Podcasts have been around for a decade. But all of a sudden, people are sitting up and taking notice.
In the past few months, at least two media companies focused on podcasts have launched — Gimlet Media, which chronicled its own early days on the podcast "StartUp," and Slate Magazine's Panoply. It's starting to feel like a golden age of podcasting is upon us.
But with hundreds of fascinating podcasts out there, getting started can feel intimidating. So here's our best attempt to sort through them. There are podcasts to listen to on your commute, while you're cleaning the house, while you're cooking dinner, and even when you're trying (and failing) to fall asleep. The only criteria for inclusion is that they have to have an established archive of at least five episodes, so 1) it's easy to tell what you're getting yourself into, and 2) you can binge-listen if you want. (And yes, categorizing podcasts is tricky, so most of these could fit into several categories.)
The writer and screenwriter and a different guest each week talk about entertainment and the creative life, often about movies. They're long, interesting, and analytical conversations. It hasn't been updated since November, but there's a deep archive of nearly 50 previous podcasts to dive into.
Episodes are around an hour.
"Here's the Thing" with Alec Baldwin
In "Here's the Thing," Alec Baldwin interviews mostly boldfaced names — Ira Glass, Lena Dunham, Billy Joel — but people rave about his interviewing style. This is the podcast I hear about most frequently from people who don't generally listen to podcasts. An interview with the head of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals "brought a perspective to extreme movements and their role in changing society that I still think about probably a year later," says Vox engagement editor Allison Rockey.
Episodes used to be an hour but are now running slightly shorter, around 45 minutes, and are released every two weeks.
"Love+Radio" features long interviews, many with people you've never heard of — an at-home strip club manager, a black man who befriended the KKK — produced into long audio stories. The production values are amazing, and the result is an incredibly intimate look at other people's lives. There really isn't anything else like it. "If you like hearing other people's secrets, you'll probably like listening to this," says Vox video editor Joe Posner.
Episodes are around half an hour, released about twice a month.
"You Made It Weird" with Pete Holmes
Vox Editor-in-Chief Ezra Klein described this podcast so well I'm just going to let him take it from here: "Comedian Pete Holmes talks with people — mostly comedians — for absurdly long periods of time. Episodes routinely blow past the two-hour mark. It sounds horrible. It's actually awesome. Holmes is a fantastic interviewer who recognizes the most interesting thing about interesting people is rarely their work. So instead, Holmes tends to talk to them about the subjects he's interested in: religion, pain, death, family, shame, confidence, dating, insecurity, sex, etc. It's basically a podcast about the core questions of human existence. It also convinced me Dana Carvey is pretty much the wisest man alive."
New episodes are released weekly.
"Call Your Girlfriend"
Ann Friedman and Aminatou Sow are writers and long-distance friends who catch up with each other every few weeks on "Call Your Girlfriend." "You'll enjoy this podcast if you like listening in on candid conversations about everything from Beyoncé to how to make friends as an adult to Shine Theory," says Vox social media staffer Lauren Katz. "And if you miss your long-distance best friend, you can listen to this podcast together and feel slightly better."
Episodes are around 40 minutes.
"My Brother, My Brother, and Me"
"My Brother, My Brother, and Me" is a comedy advice podcast starring three brothers that comes highly recommended by several Vox staffers as one of the funniest podcasts out there. Hosted by Justin, Travis, and Griffin McElroy. (Griffin and Justin both work at Polygon, a Vox Media company.)
Episodes are around an hour, released weekly on Mondays.
"Yo, Is This Racist?"
Andrew Ti uses a question about racism that an anonymous listener sends via voicemail to jumpstart a very candid conversation about the issue. "My favorite podcasts are usually really entertaining people talking to each other as if they were getting drinks at a bar," says Vox motion graphics designer Estelle Caswell. "This is that type of podcast." She recommends you start with this episode about the narrative of white privilege.
Episodes are under 15 minutes and are released frequently; there are more than 300 in the archive.
Podcasts about life
"99% Invisible," hosted by Roman Mars, is a podcast about design, told in a medium with no pictures. It's been getting attention for a couple of years for the innovative ways it tells stories. There is an episode about the musical groans emitting from Metro escalators, and about "hacking" Ikea furniture, and about Wonder Bread — all kinds of everyday things you've never thought twice about.
Episodes come out weekly on Wednesdays and tend to be pretty short, less than 10 minutes.
"Criminal" is a true-crime podcast with episodes exploring everything from famous murder cases (including the murder featured in The Staircase) to little-known true crime (a Venus Flytrap theft ring).
Episodes are between 15 and 20 minutes long and have been produced about once a month so far.
"Reply All" is a podcast about how we live on the internet from Gimlet Media, a new podcasting startup. It's sort of the This American Life of the internet, telling stories about an app that lets you send a stranger to deliver a message, or about both sides of an internet dating scam.
Episodes are usually between 20 minutes and a half hour, and usually come out weekly.
A former producer for This American Life and Planet Money, Alex Blumberg started a podcasting company and did a podcast about it while the business was getting off the ground. Its first 13-episode series focused on Blumberg's own startup; future seasons will look at different businesses. It's a great insight into both the world of startups and the world of media.
The first season is over now, but there are 13 episodes available to listen to. They're about half an hour long.
A fun podcast about food, hosted by Dan Paschman of the Cooking Channel, "The Sporkful" covers everything from what's inside the CIA cafeteria to the science of why greasy food is delicious to which kind of potatoes make the best hangover cure. Don't listen on an empty stomach. (Another food podcast I'm looking forward to trying is "Burnt Toast," from Food52, but it only has a few episodes out so far.)
