The just-wrapped Serial podcast has been called an “inflection point” for podcasts. I’ve been listening to podcasts long enough to remember when iTunes completely transformed podcasting when it waded into the market in back in 2005. But certainly Serial, benefiting from the cachet of Ira Glass and popular enough to spawn its own parodies, has brought a lot of new ears (and maybe eyes, for video podcasts) to the medium.
Although there’s nothing exactly like Serial out there to fill the void until the next season starts some time next year.
- Although The Moth is probably the biggest name in personal story podcasts, for my money, Love + Radio cuts deeper and casts light into shadows that few people ever get to see. There are many episodes that I’m amazed that the producers found the people they did and were able to get them to share the often painful, sometimes hilarious and more than once in a while, more than a little bit profane, stories. There’s an element of danger in nearly all of these stories, whether physical or emotional.
- Criminal does what it says on the tin: This is a true crime podcast, although it’s often just as much about what led up to the crime and the consequences of it as the crime itself. Hackers, scam artists, serial killers: The podcast runs the gamut.
- Next to This American Life, Radiolab is probably the smartest, best-sounding podcast around. (It also plays on some NPR stations, but there are plenty of episodes that are podcast-only.) Jad Abumrad and Robert Krulwich are national treasures, and follow their curiosity down all sorts of rabbit holes. Alongside Alton Brown and the Mythbusters, they make science accessible and cool, even for those who might otherwise be intimidated by it.
- A podcast about design doesn’t sound compelling, but Roman Mars’ 99% Invisible makes eclectic subjects like the Portland city flag, the hashtag and the Ouija board fascinating, with sound design that is some of the best in the business. This is also a show that sometimes is played on public radio stations, but not nearly enough — your best bet is to find it as a podcast.
- Finally, Reply All is a technically a new podcast, but it’s really just the creators of the older TLDR pocast — itself a spinoff of the excellent On the Media radio show/podcast that all journalists should be listening to — striking out on their own. These short weekly shows look at elements of Internet life and history. In their first five weeks, they’ve looked at Jennicam, unwittingly sharing private financial lives via social media, the man who created pop-up ads, a social media network for medical professionals and an app that gets strangers to deliver in-person messages to recipients (sometimes). Even subjects that seem skippable end up being compelling and told with a sense of humor and fun.
There’s obviously a lot more podcasts out there — they replaced radio for me years ago — and I’m glad that Serial helped open more people’s eyes (and ears) to them. If there’s a great podcast out there that Serial fans would enjoy that I’ve missed, sound off in the comments.