Podcasts have been around for a while now, but they entered the cultural zeitgeist in a big way last year with Serial. The radio documentary was released in 12 weekly instalments and all season it followed the same story: a re-investigation of the 1999 murder of high-school student Hae Min Lee in Baltimore. The episodes were downloaded more than 68 million times, and dinner-party speculation about the case was nearly unavoidable.
But in case you did manage to avoid it, and now you’re suffering from serious FOMO on this whole podcast thing, we’re here to help. You may have to start by swallowing your pride and asking a summer student to show you how to download podcasts onto your phone.
Once you’re ready to go, we recommend you begin your foray into the brave new world of podcasts with this list of some of our favourites, guaranteed to improve your commute and keep you in the loop for future dinner party discussion.
For the uninitiated
This American Life: The granddaddy of podcasts, and a good place to start: top radio journalists telling irresistible stories of life in America, from police brutality to public nudity.
Primer episode: “Day at the Beach”
For the curious
Radiolab: Another wildly popular podcast, but with a more science-y take on stories of the human experience, and some of the best music and sound production in the game.
Primer episode: “Are You Sure?”
For the TED-head
TED Radio Hour: Each episode features highlights from some of the best TED talks compiled by theme, for a multi-faceted exploration of a single concept, from the seven deadly sins to the origins of the human race.
Primer episode: “Press Play”
For the philosopher
On Being: Honey-voiced Krista Tippett explores the big questions (you know, just, “how should we live our lives?”) in conversation with some of the world’s foremost thought leaders.
Primer episode: “Helen Fisher — Love and Sex and Attachment”
For the entrepreneur
StartUp: Former This American Life producer Alex Blumberg tells the story of launching his own media business, from pitching venture capitalists to the pains of picking
a company name.
Primer episode: “How Not to Pitch a Billionaire”
For the patriot
The Vinyl Café: Canada’s sweetheart Stuart McLean narrates wistful stories of small-town Canada and funny tales of Dave and Morley, his beloved fictional family, often punctuated with great indie folk music.
Primer episode: “The Car Wash”
For the politics junkie
Canadaland: Shit-disturbing ex-CBC reporter Jesse Brown (who helped break the Jian Ghomeshi story) interviews journalists about the political scene and the media landscape, both of which he thinks need a shake-up.
Primer episode: “What Only the Press Knows About Rob Ford”
For the science nerd
Invisibilia: Two NPR alum explore the invisible forces that shape human behaviour, weaving science and storytelling to make you re-examine the things you take for granted.
Primer episode: “How to Become Batman”
This story is from our Summer 2015 issue.