Steph Yiu

Favorite Podcasts of 2015

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Tonight: making cookies while listening to podcasts! 

I got dumped hard earlier this month by my longtime significant other, Rdio. We spent three beautiful years together and then he just up and left me. I was heartbroken and tried rebounding with Apple Music, but that just left me feeling empty and sad.

So, back to the podcasts! My eternal happy place, until I figure out what the heck to do with my music situation.

In 2012 I wrote a blog post for my colleagues Peter and Alison on my favorite podcasts. Since I wrote that post, podcasting has exploded thanks to Serial and other amazing shows. Here’s a much-expanded, updated list.

1. Planet Money
I’ve been listening to this podcast for so long I feel like I know the reporters. While podcasts are often hit or miss, Planet Money is consistently spectacular. Why I love it: you get to know the reporters, they make economics interesting, and they are transparent and honest in their reporting.

Good places to start:

  • A or B: The Planet Money talks about how the Obama campaign A/B tests, and then A/B tests their own show using NPR One.
  • Auditing ISIS: The team gets their hands on a city budget under ISIS regime, and reveals details on what ISIS fighters spend their money on.

2. Dear Sugar
My friend Lori introduced me to the Dear Sugar advice column from The Rumpus, which was authored anonymously for years until it was revealed to be Cheryl Strayed, author of Wild. She then compiled her columns into an incredible book called Tiny Beautiful Thingswhich I read while sitting on a sidewalk bench in San Francisco (so dramatic sounding, I know). My local station (WBUR!) worked with Cheryl and Steve Almond (her editor) to create a radio version of the podcast. Cheryl and Steve speak from a place of such deep love and care, I can only hope to be that wise someday.

Good place to start: 

  • Live in Cambridge: I listened to this episode on a long walk in Montreal, and I made the loop twice to finish listening. Because it’s in front of a live audience, this is an accessible and entertaining episode to start with.

3. Radiolab
Every time I read a Radiolab show description, I think: “I won’t be interested in this.” And then of course, I get sucked right in. Jad and Robert are masterful storytellers, and they reveal corners of the universe you never previously thought existed.

Good places to start:

  • Smile my Ass: I don’t want to spoiler this story for you, but just know that it’s so good that I’ve retold it at parties. I know “Candid Camera” doesn’t sound very interesting, but trust me, it is.
  • Birthstory: This story infuriated me, and made me all sorts of confused about where we all come from. It’s terrific storytelling.

4. So Money with Farnoosh Torabi
Can I grow up to be Farnoosh? Her podcast is just fun because she interviews very successful people in a very approachable way, while sharing some smart money management tips.

Good places to start:

  • Her interview with Tim Gunn was fascinating. He sharest how he didn’t get paid for the first 2 seasons of Project Runway, how he lived paycheck to paycheck for a long time, and how you should always “take the high road… unless the high road gives you a nosebleed.”

5. Invisibilia
I feel bad introducing this podcast to you because even though it’s incredible, there are only 6 episodes. It’s not enough! Each and every episode made me go wow. Like Radiolab, it bridges the gap between science and entertainment, but this show just has so much heart.

Good places to start:

  • Batman: Expectations can change the way we grow up. This episode shows how expectations helped a blind man grow up to see (yes, see).
  • Entanglement: Sometimes when I watch movies I will cry or laugh with the characters. This woman can physically feel what everyone around her feels.

6. Real Simple Podcasts
Real Simple magazines are my guilty pleasure. I pick them up at the grocery store and then after I put the food away, I sneak off to a quiet corner and sip tea while I gleefully open the latest edition. It’s like an Apartment Therapy and Lifehacker mashup, except instead of the content on a janky, ad-filled website, it’s presented on pristine pages, with beautifully laid-out typography, careful art direction and practical photography. The podcasts bring out the practical side of the magazine, focused on tips to help with your cooking, finances, and even dealing with annoying people.

Good places to start:

  • The most accessible podcast of this group is “Adulthood Made Easy” by Sam Zabell. She asks all the questions you always wanted to ask but were too embarrassed to.

7. The Tim Ferriss Show
I never thought I’d be a Tim Ferriss listener, because being a non-white, non-male, non-Silicon Valley person, I’m definitely not his target audience. But, he won me over by having genuinely interesting, honest conversations with some incredible people.

