From true crime to the narration of a father’s pornographic novel, here are the best podcasts of 2016.
With thousands of podcasts around, it can be hard to narrow the selection down to a fine-tuned list. So to answer your question, “Where do I start?” The answer is right here. The beauty of podcasts is that you don’t need to listen to them religiously (although we do recommend it), you can sample a few different ones and pick and choose what you like best.
Alice Isn’t Dead
From the makers of the gloriously strange Welcome To Night Vale comes this eerie podcast. The narrator, voiced by Jasika Nicole, is a truck-driver who records her day-to-day journey through her CB radio, telling the story of searching for her presumed-dead wife experiencing enigmatic spookiness along the way. Unlike most podcasts, Alice Isn’t Dead is a completely new serialised drama so the bad news is that you can’t just jump in, you’ll have to start from the beginning of the series but only at 20 minutes per episode, it’s no laborious task.
Death, Sex & Money
Every week Anna Sale’s sits down for an intimate conversation that tackles the difficult questions and choices in life that are often left out of polite conversation. You’ll hear from a former NFL player who has fallen out of love with the sport, the Sesame Street star battling childhood memories of her own and a sex worker trying to support her family. Sale’s warm and empathetic voice make for a great listen, but her willing to push forward with questions many would leave unasked make her an even greater interviewer.
From the This American Life team, Planet Money explains the economy and economics featuring fascinating stories about how the whole sphere works. Delivered in a way that’s conversation and interesting, it might not tell you what to do with your money, but it will tell you where all your money is going.
Start with: ‘The Giant Pool of Money’
A podcast not about true crime but true horror, the roots of our fears, Lore explores a darker side of history to expose the creatures, people and places of our most real nightmares. Each episode Aaron Mahnke examines folklore or an urban legend, and tries to decipher what about them makes us so unsettled – a history lesson in a style that evokes a creepy campfire experience.
Slate’s Political Gabfest
Of all the popular podcasts in political journalism, Slate’s Political Gabfest is one of the longest running. With Emily Bazelon, a staff writer for The New York Times Magazine and legal expert, David Plotz, CEO of the website Atlas Obscura and John Dickerson of CBS’s Face the Nation and who moderates the occasional presidential debate, the three former Slate writers discuss and debate the latest news in United States politics.
Here’s The Thing
Diving deep into conversation with well-known names across all industries, Alec Baldwin creates an intimacy so personal it’s as if you’re eavesdropping on a private conversation. Talking with artists, policy makers and performers, Baldwin’s honest conversations shed light on what inspired their creations and what decisions shaped their careers. Not being a journalist means Baldwin’s interviews take unusual turns and go places many interviews wouldn’t normally go.
You Must Remember This
Dishing out the secret history of Hollywood, narrator Karina Longworth, a former film critic, takes a mesmerising dive looking below the surface of silver screen legends. Last year’s twelve-part series on the Charles Manson murders was tough to follow but an exhaustive exploration this year on the Hollywood Blacklist was in a league of its own. With Longworth’s hypnotic voice, paired with crackly clips and music, the podcast itself feels cinematic and is enough to suck you in, but no doubt stick around for the stories.
Chances are you’re already heard of Serial, the compelling tale of Adnan Syed and the exploration into the 1999 murder case of student Hae Min Lee. Host Sarah Koenig retraces the steps of real-life crime stories hoping to find new evidence. It showed us that there’s still a thirst out there for old-fashioned investigative journalism amidst the click-bait culture of today. Season 2 took the same formula for the story of United States soldier Bowe Bergdahl who was held captive for five years by the Taliban. Admittedly the second season wasn’t absorbing Syed’s story, perhaps due to the fact that it wasn’t as relatable to the love story of two teens met in season one.
Tales from The Moth can be surprising, hilarious, sad or even deeply weird, often at times all four at once. The premise of The Moth is simple, it’s a selection of real life stories told without notes at Moth events around the world. The producers then correlate the best of these and put them into a podcast. Some stories have included Suzanne Barakat, a doctor and activist whose brother and sister-in-law were killed in a hate crimes, and Jillian Lauren, who was working as an exotic dancing and was flown to Brunei as a ‘companion’ to a member of the richest royal family in the world.
The Mysterious Secrets of Uncle Bertie’s Botanarium
This 12-part mini series is a unique comedy adventure starring Jemaine Clement (Flight Of the Conchords) along with an assortment of creative friends from Wellington, New Zealand. With a voice for radio, Clement plays Lord Joseph Banks, a “squillionaire” who sets sail on a quest to prove his mad-scientist uncle (also Clement) right. Rich in sound design and a gag-packed script, it packs a punch.
