Internet radio shows, or podcasts, are one of the fastest growing forms of new media. With modern technology, anyone with a computer and an internet connection can become an amateur radio host and start producing a program on any subject they please, and websites like i-tunes and podcast alley now host thousands of different shows. The lack of time constraints and censorship means that podcasts are able to be much longer and more free form than traditional radio, which has attracted a number of celebrities and former radio hosts to the format. Meanwhile, several respected radio and television shows are now being released in podcast form, which has allowed them to find a whole new audience on the internet. Whether online-only or traditional radio shows, the following are the top ten must-listen podcasts. There are always new shows being released, so feel free to leave any recommendations in the comments section.
There might not be any better example of the fluidness of podcasting than Smodcast, an ongoing R-rated dialogue between filmmaker Kevin Smith (Clerks, Dogma) and his longtime producer Scott Mosier. The show has no set format, and there is little structure beyond a short musical intro. From there, a frequently under-the-influence Smith and the deadpan Mosier let themselves go wherever the conversation takes them, from musing on the sexual habits of the Harry Potter characters to discussing film, hockey, and their personal lives. The result is a deceivingly simple style that feels more like eavesdropping on the late night conversations of two best friends than it does a real radio show, but when the two participants are this funny, that’s usually a good thing.
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9. Mysterious Universe
From alien abductions and secret government programs to tales of ghostly occurrences and visitations by the Bigfoot, Mysterious Universe has all the weirdest paranormal news worth speculating about. The show, which is hosted by Australians Benjamin Grundy and Aaron Wright, has just returned for its second season after gaining something of a cult following during its first year on the air. Each week, the hosts scour the internet to find the newest underground stories in cryptozoology and conspiracy theories, as well as the latest news in the world of science and technology. Despite their bizarre subject matter, Grundy and Wright do an admirable job of keeping Mysterious Universe grounded in logic, and always approach every UFO sighting and ghost story from a skeptic’s perspective. Perhaps the best parts of the show are the often-lengthy “true” stories submitted by listeners documenting their personal brushes with the paranormal, which have described everything from exploring ancient underground caves in Germany to encounters with lizard men and shadow people. Is any of it true? Probably not, but like everything else on this show, they make for some always interesting and often unforgettable stories.
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8. The B.S. Report
Designed for the sports fan with a sense of humor, the B.S. Report is a frequent podcast hosted by ESPN sportswriter Bill Simmons. Simmons has long been a cult favorite of sports fans for his popular columns on the ESPN website and magazine, where he is known for his uncanny ability to elevate his discussions on baseball and the NBA with a healthy dose of pop culture references and wickedly funny jokes. He brings this same style to his podcast, which is as consistently laugh-out-loud funny as it is informative about the latest news and controversies in the world of athletics. Like all the best podcasts, Simmons’ show is very loose and free form, and it’s not uncommon for him to go almost a whole show without even mentioning sports, especially when he really gets going about movies or his ongoing obsession with reality television. When it is on topic, though, the show turns into one of the most insightful and entertaining sports programs around, thanks in large part to Simmons’ clever banter with his guests, who range from sports stars to comedians and fellow journalists.
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7. Left, Right, and Center
For astute political talk that tackles every perspective on an issue, you can’t do better than Left, Right, and Center. The show, which features four commentators from different parts of the political spectrum debating the issues of the day, usually airs on New York public radio, but it’s also released as a weekly podcast. The show is moderated by Matthew Miller, a member of the Center for American Progress, who represents the political centrists, and is co-hosted by Robert Scheer on the left, Tom Blankley on the right, and Arianna Huffington, who is described as representing the “independent-progressive blogosphere.” Unlike most political debate shows, which tend to dissolve into shouting matches, Left, Right, and Center prizes reasoned, courteous debate where every panelist is given their chance to speak. There is even a final segment where each co-host is given a chance to bring up an issue of their choosing and make a statement about it, during which the others are not allowed to interrupt. Compared to the fiery rhetoric and constant bickering of cable news shows, the show is a refreshingly rational take on political debate, and it’s also a great way to keep up to date on current events.
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Filmspotting is a weekly podcast out of Chicago that is a must-listen for any movie fan. The show is ostensibly focused on movie reviews, but hosts Adam Kempenaar and Matty Robinson do more than just tell their listeners what new movies are worth seeing, they also discuss and examine film as an art form as thoroughly as any critics working today. The show doesn’t just focus on current movies, either, as the hosts frequently discuss old films as part of theme marathons which might focus on anything from the films of Alfred Hitchcock to 70s sci-fi cinema. In true film geek fashion, the duo also do a weekly top five list, counting down their favorites on subjects like the top buddy movies or the “best films to teach an alien about earth.” Throughout it all, Kempenaar and Robinson manage to match perceptive commentary with a genuine love for movies that is as infectious as it is informative. Few critics manage to strike a balance the high and low brow so well, or do it with as much humor and insight.
