When I was a teenager, I listened to radio all the time, from news to interviews to music programmes. But once I moved to Amsterdam to study, I abandoned this ‘old’ medium in favour of reading articles online or just listening to my own MP3 collection. However, the last couple of years, spoken word audio has made an enormous comeback into my media consumption pattern through podcasts. Without exaggerating, via the Podcast app on my iPhone, I listen to about 15 hours of podcasts a week: when I’m cleaning, cooking, traveling on public transport, before I go to sleep and so on. Yeah, I’m a bit obsessed…
Picking a favourite piece of audio – lists abound
There’s SO many qualitatively great podcasts out there on an amazing variety of topics. As a result, there are about just as many lists out there on gems you should listen to as there are podcasts. My fav one is this top 50 list of 2015 by The Atlantic, although this more current top 50 list from The Guardian is really great as well.
Movers and shakers in my 2016 list
But since the end of the years means lists, I’ve made an overview of all the podcasts I listened to at least a couple of times this year. In general, I tend to favour shows that tell personal stories that make you go ‘huh!’, delve deeply into big stories, mix comedy and humour with difficult topics regarding race and gender, or that are work-related (tech and/or cultural heritage).
- 2 Dope Queens – WNYC. Comedy queens Phoebe Robinson, Jessica Williams and guest comedians delve sharply into race, gender, sex and whatever else needs to be discussed. It’s recorded with a live audience, which gives it a special vibe, and I’ve more than once laughed out loud in public listening to the show.
- 99% Invisible – PRX Radiotopia. On the things we don’t notice, and how they shape our world.
- Another Round – Buzzfeed. Heben and Tracy know what’s up. Race, gender and pop culture. Educate yourself, white people, by listening to this show. #checkyourprivilege
- Argos – VPRO. Not really a podcast, just a Dutch radio show released as a podcast, not edited at all for your listening pleasure, thus including snippets of the previous show and annoying commercials. It’s just SUCH good investigative journalism, that I’m keeping it in my feed.
- Classic Loveline with Adam and Drew – volunteer collective effort. The semi-official podcast stream lovingly put together by ‘Superfan Giovanni’ based on fan archives is now offline. No more new shows, but MAN did I enjoy listening to people calling in with questions about love, sex and whatever else you can thing of. Since the archives are mostly from the 1990s, it was a real blast from the past for me.
- Code Switch – NPR. Show about race, ethnicity and culture, from the perspective of a great, mixed team of journalists.
- De Museumpodcast – independent. Dutch podcast about the museum world in all its facets. Audio quality…not that great and some more editing would do the show good, but it’s nice to hear what colleagues in the field are up to.
- De Technoloog – BNR. Brand, spanking new Dutch podcast by Herbert Blankesteijn and Ben van der Burg, who interview experts about technological developments and the impact they have on society.
- De Volkskrant – Volkskrant. A mix of all kinds of subjects, by one of the biggest newspapers in the Netherlands (disclaimer: my boyfriend works there ;)).
- Echt Gebeurd – independent. The Dutch version of The Moth: true stories told before a live audience. My favourite episodes are the ones where people read from their teen diaries. Hysterical. Considering doing that myself someday.
- Embedded – NPR. Show that takes a deep dive into the stories behind the news. The episode ‘The Capital’ on El Salvador is one of the most memorable podcasts of the year IMHO.
- Freakonomics – independent. Freakin’ amazing, and rightfully one of the most popular podcasts around. Showing the economics behind any topic you can think of. Sharp, interesting, well-edited. Just great stuff.
- Fresh Air – NPR. Contemporary issues and culture from NPR. Didn’t quite do it for me, so I’m no longer subscribed, but sometimes download a show if I really like the topic.
- Hardcore History – Wizzard Media. Dan Carlin goes on and on and on for hours about historical events. I really tried to get into it, but even after 12 hours of listening to information on Genghis Khan, it just didn’t do it for me. The gravelly voice and the endless stream of facts made me tune out too much.
- Improbable Research – Ig Nobel Prize. From the people behind the Ig Nobel Prize: “research that makes people laugh and then think.” Wasn’t consistently sharp and witty enough to my liking, but there are some nice episodes in the archives.
