What are the best podcasts for someone who isn’t into podcasts?
June 4, 2020 7:23 PM   Subscribe

My wife and I have a 3 hour car drive tomorrow. She is interested in trying out podcasts for the first time, but she hasn’t historically enjoyed spoken word media in the past. What podcasts should I recommend to her?

She says she is interested in podcasts about interesting topics. I’m hoping to give her a menu of 10 podcasts to choose from with a sentence or two about the topic and why it’s good.

For instance:

99% invisible: a podcast about the hidden backstory to everyday things, with a high production value.

What would you recommend?
posted by bbqturtle to Media & Arts (32 answers total) 41 users marked this as a favorite
Well, I came here to recommend 99PI, so...

This American Life might be another good one.
posted by mekily at 7:30 PM on June 4, 2020 [3 favorites]

Serial, first series. A true crime story that zillions of people got hooked on, including me (who doesn’t do podcasts normally) on a road trip.
posted by SaltySalticid at 7:31 PM on June 4, 2020 [6 favorites]

No Such Thing As a Fish a weekly trivia podcast with a crew of people who get along and are nice and funny (and British, so very little US content and even less US political content).
posted by jessamyn at 7:39 PM on June 4, 2020 [6 favorites]

The Boring Talks (BBC 4): deep dives into things that appear on the surface to be exceedingly boring (spoiler alert: they never are)
posted by Mary Ellen Carter at 7:48 PM on June 4, 2020

Lexicon Valley -- A podcast about language, from pet peeves to syntax -- hosted by linguist John McWhorter
Criminal -- a thoughtful podcast about crime
Planet Money -- Economic concepts explained in a fun, engaging way
posted by selfmedicating at 7:54 PM on June 4, 2020 [1 favorite]

Myths and Legends.
posted by bfranklin at 7:58 PM on June 4, 2020

You Must Remember This : About the secret and/or forgotten history of Hollywood's first century, created, produced and hosted by Karina Longworth, who sorts out the facts from the urban legends and connects dots no one else does.
posted by virago at 8:01 PM on June 4, 2020 [2 favorites]

I don't like podcasts but two that really work for me are Reply All and Uncivil, both produced by Gimlet Media.
posted by k8lin at 8:12 PM on June 4, 2020 [2 favorites]

Answer Me This podcast: the two hosts, Helen and Olly (and sometimes Helen’s husband Martin the Soundman) answer listeners’ questions. It is like a light, humorous version of Ask Metafilter with chatfilter allowed. 99% Invisible host Roman Mars is a regular contributor and friend of the podcast. They have a good catalogue of back episodes available for free and you can also purchase their special albums and very old back catalogue.

I’ve listened to this podcast for over 10 years now and it’s one of the only ones I’ve stuck with all that time.
posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 8:13 PM on June 4, 2020 [6 favorites]

History Hit: an interview (usually around 20-30 minutes) with a historian on a specific topic in history.

The Allusionist: As the tagline says, "A podcast about language" that gets into the how we got there, and gets into weird and fun little backcurrents of language usage.

Answer Me This: Etiquette, life advice, and "why is this a thing" questions from listeners answered by the above-mentioned Allusionist's host plus a co-host, Olly Mann.

The BBC World Service's Documentary Podcast: Short, well-reported radio documentaries on a wide range of topics from around the world.
posted by mandolin conspiracy at 8:15 PM on June 4, 2020 [2 favorites]

Mystery Show -- Starlee Kine attempts to solve very unimportant mysteries, such as "Where did this weird belt buckle I found come from?" and "How tall is Jake Gyllenhaal?"
posted by Etrigan at 8:23 PM on June 4, 2020 [5 favorites]

Was coming in to recommend Mystery Show, so I’ll second Etrigan! I generally dislike podcasts and audiobooks but really loved this.
posted by stellaluna at 8:42 PM on June 4, 2020

Stuff you Should Know!! They have YEARS of episodes of interesting topics and the banter is chatty and relaxing.
posted by pearlybob at 8:47 PM on June 4, 2020 [3 favorites]

I don't know if long form one-on-one interviews with entertainers are in her wheelhouse (there are "interesting topics" discussed, in my opinion, but that's not the entire point of the podcast), but Conan O'Brien Needs A Friend is a really interesting series of conversations with people Conan O'Brien either already knows or wants to get to know better.

The best recommendation I can give for it is that there have been several episodes featuring people I do not like, or at a minimum weren't interested in, and after listening to them on Conan, I came out the other side of the podcast with a new respect for them (even if I still don't like their work).
posted by pdb at 8:48 PM on June 4, 2020 [1 favorite]

Stuff You Should Know: If you've ever wanted to know about champagne, satanism, the Stonewall Uprising, chaos theory, LSD, El Nino, true crime and Rosa Parks then look no further. Josh and Chuck have you covered.