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5. Wait Wait… Don’t Tell Me
One of the most popular programs on National Public Radio, Wait Wait…Don’t Tell Me! is now available as a podcast, and it has become one of the most popular downloads at the i-tunes store. The show is a news program in the form of a game show. Each week a panel of three humorists and writers join host Peter Sagal in Chicago, where they are quizzed on the week’s most important and weirdest news stories. Listeners also get to call in to play a number of different news related games with the panelists in exchange for a prize. The show is great for keeping up with the news and learning about the latest ridiculous stories in science and politics, but its real strong point is the quality of the writing and the expert comic timing of the guests. Rarely do you get a chance to hear people this witty riff off of one another with such skill and precision, and the results are often hilarious.
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4. The Adam Carolla Podcast
You probably know Adam Carolla from The Man Show or as the longtime host of the radio program Loveline, but what you might not know is that the comedian has become one of the internet’s most prolific and successful podcasters. His daily show the Adam Carolla Podcast is one of the most addicting and downright hilarious internet radio programs, thanks in large part to his keen observational humor and rants about everything from ticket-happy LA cops to movies and television. Outside of providing a forum for Carolla to air his often-controversial opinions on everything under the sun, the podcast is also a long-form interview show. Each episode, Carolla engages a celebrity guest in a rambling dialogue about their childhood and their journey in show business, relaying stories along the way about his own trials as an actor, comedian, and former carpenter. In the hands of a less-capable conversationalist, this podcast might become dull or repetitive, but Carolla is a born raconteur, and listening to him complain or tell stories about his wild younger days never seems to get old.
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3. The Moth
As far as podcasts go, things don’t get much simpler or more engrossing than the Moth, a weekly podcast run out of New York City by a nonprofit arts organization. The show is made up of recordings of “true stories told before a live audience without notes.” Each week, the group releases short 10-20 minute tales told by people from all walks of life. Past presenters have included writers, comedians, scientists, and even New York City police officers. The true stories they tell range from short anecdotes about unusual or embarrassing situations to epic and harrowing stories of brushes with death. One recent story told by a journalist traced her narrow escape from the clutches of rebel soldiers after her truck broke down on one of the most dangerous and desolate roads in Africa, while another described one man’s comic misadventures while on vacation in Italy. Whatever the subject matter, the group has a way of picking stories with a universal appeal that will keep you coming back for more.
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2. The How Stuff Works Podcasts
Ever wonder what causes deja vu, how the Panama Canal was built, or just what it is exactly that’s inside a Twinkie? If so, then you should be listening to the many podcasts put out by the website howstuffworks.com. The shows, which include “Stuff You Should Know,” “Stuff You Missed in History Class,” and “Tech Stuff,” focus on all the strange and obscure questions your high school teachers never got around to covering. Each short episode tackles one question or subject from history, which the hosts then discuss and explain with a great deal of humor and intelligence. The hosts always manage to touch on all the major points of their subject and back up their claims with hard data, but everything is kept at a breezy and entertaining pace. So while the coronation of Charlemagne or the full details of how habeas corpus works might not seem like the most scintillating subject matter, the shows have a way of drawing you in, and after each episode you’ll be surprised by how much you can learn just from listening to a few podcasts.
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1. This American Life
This is certainly the obvious pick for number one, but it’s safe to say that podcasts–or radio, for that matter– don’t get any better than This American Life, the long-running program put out by Chicago Public Radio. Each episode, the show selects a theme, which could be anything from “the kindness of strangers” to “the fine print,” and then provides a series of journalism and non-fiction stories loosely based around it. It’s one of the most intelligent and well-produced programs on the radio, thanks to its unique, often funny take on current events, history, and personal stories. The people behind the show have a real gift for seeking out interesting perspectives on old themes, and it’s rare that you don’t come away from listening to it having learned something you weren’t even aware you didn’t know before. Take a recent episode called “Rest Stop,” where the show’s producers camped out at a highway rest stop in New York to interview travelers as they stopped for gas and food, and in the span of an hour managed to cram in stories about everything from eccentric Russian-American retirees to foreign exchange students. Whatever the subject, you can always count on This American Life to produce some interesting characters and funny, often oddly touching stories. Do yourself a favor and check it out as soon as possible. There is a reason why this show is consistently ranked as the number one podcast on i-tunes.
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