You’ve seen it on your social media feeds. Someone looking for a podcast recommendation.
Podcasts continue to spring up regularly, and there’s alot to choose from. There are now around 700,000 podcast shows in circulation, in 100-plus languages, with about 30 million individual podcast episodes floating up the digital cloud, according to new 2019 survey data.
Podcasts are best when they tell a compelling story and make you want to hit play on the next episode. Or they can be well-executed stand-along podcasts — there are plenty of one-on-one interviews in the style of Marc Maron.
Here are five new recommendations from the professional end of the dial, featuring dispatches from Silicon Valley, Hollywood, and the end of the world. With road trips and long flights ahead, here are some worth a listen.
How to find it: abcradio.com/podcasts/the-dropout/
Easily the most talked-about podcast of 2019 so far, “The Dropout” is a seven-episode excavation of the Theranos saga – the rise and fall of would-be tech mogul Elizabeth Holmes and her adventures in Silicon Valley. Holmes’ blood-testing company Theranos promised a health care revolution, but instead delivered an alarming cautionary tale on greed and ambition in America.
Produced by “Nightline,” the TV institution, and ABC Radio, the series features in-depth original reporting by presenter Rebecca Jarvis and her team. In a podcast environment where opinion reigns — and louder is mistaken for better — “The Dropout” is a rock-solid example of straight, no-nonsense investigative journalism. In fact, you can make the case that “The Dropout” is one of the most definitive accounts of the Theranos scandal at this point, the single best way to wrap your head around the still-unfolding story.
How to find it: theringer.com/the-rewatchables
The Ringer, from former sportswriter-turned-media mogul Bill Simmons, is an ambitious digital network that combines websites and podcasts with maximum synergy. “The Rewatchables,” one of dozens of podcast offerings, is a simple-enough proposition: Once a week, a panel of Ringer writers gather to discuss a single movie from the pop-culture canon. Selected films range from syllabus requirements (“The Godfather”) to new instant classics (“Get Out”) to overlooked comedy masterpieces (“Midnight Run.”)
Movie podcasts are a dime a dozen, but “Rewatchables” distinguishes itself with a lean-and-mean approach that keeps indulgent chattiness to a minimum. Each episode has a deliberate structure as the panel moves through a set series of topic questions. Which scene holds up best? Which actor steals the movie? The Ringer crew is packed with pop culture obsessives and the vibe is loose but quick. It’s like hanging out with your fastest and funniest friends.
“BBC History Hour”
How to find it: bbc.co.uk/programmes/p016tmg1/episodes/downloads
The BBC is a bottomless well of podcast goodness, especially in the topic area of world history. There’s something fundamentally satisfying about listening to British historians do their thing. History just sounds better coming from the Brits, with their posh accents, precise vocabulary, and dry wit.
Exhibit A-plus is “The History Hour” from BBC World Service, the venerable radio series now exported as a reliable weekly podcast. Each episode features four or five segments on 20th-century history from across the globe. It’s fun to ping around – the Iranian Revolution! London suffragettes! Apollo 8! – and the series digs deep into the BBC’s vast archives of primary source material on tape.
“The End of the World”
How to find it: theendwithjosh.com
Writer and podcaster Josh Clark is something of an elder statesman in the online game. As co-host of the long-running “Stuff You Should Know” series, Clark and his partner Chuck Bryant established the basic template for smart and funny educational podcasting.
Released late last year, “The End of the World” is a 10-episode special series that explores various apocalyptic scenarios concerning our species and our planet. There’s climate change, of course, but also potential extinction-level risks like artificial intelligence, engineered viruses, rogue comets and malfunctioning particle colliders. Clark interviews dozens of scientists, philosophers and policy experts to drill deep into the theme of apocalypse.
Clark’s series has the energy of a passion project – a scary and gloomy passion project, but still. It’s a testament to the growth of the podcast as a medium for long-form investigation and self-expression.
“The Case of Charles Dexter Ward”
How to find it: bbc.co.uk/programmes/p06spb8w/episodes/downloads
Speaking of end times, fans of weird fiction and spooky dramas like “True Detective: Season One” may want to check out this recent BBC series, which explores the storytelling side of the podcast experience. Based on an old H.P. Lovecraft story, “The Case of Charles Dexter Ward” mashes up classic horror tropes with Agatha Christie mystery elements and meta playfulness on the podcast format itself.
“Ward” follows a pair of reporters from the fictional “Mystery Machine” podcast series, as they investigate the disappearance of an asylum inmate with a mysterious past. Unsurprisingly, the investigation moves into occult territory as things get cosmic and complicated. Imagine the “Serial” podcast wandering into “The Twilight Zone.” It’s Halloween in April!