Episodes are around half an hour, released weekly.
Weird and highly recommended podcasts
"Welcome to Night Vale"
"Welcome to Night Vale" is a scripted, fictional podcast about the weird goings-on in Night Vale — a sort of creepy parody of small-town community radio. It's one of the most consistently recommended podcasts, even though — or maybe because — it doesn't have much in common with the roundtables, interviews, and reporting that dominate podcasts today. And it comes highly recommended by culture editor Todd VanDerWerff.
New episodes released (about 20 to 25 minutes long) released twice a month. Start from the beginning.
Podcasts about popular culture
A gaming podcast recommended by Vox staff writer German Lopez: "It's probably one of the most informative dives into video games and the game industry each week, usually with a personal touch so it's not just mindless droning about what makes some video games great. It also sometimes has special guests from the game industry."
Episodes are long — up to two hours — and released weekly.
"Pop Culture Happy Hour"
The important thing about a roundtable podcast is that the people you're listening to feel like good company. NPR's "Pop Culture Happy Hour" is a lively discussion about books, TV, movies, comics, and just about everything else hosted by Linda Holmes and a rotating cast of regulars. It helps if you've read or watched what they're discussing that week, but you certainly don't have to. It's like listening in on a dinner party discussion that's way more interesting than your dinner parties.
Full episodes, released weekly, are about 45 minutes; small-batch episodes are often under 10 minutes.
On this podcast, musicians talk about how their songs were made — from the Postal Service on "The District Sleeps Alone Tonight" to composer Alexandre Desplat on his score for the movie The Imitation Game. It gives insight into the creative process, says Winston Hearn, a front-end developer for Vox Media.
Episodes are released every few weeks and are about 20 minutes long.
"The Americans: Slate TV Club Insider"
Okay, a podcast focused on a TV show with a tragically small audience is a bit of a niche recommendation. But if you love FX's story about Cold War spies in the 1980s — and if you're not watching it, you really should be — this podcast from The Americans' showrunners makes watching an even richer experience. Even if you don't watch the show, though, the podcast is worth it for its candid, in-depth discussions of what it takes to make a great TV show — from acting to stunts to production design.
Episodes are released weekly on Thursdays and run about half an hour, though some have been longer.
Podcasts about policy and the news
A fun, chatty podcast recommended by Vox's Tim Lee: "Run by two smart young staffers at AEI, it's a great way to keep up with what's happening in right-of-center policy circles."
Episodes are under 25 minutes and come out a few times a month.
"Arms Control Wonk"
A podcast recommended by Max Fisher, who oversees Vox's foreign coverage: "It's funny, pithy, conversational, and super-nerdy. They discuss major foreign policy issues that relate to arms control, which these days is a lot of them. The tone is approachable and lighthearted enough that anyone who follows basic foreign news can enjoy it, but also gets in-depth enough that you end up learning a lot."
Episodes can run up to an hour and come out a few times a month.
A science and public health news podcast that brings in experts and researchers to discuss the biggest science topics of the week. Recommended by Vox's German Lopez, who says it's a relatable way to get science news.
Episodes are about an hour and come out weekly.
"Do You Like Prince Movies?"
Grantland's pop culture podcast, from writers Alex Pappademas and Wesley Morris. A little more news-focused than NPR's "Pop Culture Happy Hour," with segments on recently released movies and the pop culture news of the week, and great banter.
Episodes are released weekly and are slightly over an hour.
Podcasts about history
"BackStory" is a podcast where three historians — one each for the 18th, 19th, and 20th centuries — trace one theme through American history, whether it's how we tell time, how we shop, or how we define the middle class. It's hosted by Ed Ayers, president of the University of Richmond, and two history professors at the University of Virginia, Peter Onuf and Brian Balogh. Every episode feels like it could be adapted into a fascinating book without too much trouble. If you're at all interested in history, every episode is packed with fascinating facts.
Episodes are usually about an hour and come out weekly, although many are rebroadcasts. Archives go back to 2008.
Every week, "Revolutions" takes you inside a political revolution — right now it's focusing on the French Revolution, the archives include the English Civil War, and Haiti is up next. It's very detailed — so far, the podcast has spent 31 episodes on the French Revolution alone — but gets rave reviews for being engaging. Recommended by Vox editor Tim Lee.
Episodes are around half an hour and come out about every week.
"The Memory Palace"
"The Memory Palace," hosted by Nate DiMeo, tells stories from the past that you've never heard — the history of eating lobsters, or the riots that started in 1964, or about historical fears of being buried alive. (The last one, full of real-life ghost stories, will haunt you for a long time.) They're beautifully written and elegiac, read in a relaxing voice, sort of like bedtime stories from the world's most fascinating history book.
Episodes come out infrequently (monthly at best) and are short, but there's a vast archive if you're a newcomer.
"You Must Remember This"
Stories from "the first century of Hollywood" — from silent films up to the present day — are featured on this podcast by Karina Longworth, a former film critic for LA Weekly. Many episodes focus on stars from Hollywood's studio system era (Hedy Lamarr, Humphrey Bogart, Lauren Bacall) but some include more recent memories, including a two-episode feature on Madonna. The podcast gets rave reviews for its production values and insight.
Episodes come out weekly and run from half an hour to 45 minutes or so.
WATCH: Radio of the future — welcome to the podcast era
Correction: This post originally stated that "Revolutions" covered the Glorious Revolution, rather than the English Civil War. It has been corrected and updated.