Podcasts: A Love Story

A long, long time ago, a friend of mine who wouldn't mind me referring to him as a hipster encouraged me to give a listen to a little podcast called This American Life. if my memory serves me correctly it was roughly 2008, and I had never listened to a podcast before. I sort of remember loving Ira Glass's voice and something about a story about something weird happening in the night.

And that was the first time I ever listened to a podcast. About three episodes later in the space of no more than a few weeks, I would go on to entirely forget about podcasts for about seven years.

Back in the fall of 2014, pretty much the entire nation became gripped by new podcast Serial, an offshoot of This American Life, both by parent media group NPR. In typical Alyssa fashion, I waited until pretty much everyone was done paying attention to Serial and gave it a listen myself this past January, after the season had wrapped. And a love was reborn.

Since Serial pulled me back and fully into the world of podcasts, they've become a huge part of my daily life. I listen to them while getting ready for work, while puttering around my apartment, while driving, while running. I love discovering new ones and I know some of you do too. Since I'm often asked about my favorite shows, I figured it was time:
1. Serial & Undisclosed
The first season of Serial tells the story of Hae Min Lee, a Baltimore teenager who was found strangled to death in the winter of 1999. Her ex-boyfriend Adnan Syed was charged with her murder and has been serving out a life sentence for more than 15 years now. And then there's a guy named Jay and a girl named Jenn and a couple of cops and lawyers who all make you want to go "What the hell happened here?" when you hear their stories. Serial looks at this case and ensuing trial(s) from a journalist's point of view—and will return this fall with a new season about a new case.

Undisclosed: The State vs. Adnan Syed picks up where Serial season one left off and examines the case, the evidence, the trial, and the major players from a legal standpoint. Hosted by three attorneys—one being Rabia Chaudry, the person who brought the case to Serial host Sarah Koenig's attention in the first place—this podcast is the perfect follow-up for anyone who became hooked on the story of the life and death of Hae Min Lee.

2. We Have Concerns
If you ever see me running through town, beaming ear-to-ear or even actually laughing out loud completely by myself, I'm probably listening to this podcast. Episodes come out three times a week—score—and they're 20-minute chunks of funny, improv, and smarts. Anthony and Jeff are hilarious and work so well together, but their chemistry is for more than just laughs. They're both very intelligent and well-read and offer really interesting ideas and thoughts on hot topics in the science and tech and world and Internet news. I'm not even doing it justice though. Check them out and bring your sense of Internet humor with you. (Redditors, you'll like this one.) Also: Team Dad Jokes.

3. Snap Judgement
This podcast follows a similar format to This American Life, but for me it ranks just a bit higher. Connected by some common theme are a handful of stories, told by Glynn Washington or the star of the story him/herself. They're interesting, the themes are relevant, and it always helps to have a beat.

4. Dear Hank & John
If you watch(ed) Vlog Brothers, you'll dig this podcast. And if you didn't try it anyway. Hank and John Green are YouTube stars and the latter is the noted YA author of The Fault in Our Stars, Paper Towns, and others, and they're also awesome humans. This podcast features the dynamic duo answering submitted questions and providing dubious advice on everything from fitting in with a new crowd to recovering from a trauma to assessing eating lunch items in outer space. And then providing you with the latest news from Mars and AFC Wimbledon. Yeah, you read that right.

5. Mystery Show
Finally returned from a too-long hiatus, this podcast is a new and instant favorite for me. Starlee Kine investigates some of life's greatest mysteries and finds answers to age-old questions like, "What did that really freaky license plate mean?" and "How did Britney Spears end up with that book by an author that nobody reads?" and "Who does this cowboy chef belt buckle belong to?" I'm telling you, you will never be more gripped by the stories and questions of strangers as Starlee solves mystery after mystery.

6. Savage Lovecast
I became a big fan of Dan Savage's after I stumbled on his dinner table debate with Brian Brown of NOM, moderated by one of my favorite people ever, Mark Oppenheimer. (Before you Google Dan, let me give you warning: You might turn up a NSFW result.) He's behind the It Gets Better Project, is the author of multiple books about coming out and parenting (and doing both), and is a long-time sex advice columnist with The Stranger and on his advice podcast Savage Lovecast. He's a sex- and kink-positive gay activist whose unabashed use of the seven words you can't say on TV would make your grandmother blush, but he's intelligent and he tells it like it is. Before taking calls from advice-seekers on their love, relationship, and sex quandaries, he starts off each show with some commentary on the latest relevant happening. There's more to learn from this sex advice columnist than you'd probably think.

7. This American Life
This is the one that started it all, for me and for many others. And in a way, for the medium itself. This American Life is a decades-old hour-long show hosted by Ira Glass with help from other notables at NPR that features stories about...this American life. All connected by a common theme and offering a look into lives you'd never otherwise know about, this podcast is a real no-holds-barred examination of the human condition. And Ira Glass's voice could sing me to sleep like a lullaby.

8. Jenna & Julien Podcast
Jenna Marbles is one of my favorite things that ever happened on the Internet. I got away from regularly watching YouTube over the last few years, but I'll always love her videos and return for them. She's a real standout for me, and she always makes me laugh. On this podcast, joined by her boyfriend Julien (and sometimes their three dogs, and sometimes another guest), she has a knack for making me think or go "hmmm" too. If you're a fan of her videos, you have to give this weekly podcast a try.


