I absolutely love podcasts. I probably listened to more podcasts this year than I did to music. I even started my own podcast (The Rankings Podcast). They are a hard thing to judge or rank objectively. The podcasts that you enjoy will probably be about something that you like as most are based around some sort of subject. Thus you will see very few commonalities between my list and other well known sites that cover podcasts (AV Club, Paste). My list is a lot more niche driven, while others tend to be focused on comedy by professional comedians without real subject matter. Most of mine are passion projects done by people just for fun, although some podcasts are just radio shows that are put on the internet. I have counted those anyway because the podcast format is the only way in which it is available to me.
The Top 10
10. Homebrewed Christianity
Tripp and Bo do Homebrewed in order to guide folks into a deeper theological life. They promote discussion of all the issues (most of which go beyond a lay persons understanding). They have a deep knowledge of all things theology and seem to care about people, the world, and God. From their guest interviews to their “Theology Nerd Throwdown”s, they always keep it lively, while discussing complex theories that at times I certainly can’t understand, worth a listen if you are into that sort of thing.
Ep. Recommendations: My favorites are usually the Nerd Throwdowns and I really enjoyed “Nerd Out! Leaving Church, Packing Heat, and Metaphysical Violence“. Also, the interview with Peter Rollins is great (though it mostly is just him speaking).
9. 9 Thumbs
A new podcast this year, 9 Thumbs has a basic premise, 3 guys talking each week about 3 things that they like (3×3=9, the thumb is a reference to the Facebook “like”). Since I love talking about all the facets of pop culture (that’s why I am even making this list), this podcast is a great listen. Jason, Matthew, and Rob are all writers who all love pop culture and cover a wide variety of subjects in their likes. This includes everything from music and movies to iPhone apps and Tumblr blogs, they keep it fun and fresh every week.
Ep. Recommendations: “From Gaga to Garfield to Liquid Pumpkin Pie” stands out as a fun one, most episodes are fairly equal in my eyes, but this episode’s discussion of politics, raising kids, television, Lady Gaga, and Starbucks drinks seems to offer a wide range of subjects that makes the show fun to listen to.
8. This American Life
This American Life is technically more of a radio show than a podcast, but since I only listen to it in podcast form, I will include it on here for now. It is run by the famous Ira Glass and weaves together real life stories from various people to form a theme during each episode. The staff at This American Life does the interviews and the stories are always interesting, sometimes hilarious, enticing, and even beautiful. Storytelling has become a big theme in the podcasting world with This American Life at the forefront and they really do it well, highlighting the American population in a fair, balanced, and fascinating way.
Ep. Recommendations: “This Week” was a really interesting if not beautiful episode that simply touched on things that had happened to people in the last week, showing the simple insight that can happen when we stop and listen to people’s stories. “Red State Blue State” came out the week of the election and told stories of people who had faced problems because of the politics that they have or believe are right. The episode tells both sides of the story and even goes further to bring in two people and try to offer reconciliation to them.
7. The BS Report
The BS Report features sports writer/personality Bill Simmons doing interviews about various topics relating to either sports or pop culture. The majority of the time he interviews those within his inner circle (Cousin Sal, Joe House, Mike Lombardi), but being one of the top sports guys out there he has the ability to get special guests as well (such as President Barack Obama!, Louis CK, Adam Carolla). He is always very funny and has a deep knowledge about sports that gives him a unique and entertaining take on most topics.
Ep. Recommendations: Each week with Cousin Sal (a writer for Jimmy Kimmel) Simmons and him guess the lines for the upcoming week in the NFL all the while discussing the previous week’s games, this is my favorite episode of the BS Report, though it should be listened to timely here is a recent one. And of course the Barack Obama one, in which the president talks about basketball, football, coaching his daughter’s team, and The Wire.
6. Relevant Podcast
The crew from Relevant Magazine continues their long running podcast featuring weekly segments, interviews, games, and musical performances. Honestly I like it better when they don’t have an interview to fill the time and choose to do a game instead, as the people they interview have become increasingly less interesting to me. There are some interviews and performances that remain solid though. The weekly segments include New Releases and Slices (weekly news stories) which often take on tangents and evolve into hilarious bits. The crew has a lot of chemistry and is a lot of fun to listen to week after week.
