Many of us were not commuting as usual during 2020, so our podcast listening time may have been somewhat lessened. However, podcasts are still popular. They’re great to listen to while driving, cleaning your home, exercising, or just hanging out. There are podcasts to suit every taste, including topics like politics, history, music, and comedy. In fact, there are so many out there that it may be difficult to choose where to start. We asked the staff at The Verge what their current favorite podcasts were. Here they are — try them out and see what you think.
Last year, this podcast told about music’s untold stories. This season focuses on the year 1980 as an opening to, as described on the website, “a monumental decade in popular music,” hosted by poet and cultural critic Hanif Abdurraqib. Among the musicians covered are Grace Jones, South African artists Hugh Masekela and Miriam Makeba, and Sugarhill Gang. From KCRW. Suggested by Kevin Nguyen and Andrew Marino.
Those of us who have never been in prison get a lot of our information about it from TV dramas and the occasional news articles. Ear Hustle tells listeners about the realities of the prison experience from the point of view of those who are (or were) incarcerated. The first three seasons were produced inside San Quentin State Prison in California, 2019’s season 4 added coverage of post-prison life, and 2020 also deals with how prisons are handling COVID-19. From Radiotopia. Suggested by Russell Brandon and Kaitlin Hatton.
Trump, Inc. takes a long, hard, and not completely objective look at the businessman who is (at least, until January 20th, 2021) president of the US. But his business dealings (along with those of his family) remain elusive. Episodes in the third year of this series cover subjects that range from how well the 2017 tax overhaul actually worked to coverage of Trump’s increasingly desperate legal campaign against the 2020 election results. From WNYC. Suggested by Barbara Krasnoff and Amelia Holowaty Krales.
If you’re a news junkie, you probably visit The New York Times. The Daily is the Times’ 20-minute look at the current news, available five days a week. Recent topics include President Trump’s preemptive pardons, President-elect Biden’s cabinet picks, and the social life of forests. (Well, not everything has to be political, does it?) From The New York Times. Suggested by Amelia Holowaty Krales.
NPR tackles the often tricky subject of race head-on in this podcast that examines issues of racial, ethnic, and cultural identity. Hosted by journalists Shereen Marisol Meraji and Gene Demby, Code Switch looks at how our country has changed in 2020, how it hasn’t, and how race was at the center of the presidential campaign. They also dedicate an entire episode simply to answering listeners’ questions about food, friendship, and more. From NPR. Suggested by Amelia Holowaty Krales.
The Catch and Kill Podcast is a nine-episode series from Ronan Farrow that ran in early 2020 and centers on the Harvey Weinstein trials for the first seven episodes, then segues into President Trump’s dealings with the National Enquirer. A final added episode analyzes the February 2020 guilty verdict. From Pineapple Street Studios. Suggested by Esther Cohen.
The Verge’s Kaitlin Hatton writes: “Over the Road is a series about life as a trucker both now and in the past. The eight-part series is hosted by ‘Long Haul Paul’ Marhoefer, who is described as a musician, storyteller, and trucker for nearly 40 years. His soothing voice highlights the lives of drivers on the road and how trucking has changed from a lawless rush of freedom to a more regulated and less lucrative career path.” From Overdrive Magazine and Radiotopia. Suggested by Kaitlin Hatton.
Kaitlin Hatton writes: “This podcast is a great listen for any true crime fanatics out there. Hosted by two comedians, James Pietragallo and Jimmie Whisman, these two-hour-plus episodes are a perfect blend of comedy and tragedy, making fun of all the blunders that happen in small towns surrounding murder investigations.” From James Pietragallo and Jimmie Whisman. Suggested by Kaitlin Hatton.
Kaitlin Hatton writes: “It’s no secret that queer people have been overlooked throughout history. This lighthearted podcast is set on uncovering the stories of LGBTQ people and bringing light to a rich history that has gone unappreciated for decades.” From History is Gay. Suggested by Kaitlin Hatton.
The Verge’s Monica Chin writes: “It’s hard to describe what makes this podcast great because it’s just two comedy writers — Daniel O’Brien of Last Week Tonight with John Oliver and Soren Bowie of American Dad! — updating each other on their lives (and often mundane aspects of those lives, such as songs they’re listening to, or whether their children believe in Santa). But they are — I’m not exaggerating — two of the funniest people I have ever heard speak, and they manage to make those topics the most interesting and humorous discussions I hear each week.” From Soren Bowie and Daniel O’Brien. Suggested by Monica Chin.
The Verge’s Andrew Marino writes: “Actor Stephen Tobolowsky’s podcast is basically an audiobook of true stories about life, love, and the entertainment industry, brilliantly written and read by Mr. Tobolowsky himself. That’s all you really need to know. It’s a good driving podcast.” From Stephen Tobolowsky. Suggested by Andrew Marino.
Andrew Marino writes: “Whatever Happened to Pizza At McDonald’s? is the show I am always excited to listen to each time it publishes. Host Brian Thompson in character guides the audience through his satirical quest to discover why fast-food chain McDonald’s stopped serving pizza in the 1990s. I mostly consider this show a lesson in bureaucracy and red tape, where Thompson is constantly being put on hold or transferred to another department when on the phone asking questions related to his investigation.
“I am envious of the clever yet ridiculous episode from this year called ‘Choose your Own Investigation: The Mysterious Pizza,’ in which the host instructs the listener to fast forward to specific parts of the podcast to pick certain decision points of the story, akin to a ‘Choose Your Own Adventure’ storybook.” From Brian Thompson. Suggested by Andrew Marino.
In this podcast, Slate’s television critic Willa Paskin “takes a cultural question, object, or habit; examines its history; and tries to figure out what it means and why it matters.” She takes on a variety of topics, including the rise of the Karen, the history of the mullet, and why unicorn poop is considered cute. From Slate. Suggested by Andrew Marino.
The Verge’s Ian Carlos Campbell writes: “For a game hosted by game developers interviewing their peers, this pod is remarkably approachable, even when it gets into the nitty-gritty details. It also has a killer theme song which is an under-discussed aspect of good podcasts, in my opinion.” From Eggplant: The Secret Lives of Games. Suggested by Ian Carlos Campbell.
Andrew Marino writes: “This is more of a necessity than entertainment. NPR Politics have been publishing episodes daily this year to cover both the pandemic and the election. News has changed so often in 2020 that they have to put a disclaimer that things may have changed by the time you listen to it.
“Not only is this must-listen news podcast needed to understand what’s happening in the country, but coming back to the same cast of political reporters every day this year is a comforting consistency.” From NPR. Suggested by Andrew Marino.
Kait Sanchez writes: “Maintenance Phase is a new pod that just started in October. They debunk lots of harmful myths propagated by the health and diet industry. Essential listening for anyone who wants to deconstruct health culture.” It is hosted by Michael Hobbes (co-host of You’re Wrong About) and Aubrey Gordon (writer on her website Your Fat Friend). From Maintenance Phase. Suggested by Kait Sanchez.
Andrew Marino writes: “This podcast covers some forgotten names in music history, focusing on early punk and counterculture musicians with fascinating backstories. Hosted by Max Easton, what makes this show stick out is its clever use of sound design and editing — making the narration, music, sound effects, and other tape fit together in a way that is consistent to the overall look and feel of the show. Listening to an episode feels like reading a music zine you picked up an underground bookstore.” From Jason L’Ecuyer and Output Media. Suggested by Andrew Marino.