So there are my top 8. Do you listen to any of these? If you have any other favorite podcasts, please share! I'm always looking for new ones to add to the queue.


  1. Thank you!!! :) Just subscribed to we Have Concerns (holy catch up!) and Savage Lovecast (again with the catching up!). Now I have 7 that I'm subscribed to and listen to all day long. Basically I'm playing catch up with Happier and Undisclosed but it feeds my binge addiction :)

  2. Serial was pretty much the only podcast I've listened to fully - because well everyone was doing it LOL!! Since this American Life started it for you - I'm interested to listen to that one too! Thanks for the roundup girl! xo, Biana -BlovedBoston

  3. i'm surprised i don't listen to more podcasts considering i can listen to stand-up comedy for hours. i started serial and that was amazing but not sure why i didn't finish it! i will restart again!

  4. I HATE Undisclosed. Hate it. I feel like they bring up little pieces of information that may or may not be relevant and they're all scattered all over the place and I don't know what to make of them. Maybe I need someone to explain it like I'm 5. And I've tried to give it the benefit of the doubt, but it seems obviously biased to me. I've tried listening...and relistening...and I just can't. I was listening to one part yesterday when they were discussing that the police wrote down Feb. 29 as a date that they interviewed someone (I can't remember who, honestly), and obviously February 29 did not exist. The other two are like yeah, see, more crappy police work can't even get the date right, and Rabia pipes up like, "No, I think they DELIBERATELY wrote the wrong date" and of course that means Adnan is innocent because, to her, everything means he's innocent. I don't know, I just can't. Also I hate Susan Simpson's speech pattern. But on another note I picked up Serial Dynasty just to try to make sense of WTF is going on in Undisclosed and I only listened to one episode but so far it's way better. Sorry, obviously I needed an outlet for this frustration ;)

  5. I listened to We Have Concerns this weekend at your recommendation and loved it! It was so funny. I listened to the episode about the guy who lost a hand and they attached it to his leg...that doesn't sound funny, but if you listened to it you know it was. Also did you listen to This American Life from last week? The episode about education, I thought it was so interesting, I can't wait to listen to the second part from this week. You saw my recommendations last week, but I just want to once again recommend Mortified, as a writer I think you will really enjoy it.

  6. lots of interesting ones :) i might have to check out jenna's and john green's. i'm not loving audiobooks lately so maybe i need to mix it up.

  7. Love these recommendations! I definitely could use a 20 minute humor chunk to get me through an elliptical workout! Thanks for sharing. :)

  8. I listen to a lot of those! I just got hooked on Mystery Show last week, and I wish there were more episodes. Others I really like are Call Chelsea Peretti (pure ridiculousness) and The Manwhore Podcast (a 25-year-old self-described "manwhore" interviews his past hookups/girlfriends, and talks about sex and body-positivity, feminism, etc.).

  9. I'm glad you guys convinced me to listen to Serial! It was super interesting and engrossing and the perfect way to while away boring work tasks. I'm having trouble with Undisclosed right now, because I've been needing my brain at work (it's rare, but it happens), but once I get back into a long, tedious one I'll go back to listening. This post is getting bookmarked for future reference.

  10. Loooooove Jenna and Julien! Pets listens to Joe Rogan a lot and it's not too shabby either. But I'll never admit that to him. :)

  11. i listened to the Britney spears mystery episode just this weekend and wasn't in luuurve with it...it was just too many non relevant tangents... maybe i'll try out another episode before I give up on it. but I'm definitely going to try out some of these others that I'm not already listening to! thanks fo rthe suggestions

  12. Jenn and Julien is one of my favorites!!! I also love Serial/Undisclosed. Although, enough about the phone records already!!! I will have to check out the mystery one!

  13. I listen to mostly book related podcasts (Book Riot, All the Books, Literary Disco, and some others) but Serial got me hooked on them. I also listen to Criminal and Pop Culture Happy Hour. I need to add John and Hank's, Mystery Show, and We Have Concerns to the rotation.

  14. Aww I had no clue Jenna and Julien had a Podcast. Awesome! I don't have much history with Podcast listening but We Have Concerns sounds right up my alley!

  15. Ohh I'd never heard of Undisclosed, definitely going to download that ASAP! I'm a marketing nerd so I love listening to marketing podcasts at work to help get the creative juices flowing. I mostly just listen to audiobooks in my downtime though because I looove a good mystery/thriller or fantasy story. It's funny, I found when I was listening to Dark Places while I was working out I'd run faster every time the plot got particularly suspensful!

  16. Thank you for this list! Aside from Serial I've never listened to any podcasts and the few times I've wanted to listen to another one I can never remember what ones people recommend so I am definitely saving this post. And whaaat I had no idea Undisclosed was a thing, but now I don't know if I want to listen after reading Tracy's comment, haha.

  17. I love undisclosed (and of course serial season 1 which Ive listened to more times than really should be acceptable)! I actually listen to this american life as well and a few comedians. So cool that podcasts are a thing!

  18. I just added We Have Concerns, especially if you still like it! I have found that I'll love a podcast and then get burnt out on it - that's what happened with Beautiful/Anonymous. I feel like once the show was known, the callers changed and the magic was gone (but the early eps are really good!) I had tried Snap Judgement but I didn't love the beat. I'll try it again, though! Just subscribed to 2-5 so I wouldn't forget to check them out!


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