Last year may have been declared the “Golden Age of Podcasts”, in no small part due to the run away popularity of the weekly NPR podcast Serial but it wasn’t until 2015 that the President of the United States appeared on comedian Marc Maron’s WTF. Today there are 285,000 podcasts up and running, heard by an estimated 39 million Americans a month, many of them affluent and highly educated. Whether or not you’ve been hooked since 2005, as I must confess I’ve been, now is the time for communicators to explore podcasts. As the Content Marketing Institute’s Joe Pulizzi noted: “Opportunity? I certainly think so.”
Podcast why and how-to
To me the appeal of podcasts combines freedom, flexibility and a change of pace. A number of the podcasts mentioned here are also broadcast on NPR or other public radio stations, except with a podcast you can listen at your leisure. You can also listen via podcast when radio reception is not available or terrible — think at the gym or on the drive from Burlington, Vermont to Boston. And after long hours of reading and screen time, my brain (and eyes) love to switch to listen-only mode as I’m putzing around the house or cooking in the kitchen.
And before diving in, Ira Glass and 85+ year-old Mary created this video to show you how to get podcasts on a web player or your IOS or Android device.
15 fascinating podcasts you don't want to miss
1) This American Life
Perfect if you’re looking for dinner party or conference conversation fodder, This American Life is a weekly show on public radio that is smart, thought provoking and entertaining. Each episode has a theme and typically features three to four wide-ranging stories on that topic. The podcast version of This American Life is the same as the radio broadcast, except you can listen at your leisure and on occasion they include extra material that had to be cut from the radio version because of time. Episodes are available for exactly one week, beginning the Monday after the broadcast.
2) The Accidental Creative by Todd Henry
“Weekly inspiration in your ears” Is an apt description for Todd Henry’s long-running podcast, The Accidental Creative. For anyone charged with creating materials on demand to advance a company or organization, Todd’s insights, guest speakers and practical tips are uncannily targeted to your needs. Podcasts vary in length from 9 minutes to 30 minutes, so unlike some of the hour-long podcasts, audio snacking is an option. There’s an extensive archive of past episodes and you can pick and choose what interests you.
3) Radiolab from WNYC public radio
Each episode of Radiolab focuses on One Big Idea, and a collection of people, sounds, stories and experiences related to that idea. (I like to listen to Radiolab for inspiration before working on any project where sound effects are critical.) “Science meets culture” and sound on a schedule that seems to fluctuate from bi-weekly to bi-monthly, so there’s rarely a risk of falling behind on this one. You can pick and choose what interests you and need not listen in order.
In Startup the podcast, former This American Life producer Alex Blumberg documents his entire journey of building a podcasting startup. This is his first startup after many years in broadcasting, and you hear every detail of this new venture and get an economics primer along the way. As the podcast description notes, this is "a series about what happens when someone who knows nothing about business starts one." This is a podcast you’ll want to listen to in order.
5) A Way With Words
I’ve talked about the reasons behind my fondness for A Way With Words before on this blog. But I often miss the broadcast on VPR, or miss part of a segment I want to revisit, so subscribing to this this weekly podcast on the history and meaning of language, words and phrases from different cultures and extended families is a must. You need not listen in order — each show is a treat on its own. Subscribing via iTunes or SoundCloud brings you the latest episode much faster than episodes are posted on the website.
6) HBR Ideacast
This weekly podcast features Sarah Greene interviewing leading thinkers in business and management from Harvard Business Review. Listen to episodes with titles that interest you. I particularly recommend Episode # 460: Understand How People See You and Episode #444: What Still Stifles Ambitious Women.
7) Reply All
Reply All is produced by Gimlet Media, Alex Blumberg's podcasting startup (see #4 above). It is a podcast about the Internet with excellent storytelling. Start with any episode. Episode #12 is about the guy whose job was to ensure the website hosting Kim Kardashian's famous picture didn't crash. Episode #28 is about an email sent to the wrong address and the world of professional cookie advisors.
8) TED Radio Hour
The TED Radio Hour is based on TED Talks given by riveting speakers on the world-renowned TED stage. TED is a nonprofit devoted to Ideas Worth Spreading. You'll find TED Talks video and audio to inspire, intrigue and stir the imagination from some of the world's leading thinkers and doers, speaking from the stage at TED conferences, TEDx events and partner events around the world. Sample in any order, and try not to binge.
9) The Moth
Since its launch in 1997, The Moth has presented thousands of true stories, told live and without notes by regular people, to standing-room-only crowds worldwide. Moth storytellers stand alone, under a spotlight, with only a microphone and a roomful of strangers for five minutes. There's really no way to guess what each episode will cover, but Vermonters might want to start with these StorySlam recording sessions.
10) Fresh Air
Fresh Air brings fascinating writers, actors, musicians and politicians (think: Lena Dunham, Larry David, Madonna) into one-on-one interviews with Terry Gross, the archetypal public radio host (thoughtful, velvety-voiced, lovably nerdy). Their conversations are so intimate you feel like you’re eavesdropping. . It’s easy to understand why Fresh Air is one of NPR’s most popular programs, but a broadcast time of 3:00 p.m. just doesn’t work for me. Subscribe, or just browse when you’re in the mood to listen and try any episode.
11) 99% Invisible
99% Invisible is "a tiny radio show about design, architecture and the 99% invisible activity that shapes our world." The show started as a project of KALW public radio in San Francisco and the American Institute of Architects in San Francisco and is distributed by public radio stations around the country. They raise all the funds for this show from listeners and Kickstarter.
12) Reading Lives
The concept here is simple: BookRiot.com’s Jeff O’Neal spends an hour chatting with an interesting person about the books they love. It’s a premise that depends on finding the right subjects—which O’Neal has a knack for doing; past episodes have featured literary up-and-comers including Andy Weir and Mallory Ortberg, as well as established personal favorites such as technology journalist, Clive Thompson, on episode #1. Listen to episodes with people you’ve heard of —and those you haven’t.
Freakonomics, the best-selling book by economist Steven D. Levitt and journalist Stephen J. Dubner, has become a brand unto itself, spawning sequels, a film, and this weekly podcast hosted by Dubner. Pop-friendly investigations into “the hidden side of everything” include the implications of an undead economy (vampires buying blood!) and how to save $1 billion.
14) On The Media from WNYC
On The Media, which explores “how the media “sausage” is made, casts an incisive eye on fluctuations in the marketplace of ideas, and examines threats to the freedom of information and expression in America and abroad.” For one hour a week, the show tries to lift the veil from the process of "making media," especially news media. The episodes this spring added insight, depth and context to the sensationalized coverage as racial bias and police violence erupted across the U.S.
From the Center for Investigative Reporting and PRX, Reveal is a newer podcast in the classic hard-hitting journalistic style of the early days of CBS News 60 Minutes. The podcast is tightly integrated with a website and data visualizations for a deeper dive. The audio player stays with listeners as they move through the website, letting you browse past and current investigative pieces while listening. I suggest browsing and listening to stories that interest you, but be forewarned that binge listening could be a real downer.
Enjoy listening! And please share your favorite podcast shows and episodes with me in the comments below or on Twitter at @pheffernanvt.
 The Podcast Consumer, Edison and Triton, May 2015.