When friends find out just how long my daily commute can be, I always follow it up with, “Thank God for podcasts!” Seriously, I don’t know what I would do if I didn’t have quick and easy access to hours and hours of audio entertainment at my fingertips. In the years since the first podcast was launched on iTunes and now the famed podcast Serial brought podcasting to the mainstream, there is virtually something for everyone to enjoy across the podcasting spectrum. When we’re not busy hosting our own GeekDad podcasts, we’re listening to some truly great content. Here’s a list of some of the 17 best podcasts currently available that may be under your radar.
Exploring the thoughts behind the things that most of us don’t think about. That alone would make 99% Invisible a great show. But add host Roman Mars’ soothing voice, incredible interviews and production value, and a website full of great supplementary material, and this is easily my favorite podcast. Here’s the thing, though: you have to trust that each episode is going to be interesting. Because on the surface, they don’t sound very exciting. Averages, the Bauhaus, unpleasant design. They’re not sexy topics, but damn if Mars doesn’t make each and every one a revelation. The “Making Up Ground” episode starts with a story about discovering a sunken ship right in the middle of San Francisco’s financial district, discusses the Muni Metro line that runs through a scuttled ship underground, and then talks about all of the ways that people have created usable ground for constructions where it didn’t exist prior. Absolutely fascinating! – Michael Harrison, host of The Dice Section podcast
Each week, film critics Devin Faraci, editor and chief of my favorite movie site, Birth. Movies. Death., and Amy Nicholson, film critic for MTV News, gather around the mic for in-depth discussions on my favorite of all topics; movies. The premise of the show is to examine the idea of canon, and analyze movies in, or possibly in-line to be a part of the collective list of all-time greats. Devin and Amy provide a great balance between common canon films, like Goodfellas, The Searchers and Pather Panchali, and beloved films that are nostalgic to audiences, but maybe not as great as we remember, like The Goonies. As a cinephile and geek myself, I really dig that balance. Great starting episodes are their classic film duels, pitting great, similar films in a death match where only one can win a place in the unofficial Canon. To start , check out episode 5, “Star Wars vs. The Empire Strikes Back,” episode 20, “Alien vs. Aliens,” or episode 28, “Mad Max: Fury Road vs. Mad Max 2: The Road Warrior.” – Tony Nunes, host of the Hey You Geeks podcast
Clockwise is a fast-paced, round-table discussion-style weekly podcast hosted by Jason Snell and Dan Moren on the Relay FM podcast network with two special guests each week. I love the format of this show; four people with four topics and a hard stop at 30 minutes makes for a lively discussion and a great way to get your mental exercise in for the day. Topics are timely so it’s hard to dive back too far for recommendations but I highly recommend starting with episode #149, “Watching an Alien Sunset” to get a great feel for the show. – Chris Wickersham, host of the We Are Entertained podcast
Imagine a future where there is no internet. Or where animal products are banned. Or a future where there are no schools and we learn exclusively online. These science fiction questions form the basis for the best new science podcast in years, Flash Forward. Each episode, science journalist Rose Eveleth dives deep into a future scenario through skits and interviews with experts. What starts as an exercise in science fiction often reveals surprising insight about our lives today. My favorite episode is “The Ultimate Swatting,” a future where we eliminate all mosquitoes. I was stunned at the frank responses from experts and how I was personally unsettled by the eradication of a species, even though it has brought so much harm to humans. – Kishore Hari, host of the Inquiring Minds podcast
Like the books by economist Steven Levitt and journalist/podcast host Stephen Dubner, this weekly podcast looks at “the hidden side of everything.” Episodes are all shorter than an hour and cover a huge variety of topics, exploring how social and economic constructs work. Each asks probing questions of experts and there’s not an episode that goes by that I don’t walk away without looking at a topic in a new way. Plus, there are tons of tidbits that make for great trivia and conversation starters. For instance, in the episode “Are We in a Mattress-Store Bubble?“, one of the most interesting facts was that the U.S. has 46 square feet of retail space per capita, while the highest retail space per capita in Europe, the U.K., has just nine square feet per person.
