Start your year off with ‘Radiolab,’ ‘Moth’ and others
A recent study by the Pew Research Center put some hard numbers to the mushrooming podcast phenomenon. According to the 2015 study, the percentage of Americans who regularly listen to podcasts has nearly doubled from 2008, from 9% to 17%.
That’s impressive growth for what is essentially a new media format, but as always, the trick is finding the good stuff.
Here are five more Podcasts Picks to start off the new year. As always, parents will want to watch for an “Explicit” warning – marked with a red “E” – when downloading individual episodes.
BBC History Extra
For history buffs, there’s plenty to choose from on the podcast charts, but most are produced by amateur historians focusing on their particular obsession. The weekly “BBC History Extra” goes straight to the professionals. Produced by the editors of BBC History magazine, each episode features interviews with heavyweight scholars and historians on an endless range of topics.
The archives go back several years, too, so you can browse and select based on your own obsessions. There’s something calming, I find, about listening to British academics hold forth on historical issues. It’s good for the blood pressure.
Speaking of blood pressure, if you want to go the other way with that, consider the excellent horror fiction program “Pseudopod.” An offshoot of the sci-fi series “Escape Pod,” the podcast provides horror short stories in audio format – it’s essentially a genre fiction anthology book released in weekly doses.
Authors range from published veterans to first-time rookies, but the editors run the series like a professional magazine, selecting the best submissions and assigning voiceover artists to read the stories. You can find some great stuff here, but be forewarned that the stories can get very dark indeed. This is most assuredly not family entertainment.
One of the biggest public radio success stories of the past decade, “Radiolab” is a groundbreaking series with a distinctive production style. Hosts Jad Abumrad and Robert Krulwich tackle heady topics of science, sociology and philosophy, but always with a curious and friendly vibe that never feels intimidating.
Abumrad has a background in experimental music, and the show often uses creative editing techniques to enhance the storytelling. Radiolab is broadcast on more than 300 public radio stations nationally, but most listeners tune in via the podcast edition. “Radiolab” has two Peabody awards on the shelf now, and Abumard received a MacArthur genius grant in 2011.
The Adam Carolla Show
Comedian and media personality Adam Carolla – you may remember him as Jimmy Kimmel’s partner on “The Man Show” – isn’t everyone’s cup of tea. But there’s no denying that the man is a natural-born creature of the microphone. “The Adam Carolla Show” is, by some measures, the planet’s single most popular podcast. Since its debut in 2009, it has amassed a huge audience appreciative of Carolla’s loose and funny style.
Carolla books guests from entertainment, sports and occasionally politics, but the show’s best moments almost always spring from Carolla’s extemporaneous personal stories and explosive rants. The guy sure can tell a story and – like any good comic – he’s not afraid of being incorrect.
For pure storytelling moxie, however, you can’t do better than “The Moth.” The long-running NYC-based series began as live-performance project based on a simple premise: People tell stories, onstage and without notes, organized around a particular theme.
“The Moth” earned a loyal national audience with its weekly podcast edition, which was later distilled into the syndicated public radio show “The Moth Radio Hour.” Individual episodes can be hit or miss, but this is a good one to keep in the queue for casual listening. In recent years, the series has featured a procession of celebrity guest storytellers, as well. It’s interesting to hear personal stories from Malcolm Gladwell, say, or Molly Ringwald, in different context. You never know what you’re going to get, and that’s part of the fun.