Recommend Interesting Non-Improvised Podcasts
February 19, 2020 9:57 AM   Subscribe

I finally figured out how to listen to podcasts. I listened to Season 1 of Serial and enjoyed. I tried some other things, but I think I really don't like the "person chatting on topic" or "people conversing on topic" format. I like things that tend more towards scripted/edited/produced. I enjoy the kinds of things you read in the The Walrus/The Atlantic/Harpers. I like current events, history, science for dummies, pop-[academic subject]. Open to fiction (I read lots of CanLit and other literary fiction. I don't really want ghost story type things). I'm also open to well-done lectures/speeches. What should I listen to?
posted by If only I had a penguin... to Media & Arts (41 answers total) 55 users marked this as a favorite
Here are some to look into --

99% Invisible
Bedside Rounds
Futility Closet
Hakai Magazine
Outside Podcast
You Must Remember This
The Document
The Dream
Slow Burn
Wild Thing
Your Brain on Facts
posted by OrangeDisk at 10:05 AM on February 19, 2020 [3 favorites]

If you're interested in the history of Hollywood, you might enjoy You Must Remember This.
posted by northernish at 10:05 AM on February 19, 2020

Response by poster: Oh, i should add...if there are radio plays, I think I would like that.
posted by If only I had a penguin... at 10:10 AM on February 19, 2020

In terms of fiction podcasts (ie, produced fictional radio stories), Welcome to Nightvale is lauded, but I could never get into it. I did like Homecoming, though.
posted by vunder at 10:18 AM on February 19, 2020

History on Fire
posted by FencingGal at 10:26 AM on February 19, 2020

Re: CanLit + well-crafted lectures, there's The Massey Lectures, which are rebroadcast/sometimes distributed on CBC Radio's 'Ideas', which often has otherwise interesting radio documentaries in general.
posted by ovvl at 10:27 AM on February 19, 2020

You might enjoy Radiolab, which is heavily produced.

Reply All, which I think is generally great, is mostly produced stories, though sometimes it's people talking about a subject, so you might want to pick and choose.

For fiction that is not radio-drama, I really like the New Yorker fiction podcast. The fiction editor (Deborah Treisman) invites an author who has published in the magazine to come on and read a short story that has been published in the magazine at any point in history and then they discuss. I really like the episode where Louise Erdrich reads Joyce Carol Oates' story Mastiff ( Even though the discussion is unscripted, it's so hushed and intellectual compared with a lot of other improvised podcasts. You'd also be able to pick and choose from past episodes based on what literature/writers you like. Here is a selection of someone's faves:
posted by vunder at 10:28 AM on February 19, 2020 [1 favorite]

My library:

99% Invisible (design).
The Rewatchables (film).
In Our Time (various academic subjects, great archives).
Revisionist History (Malcolm Gladwell - hit or miss).
Reply All (general internet-y stuff).
Against the Rules (Michael Lewis book-via-podcast).
Last Seen (crime).
This American Life.
posted by kevinbelt at 10:42 AM on February 19, 2020 [1 favorite]

Revolutions, and it's ancestor, history of Rome are very good scripted history podcasts by Mike duncan
posted by Cannon Fodder at 10:44 AM on February 19, 2020 [6 favorites]

Planet Money is a scripted, very interesting examination of topics related money and commerce geared toward the general public. Feels similar to 99% Invisible in style.
posted by metahawk at 10:46 AM on February 19, 2020 [2 favorites]

Seconding S-Town.
posted by BlahLaLa at 10:52 AM on February 19, 2020 [3 favorites]

Look to the CBC?

Quarks and Quirks (science)
Front burner (news)
Uncovered (Canadian version of serial)
posted by Valancy Rachel at 10:54 AM on February 19, 2020

99% Invisible, Criminal, In the Dark
posted by jeather at 11:08 AM on February 19, 2020 [2 favorites]

I've been enjoying Our Fake History. (It's not primarily about Canada, but it strikes me as extremely Canadian.)
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 11:09 AM on February 19, 2020

Mission To Zyxx!

And thirding Futility Closet.
posted by TheophileEscargot at 11:18 AM on February 19, 2020

If you end up liking You Must Remember This, check out the five-episode satire Unremembered Hollywood, "the podcast that dares to tell completely real* and true* Hollywood stories that are definitely not just made up".
posted by Flannery Culp at 11:31 AM on February 19, 2020 [1 favorite]

Innovation Hub
posted by Winnie the Proust at 11:37 AM on February 19, 2020

Season 1 of The Dream was on multi-level marketing - really well done, factual but sympathetic and warm, not the regular sort of expose that makes just people look like idiots. Season 2 is in progress, on the wellness industry.

Containers is an 8-part audio documentary on the history of shipping containers and how they've affected global trade. Sounds boring but I promise this one is a really fascinating look at things through the lens of the Port of Oakland & how it's changed.
posted by Mary Ellen Carter at 11:47 AM on February 19, 2020 [2 favorites]

I don't listen to it but have many friends who do: Canadaland.

Canadaland also produced the Thunder Bay podcast which I did listen to and it was worth it.