Ep. Recommendations: The “John Tesh” and “Paper Route” episodes show the group’s knack for inspiring the fans to Twitter stalk people into special guesting on the show. Both build off of past episodes bringing in a hilarious payoff.
5. Hang Up & Listen
Slate’s Hang Up & Listen is probably the most intelligent talk about sports that you can find out there. Josh, Mike, and Stefan tackle issues as serious as how to talk about suicide in sports and concussions in the NFL to basic coverage on playoffs and anything news worthy. They look at the ethical side of things, a side that is often overlooked in the sports coverage world, and come up with honest, well thought out responses.
Ep. Recommendations: All episodes are really worth checking out, but the recent “The How to Talk About a Murder-Suicide Edition” definitely stands out as an episode of specific depth as they criticize how tragedy is covered in sports (as they oft do). Also the, Greg Popovich controversy is a particularly interesting segment.
4. The Dom & Colin Podcast
This podcast is specifically focused on strategy in reality game shows such as Survivor and Big Brother. While it is hardly organized or edited at all, the depth to which Dom and Colin go into analyzing the strategic perspectives of each player is fascinating (especially for a strategy nerd like me). This is certainly a very niche podcast, which should only be listened to if you are ready for 3 hour discussions about reality TV (which I am). They also bring in former contestants for “Retrospectives” of their seasons, in which they discuss their experience from beginning to end, talking at length about each move they made. There is nothing else like this out there.
Ep. Recommendations: “Survivor Storytime with Sophie Clarke” might be my favorite walk-through of theirs, because it allowed Sophie to tell her story in ways that weren’t edited into the show. She definitely responded with a lot of insight and was honest about each thing that happened.
I’m a new listener to WYNC’s Radiolab, but with each and every new listen I am absolutely blown away. It is similar to This American Life, only even better edited to include mixed interviews, music, and sound effects that make each story more exciting. Taking on usually scientific subjects, they explore different theories about things making them fascinating and laying them out in often pensive, suspenseful ways. It’s not only entertaining, but makes you question morals, ethics, and what you know.
Ep. Recommendations: “What’s Up Doc?” talks about voice actor Mel Blanc (of Looney Tunes fame) and asks how much the things we create become a part of us and help us to work through things in our life. It is an extremely touching episode.
2. The Jeff Rubin Jeff Rubin Show
The Jeff Rubin Jeff Rubin Show is hosted by Jeff Rubin a comedy writer for College Humor who also is an extreme nerd. With his podcast he basically explores things that he likes whether it be through interviews, games, or visiting certain places. His interests span everywhere from video games to toys to old TV shows to roller coasters and pizza, his nerdom is expansive. What makes the show truly great is Jeff’s genuine interest in the subject he is talking about, his sincerity and his wit go on to make every show interesting (even the ones that you may not be personally interested in).
Ep. Recommendations: There are a lot of really interesting ones and “Episode 37: Pizza Expo, Angry Birds, TMNT, and Hunger Games” will probably give you the best overview of his interests. The Alamo Drafthouse episode is pretty great too.
1. Rob Has a Podcast
Rob Cesternino is a former Survivor contestant who has been running this podcast for about 3 years now. This year the show grew bigger and better than ever before. He brought in unique perspectives to discuss reality TV (ESPN’s AJ Mass), had amazing interviews with Survivor host Jeff Probst and legend Boston Rob, and continued what is probably the best coverage on reality television (if you like Survivor or Big Brother). His shows are humorous (check out his interviews with Tyson), but also cover strategical analysis (like his weekly “Know-it-alls” recaps with Stephen Fishbach show). While it may not interest you if you do not like reality TV, it certainly is very well done and the community of fans he has helped bring together is great.
Ep. Recommendations: “Boston Rob Has a Podcast”, “Rob Has a Probst Cast” both of these interviews with 2 of Survivor‘s most famous faces show why this show has elevated within the past year.
Slate’s Spoiler Specials
The Film Talk
Pop Culture Happy Hour
How to do Everything
Good Job Brain