By Atara Huberfeld
Podcasts, at their core, are kind of niche-y. They’re more similar to old radio shows from the 1940s than any other type of media today. They can’t benefit from the movie magic of a green screen or CGI, or be enhanced with a clear chart for clarification like a written article. To be honest, it’s sometimes shocking to me that podcasts have taken off. I’m somewhat of a podcast early adopter (trust me, listening to U.S. history podcasts was the best way to study for AP US History back in 2013). I’ve watched the podcast selection transform from a back catalog of old NPR episodes to the equivalent of Target: full of great stuff, you always leave with more than you thought you needed, but you rarely regret it.
Podcasts’ topics have definitely taken the medium’s niche-ness and ran with it. There are podcasts that are have become TV shows (Homecoming, Dirty John), and TV shows that have created their own podcasts (Chris Hayes’s podcast, Late Night with Seth Meyers’s podcast). There are podcasts that are devoted to discussing books (NYT Review of Books, Annotated) and podcasts that have since published books (Welcome to Night Vale). Below you’ll find some very niche and very wonderful podcasts, some of which you might be familiar with, while others have only four reviews on the iTunes store. And in the style of any great and hilarious gift guide, these podcasts are tailored to people’s hyperspecific needs. Happy listening!
- You love the idea of solving crimes but hate the sight of blood. Also, you wave to your elderly neighbors but never remember their names: S-Town
Because it was released March of 2017, S-Town can nearly be considered an “oldy-but-goody” in the short lifespan of podcasts. It’s a single, contained story, created with the intention of being a True Crime podcast like Serial but then… goes elsewhere. It’s a delicate and forceful view of one man’s life. Be prepared to be forced to consider all the alternate paths your life could have taken, as well as the unexpected effects we have on each other. Yes, the podcast is as pretentious and high-minded as this description. S-Town was also widely regarded as one of the best podcasts of 2017.
- You’ve always wanted a superpower and don’t like leaving the house on Sundays: The Bright Sessions
This is the one fiction recommendation on the list. It starts as recorded sessions of a therapist with her patients, but you slowly hear the patients reveal why they’re in therapy – each has a different superpower (or mutation, if you’re an X-Men fan). Listening to teenagers and young adults learn to adjust to regular life and enhance their powers would be interesting enough, but the show comes to include Ocean’s 8-style heists, trips to Victorian England, and teenage romance.
Podcast Completed, spin-off coming soon
- You exercise but are suspicious of people who wear athleisure-wear all day. Alternatively, you are morbidly fascinated by cults, but they scare you: 30 for 30’s Season on Bikram Yoga
30 For 30 usually produces self-contained episodes that deal with a single interesting sports story. In May of 2018, the show instead told a multi-episode story of the origin, corruption, and abuse scandal within the Bikram Yoga movement. You might not be familiar with this particular brand of yoga, but they first monetized Hot Yoga, and for a time, they were a national powerhouse and a massive money-making empire, all benefitting the founder, Bikram Choudhury, who is also an awful human being. This podcast isn’t always easy listening, but it’s a fantastic deep dive into what can happen when people allow their self-image to be tied up in the opinion of a charismatic guru.
Season completed, show producing other content
- You’re an out-of-towner who loves New York OR you’re an in-towner who lowkey knows nothing about New York OR you just like history: The Bowery Boys
Like New York, this show has it all. Walk-through tours of parks and museums. True Crime investigations of sordid murders. Terrible puns. Original music for each episode. The show has been going on for so long that there is a second podcast that acts as an archive for their old episodes. Each episode is highly researched and gives you just enough history to understand the context necessary, but not so much that you feel like your grandfather is rehashing every minute of growing up in Brooklyn in the 40s (“When I was your age, I had to walk to school, in the snow, uphill both ways!”).
New episodes published bi-monthly
- Your college dream has been to have discussions with beautiful, glasses-wearing people in quiet and hipster-like coffee shops about Big Issues Facing Our World and Beyonce: Still Processing
I don’t want to be biased, but this is probably my favorite podcast on the list. It’s hosted by two writers for the New York Times Magazine or Arts section and each episode is a gem. In between discussions about why Kanye is like a car accident we just can’t look away from and the meaning of the families we create for ourselves, you’ll learn a whole lot about the world, new ways to view it, and probably yourself. Listen with a cup of tea and a diffuser full of essential oils.
Currently on hiatus, hopefully returning soon
- You’re an English/History/Philosophy major because of your love of Harry Potter/Game of Thrones/The Good Place and have strong opinions on Authorial Intent: Binge Mode
Binge Mode is kind of a lot. And that’s the point. The show started out as a deep dive into Every. Single. Episode of Game of Thrones. For a few months after the last season, they deep dived into TV shows and movies before returning to their more obsessive nature of reviewing every chapter of every Harry Potter book, plus the movies. They just completed working through Deathly Hallows. This show is not for the faint-hearted, either in terms of the weedsy-ness of the discussions or the maturity of the content. Expect extended conversations about alternate translations of words from one of Game of Thrones’ four invented languages and lots of crying about dead beloved animals (RIP Hedwig).
New episodes published daily
- You’re involved with Model UN and cry at least once every two weeks. You have probably read The Kite Runner: The Caliphate
With the ebb and flow of constant news stories, it’s easy to let stories slip from your mind until you remember, “Oh yeah, that was a crisis we were facing just a few months ago. I had forgotten”. As ISIS’s power shrinks and it thankfully continues to recede into a frightful memory, this exploration into the human side of that war is nearly painful. It is acutely human, sometimes viscerally sad, and other times you want to punch the person speaking on the podcast in the nose. Regardless, you’ll definitely feel something.