Podcasts have been around for more than a decade, beginning when the term was coined by Ben Hammersley in The Guardian in 2004. The concept of “talking books” is even older, beginning in the 1930s. The idea of the audiobook came into being in the 1970s. In the broader sense, oral storytelling has been around for eons.
Despite the long history of this media format, the widespread adoption of podcasts is relatively new. I subscribed to my first podcast about three years ago when working on a particularly data-heavy research project. I was doing a lot of repetitive analysis and it was the perfect form of entertainment. Now I find myself listening on the way to school, while cleaning, or on road trips. I often ask friends if they listen, and I am surprised how few are tuning in. However, I think that is about to change!
In an interview with the Washingtonian, NPR’s vice president for programming, Eric Nuzum, declared 2015 to be “The Year of the Podcast”. NPR is the king of podcast production, listing 747 podcasts available to stream on their website. This year, they produced the most popular podcast ever, Serial. The Wall Street Journal wrote, “In the normally low-profile world of podcasting, “Serial” is a certified sensation—a testament to the power of great storytelling. It’s quickly become the most popular podcast in the world, according to Apple, and the fastest to reach 5 million downloads and streams in iTunes history.”
With the second season of Serial slated for release sometime in 2015 and the highly anticipated Invisibilia premiering this month, it seems as though NPR has tapped into a new form of podcasting and a new audience. Ira Glass, the producer of This American Life, said, "We want to give you the same experience you get from a great HBO or Netflix series, where you get caught up with the characters and the thing unfolds week after week, but with a true story, and no pictures. Like House of Cards, but you can enjoy it while you're driving."
While NPR is not the only producer of amazing podcasts, they do make some of my favorites. If you are interested in trying podcasts on for size, I've compiled a list of my favorites to get you started on the right foot! And, in case you are curious, my favorite app for streaming, downloading, and organizing my podcasts is Instacast, although everyone seems to have their go-to app. It's worth checking out Tom's Guide for the 10 Best Podcast Apps of 2014.
Part science class, part fun. This is the podcast that got me hooked on podcasts. Each show has a theme and the host, Jad Abumrad, takes listeners inside science labs, to the offices of experts, and out into the field to answer scientific questions— while having a bit of fun along the way.
Listening to Freakonomics is the portion of my week where I fulfill my secret wish to be an economist. If you read the book of the same name, you will understand the premise behind this show. The hosts, Stephen Dubner and Steven Levitt (one of the top U.S. economists), tackle everyday problems through the lens of economics.
I often find myself turning to This American Life on road trips or during a long commute. The episodes are longer than Radiolab/Freakonomics and the topics are more intense. Typically there is a theme to the episode, and a variety of true stories about everyday people on that theme. Hosted by Ira Glass.
This is a newer podcast in my line-up and I am really enjoying it. The host, Krista Tippett, is a journalist interested in the spiritual and intellectual components of faith. She speaks with sociologists, anthropologists, and theologists about what it means to be human and how we want to live within the context of the 21st century.
As I mentioned before, Serial is easily the most popular podcast of all time. It garnered a huge fan base, complete with a subreddit and podcast about the podcast. This season was about a murder that occurred 15 years ago in the Baltimore area. A seventeen year old boy was charged with killing his ex-girlfriend, yet even today after 15 years in jail, he stands by his innocence. The host, Sarah Koenig, reinvestigates the case.
Also previously mentioned, this is a new podcast that premiered on January 9th. I'm one episode in and I like it. The show is aiming to explore, “the intangible forces that shape human behavior.” The first episode looks at the topic of thoughts. Only one complaint: the two co-hosts sound almost identical, so it is tricky to tell them apart!
That should be enough to get you going! Wishing everyone happy listening.