Comedy Bang Bang
Comedy Bang Bang, like all improvised comedy, can be hit-or-miss but when it’s on, it’s really on. Host Scott Aukerman blends a weekly podcast of conversation and character work with today’s funniest comedians. Interviewing celebrities using improv means oddballs at any level of eccentricity can pop up at any time to chat, compete in games and engage in comic revelry. Mad Men star Jon Hamm also tends to pop in at times to play a character named Juan Jamon.
Latin for invisible things, Invisibilia is about the unseeable forces that control human behaviour. Created by alum from Radiolab and This American Life, it interweaves narrative storytelling with scientific research looking at ideas on beliefs, assumptions and emotions, and unseen patterns and possibilities of our behaviour. Topics have explored how blind people might be able to use sound to climb trees or ride bikes and what exactly is the power of pheromones. Invisibilia is a podcast that will ultimately make you see your own life differently.
How Did This Get Made?
It’s happened to the best of us. Sitting in the dark watching a film so bad you rack your brain trying to understand who would’ve approved this at boardroom meeting, let alone forked out millions of dollars to have it made. How Did This Get Made? is a podcast hosted by the hilarious trio of comedian and actor Paul Sheer, his wife June Diane Raphael, and comedian Jason Mantzoukas. Each show which comes out weekly features a new guest and the deconstruction and mockery of bad films, where they tear it apart to figure out how on earth it did get made.
If you’re reading this list, chances are it’s because you want more podcasts in your life, and that is where Sampler becomes the perfect podcast for you. An informative podcast, it’s devoted to showcasing the best moments in podcasting, handpicking all the stuff host Brittany Luse thinks you should hear, plus what’s new. In addition to samples of what’s best, Luse also has regular conversations with other podcasters to discover why it is they do what they do.
My Dad Wrote a Porno
It’s only natural to be embarrassed by your parents. But Jamie Morton’s dad took it up a notch by writing a hilarious clunky erotic novella, Belinda Blinked. My Dad Wrote a Porno has host Morton reading out horrific chapters in front of friends and co-hosts Alice Levine and James Cooper, who then after discuss and dissect the work. The result is a mixture of crude writing, hilarious reactions, and a half-hour glimpse into what a middle aged man finds sexy.
WTF with Marc Maron
Angsty and neurotic, Marc Maron is a brilliant comedian. Getting deep and personal, each episode hears Maron interview someone famous to talk about their life, their work and what it feels like to be them. Comedic giants like Louis C.K and Robin Williams have featured on the show, to non-comedic acts like President Barack Obama stepping into Maron’s Garage, the place where he record most of his interviews. The podcast usually begins with an alternated hilarious, sad or bizarre (or even all three) extended rambling from Maron about his own life.
Audio aficionados are likely to know Radiolab already. Covering everything from science to philosophy, it remains one of the best podcasts in investigation and exploration told through sound and storytelling. Hosted by Jad Abumrad and Robert Krulwich, Radiolab is for listeners who demanded scepticism, but appreciate wonder.
Host by American musician and composer Hrishikesh Hirway, Song Exploder is a podcast where Hirway talks to musicians who take apart one of their songs and, piece by piece, tell the story of how they were made. Artists have included Chet Faker, Weezer, U2 and Courtney Barnett to name a few. The 15-minute shows are an artistic masterclass, that provide fascinating and insightful glimpse into the workings of many well-known artists.
An engaging podcast that breaks down the baffling world of internet culture. Though to label Reply All a show about the internet doesn’t give credit to the diversity of topics that hosts PJ Vogt and Alex Goldman explore each episode. They’ve tackled workplace iguanas, solved the mystery behind hundreds of people showing up at an Atlanta house in search of lost phones, and have told the beautifully tragic story behind a video game about losing a child.
99% Invisible uncovers all intricacies that shape the design of our physical world that tend to be ignored. Hosted by Roman Mars, the 15-20-minute episodes explore topics that are wide-spanning on the unnoticed urban architecture like bus stops, to stores that used to be a Pizza Hut. It dissects designs so good that they are essentially invisible.
This American Life
No essential podcast list would be complete without This American Life. Hosted by the now-infamous Ira Glass, each episode takes a theme around which Glass presents a set of fascinating non-fiction stories told through a serious reportage and novelistic sense of drama. The varied stories and formats make it consistently innovative and illuminating.