Lists aren’t just everyone’s favorite thing to write at the end of the year, they’re also great for recapitulating the past 366 (!) days in bite-sized chucks.
Just like last year, I spent most of this one with headphones on, listening to podcasts whenever and wherever possible. Many episodes stuck with me, forming a tapestry of great ideas, stories, or just surprising soundbites.
When I launched my own little podcast earlier this year, I quoted radio veteran Scott Carrier, who succinctly said:
“I like podcasts because the screen is in your head.”
So without further ado, here are my picks, ready to be projected onto your brain:
Heavyweight – Gregor
I’ve been a fan of Jonathan Goldstein’s uniquely neurotic narration ever since he described his job as a telemarketer in gut-wrenching detail back in 2002. On his new show Heavyweight, he helps people correct previous mistakes and irons out regrets (“Like a therapist with a time machine”). This episode about how his friend Gregor lent CDs to a musician who subsequently used them to get famous is a great place to start.
Reply All – Zardulu
The team behind Reply All investigates one of the most overlooked scandals of the year: How a New York City performance artist supposedly trained rats to perform stunts in the subway –and injected some magic into the lives of jaded city dwellers.
Love + Radio – A Girl of Ivory
Donald Rumsfeld famously coined the Unknown Unknowns, the things “we don’t know we don’t know”. This episodes unfolds slowly, way past your previous assumptions, and right into a feeling you didn’t know you didn’t feel before.
Roderick on the Line – The Anchorman
Two people having a candid conversation on the phone may sound like a terrible format, but with the quick-firing brain of Merlin Mann and the shear charisma of John Roderick it’s a winning combination every time. A podcast about nothing and everything at the same time.
The Memory Palace – Natural Habitat
With his intriguing and strangely poetic history podcast, Nate diMeo has been doing stellar work all year. This story about an incredibly impressive woman, her impossible dream, and a panda bear was my favorite.
Revisionist History – Blame Game
I had the pleasure of interviewing Malcom Gladwell a few years ago. He seemed a bit unfocused at the time, which was probably due to the jet lag, so it was surprising to hear his laser-sharp focus on Revisionist History, a show where event the premise “about the overlooked or forgotten” hits right home. My favorite here is Blame Game, a deep dive into the Toyota acceleration scandal that presents a mind-boggling plot twist.
The World According to Sound – Stukas
A simply idea perfectly executed: This ultra-short podcast highlights just a single sound and the history behind it. This episode made the blood in my veins freeze.
99 Percent Invisible – Negatives of the Bauhaus
I had just visited the Bauhaus and recorded my very own show about it when this episode came out and added an entirely new layer to its story: It’s about the stolen negatives of Lucia Moholy, but also about being a woman in the 1920s – being an artist at just about any time.
Note To Self – What Happens to Videos No One Watches
Manoush Zomorodi’s “tech show about being human” feels very personal, and her topics are an always refreshing take on the madness of tech. Take this episode about online videos that no one watches; the very bottom of anti-social media.
Reply All – On The Inside
Another one from Reply All, reported by Sruthi Pinnamaneni: The four-part story about a convicted criminal who blogs from jail, denies he did it, and slowly goes off the rails during the reporting.