology and where the disease is today.
My favorite episodes:
- Diphtheria (Ep 16)
- Polio (Ep 7)
- Cholera (Ep 4 The Poop Show)
- Influenza (Ep 1)
- Radiation (Ep 53)
- Yellow Fever (Ep 10)
- H. Pylori (Ep 28)
- Aspirin (Ep 29)
- Ricin (Ep 41)
- MRSA (Ep 15)
I can’t even narrow down my favorites to a top 3, I love them all; so just pick from any of the above to get started. Or you can start with the very first episode and listen to each one in order of their release.
They also have a few episodes dedicated to COVID-19, so if you’re looking for a legit place to learn about it, the Erins will set you straight.
THE BIOLOGY OF SUPERHEROES
Okay okay this one is really nerdy but super fun, where science meets fiction and explores the plausibility of high-concept entertainment. My favorites: Jurassic Park (Episodes 4 & 6 – this is a two-parter), Ant Man (Episode 16), The Incredible Hulk (another two-part series, Episodes 13 &14) and The Immortal Iron Fist (Episode 10.)
STUFF YOU MISSED IN HISTORY CLASS
A mixed bag of topics that cover everything from things you might have heard of but never discussed in history class or people/events you’ve never even heard of and would probably never be talked about in any kind of class. I’ve noticed that many of their episodes are re-airing of old shows and I’m glad for it, as I’m new to the podcast and there are plenty of fascinating stories I’d otherwise miss. My favorites: The Night Witches (aired November 7, 2020), Elbridge Gerry’s Monstrous Salamander (August 29, 2020), O. Henry (December 21, 2020), the White House (two-parter aired on August 24 & 26, 2020), Jim Thorpe (three parts aired on November 23, 25 and 30 in 2020), Helen Taussig (aired November 16, 2020), the Paramount Decrees (aired September 21 and 23, 2020), Demon Core (aired October 12, 2020) and the Delano Grape Strike and Boycott (August 31, 2020).
THIS AMERICAN LIFE
I have to be in a particular mood to take on Ira Glass. To be clear, I think he’s great, I just need to be in a mood. This delightful hodgepodge of all kinds of slices of Americana will either tickle you or make you cry. I recommend you start with these: An American in Paris (Episode 165, July 28, 2000), Switched at Birth (Episode 360, July 25, 2008), Amusement Park (Episode 443, August 12, 2011) and 129 Cars (Episode 513, December 13, 2013).
IN VOGUE: THE 1990s
A nostalgic stroll down memory lane to the 1990s, revisiting pivotal moments in pop culture and history through the lens of fashion. I’m not even going to single out favorite episodes because the entire series is worth a listen (13 + bonus episodes.)
30 FOR 30/ESPN INVESTIGATES
A friend of mine who is a big gymnastics fan had recommended I listen to Season 7: Heavy Medals about Bela Karolyi and USA Gymnastics, which was fantastic. 30 for 30 is a great podcast for doing a deeper dive into the stories behind your favorite sports or athletes. (Next on my playlist are the poker episodes.) Although without this show, I would not have been directed to ESPN Investigates: Bloodlines, a spellbinding series on horse racing that discusses how the recent Santa Anita tragedies can be traced back to the sport’s beginnings (spoiler alert: it’s the bloodlines.)
This new podcast, which launched in July of last year, is my go-to podcast for all things techy, just like the magazine is my go-to source for tech news. Favorite episodes: The High-Stakes Data-Driven Poker Takedown (November 30, 2020), Can Pepe the Frog Ever Be Redeemed? (November 15, 2020) and The Science of Fire Tornadoes (October 19, 2020.)
And now for something completely different… this podcast is a little bit Stuff You Missed in History Class, a little bit This American Life, and a little bit of everything in between. Brought to you by the folks at the Smithsonian, this curated list of anecdotes can be really intriguing or merely entertaining. Check out the creepy episode on Edison’s Demon Dolls (December 15, 2020) or the thought-provoking Dress Coded (September 29, 2020.)
