A Year In Podcasts

There was a lot going on in my life in 2015.

I moved!

I turned 30!

I got engaged! 

I worked more hours than I ever worked!

Last year was the year in which I felt like I became a (according to Hoyle) man. For the first time in my life I bared the entirety of life's responsibilities on my own shoulders - hell, I even did my own taxes. 

Over the course of the next couple of weeks I want to take some time to talk about some of the things in the world of pop culture that really stuck with me. I'm doing this for a couple of reasons, but mostly because I haven't had the chance to stretch the writerly muscles in a while. I hope you find at least a couple of interesting tidbits in the coming posts, and I wish all of you the best of things in 2016. 

So to kick things off I would like to take some time to talk about what was my favorite pastime of 2015...


Before I get into my favorite podcasts of last year I would like to give a brief summary of my history with podcasts. I was in on podcasting early. The first podcasts I remember listening to were 1 Up Yours, a weekly show about video games and The Ricky Gervais Show, which was a radio show in which comedians/writers Ricky Gervais, Stephen Merchant, and Karl Pilkington basically shot the shit. The Ricky Gervais Show would basically set the precedent for what many of today's podcasts sound like. 

As the form has evolved there are now dozens of different genres of podcasts. Most shows that originally air on NPR or other popular shows on terrestrial radio are now downloadable as a podcast. Say you want to listen to Fresh Air or Pardon the Interruption everyday but can't catch the shows during their original airing times, you can simply subscribe to these shows via iTunes or Sticher, or any number of podcasting apps available today, and now you have that show at your disposal 24/7, 365. 

That's the top layer of the onion that is a podcast. It's an audio recording that you can download and listen to whenever you want. The best podcasts, or the podcasts that I listen to the most tend to be released on a weekly basis, and run anywhere from half an hour to a couple of hours. As someone who spends a good amount of his time in a car every week, podcasts are a bit of a godsend. In the interest of full disclosure I will come out and say that I am currently subscribed to 31 different podcasts, the vast majority of which I listen to every week. This not not include the shows that I listen to when an episode bubbles up in the daily churn of internet chatter. For instance I do not subscribe to the very popular WTF podcast with Marc Maron, but I do often download episodes of the show, including the interview that the comedian/host had with President Barrack Obama. 

What podcasts have done for me is fill in the blank spaces of my own life with interesting storytelling and engaging conversation. I listen to podcasts when I'm commuting back and forth to work, in the break room at work, washing dishes, doing laundry, waiting for an appointment, or playing a video game. It's become my go to activity for when I'm not actively engaged with people, work or taking in some other kind of pop culture. Too some people this has become the norm, others are just dipping their feet into the waters, but the vast majority of people still have little to no idea what podcasts are in the same way that most people could not explain what Facebook was just a few years ago. With the proliferation of smart phones, and the oncoming revolution to the way we consume audio in cars and in the home, it's hard to imagine podcasts not becoming the way in which we consume audio media. 

That all said, here are a couple of my favorite podcasts from 2015. I may not be the absolute authority on podcasts but I feel like I've consumed enough hours of of podcasts this year to have a relatively informed opinion on what shows people may enjoy. 

Serial - At this point you've probably heard about the phenomenon that is Serial, and more specifically season one of the show in which the world was introduced to the investigation and conviction of Baltimore native Adnan Syed for the 1999 murder of Hae Min Lee an 18-year-old student at Woodlawn High School. Over the course of many weeks we learn the facts of the case, we get to hear from many of the witnesses as well as trial testimony from the prosecution and defense, and are challenged to put together from the evidence and testimony are own idea of what happened to Hae Min Lee all those years ago. More specifically we are left wondering if Adnan was truly capable of committing this crime. 

Serial is a show that branched off from This American Life, a radio show and podcast that I have been listening too since I was a kid. As opposed to This American Life's style of telling three or four stories based on a single theme about the lives of American's, Serial tells one story over the course of many weeks. Executive Producer and Host Sarah Koenig leads a hugely talented team that has produced a show that is incredibly addictive, and consistently excellent. 

Serial is currently the most downloaded podcast in the history of the medium, the show received a Peabody Award for it's first season, and is the piece of pop culture I have endorsed most throughout the year. I can't think of anything else from this year that has caused more discussion within my personal group of friends than this show. Season two is currently being aired, and if you enjoy good storytelling I would recommend downloading the first episode of the this season and getting in on the discussion. 

Roderick On The Line - If Serial represents what a full team of highly talented investigators, producers, and sound engineers can do with a heap of funding and cultural cache backing their efforts, Roderick On The Line represents the other side of the podcasting coin. Roderick On The Line is a (mostly) weekly show in which podcasting godfather, and former productivity guru, Merlin Mann calls up his friend, noted pop music musician, John Roderick and engages in roughly an hour of sometimes light hearted, sometimes incredibly deep and poignant conversation about life. 

Mr. Roderick has lived many lives in his 47 years on this planet. He is best known for being the lead singer and guitarist of one the early aughts most respected indie bands, The Long Winters, but he has also been homeless, backpacking through Europe. He has recently run for the office of Seattle city council, a city in which he has lived most of his adult life in and talks about with much love and candor. 

Over the 184 episodes, the vast majority recorded over Skype, the listener begins to feel like the third friend sitting at a table, listening to the two share life stories. There are a lot of podcasts that feature this theme, but it's Roderick's gift for storytelling and Mann's ability to keep John on the tracks that makes for a brilliant hour of storytelling. This is a show that I suggest a person starts from the beginning. There are a couple of central themes that get brought up early in the history of the show, and carry through to the more recent episodes.

Other shows that I would recommend!

  • The Bill Simmons Podcast - Bill Simmons is the most influential sports writer of this century as well as on the of OG's of podcasting. He has had a multitude of celebrities and athletes on the show, even the POTUS, but some of his best work comes when he has his friends on to talk about what's going on in the world of sports. 
  • StartUp - This show is hosted by former This American Life and Planet Money contributor, Alex Blumberg who left his relatively cushy life in the world of public radio to start a podcasting company all his own. This is a show that I've only recently caught on to, but I've been consuming it two or three episodes at a time. 
    • It just so happens that all of the shows that have spawned from Blumbergs start-up company, Gimlet Media are worthy of your time. 
  • Love + RadioHere is a show that will probably break your heart at some point. Love + Radio tells one story per episode and it's themes range all across the spectrum of human experiences. In the episode that introduced me to the show, The Living Room a woman has a clear vantage point to her neighbors home because the neighbors never shut their curtains. In what starts as a kind of ode to Hitchcock's Rear Window, the story evolves into something that is hauntingly beautiful, and really, really sad. It's one of the best stories I've heard over this medium and I highly recommend it. 

Here's the thing...

What really makes podcasts great is that you can search for any subject that interest you and find a show that is right up your alley. For a story junky like me, podcasts have become one life's true pleasures. If you are looking for something to listen to on your commute, or for something to help pass the time at the gym or at home doing tedious tasks, try downloading one of the show's I've recommended, or look for something that suits your style. You'll thank me later.