This year I discovered the magic of podcasts. Sure, I’ve listened to them before. I mean, I had to check out Serial when everyone was talking about it, so I could see what the fuss was about. But this was the year I became obsessed.

For those who aren’t familiar, podcasts are audio recordings – kind of like a radio show. Most podcast shows cover a broad theme – creativity, business, crime, pop culture, etc. Each podcast show has individual episodes, typically with a specific topic or topics. You can download individual episodes or subscribe to a feed to get all the episodes from a show sent to you. I personally do this using the podcasts app on my iPhone, which syncs up with iTunes on my computers.

What I love about podcasts is that it gives complete control to the listener. I can opt-in to whichever shows I want. I can skip episodes that don’t sound interesting. I can pause the audio and I can listen on my own time. And with my phone, I can listen anywhere! I often listen on my computer while I’m working, or on my phone through my stereo when I’m driving, or with headphones when I’m working in the yard or cleaning my house. (I was not a fan of weeding my gardens until I started listening to podcasts while I was working.)

Here are a few of my current favorites.

Must Listen

NPR Politics

This podcast covers all the political news of the week in a straightforward, balanced way. While you can tell that the reporters may have their own opinions on politicians, they present the facts and offer both sides of a story. When they do comment on a particular issue or race, it’s more of a generic commentary on the political machine as a whole. This is great for a behind-the-scenes perspective on how politics works, without the drama of cable news. They end each episode with “Can’t Let It Go,” a segment in which each person shares something they just can’t stop thinking about from the week.

Pop Culture Happy Hour

You’d think this might be on the opposite end of the spectrum from the politics podcast, but it really isn’t. These folks take their pop culture very seriously, while still being incredibly funny. This show offers three segments: two topics and a wrap-up. The two headliner topics vary week to week – movies, themes, music, television, books. They may focus on one particular thing, such as a review of the new “Suicide Squad” movie, or they may take a broad approach, such as “weddings in pop culture.” The last wrap-up segment is called “What’s Making Me Happy This Week,” where they each offer things they’re individually enjoying. I’ve learned of new shows, movies, books, and other podcasts through this show, and their recommendations are great. This podcast is also great at combatting FOMO (fear of missing out) – I get a summary of a topic in pop culture so I know what people are talking about, and then I can decide whether to pursue it further on my own.

The West Wing Weekly

This is a must-listen for anyone who was a big fan of Aaron Sorkin’s show The West Wing. Hosted by Joshua Malina (he played Will Bailey on the show, and now appears on Scandal) and Hrishikesh Hirway (podcaster, music composer, musician), this show is like a TV version of a bookclub. They go through the show, episode by episode, and break down the plot lines, offering commentary on the show from a modern perspective. They also invite individuals involved in the making of the show or related to topics covering the show to come on each week. They point out things you may have missed the first time you saw an episode – like the fact that the decorations in C.J. Cregg’s fishbowl change to match the theme of each episode. (Which was given to her by reporter Danny Concannon, played by Timothy Busfield – who I had the pleasure of meeting this week!)

Radiolab Presents: More Perfect

This side project of the Radiolab show (also a good listen, by the way) focuses on stories behind key decisions of the Supreme Court. Clearly, judging by my other recommendations in this list, I am a bit of a political junkie. What I love about this show is that it humanizes the stories behind the names in trial decisions and the individuals on the Court. I appreciate knowing more than just a name and one sentence definition of why a case was important.

Serial

From the makers of This American Life, this podcast tells one story over the course of a season, with in-depth investigative reporting. Season one was my favorite. Without giving too much away, that season has been credited by some as potentially changing the outcome of a murder investigation. One thing I love about this podcast, the first I ever listened to, is the sound editing. The creators do an excellent job of splicing together hundreds of interviews with commentary to tell complex stories. As a communications professional, I’m always looking for resources and samples of how to do work better, and this is an excellent example.

Selectively Listen

Fresh Air

This long standing NPR radio interview show releases each episode as a podcast. This is a more convenient way for me to catch them than on the radio. I don’t listen to every single episode, but I do listen to those interviewees that I’m familiar with or the topics that interest me. Truth be told, though, even the ones I’ve never heard of are interesting.

Embedded

This NPR show, hosted by Kelly McEvers, “goes deep” on a particular story in the news. Each episode covers a different topic, and allows the listener to get a deeper understanding of a topic through in-depth investigative reporting. It proves that there is more to a story than the 30-second headline covered by most news shows.

Being Boss: A Podcast for Creative Entrepreneurs

This podcast, and the accompanying blog and e-Newsletter, are targeted at individuals in creative professions who either run their own business, freelance, or aspire to do one of those things. Even if this doesn’t apply to you, if you consider yourself a creative you might find some interesting insights into work and art from these episodes. There are a few I don’t listen to – the podcasters are into what they call “woo woo” things, like tarot cards and crystals, that are really not me – but I generally listen to all those focused on business and craft.

Young House Love Has A Podcast

Young House Love was a blog that featured a young couple fixing up their first (then second, and third) home using DIY projects. I discovered this blog shortly after buying my first home, and it immediately became a Must Read for me. A few weeks later, they stopped publishing. I read the archive, and bought their book, but is just wasn’t the same. But now they’re back! They have a podcast where they discuss home improvements and interior design ideas. I like it so far, but I think they’re still finding their footing when it comes to format. It’s a little quirky, which can be fun, depending on the episode.

Next Up

Slate’s Working

I just learned of this podcast last week, although it has been around for a few seasons. The show goes behind the scenes to show how individuals in different roles do their jobs. This season focused on people who work at the White House, and the show came to my attention through a blog that mentioned an episode about the speechwriter who worked on President Obama’s speech for the Democratic National Convention. I haven’t listened to this podcast yet, but when I looked up the archives the episodes all looked so good that I went ahead and downloaded each of them. I can’t wait to get started!

 

That’s it from me. What are you listening to? Let me know if there are other podcasts I should check out by leaving a note in the comments.

 

Don't mind me. Just fangirling over here with Danny Concannon. #WestWing

A photo posted by Katie Kelly (@kkellymsu) on

Serial Podcast” by Casey Fiesler is licensed under CC BY 2.0