Podcasts To Spark Your Curiosity in 2019

My 5 recommendations to immerse yourself in an eclectic audio experience

Podcasts have become like books: there are so many available, choosing between them can be an impossible task.

In 2019, you can find a podcast for any genre you're interested in. From Narrative Fiction to News and Politics; Comedy to Religion; and, of course, True Crime, which was popularised when Serial first took the world by storm in 2014.

As well as a plethora of genres, podcasts come in a whole variety of styles. Investigative journalism, monologues, interviews, conversations, audio documentaries—the list goes on.

I first started listening to podcast-type content in 2012, with Youtubers Rhett and Link's Good Mythical Morning. GMM has technically always been a Youtube series, so I might not have known or understood what a podcast was back then, but I do remember thoroughly enjoying the content. Added to this was the fact that I could listen to it on Apple Podcasts whilst doing other activities, e.g. my morning routine, chores and homework.

Podcasting has come a long way since 2012 but the fact is, it's not just the next big thing. Podcasting is huge now—it's predicted to become a $1 billion industry by 2021. That means we've all got less than two years to enter this market whilst it's on the rise, people!

So whilst we're working on our own genius podcast ideas, here is a curated list of some of my personal favourites. These could be inspiration if you're looking to expand your library, or starting recommendations if you need an introduction to the podcasting world.

This list is definitely not an exhaustive representation of all the good quality podcasts out there. It's a list of 5 series, out of the many that I'm subscribed to, whose new episodes I always eagerly await.

Check them out to immerse yourself in an eclectic audio experience.

Radiolab

Radiolab was the podcast that showed me how much potential there is in podcasting. It was initially created with a focus on exploring scientific topics but now investigates a broad range of themes and ideas.

Its episodes have left me stunned, in awe and with goosebumps. The producers and reporters are fantastic researchers and storytellers. You start each episode never really knowing where it will take you, but they craft the story so that as the episode unfolds, the pieces come together, the central idea becomes clear and it all makes complete sense. It's like opening a Christmas present. Every. Time.

What I love most about Radiolab is the sound production, soundtracks and atmospherics. Radio shows are usually listened to through speakers, so they're more of a public, "out-loud" experience. But podcasts are special because they are an intimate listening experience, through ear/headphones. The Radiolab team understands this so well—the soundscapes they create are brilliantly immersive, intense and inspiring.

In terms of recommendations, one episode I'd suggest starting with is "Poison Control". I've been loving their recent series, "G", which explores intelligence. My favourite series, however, is the 3-part "Border Trilogy" from 2018. It's fascinating, heartbreaking and incredibly relevant to what's going on in the world today.

(Also, I'd highly recommend listening to any episode produced by my favourite Radiolab producer, Latif Nasser. Yes, I have a favourite producer—it's that deep.)

Revisionist History

...and anything else from Pushkin Industries

If it wasn't already clear from my review of his book, Outliers, I'll say it again: I am a big fan of Malcolm Gladwell's storytelling. I was actually inspired to read Outliers because I love his podcast, Revisionist History, so much.

This podcast is the best kind of history lesson. Malcolm Gladwell takes what initially seems like the most random, out-of-the-blue people and events from the past, but digs deeper into their stories to explain lessons that are relevant and important. Whether it's NBA legend Wilt Chamberlain's underhanded free throws, the McDonald's fries recipe, or taco bell and cultural appropriation, Gladwell unravels the most interesting stories that we often take for granted or never think about. After all, the tagline for Revisionist History is that it's the podcast about things that are overlooked and misunderstood. Like much of Gladwell's work, this podcast inspires you to look at and understand the world differently.

There are currently 4 seasons of this podcast. The episodes I'd recommend from each season are:

  1. "The Big Man Can't Shoot"

  2. "McDonald's Broke My Heart"

  3. "Burden of Proof"

  4. "In a Metal Mood"

Revisionist History is produced by Pushkin Industries, a podcast company that creates a bunch of other podcasts. Here are some others from the company that deserve honourable mention:

  • Against the Rules with Michael Lewis

  • Solvable

Criminal

As I mentioned, podcasts are an intimate listening experience. Out of all of my recommendations, I think Criminal is the podcast that maximises on this quality the most. What immediately captured my attention and interest with Criminal was its host, Phoebe Judge. Her style and voice amplify the mysterious tone of the story she's telling. Every time she speaks, it's like she's letting you in on a secret.