Good places to start:

IMG_0194Bonus List:
I listen to too many podcasts for this blog post. Here are some other great shows I listen to:

  • TED Radio Hour: Like Planet Money, this show is consistently great. How could it not be? The material they’re working with is spectacular. 
  • 99% Invisible: Revealing the great design that surrounds us every day, but we never think about.
  • Death, Sex and Money: Sometimes this show is too intense for me, but I do enjoy the honesty.
  • Slate’s Culture Gabfest: This is like grad school for pop culture. They cover everything from Star Wars to indie films to best-selling books to Taylor Swift albums, and talk about it through the lens of cultural history.

Also, here are some terrific one-off episodes I’ve enjoyed this year:

  • Jennifer Lawrence on Fresh Air: When she was offered the role of Katniss, she thought to herself — this will make me very, very famous. My family will have to move, I won’t be able to go out anymore. Will I ever be able to have kids?
  • Jimmy Fallon on Here’s The Thing with Alec Baldwin: Jimmy chats with Alec about his first (and second) SNL audition, how he started doing standup (it was a radio competition), and how he planned for the madness that is The Tonight Show. (Another great one is Alec Baldwin’s interview with Amy Schumer).
  • President Barack Obama on WTF with Marc Maron: The White House communications team goes to your website and fills out the form for an interview, and then suddenly you have secret service in your neighborhood and The President in your garage/studio. Now you try to remain calm and proceed with an interview. Amazing.
  • Adam Levine on Howard Stern: I never thought I’d enjoy a Howard Stern episode but this was really fun. Adam talks about writing “This Love” in a garage, and how he wishes he could re-create that magic in his music today. Also, both Howard and Alec had great interviews with Amy Schumer this year, but my favorite was…
  • Amy Schumer on The Moment with Brian Koppelman: This interview happened in January of this year, before Trainwreck made Amy a superstar. In this lengthy chat right before superstardom, Amy talks about crafting one joke at a time, her comedian friends, the terrible comic-bookers at Foxwoods, and building her career.
  • “The District Sleeps Alone Tonight” on Song Exploder: This is a really old episode, but I listened to it for the first time this year while walking up Bernal Heights in SF this March. The show breaks down the components of the song – it’s a super interesting way of understanding how hits are made.
  • The Living Room on Love + Radio: I listened to this story on a road trip with friends and it sent chills down my spine. I would encourage listening with a friend because there will definitely be lots of discussion afterwards. I won’t reveal more than that…

Are there any other podcasts I should be listening to? Let me know!

 

7 comments

  1. Oh, these are great! Some favorites of mine are: (I mostly listen to food and pop culture related ones.)
    – Extra Hot Great: another pop culture podcast, but more focused on TV. Way lower-brow than the Slate Culture Gabfest.
    – Spilled Milk: hilarious food podcast. Two hosts, one of which is Molly from Orangette. You would never know how funny she is from her blog. Episodes are generally around 20 minutes.
    – Startup: I imagine you’ve already heard this since it’s the Planet Money guy. I just listened to the season about the dating app.
    – My favorite of the RealSimple podcasts is the cooking one.

    I also listen to a movie one from the BBC, a parenting one from Slate, and will dip into some other pop culture ones when I’m interested in the topic. I used to listen to Pop Culture Happy Hour but I got annoyed with it.

    Like

    • Oh my goodness I love Molly from Orangette! I saw her speak at a conference a few years ago and I still remember her presentation. I had no idea she had a podcast, I’ll have to check that out. I tried listening to StartUp a while back but didn’t take to it, but I’ll give it another shot.

      If you love food podcasts, The Sporkful is a good one, I check it out from time-to-time. It’s not so much about home cooking as it is about aggressive eating :)

      Like

  2. This is sort of like recommending War and Peace, when someone asks for a book recommendation…but my fave podcast that I discovered in 2015 is Hardcore History. The episodes are 3-4 hours long, and pretty intense. But riveting, and super informative. My favorite one was #53, about World War I. Includes about an hour on what living in a trench during the Battle of Verdun would have felt like. Itunes link: https://itunes.apple.com/ca/podcast/dan-carlins-hardcore-history/id173001861?mt=2

    Like

  3. Pingback: How NPR One changed my morning routine | Steph Yiu

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