It’s anything but dry. It’s informative and enjoyable and my favorite episode is probably “The Longest Long Shot” about Leicester City’s winning bid in last year’s English Premier League. Not only is it the most incredible Cinderella story, Dubner draws upon the enjoyment he and his son draw from the game, making for a more personable episode. It’s an incredibly wonderful story that will leave you with a smile on your face. – Dave Banks
Homebrewed Christianity is a podcast for those who like their Geekery served with a heaping, helping of philosophy on the side. Host Tripp Fuller takes a sometimes irreverent look at Christianity with some of the biggest names in modern philosophy and theology at his side. Regular listeners are styled “Deacons” and are a regular part of each show, providing questions, feedback, and often times sitting in during recording. Tripp and his guests have a way of approaching the most complicated topics in a manner that fosters laughter, thoughtful discussion, and intense self-reflection. Never a fan of ruining great questions with answers, Tripp aims to help listeners brew their own faith. Take a listen to Tripp’s recent episode with Catherine Keller, “God-ish?: Logos of Theos in a (Seriously) Uncertain Time.” – Chris Wickersham
Lore is The X-Files with a PhD and research grant. It will totally and completely suck you in. Hosted by author Aaron Mahnke, the show deals with true stories of the supernatural and unexplained. It dives deep into some of the darkest corners of our history and shines a dim, spooky light on the fears that fuel our modern superstitions. Mahnke narrates each episode with the pace and anticipation of a true storyteller. From the top, you’ll be captivated – whether it’s about vampires, werewolves, serial killers, or just minor historical anecdotes that have become morbid curiosities forming the fabric of human history. Start with the first episode, and the next thing you know, you’ll be several dozen episodes in and it’ll be the middle of the night…and, wait, what’s that sound? – Jamie Greene, host of the Great Big Beautiful Podcast
Judge John Hodgman
Do you have a dispute too petty for actual court? Then try out the internet justice of John Hodgman. Each week, he and a series of comedian bailiffs, adjudicate ridiculous cases ranging from the need to have engagement pictures to when is it OK to park in the expectant mother’s parking spaces. The podcast was based in part on his weekly “advice” column in NY Times Magazine that began in 2012. The cases are often uproarious, but nothing beats the live edition of the podcast. The crowd often reacts to try to sway the case. But during the 2016 edition from SF Sketchfest, Hodgman showed surprising empathy as he defended a fellow father who was trying to find a way to connect with his son. And that’s why this podcast keeps me coming back – as much as I laugh, I’m more impressed with his humanity and heart. The scientist in me loves this episode for the incredible tale in the middle – I won’t dare spoil it. – Kishore Hari
Mental Illness Happy Hour
This is a bit of an odd one, but it’s actually been very therapeutic for me to listen to on many occasions. The guests are sometimes, but frequently not, famous people. And they are all people who have dealt with, or are dealing with, some sort of mental illness or trauma. The really important thing about this podcast is that it really does help you realize and feel like you are NOT ALONE with what you are dealing with, and that’s so very important because you aren’t alone. Every episode includes a list of what’s going to be discussed to help avoid any trigger warnings because, trust me, there are plenty depending on what you’ve gone through. It really helps to guide you to listen to what might be helpful or even entertaining and avoid things that might not help at all. Paul Gilmartin is a wonderful host who is just as human as the rest of us. This was a very hard decision with almost 300 podcasts available, but I decided on the episode with Mara Wilson as my episode recommendation. She’s a celebrity, but not a huge one, who was a former child actor who has dealt with a lot of stuff (death of her mother, OCD, anxiety, depression and panic attacks) and come out the other side as an advocate for mental health. – Will James, host of the Sunday Evening With Captain Owen podcast
The Nerdist Podcast
Everyone has probably heard of The Nerdist Podcast by now, but I wanted to include it anyway because it is still my number one go to podcast. Not only is it a great way to learn more about a lot of really cool (and famous) people, but it’s also taught me so much about how to interview people, the types of questions to ask (and not ask), how to better manage my inner freakout when I do meet famous people, and, most importantly, to quiet my inner voice and just create what I want for my own sake. Recommending an episode was a hard decision. With over 700 episodes, choosing one was nearly impossible. But, I decided on Patrick Stewart #3. Patrick Stewart is an amazing human being and this episode covers pretty much everything that is awesome about Chris Hardwick and his podcast and will give you plenty of feels as well. – Will James
NPR’s Planet Money podcast will be familiar to listeners of Morning Edition, This American Life, and All Things Considered, all of which routinely run their episodes. But the twice-weekly half hour show is well worth listening to on its own. There may not, at first glance, seem to be a whole lot of overlap between an economics podcast (the show’s subtitle is “The economy explained”) and geek culture, but you’ll soon be amazed at just how much overlap there is. The show is currently on break, so they’re putting out reruns of older episodes that include “The Wild West of the Internet” from last year, about the expansion of top-level-domains, and “The New Telenovela“, about how Telemundo revolutionized the telenovela industry. Other recent episodes include topics such as cyber security, why women have lost their dominance in the coding industry, and robots that sew.
I’d recommend that anyone interested in the podcast start with their recent series where two of their producers traveled to Oklahoma to buy 100 barrels of oil, and then follow that oil through the drilling, piping, and production process. Absolutely fascinating. Also well worth listening to: their episodes from last year on setting up shell corporations and the system behind ballpark hot dog vendors. This is my go-to podcast for my daily commute. It’s both highly entertaining and highly educational (and just happens to be almost exactly the right length for my commute.) – Rob Huddleston
Pop Culture Happy Hour
PCHH is NPR’s weekly roundtable discussion of all things pop culture – music, books, movies, TV, comics, and lots more. Most episodes are hosted by Linda Holmes, editor of NPR’s Monkey See Blog, Stephen Thompson, NPR’s music editor, and Glen Weldon, who reviews books and movies for NPR and has written “unauthorized biographies” of both Batman and Superman. The panel is rounded out each week with a special guest, usually someone related to the topic at hand.
