While I was purging my iPhone last week to liberate more space for cat photos, I tapped around Overcast, my iPod app. It had been a couple months since my podcast immersion and I subscribe to a plethora of the programs.
I love podcasts and my eyes are much bigger than my ears. The backlog of episodes I found easily surpassed the number of Alex & Ani bracelets at your average One Direction concert. Podcasts are addictive and iTunes provides a free buffet.Feeling guilty, I decided to dedicate part of the weekend to a podcast binge. I kicked things off on Saturday morning with This American Life, and my all-time favorite episodes, “Buddy Picture” and “Just South of Unicorns“. By bedtime, I had waded through a few weeks-worth of episodes and my apartment gleamed.
A podcast binge is not as weird as it seems. Thirty-three percent of American teenagers and adults have listened to at least one of the 300,000 in the world. It’s not really that surprising, considering podcasting is the on-demand version of oral storytelling, one of the most ancient and beloved arts for all ages. (My 2-year-old nephew is a huge fan of my bedtime story performances live from his nursery.)
Podcasting is in an exciting and experimental period. We’re moving beyond the podcast as the utilitarian, on-demand hour of traditional talk radio. In fact, many media outlets have declared a “Year of the Podcast,” although the actual year is still up for debate: 2005 (Slate), 2014 (New York magazine), 2015 (Small Today), 2016 (Inside Radio).
According to Mikaela Lefrak from the New Republic, “[2015 was] the year we started taking podcasts seriously. 2016 will be the year that people stop asking, ‘Do you listen to podcasts?’ and start assuming that you already do.”
Astronomers estimate 100 billion habitable Earth-like planets in the Milky Way and 50 sextillion in the universe. Although podcast numbers are relatively modest in comparison, there’s still a lot of undiscovered country out there, whether you’re are a heavy user, a connoisseur, a dabbler, or a freshman.
Just like star charts, podcast guides are handy for navigation. I rely on The Timbre, an insightful and entertaining website with podcast reviews and industry commentary. It’s one of the only podcast critique outlets. Catch the team’s weekly roundup of best episodes in the universe and be inspired.
Forget Podcast-specific search engines for now. They are infants. iTunes’ daily list of the top 100 podcasts, ranked by download numbers, is a good resource. If you’re looking for podcasts by theme, try the iTunes podcast directory.
Also worth noting is Nick Quah’s weekly “Hot Pod” newsletter and column. It’s the best guide to Podcast industry news.
A few favorite podcasts…
Word lovers unite, The Allusionist podcast shares adventures in etymology. The Memory Palace, a series of short, interesting history stories, is also worth a listen.
Another terrific program is Mortified. In front of total strangers, adults share strange, extraordinary and embarrassing things they created as kids. It’s so human and at times can be hilarious. Newsweek, Time, Wired and the ‘Today Show’ are fans.
Lastly, WBUR Radio, Boston’s NPR affiliate, recently launched Modern Love: The podcast. Touted as a “new audio experience,” the program is based on the popular New York Times column of the same name. The podcast explores the “joys and tribulations” of love and includes readings from “notable” personalities. The first episode beat Serial in the rankings. Serial is one of the highest-ranked and most beloved podcast series of all time.
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