Her introduction and tagline are like a catchy Disney Channel theme song and I always say it along with her:

"I'm Phoebe Judge...This is Criminal"

Criminal is one of the few podcasts that I actually don't multitask to. The episodes are so interesting, they need my full attention. It's a True Crime podcast but it's different from others in this genre. Whilst other podcasts that focus on crime and true stories tend to be like investigative journalism or audio documentaries (think Serial or The Tip Off), Criminal is presented as interviews with the people involved in the crimes. It stands out to me because it's more about exploring the people—their personalities, thinking and experiences—than showcasing the darkness of the crime or exposing systemic injustice, etc.*

I'd suggest starting with the episodes "Witness" and "Linda", especially "Linda" because the story in that episode takes a super interesting turn.

How I Built This with Guy Raz

I wouldn't say that I'm someone who is super interested in books and podcasts about business, but How I Built This is one of my favourite recommendations. The host, Guy Raz, interviews entrepreneurs and people who have created some of the most well-known and established brands. There have been so many interesting guests, including the creators of Rent The Runway, Airbnb and Lonely Planet.

The guests basically share their life stories and, as the title gives away, how they built their companies. I love the openness and honesty of the guests—they share the good, the bad, and the ugly aspects of their journies. I always finish an episode with lots of takeaways in terms of how to be creative, deal with challenges and persevere. The overall lesson I've learned from How I Built This is that your talent and hard work aren't for nothing. They prepare you for opportunities, but then you have to actually take the chances when they come your way. All that preparation without taking the opportunities can be just as miserable as opportunities taken with no preparation for them.

To start with, I highly recommend the episodes with makeup artist Bobbi Brown, the rapper Logic and the creator of the Power Rangers, Haim Saban.

Orders in Decay

Okay, so this one is a bit of a shameless plug. As one of my final year modules, I produced my own podcast episode! The module (which was the best module I took in my entire degree) is called Law and Disorder, and its podcast series is Orders in Decay.

This series is all about the interaction between the law and various forms of disorder. It's about the blurred lines between peace and unrest; how unrest can spiral into disobedience, protests, riots, revolutions and everything in between. It's also about how the state reacts and responds. Law and disorder are often presented as opposing ideas, but Orders in Decay explores the events and ideas that suggest they can (and do) co-exist.

The podcast I created for this module is titled "Disconnected: Zimbabwe's Internet Shutdown". Here is the synopsis:

In January 2019, Zimbabwe's busiest cities were rocked by turbulent demonstrations and clashes between protestors and police. The images and messages of resistance in the streets were projected to the world through the Internet and social media—until the ZANU–PF Government initiated a full Internet shutdown.

Zimbabwe is not alone in this experience; Internet shutdowns are a phenomenon on the rise around the world.

This investigation of Zimbabwe’s shutdown explores classic theories of the crowd and delves into the concept of resonance to answer the central question: why do Governments shut down the Internet when faced with civil unrest?

I started creating my podcast in January this year when the Zimbabwean Internet shutdown was ongoing. Being from Zimbabwe, it was a topic that was really important to me personally, but after what we saw happening in Sudan in July, and the shutdowns and censorship in Ethiopia, Kashmir, China and other countries, I think we're all understanding that Internet shutdowns are a serious problem.

Other episodes of Orders in Decay I recommend are "Tianenmen: Constituent Sculpture" and "Unpeaceful Peace: Colombia".

Honourable mentions...

The podcasts above are my favourite recommendations, but I have to mention these others as well:

  • The College Info Geek Podcast

  • The Ground Up Show

I hope you find this list useful and interesting. If you do check out one of my recommendations, or if you'd like to make your own suggestion, let me know!


*Not that these things are bad, but there are so many podcasts that do this that it can be hard to find one that does it well, or better than the podcasts that are already popular.