My Top 10 Podcast Review: More Than Just Noise

Chinese opera in taxis, Cantonese, Taiwanese, Mandarin flowing over me, through me, in one ear and out the next. It's amazing how much you can block out during the daily inundation of noise, especially if it's foreign to your ears.

I first fell hard into podcasts when I moved to Taipei. A Chinese virgin of sorts, I had zero language skills and soon realized how much I actually missed hearing my native tongue. With a commute of about 45 minutes to grad school, I soon realized I had plenty of time to … maximize the trip. When I wasn't finishing my Chinese homework, studying flashcards, or doing assigned reading, I treated myself to an auditory taste of home.

It took almost 3 hours for me to get home from the north campus of CUPL where I taught in Beijing -- that's a lot of listening time. My love for podcasts has continued, even home in the States. Road trips? Hello podcasts! And, they're free, so there's no excuse not to listen.

Podcasts are perfect for any kind of commute, and are a mandatory staple to many exercise regimes (especially long bike rides). Often, I see posts by newbie podcast listeners asking for recommendations and the other day, I came across this list of 51 Smart Podcasts That Will Make Your Commute Way Better.

The list is commendable, however I couldn't believe a couple of my favorites didn't make the cut. This is my list. These podcasts will hit you in the feels, make you pause and contemplate life, or simply entertain you in transit.


Top Ten Podcasts Everyone Should Have in Their Life:

  1. NPR: TED Radio Hour Podcast - A compilation of TED Talks shortened into segments, compiled under a theme ("such as the source of happiness, crowd-sourcing innovation, power shifts, or inexplicable connections"), and supplemented with more in-depth interviews with the speakers. Be sure to check out "Peering Into Space" from July 3rd. Hosted by Guy Raz.
  2. Radiolab from WNYC - Another compilation podcast, several stories are fit together with a theme to make you think. In short, "Radiolab is a show about curiosity. Where sound illuminates ideas, and the boundaries blur between science, philosophy, and human experience." Hosted by Had Abumrad and Robert Krulwich. (Be sure to check the archives for episodes: "Time" and "Space.")
  3. This American Life -  With around one million downloads per episode, this continues to be one of the most popular podcasts in the country. I find it a bit hit or miss, but it is undeniably well made and entertaining. Hosted by Ira Glass, from WBEZ Chicago Public Media, and distributed by Public Radio International.
  4. The Tim Ferriss Show - Author of the Four Hour Work Week, Four Hour Chef, and Four Hour Body, Tim Ferriss now takes the time to interview interesting professionals and investigate their different recipes for success. Recently, he had Dan Carlin, host of one of my other favorite podcasts, Hardcore History. Creative, engaging, and lifestyle aware, all topics are covered from philosophy, daily routines, and entrepreneurship.
  5. The Nerdist - A good way to scratch that nerdy itch, all topics are touched upon, with endless witty banter. Interviews with guests such as Morgan Freeman, Harrison Ford, Tom Cruise, Anthony Bourdain, William Shatner, and many, many more make for interesting conversations.  With a TV show, book, comedy tour, and podcast, host Chris Hardwick is a busy man.
  6. StarTalk Radio - Hosted by renowned astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson, need I say more? Devoted to all things space, "comic co-hosts, guest celebrities and scientists discuss astronomy, physics, and everything else about life in the universe." From behind the scenes talk about COSMOS: A Spacetime Odyssey, to a regular segment entitled Cosmic Queries, a good place to get your space fix on. Epic.
  7. The Dinner Party Download - Ice breakers, conversation tidbits, drink recipes, history lessons, famous guests and even a dinner party playlist, this show is segmented to compliment any social gathering. Hosts Rico Gagliano and Brendan Francis Newnam keep things moving for an hour packed with fun -- guaranteed to make you smile.
  8. Stuff You Should Know / Science Friday - Life, and everything under the sun, explained. While each have their own characteristics, both go deeper into detail on an array of topics. Josh and Chuck are more conversationalist in tone on Stuff You Should Know, while Ira Flatow "interviews scientists, authors, and policymakers" on Science Friday. Both are very informative.
  9. Poetry Off the Shelf - Everyone should have a little poetry in their life, and this podcast provides just that. Episodes are short and "producer Curtis Fox explores the diverse world of contemporary American poetry with readings by poets, interviews with critics, and short poetry documentaries."
  10. The Moth - The Russian roulette of podcasts, you get a wide range of "true stories, told live and without notes, to standing-room-only crowds worldwide." Random, heartfelt, personal accounts from all walks of life. Supported in part by an award from the National Endowment for the Arts, which believes that a great nation deserves great art.

Honorable mention has to be given to Uhh Yeah Dude (a guilty pleasure, just a "weekly roundup of America through the eyes of two American Americans"), Thinking Allowed, RISK!, Philosophy Bites, Mysterious Universe, KEXP Song of the Day, Stuff You Missed In History Class, Bret Easton Ellis Podcast, Intelligence Squared, On Being, and as previously mentioned, Dan Carlin's Hardcore History (in no particular order).