I love podcasts. When I first discovered them during my junior year, they completely changed my relationship with “down time.” I had stumbled upon a massive archive of wit, learning, stories, and advice. For free.

Walking through trees and listening to podcasts

I didn’t grow up listening to talk radio. My parents don’t like it, so it had just never crossed my path. I didn’t know what NPR was until I got to Oregon, and since I didn’t own a radio (and I didn’t drive, so no radio in the car for me) I never got a feel for the brilliance of radio shows until I found them on iTunes. So imagine my surprise when I encountered this seemingly endless source of amusement and information, available at all times. I have since listened to podcasts almost non-stop. I listen while I cook, while I knit, while I walk to school, while I exercise, and while I putter around doing household chores.

I’m a verbal type anyway, as I’m sure you’ve gathered, and I loved books on tape growing up. I still enjoy the occasional audio book, but mostly I don’t have the right mental space for the amount of time it takes to listen to a full novel read aloud. What I do have in abundance are corners of time I want to fill with content. Podcasts are perfect. For the uninitiated, you can get podcasts online from websites, or as mobile apps like Stitcher, or from iTunes. Type in the word “podcast” to a search engine and just see what you get. It’s endless.

Here are my top twelve all time favorite podcasts, and a quick explanation of why I love them. This is far from a complete list, but these are the podcasts I have loved and whose hosts have accompanied me through thick and thin over these past years. I’ll list them alphabetically (as they appear in my iTunes), for want of a better system (ranking is too cruel!).


Book Review

This New York Times weekly podcast with the Sunday Book Review Editor includes interview discussions of the latest in publishing. They move quickly through the latest and greatest, and I’ve picked up some great books from their reviews.

Democracy Now!

This was the podcast that started it all for me. This independent news show has informed my understanding of current events and social justice. Program host Amy Goodman is incredible, and the hour-long show was my primary means of getting news for several years.

Desert Island Discs

This BBC Radio Four show has been running since 1942. Each week the (current) host, Kirsty Young, interviews someone about their life and career, while also inviting them to share the 8 albums they would want with them on a desert island. Politicians, actors, designers, religious figures, authors, you name it. Plus the accents are gorgeous and the interview quality is extremely high.

The Moth Podcast

The Moth is a live storytelling competition, and the podcast shares some of the stories told around the country in front of audiences. Some of these have made me actively laugh and cry while listening. I find it so moving to hear intimate true stories of people’s lives.

New Yorker: Fiction

In this podcast, a New Yorker fiction writer is asked to read a short story by another author and to discuss the piece and how it informs their own writing. This format means you get to hear writers talk about the craft, as well as exploring and interpreting other writers’ work in the depth and intimacy of both reading and discussion.

NPR Programs: Wait Wait…Don’t Tell Me!

This comedy news quiz is one of the funniest things I’ve heard. I absolutely love it.

Radiolab from WNYC

The banter between the hosts of this science-y show is just delightful. I have learned some of the most delightful and bizarre factoids and anecdotes from listening to this show, and they make a real effort with production and sound effects as well.

Savage Lovecast

This sex and relationship podcast is one of my favorite things to listen to. Dan Savage is not everyone’s cup of tea, and has managed to anger significant portions of the population. However, I have learned more about sex and romance from this gay advice columnist than from anyone else I’ve ever encountered. Do yourself and everyone in your life the favor of listening to this guy.

Slate’s Double X Podcast

This Slate Magazine podcast focuses on women and women’s issues in pop culture, politics, and the news. Each show they have three main hosts, plus guest interviewees. It’s a smart, fast-paced, and dynamic listen, and I really enjoy the topics covered and their perspectives on various issues. Plus they do quirky recommendations at the end of everything from books to websites to music.

Slate’s Political Gabfest

This has a similar format to the Double X Podcast, but focuses on politics and news. I find this to be a truly useful in-depth look at what’s going on in US politics, although often I’m too fed up with Washington DC to give this podcast the attention it deserves.

Stuff You Should Know

I have learned about the strangest range of things from this podcast. It was one of my earliest discoveries, so I have listened to Josh and Chuck for years as they follow various interests and talk through everything from mundane objects to universal principles of physics and law. I absolutely love their banter and their framing of different topics.

This American Life

If you don’t know this show, please head there now and start listening. It offers some of the best journalism and storytelling I have ever encountered.


There are more. And more again after that. I’m always looking for new podcasts and following new passions by searching out what iTunes has to offer. I feel like I’m constantly walking around with the world’s great wisdom coming through my earbuds. When I find a new podcast I go absolutely nuts and binge on the archived episodes for days.

I have particular favorites for certain activities: the shows I rely on to get me through a workout are different than those I choose for washing the dishes or walking to class. I’ll leave you to guess which podcast goes with which (although I’ll give you a hint: after actively bursting out in laughter while at the gym, Wait Wait…Don’t Tell Me! is off the workout playlist for good)


You might also enjoy related posts "Reading for Fun as a College Student" and "The 5 Books All Students Should Read BEFORE Freshman Year of College."

Do you have a favorite podcast? Are you looking for a recommendation on a particular topic? Have you podcasted yourself? Leave a comment and let me know!