I started listening to NPR’s Planet Money podcast in an effort to educate myself on finance and economics (not my strong suits) so that I’d know what the eff journalists talk about when they discuss “The Fed.” Favorite episodes: The Stolen Company (December 9, 2020), Worst. Tariffs. Ever. (November 11, 2020), Hot Dog Hail Mary (November 27, 2020), The Murderer, The Boy King, and The Invention of Modern Finance (September 27, 2020), Sell Me Your Climate Bombs (September 25, 2020) and We Buy a Lot of Christmas Trees (December 11, 2020.)
DRIVING THE GREEN BOOK
I know plenty of people that took offense to the Oscar-winning movie Green Book because, among several reasons, it was told from the white point of view. Enter “Driving the Green Book,” a powerful series launched last year that pairs award-winning BBC commentator Alvin Hall with activist Janée Woods Weber as they recreate a Green Book-y road trip from Detroit to New Orleans, collecting personal stories from Black Americans who either traveled or interacted with travelers during that period. Ten riveting episodes will give you a taste of what people had to endure to survive something as simple as a road trip.
So far, I’ve named wonderfully educational shows but I’ve enjoyed others for purely entertaining purposes. Enter “Smartless,” a podcast from three of my favorite comedic actors: Jason Bateman, Sean Hayes, and Will Arnett. The show’s hosts, finding themselves with a lot of downtime during the COVID lockdown, decided to make themselves a little smarter (Bateman and Arnett’s joint collaboration is called DumbDumb Productions) by inviting guests from all walks of life. The twist is that one host brings a surprise guest, the other two have no idea who it is until the session gets under way. I find it far more enjoyable than most interview shows, riding mostly on the hosts’ self-deprecating humor and industry insights. I’ve listened to most of the episodes and I love them all, but particular favorites are the ones featuring Stacey Abrams, Kamala Harris, David Chang, Paul McCartney and Neil deGrasse Tyson.
DAVID TENNANT DOES A PODCAST WITH…
Here’s another show where celebrities interview other celebrities but this one is fun because of the accents. Seriously, everything is that much better and that much charming with a British accent. Which is why I usually turn to British anything when I want to smile because if there is anything the British will teach you is to not take anything seriously, including yourself. My personal favorites are the shows with Jon Hamm (he may not be British, but he’s funny as heck), Olivia Colman (the woman will surprise you) and Catherine Tate (one of my all-time favorite comediennes. By the way, search the internet for her hilarious though politically incorrect “The Translator.” You won’t be sorry.)
A SASSY LITTLE PODCAST FOR GETTING OVER IT
I’m not just recommending this show because it’s hosted by one of my dearest friends (the brilliant Sandra Miller.) Nor because I make a guest turn in the Single Stigma episode (forgive me please, it was my first podcast interview ever.) Sandra is wildly talented and put together a slate of topics worth digging into, from clutter to ageism, from shame to ego. Give it a try!
NORTH OF 40
Another podcast from a friend of mine, North of 40 hit a nerve. I met the show’s host, Maryam Mika Day, when we were both producers at an ad agency. Maryam is also an actress-dancer-filmmaker who talks about the “soul shift” that happens when you hit the age of 40. For anyone finding themselves past that milestone, this show forces you to examine yourself and your place in society.
BLEAV IN EVERYTHING USC WITH NARA WENG
The last of my friend-podcast recos, Bleav in Everything USC with Nara Weng is a sports pod for — just like the show title — everything USC. Nara brings years of sports reporting and insight to the table. Yes, this is super niche but Nara’s no-nonsense style makes this a palatable source for USC sports discussions. Fight on!
So there you have it; my favorite podcasts so far but I expect to post an update likely this time next year. There are a slew of shows in my library that I hope to get to before 2021 is over.