The 10 Best Podcasts for Listening and Storytelling

Since the year is almost up and we spent some time on this blog debating the value of year-end “best of” and “worst of” lists, we might as well make a list too.

Podcasts are the wild frontier of content right now. While there are companies that produce and promote material, there are no gatekeepers for publishing podcasts. Anyone with a mic and a dream can put their ideas and stories out into the world through podcasts.  Podcasts can either serve as standalone programming or they might go along with other project launches or missions. Since the success of the first season of Serial, podcasts have garnered more attention in the world of pop culture. The best offerings manage to retain the charm of old radio shows while still feeling like the next wave of future communication.

Podcasts can serve as great company for long commutes, or long walks. They are also good company to keep when you want to tell better stories. Here’s a list of podcasts that challenge us to tell better stories:

Heavyweight: Jonathan Goldstein helps people track down conversations to unload burdens they have carried for a long time. “Christina” is a perfect example of how a story can start in a particular place and surprise even the people who are at the center of it.

Rough Translations: The stories here focus on the moments when cultures and languages collide. The “Anna in Somaliaepisode tells the incredible story of a man trapped in a Somali prison who is kept alive by a complex communication system that draws him into the story of Anna Karenina.

Radiolab: They’ve been at this for a while, telling stories that make science really interesting. The beautiful thing about their “Match Made in Marrowepisode is how it respects the way people of science and faith both tell their stories and how they might listen to each other.

S-town: S-Town reached Serial and This American Life-level fame this year by telling John’s story and showing how good mystery and drama is all around us. 

Reply All: These stories often start in the world of technology but reach into all kinds of life. The two-part “The Long Distanceis the real story of what happens when a telephone scammer accidentally calls a guy who hosts a podcast about technology.

Homecoming: As one of the first fictional podcasts, this show follows in the tradition of old-school radio plays. Famous voices bring this story to life and every episode makes you need to hear the next one. 

Harry Potter and the Sacred Text: This podcast gives people a chance to reflect on the power of stories by walking through the chapters of the whole Harry Potter series and looking for ways it could be authoritative, or useful, in life. 

How Did This Get Made?: Sometimes it’s worth thinking about how NOT to tell stories. They riff on notoriously bad movies, offering an accidental tutorial on how to do stories right. Their treatment of “The Lake House” is cathartic for anyone who’s ever been frustrated with the inconsistency of time travel rules in movies. 

How I Built This: The origin story of companies can define their work for a lifetime. These are the stories of entrepreneurs and how their work caught on. The Atari episode is a particular favorite around the Rebel Pilgrim office. 

Boon Reflections: The non-profit BeSpoken Live invite listeners to overcome creative obstacles and get to work making stuff. We’re partial to it because it’s our friends, but also because we get to hear stories from people who’ve used this practice to pay attention to their life and work and make new moves.