Every day, I walk around campus laughing at voices only I can hear. If there’s a downside to podcasts, it’s the inevitable moment that you make eye contact with a stranger right as the show makes you giggle. But podcasts are so much more valuable than any momentary social awkwardness.
Podcasts have risen in popularity since their creation in 2004 when Adam Curry and David Winer were credited with inventing the medium. Podcasts are audio shows that are distributed through the internet. With hundreds of thousands of different podcasts in a variety of languages, a podcast exists for almost any interest. Want to talk politics? Try “Pod Save America.” Do you like to judge cinema? “We Hate Movies” has you covered. Are you a fan of cats? “The Purrrcast” is for you.
According to a 2016 study by Edison Research, 21 percent of Americans 12 and older have listened to a podcast in the last month. The number of people who have ever listened to a podcast has doubled since 2008, but the medium is still small relative to the audience of traditional radio. Available through a wide variety of platforms, podcasts are easily accessible but still are not widely discussed. In the same study, it was shown that less than half of Americans even knew the term “podcasting,” a statistic that hasn’t changed significantly in the last few years.
While I love listening to music, a podcast provides something music can’t. Listening to podcasts is like getting to watch a television show while you’re walking around or driving. Once you find the podcast for you, it’s addictive in the best way. In between classes, I can hear improvised stories from a magical land, find out the latest gaming news and even learn about the DNA-editing potential of CRISPR.
In addition to providing content, podcasts also provide a unique community for listeners. Many of the larger podcasts have fan bases that organize meet-ups, create merchandise and foster friendships through social media channels. Several of the big-name shows have successfully implemented national and international live tours of their shows. Podcast festivals — such as the L.A. Podcast Festival and the Chicago Podcast Festival — host dozens of live podcasts where the audience gets the chance to watch their favorite shows take place and engage with others who share their interests.
I can tell podcasts are gaining popularity as hosts sell out live shows and appear in magazines such as Entertainment Weekly, but I’m always looking to get more people interested in the medium. I feel podcasts can stimulate thought and discussion in a way many other entertainment outlets can’t. I’ll admit I tend to listen to more humor and entertainment based podcasts, but part of the beauty is that listeners can cultivate podcasts that are perfectly tailored to their tastes. So, as I share some of my favorite podcasts, remember that there is almost certainly a podcast out there for you. Podcasts are an underutilized source of entertainment for those who are always looking to learn, laugh and listen, and I hope more people will take advantage of them.
“My Favorite Murder” – true crime
A podcast for those who are equal parts freaked out and fascinated by creepy murder stories, hosts Georgia Hardstark and Karen Kilgariff discuss true crime stories and hometown murders, all with a healthy dose of anxiety and humor.
“SinCast — Presented by CinemaSins” – movies/entertainment
Hosted by the creators of the popular YouTube channels “CinemaSins,” Chris Atkinson, Jeremy Scott and Barrett Share take a break from pointing out movie “sins” to discuss their shared love of film. The hilarious trio determines their favorite movie from each year they’ve been alive, pass judgment on popular new releases and answer fan questions.
“The Co-Optional Podcast” – video games/talk-show
Streamed live on Twitch every Tuesday, John Bain, Brooke Leigh Lawson and Jesse Cox host a show where they sometimes talk about video games. Each week they talk with a guest about the video games they’ve played that week, debate big news in the game industry and discuss new releases— although the show often diverts into other subjects.
“Rabbits” — mystery/alternate reality
In this narrative-driven mystery, Carly Parker documents her search to find her missing friend, Yumiko, who disappeared while playing a strange alternate reality game called “Rabbits.” The deeply atmospheric podcast will have you questioning what is real and feeling genuine concern for the characters.
“Radiolab” – science/philosophy
This Peabody Award-winning podcast is nationally syndicated and hosts Jad Abumrad and Robert Krulwich use their airtime to share well-researched and impeccably produced stories on a variety of topics. Lauded for their ability to make difficult topics accessible to audiences, Radiolab is the podcast for those looking to learn something new with every listen.
“Hello from the Magic Tavern” – improvisational humor
It’s been over a year since Arnie Niekamp fell through a dimensional portal behind a Burger King into the magical land of Foon, where he and co-hosts Usidore the Wizard (Matt Young) and Chunt the Talking Badger (Adal Rifai) interview magical creatures. The improvisational nature of the podcast has the hosts struggling not to laugh at their own jokes while trying to help Arnie figure out his new home, and listeners will have a hard time keeping a straight face as well.