Arts & Culture

Podcast Picks: Big winners from The New Yorker and NPR

Big winners from The New Yorker and NPR

The podcast industry continues to ramp up in 2016. According to a new survey by Edison Research, the U.S. podcast audience grew 23 percent in the last year, which is a huge jump for any media format. The same survey revealed that the average listener tunes into five podcasts per week – a happy coincidence for our semi-regular Podcast Picks feature.

Here are five recommendations for the discerning podcast enthusiast, which you can find online or via your mobile device with a quick search for the title. For families or kids, remember to watch for an “Explicit” warning – marked with a red “E” – when downloading individual episodes.

The New Yorker Radio Hour

My new personal favorite, “The New Yorker Radio Hour” features a predictably sophisticated take on the podcast formula. Created by the editorial staff of The New Yorker magazine, the weekly show launched last October and is currently syndicated on a handful of public radio stations.

Produced out of WNYC Studios in New York City, an emerging hub for A-list podcasts, the new show features original content. It’s not just a rehash of the latest print edition of the magazine, although it maintains a similar balance of in-depth reporting, interviews, profiles and humor. New Yorker editor David Remnick plays host and the production is top notch. Be sure to grab the April 1 episode out of the archives for interviews with Larry David, Amy Poehler and Randy Newman.

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Here Be Monsters

Launched in 2012, “Here Be Monsters” is a great example of how a podcast can be structured to feature a wide range of topics, yet explore a specific theme. In this case, the theme is fear and the approach is direct. Contributing artists and producers confront the things that scare them, and it makes for great listening.

These aren’t just scary ghost stories, either. Well, sometimes they are. Topics range from religion to politics to medical concerns to hitchhiking. There’s a kind of intimacy to the program as creator Jeff Emtman and his team of contributors find new ways to explore the things that weird us out. Placentophagy for instance. Look it up.

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Effectively Wild

The podcasting world can be rather treacherous for sports fans. As with sports radio, a good portion of the podcast landscape is occupied by knuckleheads who think that, when it comes to opinions, louder is always better. Sports shouters, I call them.

“Effectively Wild” is a nice antidote – for baseball fans, anyway. Hosted by editors of the brainy analysis website Baseball Prospectus, the podcast takes a highly statistical approach to the game based on the empirical model of sabermetrics. But you don’t have to be a stat-head to enjoy the daily podcast, which often drifts into the intersections of baseball, pop culture and media. Hosts Ben Lindbergh and Sam Miller bring a mellow vibe, and they pick great intro music, too.

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Hosted by veteran NPR foreign correspondent Kelly McEvers, “Embedded” is a brand-new weekly podcast with a mission. The concept is to go deep on those stories that public radio can usually only spare a few minutes on. NPR addicts will already be familiar with McEvers, who co-hosts the network’s afternoon news magazine show “All Things Considered.”

Just five episodes in, “Embedded” is already ruling the podcast charts. McEvers and her team of contributors are admirably fearless, whether hanging out with Texas biker gangs or riding along with cops in Los Angeles’ Skid Row. “Embedded” is one of the most ambitious journalism podcasts in rotation, and so far, one of the best.

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Imaginary Worlds

“Speculative fiction” is a useful blanket term for referring to those fiction genres that tend to blur and overlap – like fantasy, science fiction, alternate history and horror. You can find plenty of podcasts devoted to a particular show or series (“Game of Thrones,” say) but for a more thinky overview of speculative fiction, consider checking out “Imaginary Worlds.”

Hosted by public radio reporter Eric Molinsky, “Worlds” finds interesting sideways vectors into genre fiction topics. For instance, the most recent episode explores the concept of economics in science fiction. What would happen to traditional market economics if something like the “Star Trek” replicator were to come online? If you enjoy this sort of notional noodling, “Imaginary Worlds” is a pleasant geek out.

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