Their discussions are always entertaining, particularly when Linda and Stephen team up on Glen, the group’s designated curmudgeon. But my favorite part of the show is how they are always extremely conscious to talk about shows, particularly movies, without revealing spoilers. The podcast is currently on tour, visiting West Coast cities over the next month. I’ll be going to the San Francisco show, but they’ll also be appearing in Seattle, Portland and Los Angeles. Tickets are still available for all shows. – Rob Huddleston
The Purple Stuff
Nostalgia junkies rejoice! Ever wanted to listen to an entire podcast about vintage junk food, pop culture mascots, or television theme songs? Look no further, The Purple Stuff podcast has you covered. Hosts Matt and Jay, each writers for their respecive retro-focused websites Dinosaur Dracula and The Sexy Armpit, bring listeners fond recollections from their youths and beyond. This podcast goes way past the familiar fare of Star Wars and Transformers and takes listeners down memory lane with the obscure and outlandish. While no episode is the same, there are several devoted to specific time periods and it is clear Halloween is their favorite holiday ever. It’s not a typical episode, but I particularly enjoyed episode 15, which was their discussion of childhood board games like the legendary Fireball Island. The friendship of the two hosts shines through and many of their personal stories show vulnerability and connect with listeners on a surprisingly emotional level. You may want to start listening somewhere in the middle as it takes a little time for the show to really find its footing, but if you’re like me, you’ll find yourself wanting more – Preston Burt, host of the Gameroom Junkies podcast
In a rather short time period, Gimlet Media has established a strong podcast dominance. From Startup to the entirely-to0-short Mystery Show (and everything in between), Gimlet continues to deliver highly produced, addicting podcasts week after week. However, it’s their second show, Reply All, which has me checking my podcast app first thing Thursday morning with anticipation. Billed as a show “about the internet,” it is more about the people behind the keyboards than what’s on the screen. While the show does occasionally feature semi-regular segments such as “super tech support” and “Yes, yes, no,” the highlights are definitely their highly-researched, and heavily-produced pieces. I recommend “Zardulu,” about the strange happenings around New York City rats, and the oddly personal “Why is Mason Crying?” about one of television’s most memorable faces. If you’re looking for a place to start, the show offers up a list of their favorite episodes as well. Wherever you start, you can’t go wrong with this one. – Preston Burt
A self-described “marital tour of misguided medicine,” Sawbones is a look back at all of the weird, wacky ways that humans have tried to take care of ourselves. Sydnee McElroy, a medical doctor, does the research and shares entertaining, often cringe-worthy stories about our historical medical missteps. Her husband, Justin McElroy, of the popular My Brother, My Brother and Me and The Adventure Zone podcasts, provides a layman’s perspective. The couple is a fantastic double act: Sydnee’s skeptical straight woman approach and Justin’s more gullible foil make the whole family laugh, and the show has taught us all about fun topics like cupping, bezoars, and ear candling. My favorite recent episode was called “The Royal Fistula Fad” and was all about King Louis XIV’s anorectal fistula. Not gonna lie: it’s pretty grody. But you gotta admit, you’re curious how a monarch made abscesses cool, right? – Michael Harrison
Security Now with Steve Gibson
Security Now is one of the internet’s oldest podcasts and an anchor of the TWiT podcast network. With 578 weekly episodes stretching back to 2005 you can almost guarantee you’ll never find yourself short of something to listen to. The best part about Security Now is that topics covered 10 years ago are still relevant today, from a 3-episode mini-series on cryptography to a detailed dissection of the most headline-grabbing worms and denial of service attacks the huge back catalog is considered by many to be the equivalent to an introductory level CIS Security course.
Co-hosts Leo Laporte and Steve Gibson start each episode with a brief discussion of timely security-related news and then alternate weekly between a listener-driven Q&A session or a technical deep-dive into an aspect of security. An incredibly interesting and somewhat recent episode I highly recommend for new listeners would be episode 574, “Routers and Micro Kernels.” – Chris Wickersham
Star Wars Collector’s Galaxy
Let me start with a disclosure: the creator and co-host of this podcast, Justin Seeley, is a personal friend. However, I’m confident that I would be listening to this podcast each week even if I didn’t know Justin. As a life-long collector of all things “Star Wars”, this one is precisely in my wheel house. Justin and his co-hosts explore a different aspect of collecting each week, and to date have managed to attract an impressive line-up of guests, including most recently Boba Fett himself, Jeremy Bulloch.
All of the hosts are comfortable behind the mic, and from the production values you’d never know that this podcast isn’t being produced by a major corporation in a fancy studio. They understand that things like sound quality really matter. I can’t really recommend any particular episode as a starting point, because they are all worth listening to. So just subscribe, start at the beginning, and enjoy listening to these guys geek out about on of our favorite geeky subjects: Star Wars toys. – Rob Huddleston