- Invisibilia – NPR. About how ideas, beliefs, assumptions and emotions influence human behaviour.
- Musetech – independent. Interviews with museum technology experts. Can be nice enough, but often such poor audio quality and/or editing that I skip through most of the episodes to find some nice nuggets of info.
- Newseum Podcast – Newseum. Behind the scenes at the Newseum. Not superb, but often short enough to make me listen to it in its entirety.
- No Such Thing as a Fish – Quite Interesting. Super-funny stuff by the researchers of the BBC show QI. Bizarre facts abound, and the giggles by the hosts more often than not make me giggle as well.
- Note to Self – WNYC. How tech developments influences humans. Love that they often have multi-part series. My fav this year was the series on two women who want to launch an app that helps working moms out by connecting them to a vetted support network, while being moms with young children themselves.
- Radio Doc – NTR/VPRO. Radio documentary show from Dutch public broadcasters NTR and VPRO. Hit and miss, but the hits are so good I’m still subscribed.
- Object Oriented – independent. About digital learning in museums. Seems to be dormant right now.
- Parel Radio Podcast – Radiomakers Desmet. Selection of the best Dutch radio documentaries and radio plays. The ‘1 minuutjes’ (super short audio stories) that are part of the show are SO good.
- Planet Money – NPR. About the economy in all its facets. Spin-off show from This American Life, to which Planet Money sometimes still contributes. Sometimes download an episode, but not so gripping that I keep it around in my feed.
- Radiolab – WNYC. Some of the best sound editing around. Taking your curiosity on a trip each week.
- Reply All – Gimlet. Show about the internet. PJ Vogt and Alex Goldman started it in 2014 and they keep on surprising me about the hidden side of The Interwebs every time.
- RuPaul – What’s The Tee? – The Paragon Collective. RuPaul and Michelle Visage shoot the shit, kiki, spill the T and throw some shade, with a different drag queen guest each week. Ru’s laugh = life.
- Serial – WBEZ. Yeah, everyone knows this one. Investigative journalism at its finest or at least storytelling-est, by Sarah Koenig. New season should come out somewhere in 2017.
- StartUp Podcast – Gimlet. Tip by friend LotteM. Still need to listen to it, but just subscribed, so thus it makes the list.
- StoryCorps – independent. I have so much love for StoryCorps. They’ve been collecting stories all across the US, by the broadest range of people, since 2003. Feel-good audio goodness.
- Surprisingly Awesome – Gimlet. Showing the extraordinary behind the seemingly mundane.
- Tim Ferriss podcast – indepedent. Learn how to be your best and most efficient self by author, angel investor and philanthropist Tim Ferriss. Or don’t, because I still don’t get why in the world anyone would want to listen to it. I tried for four episodes, which I don’t remember, except for being self-congratulatory. Bruh…
- The Guilty Feminist – independent. Comedians Sofie Hagen, Deborah Frances-White and guests “explore their noble goals as 21st century feminists, and the insecurities, hypocrisies and fears which undermine them.” Great tip by one of my colleagues, and now one of my fav podcasts.
- The Memory Palace – PRX. Stories about the past. Creator Nat DiMeo is currently Artist in Residence at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, thus there are now also specific episodes with a Met focus.
- The Moth – independent. True stories, told live, to perfection.
- This American Life – WBEZ/PRX. Well, who doesn’t know TAM. Just the best. Always. Never disappoints.
- Woord Vakantiepakket 2016 – NPO. Kind of an odd one out: this is a special podcast feed with the best stories from Dutch public radio, selected for the 2016 Summer holiday. I listened to pretty much everything when I was in Myanmar a few months ago, great stuff!
Giving back – donation time
I often donate a small amount to quite a few of my favourite show. I’ll do so again this December, ’tis the season. I’ve also decided to become a sustaining member of one of the shows, because producing quality each and every week with limited funds is hard. So hard to choose, but I’ve gone with 99% Invisible, since it always makes me go ‘wow, that is so interesting!’ and just never disappoints.
I wonder what the list will look like next year. If you have any must-listen tips, let me know! O, and if you love podcasts and good storytelling like I do, consider getting the amazing graphic novel on audio stories by Jessica Abel, Out on the Wire.