Here's a list of the podcasts they produce:

I highly recommend The Secret Life of Canada, or at least the first season.
posted by girlpublisher at 12:00 PM on February 19, 2020 [1 favorite]

Lots of good recs here already, but I also wanted to mention that The New Yorker and New York Magazine's Vulture both have podcast review sections now. The podcasts they review tend to be the kind you're describing—highly produced and edited, sometimes serialized. Worth looking at their picks to see if anything sparks your interest!
posted by Mender at 12:12 PM on February 19, 2020

The Habitat is great. You might find that investigative journalism hits the keywords of what you're searching for
posted by raccoon409 at 12:14 PM on February 19, 2020

A lot of Gimlet Media's podcasts might fit the bill - they describe themselves as "narrative podcasting", which seems to mean podcasts that are well-produced to create a narrative.

I particularly like Heavyweight, which accompanies folks who have moments from their past that they want to revisit - e.g. finding out what happened to something, apologizing for something, or achieving something left unfinished.
posted by mosst at 12:20 PM on February 19, 2020 [2 favorites]

The Ongoing History of New Music is really good if you're interested in the... well, ongoing history of new music. It's honestly a bit better if you can catch it as an actual radio broadcast since then you get to hear the full piece of whatever music they play. Unfortunately for the podcast they only play 30 seconds or so of each track. It's still very good, though. Everything from following a musicians career, to digging into production history, to shining a spotlight on musicians that learned to play with an injury.
posted by forbiddencabinet at 12:26 PM on February 19, 2020

The Great Eastern
Wolf 359

Mission to ZZYX, mentioned above, is great but it is improvised storytelling.
posted by fimbulvetr at 12:42 PM on February 19, 2020

LeVar Burton Reads
posted by MillyMath at 12:57 PM on February 19, 2020 [2 favorites]

_Gastropod_ is really good. "The science and history of food." Their recent episode on tonic water went into a whole bit on how Europeans stealing the tree that makes quinine basically facilitated second-wave colonialism.
posted by ropeladder at 1:34 PM on February 19, 2020 [2 favorites]

Farm to Taber sometimes gets a little more two people discussing-ish, but it's excellent for nerds who are curious about farming.
posted by jeather at 1:44 PM on February 19, 2020

I think you would like The Anthropocene Reviewed. It's John Greene being thoughtful and sincere.
posted by beandip at 1:58 PM on February 19, 2020 [1 favorite]

Imagined Life is a cool series. The episodes are first-person biographies (not official, presumably much of the dialogue is invented) of famous people. But you don't find out who the person is until the end of the episode. The actress who reads them is excellent.
posted by Emmy Rae at 2:36 PM on February 19, 2020

For fictional radio drama podcasts, I highly recommend Cabin Pressure. Our family also enjoys Futility Closet, 99% Invisible, Invisibilia, the Uncertain Hour, and Ologies, though we haven’t listened to this last one recently.
posted by ElizaMain at 2:45 PM on February 19, 2020

Black Sheep from RNZ is some very good history. Mainly scripted, but with some tightly edited interviews--not chat.

The Truth is some good radio drama.
posted by Gotanda at 2:57 PM on February 19, 2020

My favorites of the nicely-produced genre: 99% Invisible, Hidden Brain, Criminal, This is Love, Slow Burn
posted by emelenjr at 3:14 PM on February 19, 2020

Selected Shorts: actors reading short fiction. Most of them even do the voices! It's like storytime for grownups.

I still miss the original host, Isaiah Sheffer; since his death in 2012 they've had a series of guest hosts, most of whom are perfectly fine, but Isaiah was something incredible. If you can find a recording of his reading of "The Dead" with Rene Auberjonois and Fionnula Flanagan, just block your calendar for the next two hours because you will not want to stop listening.
posted by basalganglia at 3:21 PM on February 19, 2020 [3 favorites]

+ CanadaLand, it's an interesting deconstruction of what we think of as news.
posted by ovvl at 6:21 PM on February 19, 2020

Hidden brain
posted by Neekee at 9:08 PM on February 19, 2020 [1 favorite]

The Bright Sessions is a scripted fiction podcast where you get to listen in on the therapy sessions of characters with superhuman abilities - I love it.

Ars Paradoxica is a time travel story - it gets kind of convoluted at times but the characters are interesting and overall it's been a fun listen.

And seconding Levar Burton Reads - who wouldn't want to have Levar read short stories (many sci fi, many authors who are POC) to them in his glorious, soothing voice?
posted by DingoMutt at 9:45 PM on February 19, 2020 [2 favorites]

The podcasts on are worth checking out. I enjoyed both Seeing White (about racism) and Men (about sexism), haven't yet listened to the latest series.
posted by rjs at 10:46 PM on February 19, 2020

I just started listening to Science Distilled and it's quite good.
posted by kathrynm at 9:16 AM on February 20, 2020

I really like the longread podcast from the Guardian.
posted by pseudophile at 8:49 AM on February 21, 2020

The BBC has drama (not sure if it's all available outside the UK, but at least some of it shows up in iTunes for me):

BBC Drama of the Week
Drama category page at the BBC
posted by kristi at 8:51 AM on February 25, 2020

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