I see it's already mentioned, but definitely a +1 to SYSK. Josh and Chuck have been doing this for something like 10 years - they're responsible for a lot of people's first steps into podcasts! Great chemistry between the two of them and impeccable audio quality (give or take the obnoxious ad or two). Subscribe, then scroll through the episodes and find a topic that looks interesting. They're pretty timeless; sometimes they reference recent events but it's not important to the content.
posted by cgg at 9:00 PM on June 4, 2020 [1 favorite]

I'd say early Radio Lab, but specifically a topic she's interested in. I feel like they play around with editing and audio so much it makes listening a much more interesting experience which I think helps with people not used to listening to just talking. I'm also nthing Serial. A bunch of my non-podcast-listening friends absolutely loved it and while I'm not a huge "true crime" kinda listener I still got hooked.
posted by simplethings at 9:14 PM on June 4, 2020 [2 favorites]

How would she feel about short fiction? There's a lot of good stuff in the speculative fiction realm that tends to have stories that range from 30-60 minutes. Escape Pod/Podcastle, Drabblecast, Clarkesworld, etc.
posted by Candleman at 9:15 PM on June 4, 2020

Wind of Change was different. Maybe not a great first podcast, but it touches on a wide variety of things in a short run.

If she likes The Wire (who doesn’t?), Jemele Hill and Van Latham just started a podcast called Way Down in the Hole where they discuss each episode in detail. They just finished season 1. It’s hella fun.

Probably the most consistent “I bet someone I know would be interested in this” podcast I regularly listen to is The Rewatchables. Bill Simmons (I know, ymmv) and a couple of other people talk about a classic movie for like two hours. It’s really dependent on the movie in question and who the guests are (Shea Serrano is the best; I kind of feel like Rembert Browne was on one but I also think I’d remember that), but if she has a favorite movie that has been covered, that’s an easy add to the playlist. They seem to make an effort to move beyond just white bro movies, so that’s nice.
posted by kevinbelt at 9:21 PM on June 4, 2020

Conan O'Brien needs a friend.
In particular the episodes with Dana Carvey are very funny.
posted by w0mbat at 9:28 PM on June 4, 2020 [3 favorites]

Mike Rowe has a great series very similar to the old Paul Harvey "The Rest of the Story". Length is about 8-9 minutes. quote: "The Way I Heard It is a series of short mysteries for the curious mind with a short attention span."
posted by Sophont at 9:47 PM on June 4, 2020

For a three hour ride, I wonder about going for really great individual podcast episodes? This ask is a couple years old but it links to others.

Safe travels!
posted by jameaterblues at 10:19 PM on June 4, 2020 [1 favorite]

Gastropod! Food science and history, what is not to love?
posted by suelac at 11:14 PM on June 4, 2020 [2 favorites]

Lore - "Lore is a podcast about non-fiction scary stories. Each episode examines historical events that show the dark side of human nature and is presented in a style that's been compared to a campfire experience." (from Wikipedia)
posted by stormyteal at 11:49 PM on June 4, 2020

Disgraceland: the seedier underbelly of infamous musicians. The host has an engaging style and a laid back energy. (I find his voice dead sexy. YMMV.)
posted by killy willy at 11:49 PM on June 4, 2020

If part of this is that she doesn't typically like spoken word media, I would second (older) Radiolab for interesting sonic effects and also very interesting topics. Current Radiolab is still very interesting, but I think it is more just talking and less other sound.

I also enjoy Out of the Blocks, in which several people in one block or neighborhood are interviewed. There is a score written specifically for each episode so this is also interesting aurally in addition to an interesting topic.
posted by 2 cats in the yard at 4:59 AM on June 5, 2020

I also recently enjoyed The California Century which is done kind of like an old-style radio show i.e. a bit more interesting aurally than (in my experience) most podcasts.
posted by 2 cats in the yard at 5:15 AM on June 5, 2020

I don’t like podcasts as a rule. S-town kept me gripped for all of a long horrible coach journey. When I thought about it after finishing it made me feel icky, but it sure was compelling and entertaining and kept me from thinking about how uncomfortable and long the journey was.
posted by Balthamos at 5:40 AM on June 5, 2020 [4 favorites]

Ologies with Alie Ward
I'll second Wind of Change
You're Wrong About
Unlocking Bryson's Brain is the story of the parents' journey to finding out what is wrong with their son and a way to treat it.
I'll also second The Boring Talks and Stuff You Should Know
If you're interested in Star Trek, Rachel Watches Star Trek
I'm really into to Everything is Alive where the host "interviews" various innatimate objects.
Sawbones: A Marital Tour of Misguided Medicine is mostly about the history of medicine
This Podcast Will Kill You about various infectious diseases

(sorry, on mobile, can't link)
posted by kathrynm at 8:09 AM on June 5, 2020

What I listen to:
Planet Money
Hidden Brain
Pop Culture Happy Hour
Splendid Table
Wait wait don't tell me
Plus a few others. She should try snippets of several to see what she can get into.
posted by DixieBaby at 11:27 AM on June 5, 2020

I don't care for podcasts either but I was transfixed and soothed and delighted by the Harry Potter audiobooks.
posted by Lynsey at 12:41 PM on June 5, 2020

NPR's "Fresh Air" is available as a podcast. It's a well-know, long-running program, but if you're not familiar with it, it features interviews with a range of interesting people.

Also, check out "You Must Remember This" for stories about Hollywood's past.
posted by Leontine at 1:12 PM on June 5, 2020

i'm a big fan of Futility Closet who is up to about 300 podcasts. Or as they say "The Futility Closet podcast is a weekly show featuring forgotten stories from the pages of history. Join us each Monday for surprising and curious tales from the past and to challenge yourself with our lateral thinking puzzles."
posted by TheAdamist at 8:01 AM on July 26, 2020

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