Imagine a weekly program that combines the audio of talk radio, the addictive nature of TV and the convenience of your iPod.
Believe it or not, this medium already exists and is as awesome as it sounds. I am referring to, of course, the podcast.
For those who have never heard of podcasting, here are the basics: Podcasts are essentially audio or video Web shows that focus on specific topics or themes.
Unlike other media, podcasts are almost always free to listen to. While they are certainly nothing new, podcasts have hit a renaissance of sorts in the last few years.
The increasing popularity of the format can be attributed to the staggering amount and variety of content podcasters are producing.
There are thousands of podcasts to choose from that cater to every interest such as tech, sports or literature; if you can think of a topic, there is probably a podcast for it.
Of course, you can’t possibly listen to every single one, so I found the best of the best that you should be listening to every week. So whether you’re picking your first podcast or trying to find your next obsession, here’s the cream of the crop:
Serial (Thursdays, iTunes or serialpodcast.org)
This podcast is brand new (it premiered in October), but has already developed a dedicated fan base.
Created and narrated by journalist Sarah Koenig and produced by WBEZ, Serial serves as a spinoff to WBEZ’s wildly popular radio program This American Life.
In this thrilling weekly show, Koenig investigates the 1999 murder of a Baltimore teen. As she digs into the case, she finds murky details and questionable testimonies that suggest that the case isn’t as simple as it seems.
Serial is true crime at its finest, with Koenig’s self-aware narration and impeccable storytelling showing off her skills as a podcaster.
Each episode is so good that the wait for the next one is unbearable. Koenig plans for each season to cover a different story, so this one will stay on your listening list for a while.
Pop Culture Happy Hour (Fridays, iTunes or npr.org/blogs)
NPR blogger Linda Holmes leads a weekly rotating roundtable of pop culture commentators who discuss the latest in music, movies, TV, etc.
The show is a must-listen for pop culture nerds (like myself) because of the intelligent, thoughtful and often hilarious conversations in each episode.
If you’ve ever wanted to think more critically about the media you consume, Holmes and her fellow contributors will help you ask the right questions about pop culture and challenge your preconceptions about why you like certain pieces of media. Plus, the group provides excellent suggestions for what to watch, read or listen to in the future. The show is light, fun and a perfect listen for a Friday night.
Comedy Bang Bang (Mondays and Thursdays, iTunes or earwolf.com)
Fans of irreverent and absurdist humor should already be familiar with the television show of the same name based on this podcast. Hosted by comedian Scott Aukerman, CBB is a wackier, more improvised version of a late night talk show. Twice a week, Aukerman sits down with some of the funniest people in show biz, such as SNL alum Andy Samberg and Community star Gillian Jacobs, to talk about their latest projects.
The show sports a more relaxed format that incorporates wild improvisation, strange characters and odd games that ultimately result in some of the most sidesplitting comedy you’ll ever hear. A warning to those listening in public: You will laugh out loud and people will stare at you.
Welcome to Night Vale (twice monthly, iTunes or commonplacebooks.com)
Welcome to Night Vale is a true callback to the old-time radio plays of yore. Night Vale is presented as a radio show broadcasting from the titular fictional town. The story is told through the character Cecil Palmer as he describes the strange events that occur in Night Vale, such as floating cats, “glow clouds” and PTA meetings.
Created by book publishers Joseph Fink and Jeremy Cantor, the show strikes a balance between Lovecraftian horror and gallows humor with Palmer delivering the narration with conviction to the material, making the often ridiculous stories sound eerily believable, but still maintaining enough sly wit in his voice to keep things darkly funny.
The podcast’s instant popularity spawned a series of live shows and a dedicated following all over the Internet.
Sound Opinions (Thursdays, iTunes or soundopinions.org)
Produced right here in the Windy City, Sound Opinions is the perfect podcast for music aficionados. The show is hosted by Chicago music critics Jim DeRogatis of WBEZ and Greg Kot of the Chicago Tribune.
Each week they pack the show with news, reviews and interviews that are a delight to listen to because of Kot and DeRogatis’ ability to speak critically about music while still remaining huge music nerds. The show also plays live performances from groups such as Broken Bells, Tweedy and many more.
The banter between Kot and DeRogatis is playful and engaging, and their years of experience as rock critics give everything they say a certain validity.
With these top-tier podcasts to get you started, you’ll be a podcast fanatic in no time.
Check out The Phoenix website for our own podcast, The Super Ciolli Bros, hosted by Dominic and Jack Ciolli.