Storytime for Grown-Ups: 10 Podcasts for Beginners

About 45 percent of what I know comes from podcasts. And, coincidentally, 45 is also the percentage of American teens and adults who are unfamiliar with the term “podcasting,” according to a study by Edison Research in 2016.

If you are someone who doesn’t know what podcasts are — they are kind of like radio shows you can stream or download and listen to whenever you want. For iPhones, use the “Podcasts” app. Android users can get the “Podcast Addict” app. Podcasts are also available through iTunes, a streaming podcast app called “Stitcher” and lots of other ways.

Boring activities like cleaning, driving and jogging are all better with someone telling you a story. If you don’t know where to get started, here are some of my favorite storytelling podcasts:

This American Life

“This American Life” was where my love for podcasts started. It is an hour-long NPR show with thought-provoking stories which can also be streamed online or downloaded as a podcast. Hosted by Ira Glass, shows are mostly nonfiction and generally have a handful of stories around a theme.

Start with “Episode 589: Tell Me I’m Fat.” In this episode, Lindy West, an author and activist who used to write for Seattle’s “The Stranger,” tells about her experience talking to a man who trolled her online from an account he made in her dead dad’s name.

Serial

In 2014, “Serial,” a spinoff of “This American Life,” came out and became the most popular podcast ever — which was kind of a big deal, but that’s relative because about half of Americans still don’t know what a podcast is. Season one is a real life murder mystery — Adnan Syed is in prison for the 1999 murder of his ex-girlfriend. Host Sarah Koenig tries to figure out if he is actually guilty and uncovers a riveting story. In my opinion, season two is skippable.

Start with “Episode 1: The Alibi.” With “Serial,” you need to start at the beginning and let the story unfold.

Snap Judgement

Kind of like an edgier “This American Life,” “Snap Judgement” tells stories around a different theme each episode. Host Glynn Washington seems to have been alive for 1,000 years because he begins each episode with a personal story, and they are all interesting.

Start with “Episode 424: Unrequited.” The fourth story, “The Silver Dollar Lounge,” is the almost unbelievable story of Daryl Davis, an African-American man who befriended members of the KKK.

Dead Authors Podcast

H.G. Wells, author of “The Time Machine,” actually has a functioning time machine and brings authors who have passed away into the present for interviews. Wells is played by comedian Paul F. Tompkins, and a different funny person in each episode plays the interviewed author. Some guests do a lot of research to prepare, others do almost nothing. There are no new episodes, but the show has a delightful archive.

Start with “Chapter 24: Plato,” featuring Jason Mantzoukas. It’s a hilarious episode with almost nothing based in research. Or “Chapter 54: L. Ron Hubbard,” a two-part episode where the most outlandish parts are true, featuring Andy Daly.

The Message/Life After

Season one, “The Message,” is a suspenseful fictional story of an alien transmission being decoded. Season two, “Life After,” is about a man who can talk with the voice of his dead wife through a suspicious technology.

Start with “Episode 1.” Like “Serial,” you need to start at the beginning for these.

The Mystery Show

Only six episodes were made of what I consider to be the most endearing podcast, “The Mystery Show.” In each episode, host Starlee Kine tries to solve a mystery — from searching for the owner of a lost belt buckle to trying to determine Jake Gyllenhaal’s height.

Start with “Episode 2: Britney.” This episode about whether or not Britney Spears read a certain obscure book, and includes a beautiful tangential conversation with a man in customer service.

RadioLab

Hosts Jad Abumrad and Robert Krulwich take on scientific topics and ethical issues in a fun, conversational way. They are great storytellers and are able to turn topics that would be boring in someone else’s hands into mind-bending episodes that you’ll want to tell everyone about.

Start with season 12’s “Episode 10: Hello,” in which a scientist with a dolphin for a roommate learns incredible things about dolphin communication — wait until you find out why her research isn’t taken seriously.

How Did This Get Made

In each episode, comedians Jason Mantzoukas, Paul Scheer and June Diane Raphael, watch a movie that feels like it should never have been made. You don’t need to watch the movies to enjoy this show, though. The hosts get so caught up in things like wigs, plot holes and the ‘90s obsession with sexy buns that at the end of each hour-ish-long episode, you may have no idea what the movie is about. Minisodes and prequels are skippable.

Start with “Episode 130: Teen Witch (w/ Deanna Cheng).” They hilariously describe this 1989 coming of age story about a girl with magical powers while paying special attention to a notable rap scene.

Planet Money

This podcast magically turns economics interesting by telling stories about unconventional topics, like setting up an offshore shell company or weighing a cow.

Start with “Episode 641: Why We Work So Much,” in which the hosts discuss how economist John Maynard Keynes thought that technological advances would allow us to work way less and why that didn’t pan out.

Reply All

Mostly dealing with stories involving technology and the internet, in this podcast, hosts PJ Vogt and Alex Goldman ponder and bicker about everything — from PJ and their producer secretly taking low doses of acid to the guys uncovering internet scams.

Start with “Episode 79: Boy in Photo.” PJ researches a photo meme from the early days of the internet to learn the story of an unhappy-looking teenager.

-Coral Nafziger

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