If you haven’t heard the podcast Serial, you’ve almost certainly heard of it. The 12-part reinvestigation of a 15-year-old murder case became inescapable this winter, breaking records as the most downloaded podcast ever.
But since it ended last month, millions of radio fans are left wondering what to put on while they drive to work or chop vegetables. Here are 10 excellent podcasts to tide you over until Serial returns for a second season.
1. This American Life
The New Yorker of podcasts, which birthed Serial’s first season. Distinguished by whimsical stories told in granular detail, high production values, top-flight humour writing — David Sedaris is a frequent contributor — and a big-city liberal sensibility. Host Ira Glass’s nasal drawl has become iconic and widely imitated.
Sample Episode: The Giant Pool of Money: a largely successful attempt to make the roots of the 2008 financial meltdown intelligible to a mass audience. Fine explanatory journalism.
2. Planet Money
Adam Davidson and Alex Blumberg — the reporters responsible for the Giant Pool of Money episode of This American Life — have a spinoff program that explains global economic phenomena to people who don’t read The Financial Times. Planet Money is newsier and more earnest than its parent show, but still comes with a spoonful of sugar to make the medicine of economic news go down.
Sample Episode: Jubilee!: A fun recent report on a plan to wipe out some forms of individual debt in Iceland, so hard hit by the financial crisis that it’s willing to test a revolutionary idea.
3. The B.S. Report
ESPN mainstay Bill Simmons sits at the centre of a sports media empire, hosting a basketball talk show, editing Grantland.com, and co-creating the network’s documentary series 30 for 30. He also hosts a podcast, The B.S. Report, where he shoots the eponymous S. with a rotating cast of journalists, fans and celebrity guests. Simmons is a great talker, pop theorizer and all-around B.S. artist — his pod makes for compulsive listening.
Sample Episode: August 8, 2013: Geek hero Nate Silver and New Yorker staff writer Malcolm Gladwell deliver provocative thoughts about performance-enhancing drugs and rank New York neighbourhoods using baseball stats.
4. Love + Radio
An eclectic, impressionistic podcast that tells stories using a mixture of fact and fiction. Past subjects include boxing promoters, catcalling, and camel’s milk.
Sample Episode: The Wisdom of Jay Thunderbolt: A strange, faintly disturbing, often funny interview with a man who runs a strip club out of his home in Detroit.
5. WTF with Marc Maron
A comedian who may be at his funniest when interviewing other funny people, Maron’s middling profile as a standup was raised immeasurably by his intimate one-on-one conversations with other comics and celebrities (and often filled with profanity, as the name suggests).
Sample Episode: Slate ranked his interview with Louis C.K. as the best podcast episode of all time. Over two hours, C.K. and Maron discuss growing up in comedy and their achingly close, oft-strained friendship.
6. Hardcore History
A chatty, colloquial take on great events of the human past, from the conquests of Genghis Khan to the First World War. Panoramic and deeply researched but delivered in a honking disc jockey voice, host Dan Carlin’s best monologues are like a great university lecture in a first-year survey class.
Sample episode: Blueprint for Armageddon I: Carlin explains the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand using a “consolation sandwich” and a stalled car engine.
7. On the Media
Its self-explanatory title belies the nuanced, critical look this NPR show levels at the practice and business of journalism.
Sample Episode: True Crime: “No, we won’t be talking about Serial,” quips host Brooke Gladstone. Instead, the show dives deep on the much-maligned genre, returning to its moments of infamy and lingering over its redeeming traits.
8. 99% Invisible
Host Roman Mars explores design and architecture in digestible, 15-minute chunks. Less sonically lush than some of the podcasts on this list, the show’s greatest strength is the idiosyncrasy of its subject matter: past episodes have dug deep into inflatable roadside men, a lightbulb that never goes out and flag design.
Sample Episode: Vexillonaire: A lovely story about the scholar who ruined and then redeemed the flag of Portland, Ore.
Jonathan Goldstein’s radio magazine invites you to “enter the mind” of the show’s host, a humour columnist and fiction writer. “It’s a nice place to visit, but you wouldn’t want to live there,” the program’s website warns. Episodes are wry and irreverent and unapologetically weird.
Sample Episode: The Time Machine: Reporter Sean Cole asks people of all ages what they would do if time travel were possible. The answers — including, frequently, “nothing” — are revealing and often funny.
Journalist Jesse Brown is a press critic and lands consequential scoops on apparent malfeasance at powerful journalistic outlets, including recent reporting on the Jian Ghomeshi scandal. But he also makes engaging, entertaining radio and has good, human conversations on his crowdfunded podcast.
Sample Episode: An interview with Andrew Coyne, recently appointed editorial page editor for the National Post. It’s lively, insightful and less combative than Brown’s public persona might lead you to expect.