In the past five to ten years, podcasts have been the breakout form of media. What started as more or less an indie take on the radio broadcast format turned into a multimillion-dollar industry. The bubble seemed close to bursting in 2020 as fewer listeners were commuting and hosts quarantined away from their studios. Even the best podcasts seemed to grind down to a halt due to the global pandemic. But, the industry has stayed strong and, according to Business Insider, the podcast space could be worth $1 billion in 2021. All of that is to say, if you thought podcasts were a fad stuck in the 2010s, you’d be wrong.
Just like TV, movies, and music, the podcast space is jam-packed with a myriad of genres. While many would assume that the NPR interview format reigns supreme, there’ve been plenty of creative takes on the format from improv shows to fully-produced audiodramas to Pulitzer-worthy reporting. The bottom line? Podcasts are entertaining and, if you listen to the right ones, can help you learn new and engaging topics.
Where Do You Listen To Podcasts?
Apple Podcasts still remains the top dog when it comes to free podcast listening, but several competitors have sprung up including Spotify and Google. Plus, there are dozens of platforms hosting pay-to-listen podcasts like Sirius XM and Stitcher. And this isn’t an American phenomenon, global podcast listenership is up and advertisers are keen to market to an international audience.
The Best Podcasts to Listen To Right Now
There are thousands of podcasts to listen to, so, if you’re new to the format, getting started might seem daunting. We’ve put together a list of 15 of the best podcasts to learn something new across a variety of topics. Maybe you’re an entrepreneur seeking tips to launching a business or a home chef looking to up your game in the kitchen. Or, you might be like us and just need some pop culture knowledge or talking points to bring to the next dinner party. Whatever the case, we think these podcasts will make you smarter.
The premise for WTF is fairly straightforward, comedian and actor Marc Maron interviews a famous person often in his own garage. The podcast, which has lasted over a decade, has long been a popular show but truly entered the mainstream when Barack Obama sat in for an interview while he was still the sitting president. Mostly, the show is an entertaining diversion full of humorous stories from celebrities and acerbic observations from Maron. But, WTF is included on this list because fairly often you’ll find surprisingly touching moments of human connection and advice on how to live a better life. In fact, Maron published a book collecting the “words to live by” spoken by his many guests.Link
The name kind of says it all. Listen to this show to learn things you should know, but probably don’t. You’ll find interesting info on obscure topics like uranium mining, stamp collecting, and tupperware. Fascinating stuff. Honestly, though, this is easily one of the best podcasts to learn a new fun fact that’s perfect for an upcoming cocktail party.Link
Do you consider yourself a curious person? 99% Invisible is the show for you. Hosted by Roman Mars, the podcast, which began as a segment on a San Francisco public radio station, explores the odd, unexplored, or unexplained aspects of design and architecture in our lives. Why have used car lots adopted the inflatable man? Why do buildings have revolving doors when people don’t use them? What’s the deal with The Great Dismal Swamp? If you’re looking for a few new fun facts to share at the next dinner party, this is your show.Link
On How I Built This, host Guy Raz interviews entrepreneurs and creatives about the road to success. Past episodes have included Jim Koch, founder of Samuel Adams; Jimmy Wales, co-founder of Wikipedia; and Julie Rice & Elizabeth Cutler, co-founders of SoulCycle. Whereas most entrepreneur-driven podcasts feel deliberately motivational, How I Built This is accidentally inspiring. Raz is a talented interviewer and allows his guests to simply tell their stories, which are often energizing enough on their own.Link
If you want to stay up to date on current events, a daily news podcast is a great source of nearly real-time information. And The Daily from The New York Times is among the best. Start your day with twenty minutes of authentic reporting on what’s happening in the world today.Link
Ah, now this is the podcast for us. Who doesn’t want to be an armchair expert? In all seriousness, this podcast, hosted by Dax Sheppard and Monica Padman, is a wonderful look at humanity. And, is guaranteed to teach you something new. Through interviews with guests like Bill Gates, Amy Schumer, and Prince Harry, Sheppard and Padman are able to “celebrate the messiness of being human.”Link
NPR’s award-winning Code Switch is easily one of the most important podcasts you could listen to. Helmed by Gene Demby, alongside a cast of reporters and journalists, the show delves into personal and complex issues of race and social justice in America. Code Switch began its life as a blog but in 2016 became a weekly podcast and has since become one of NPR’s most popular programs.Link
Sure there are plenty of cultural affairs and current events podcasts, but we wanted to dig around for a news podcast covering the world of tech. Thankfully we didn’t have to look far, The Verge’s flagship show, The Vergecast, offers an in-depth look at what went down in technology and gaming in the past week — and what to look forward to.Link
Radiolab is one of the most beloved podcasts ever created. And it certainly helped kick off the industry boom. While it’s described as a long-form journalism podcast, it’s more of a show about curiosity. Radiolab’s hosts discuss complex issues in accessible ways. If you aren’t already listening, you should be.Link
Need some talking points for water cooler conversations or Zoom catchups? This is the show for you. Pop Culture Happy Hour breaks down all the latest in pop culture from movies to TV shows to music and more. It’s perfect if you’re looking for a new show to binge or just need a recap of the latest award show or viral phenomenon.Link
The break-out podcast of the past few years, You’re Wrong About explores moments in popular media that were likely misunderstood or misrepresented and gets to the bottom of what went wrong. Delve deep into topics like Princess Diana, D.A.R.E., The Y2K Bug, and more. Hosted by two journalists with keen observations and sharp wit, it’s a show that is willing to uncover the darker side of media in an approachable way.Link
If you’re looking for a weekly dose of sports news with a healthy serving of irreverence, The Distraction is the podcast for you. Presented by one of the best sports websites on the world wide web, The Distraction offers the latest in the world of sports and plenty of meandering into pop culture. Like your sports news cut and dry? Maybe this isn’t for you. But, if you want to broaden your horizons, subscribe to The Distraction.Link
Want to learn all about weird and outdated medical practices? Tune in to Sawbones, hosted by real-life married couple Dr. Sydnee McElroy and famous podcaster Justin McElroy. The show takes a tour through the strange history of medicine with detours into antiquated procedures and rare injuries and ailments. Plus, it manages to be both informative and humorous so you can laugh while you learn.Link
This is one of those fascinating hidden gem podcasts that, if nothing else, will make you sound interesting. Election Profit Makers guides you through election-related prediction markets. AKA betting on political events. To some, that may sound cold, calculated, and maybe illegal? But it’s not. There are great moments of humanity amid the political talk. And, you can learn about the political markets here. Election Profit Makers is a podcast absolutely worth your time.Link
Well, maybe this podcast won’t make you smarter. But it’ll make you a better cook. The Recipe Club, presented by The Ringer, focuses on one dish or one ingredient with each episode. Hosted by David Chang with a series of guest chefs, The Recipe Club makes cooking approachable. You’ll find history lessons about certain foods as well as genuinely helpful recipes and guides. Episodes have covered things like Gyoza, Bisquick, Mashed Potatoes, and more!Link