Song & Stage

10 Must-Hear Podcasts for New Listeners + Stony Brook Applicants

In honor of Stony Brook Southampton announcing their groundbreaking new Audio Podcast Fellows program—the first of its kind in the nation—now is great time to bone up on the wonderful world of podcasting and why the school created such a program.

A portmanteau combining the words iPod and broadcast, the podcast name was introduced in 2004 when journalist Ben Hammersley coined it in an article about the new medium for Britain’s The Guardian newspaper. The now ubiquitous word was quickly picked up as the go-to for describing what former MTV veejay Adam Curry and software developer Dave Winer put into motion—the idea of producing audio broadcasts, like radio shows, to be downloaded as files and played at a listener’s convenience on devices such as the iPod.

During the 14 years since then, podcasting has grown to be a significant form of media. According to The Economist, in October 2017, an Edison Research survey found that 67 million Americans over the age of 12 listen to podcasts monthly, while 42 million listen weekly. Meanwhile, those listeners attracted some $200 million in advertising last year, as projected by Bridge Ratings, according to niemanlab.org. Apple’s iTunes—the most popular platform for podcasts—had more than 10 billion downloads and streams in 2016, niemanlab.org also reports, which was up from just 8 billion in 2015. And that number will almost certainly continue to grow.

Podcasting is not going away, and if you’re not already listening, today is as good a time as any to get started. To that end, we’ve put together a list of 10 fantastic podcasts covering a variety of genres. Give these a listen or peruse iTunes and find something more to your fancy. But be warned, there are tons of podcasts out there and many aren’t worth your time.

10 Fantastic Podcasts for New Listeners

1. WTF with Marc Maron – Hosted by comedian Marc Maron, this weekly, long form interview podcast helped set the bar for the medium. Maron interviews everyone from famous (and not so famous) comedians, to actors, musicians, authors and even President Barack Obama with authenticity, humor and depth. Past guests and must-listen episodes include Obama, Keith Richards, Louis CK, Gallagher, Terry Gross and others.

2. Dan Carlin’s Hardcore History – Each episode or multi-part series of episodes plumbs far into the depths of its particular subject in an insightful, entertaining and accessible style not often associated with such well-researched, historical fare. Carlin spends many months on his topics and cites sources diligently throughout. Start with Ghosts of the Ostfront, Carlin’s nearly six-hour exploration of the Easters Front in World War II, or Prophets of Doom, a mad story of murderous preachers taking over the German city of Munster in the wake of Martin Luther’s Protestant Reformation. These are dense podcasts and not necessarily suited for those in search of light laughs or easy listening. Another history podcast worth hearing: Revolutions with Mike Duncan.

3. Serial – Produced by the crew from NPR’s This American Life (also a great podcast) and hosted by Sag Harbor’s Sarah Koenig, this weekly (every other week in Season 2) investigative journalism podcast captured America’s attention and helped bring podcasting to the fore with its first season that sought to solve the 1999 murder of Hae Min Lee, an 18-year-old Baltimore, Maryland high school student. Lee’s boyfriend, Adnan Masud Syed, was arrested for the crime, but his first trial ended in a mistrial. He was convicted with a life sentence in the second trial in 2000, though Syed pleaded his innocence throughout. Serial examines the crime and Syed’s possible innocence in a series of episodes, including interviews with Syed and many others. Season 2 looks at the case of U.S. Army Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl, who was held for five years by the Taliban and later charged with desertion.

4. SModcast – Just two guys talking, this seminal podcast featuring filmmaker Kevin Smith and his longtime friend and producer Scott Mosier is always good for a laugh—sometimes leaving listeners doubled over with deep, belly shaking guffaws. The two hosts speak completely unfiltered, and often crassly, about current events and whatever comes to mind, really. It’s not for everyone, but SModcast makes the list because it’s another classic in the medium. Smith so enjoyed his weekly conversations that the show led him to focus less on making films and more on recording podcasts. He’s since launched S.I.R. (Smodco Internet Radio), an entire network of popular podcasts with shows such as Hollywood Babble-On, Jay & Silent Bob Get Old, Fatman on Batman, Tell ‘Em Steve-Dave! and others.

5. How Did This Get Made? – This weekly podcast looks at cinema’s worst films as hosts Paul Scheer, June Diane Raphael and Jason Mantzoukas deconstruct and mock them. It’s full of funny and quick-witted barbs, often going scene by scene with films such as Street Fighter, Spider-Man 3, Gigli, The Wicker ManLeprechaun: In the Hood and many, many more.

6. The Daily – On a more serious note, The New York Times‘ morning news podcast, hosted by Michael Barbaro, looks at each day’s new with sharp, intelligent reporting. When you don’t have time to read the paper or watch the news in clips on YouTube, this is an excellent alternative. If we’re being honest, it’s almost preferable.

7. My Dad Wrote a Porno – While certainly NOT intelligent and insightful in the same way as The Daily or Hardcore History—and for ADULTS ONLY—this UK-based podcast may just be the funniest show currently produced in any medium, period. Each week host Jamie Morton, joined by his pals James Cooper and Alice Levine, reads a chapter from Belinda Blinks, a raunchy and poorly written erotic novel written by none other than Morton’s father, a retired builder from Northern Ireland who goes by the name of Rocky Flintstone. Need we say more?

Tim Ferriss interviews Arnold Schwarzeneggerat the Governator's L.A. home
Tim Ferriss interviews Arnold Schwarzenegger, Photo: Courtesy Tim Ferriss

8. The Tim Ferriss Show – Hosted by Springs native, Four-Hour Workweek author and lifestyle guru Tim Ferriss, this business podcast features interviews with exceptional people in all sectors. Guests such as Arnold Schwarzenegger, Tony Robbins, Jamie Foxx, Malcolm Gladwell, Vince Vaughn, Rick Rubin, Laird Hamilton, Richard Branson and many others discuss their tactics, tools and routines that helped them find success.

9. The Truth – Every list of podcasts needs at least one fiction entry, and The Truth is a masterful anthology series of dramatic audio stories. The show tells single-episode stories as well as multi-part yarns with titles such as “Mall Santa,” “The Polybius Conspiracy,” “Influencers” and “A Drop in the Ocean.” Directed and sound designed by Jonathan Mitchell, The Truth offers excellent drama with many actors from NYC’s Magnet Theater.

10. The Moth Radio Hour – Among the best-known storytelling podcasts, The Moth features re-issued episodes of NPR’s popular show as well as other stories from their vast archive. These true tales are all over the map, from the heartwarming to the hilarious, heartbreaking and unbelievable—all told from the people who lived them. It’s a perfect format for these audio gifts. For those looking for something darker, dirtier and frequently funnier, try The State funnyman Kevin Allison’s Risk! podcast, which follows the same format but focuses on stories people never, ever thought they’d tell.

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