Podcasts

My Must-Download Podcasts for the Daily Commute

favorite podcasts

It should come as no surprise to anyone that I LOVE podcasts. If I’m getting ready in the morning, commuting to/from work, or cleaning my apartment, it’s almost guaranteed that I’m either catching up on podcasts or listening to NPR. I’ve rounded up a few of my favorite podcasts here (in no particular order):

Pod Save America

This podcast is always a must-listen. I always look forward to new episodes every Monday and Thursday and it’s a great way to keep up with the crazy news. If you’re not into politics (and if you’re not on the left-leaning side of things), this is probably not the podcast for you – but if you love it, you’ll really love it. Formerly known as Keepin’ it 1600, this podcast popped up during the 2016 election and has been super popular ever since. The hosts are all former Obama guys and started Crooked Media to crank out even more high-quality podcasts when the election didn’t yield the results they expected. I often find myself LOL’ing at the hosts cracking jokes while having a (usually) substantive conversation about the urgent news of the week.

The Weeds

The Weeds is another always must-listen for me. This podcast provides a nice deep dive on a few topics per week and the hosts tend to, as the name suggests, get “in the weeds” on complex policy issues. While I don’t always agree with all their takes, the hosts always give reasoned opinions. One of the hosts, Sarah Kliff, is an excellent healthcare reporter, which has made The Weeds extra relevant lately. This one might make you surprise yourself by just how much you’re fascinated by a discussion of the relative merits of chained vs. unchained consumer price index (CPI) measures when crafting legislation with specific goals.

Pod Save the World

Coming from the same family as Pod Save America, this podcast (released on Wednesdays) provides a weekly deep dive on foreign policy through interviews with really intelligent, accomplished foreign policy professionals. I may just have to go back and give a second listen to last week’s interview with former Deputy National Security Advisor Tony Blinken about North Korea’s nuclear capabilities.

How I Built This

Ever want to know the story of how brands you know and love like Kate Spade, Airbnb, Lyft, and Rent the Runway got started? Each episode of this podcast tells the story of the beginnings of a well-known company. Scroll through the episode feed, pick out a company name you recognize, and give this one a listen. Even if you’re not really interested in entrepreneurship, you’ll learn a lot about the people and history behind products and services you use every day.

FiveThirtyEight Politics

This podcast from FiveThirtyEight is another great weekly politics news recap show – with, of course, a data-focused twist. Almost every episode opens with a segment called “Good Use of Polling / Bad Use of Polling” where the team breaks down the legitimacy of some poll numbers in the news. The hosts of this show are all super smart and do an awesome job of breaking down and explaining the week’s news – like what does it actually mean when a special counsel impanels a grand jury? The podcast team will also occasionally do “emergency podcasts” throughout the week if particularly important breaking news happens.

Planet Money

I love love love Planet Money. The episodes tend to be on the shorter side (generally between 20-30 minutes) and always tell an interesting story about something related to the economy. I’ve told multiple people to listen to #606: Spreadsheets …and many of those people have also told me to calm down about spreadsheets. I don’t care though because I was super into this episode. I don’t listen to every single episode, but I follow the new releases pretty closely and always listen when a topic pops up that I think will be interesting. A few other recent favorites include #763: BOTUS, #765: The Holiday Industrial Complex, and #749: Professor Blackjack.

StartUp

Speaking of Planet Money, another favorite is StartUp, hosted by Planet Money co-founder Alex Blumberg. I’ve dropped off listening to this one in recent months (I need to catch up!) but Season 1 was one of my favorite podcast seasons ever. The show has changed into now following other individuals starting businesses, but the first season of StartUp follows Alex and his growing team as they create Gimlet Media, the company / podcast network that produces StartUp and other shows like Reply All and now The Pitch, which I’m super excited about.

Wait Wait… Don’t Tell Me!

This podcast was really the first one that I started listening to super regularly a few years ago. Every week, the hosts and a panel of three comedians break down the week’s news (serious and ridiculous) through a series of games and quizzes. I especially love listening to this one if I’m ever driving anywhere, because the quiz games keep me really engaged and awake. Each episode also includes an interview and game with a famous guest, like Jeffrey Tambor, Aubrey Plaza, and Senator Ben Sasse. If you ever get a chance to see a live show, I would highly recommend it – they usually edit out all the best inappropriate jokes for the radio broadcast / podcast version of the episode.

Radiolab

Radiolab is probably where I learn all my best new/interesting facts. Each episode breaks down something science-y in a really accessible way through great storytelling. This one is also great because, unlike a lot of the news-oriented podcasts I like, you can go way back into the archives and find interesting and relevant stories. Some of my favorites are episodes about CRISPR (gene editing), the periodic table, and how we know a kilogram actually weighs a kilogram.

Lovett or Leave It

Yet another gem from the Crooked Media empire, Lovett or Leave it is a weekly live show where a panel of comedians (or generally funny people from the media world) discuss the week’s news. While I don’t always love everything on this show, I definitely look forward to the Rant Wheel segment every week (which is exactly what it sounds like) and do enjoy hearing Jon Lovett torment his audience members. I’m really hoping Lovett comes through Philly and does a live show here sometime because I’d be right there in the front row.

Song Exploder

This is SUCH a cool podcast, especially if you’re interested in how music gets made. In each episode, Hrishikesh Hirway (also co-host of The West Wing Weekly) talks to an artist to break down how they wrote a song, from start to finish. With over 110 episodes recorded so far, you’re bound to find at least one that interests you regardless of where your music tastes lie.

Nerdette Recaps Game of Thrones with Peter Sagal

I know I’ve mentioned this podcast before, but again, the list wouldn’t be complete without it. It is delightful to hear Peter Sagal (of Wait Wait… Don’t Tell Me! fame) and the Nerdette Podcast co-hosts break down each week’s episode of Game of Thrones every Monday after a new episode airs. As someone who loves Game of Thrones but hasn’t yet gotten through all of the books, this podcast is the only way I’m able to keep everything straight. I know it’s a little late in the season now, but if you’ve been looking for a solid recap podcast, this is for you.

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