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My top 6 favorite podcasts


There are only so many times I can listen to my favorite CDs in the car before my mind wanders and I get bored. I’ve taken lots of long car trips lately, and I find that podcasts keep my mind engaged in a way music fails to over long periods of time. It’s fun to have people chatting over your speakers, talking about interesting things. Below are some of my favorite podcasts that have kept me company over the past year.


When I listen to RadioLab I feel like my skull has opened up and my mind is as large as a star-filled sky. Hosts Jad and Robert explore a different theme each show, showing how science and curiosity lead to exciting answers about the universe, but usually end with even more questions. The audio of the show is expertly produced, integrating interviews, sound effects and narration in an innovative and enthralling way (though some might also find it exhausting). I’ve learned a lot listening to their archives for the past few months, some of which has forever changed the way I look at the world. The only bummer is that the full-length shows aren’t published that frequently, though they put out several shorter podcast-only episodes in between the radio broadcasts.

This American Life

After I saw the ads for the Showtime TV version of this series a few years ago, I decided to listen to some of the “This American Life” radio show that all the TV critics mentioned in their reviews. I got sucked into these modern day stories of ordinary lives, hosted by the sweetly geeky and adorable Ira Glass. Each week they take on a theme, playing several stories on that theme. I’m not too fond of segments where an author just reads a story, but the interviews and narrated pieces are usually riveting. I’m still working my way through the over 10 years of archives.

Planet Money

Once the economy imploded, the above-mentioned “This American Life” did a couple shows explaining the mortgage problem and other esoteric financial events that led to the crisis. The shows were so popular that it led to the two producers of those episodes to put together a team to work on the Planet Money podcast, which dissects the financial world in easy to understand and entertaining ways. The episode about the economics of piracy was particularly entertaining. The shows are about 20-30 minutes long and are published 3 times a week.

Fresh Air

Terry Gross, the host of Fresh Air, has a siren-like voice that sucks you in and comforts you. Every weekday she interviews someone, be it an author, politician, celebrity, or sports star. I’ve just started listening to this podcast within the last few weeks, but I was lucky enough to see Ms. Gross speak at Indiana University a few months ago. She played highlights from her long radio career which were alternately sincere and silly.

Wait, Wait, Don’t tell me

Every week “Wait, Wait, Don’t tell me” is filmed in front of a live audience as a panel of comedians make fun of this week’s news. There are games, lots of jokes, and the ubiquitous prize of getting Carl Kasell’s voice on your home answering machine. I like the interview segment the best, where they’ve talked to everyone from prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald, to other people that you’ve actually heard of.

Marketplace Money

The state of the economy has piqued my interest in financial matters. Marketplace Money is a weekly show that talks about, obviously, money. There are stories, call-in questions from listeners, and good advice about how to handle all things money.

What are some of your favorite podcasts? Let me know in the comments below and I’ll check them out.

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Jen • June 16, 2009 at 10:38 am

RadioLab is the best. I can’t wait for them to start making more full-length shows.

I also like Speaking of Faith, which covers a lot of different big ideas and ways of looking at the world.

And of course Jillian Michaels, to kick my butt.


Jenni • June 16, 2009 at 11:00 am

You have my top three on your list. I love love love TAL!!! I have been listening for a couple of years now and started going back in their archives to hear them all. BEST SHOW EVER!!! And Wait Wait is so good. I wake up every Saturday so I can hear it live. Fresh Air is also a fav, but another I listen to live.

#4 on my list is Radio West with the man-licious Doug Fabrizio. It is based out of Salt Lake, but I believe he podcast and in on XM. It is a great show (though I may be biased as it is from my home town and how beautiful he is)


Red • June 16, 2009 at 11:45 am

Um, you just named 6 out of the 7 podcasts on my iPhone. Creepy.

The only one that you missed is “The Moth”, which is an amazing podcast with recordings from the storytelling organization of the same name (http://www.themoth.org/).


Dana • June 16, 2009 at 11:48 am

I LOVE This American Life. But my favorite is Wait Wait Don’t Tell Me. I must listen to it on my Sunday morning walk…or I won’t walk…lol

I will be checking out the others you suggested….seems like we both have the same good taste.


PastaQueen • June 16, 2009 at 11:51 am

@Red – That’s funny, I almost put The Moth on my list, but didn’t because I haven’t been listening to it that long.


ann • June 16, 2009 at 11:53 am

I listen to the ones you listen to… you have great taste! I also really like the KCRW Good Food podcast, about cooking and food origins. They also do a weekly farmers market report, which is a little slice of California (where I am not).


Les • June 16, 2009 at 11:55 am

My favorite podcasts are:




The Non Prophets


Though neither has anything to do with losing weight or anything of the sort.


jennywenny • June 16, 2009 at 12:25 pm

I listen to a lot of BBC radio 4, my favourites that I catch up on every week are thinking allowed, excess baggage, weekend womans hour, americana, the food programme, loose ends and whatever else is recommended on the front page. My favourite is the news quiz, which if you like wait wait dont tell me is very similar.


Quix • June 16, 2009 at 12:59 pm

Yay, all new ones to check out! My favorite is Buzz Out Loud (think the link is bol.cnet.com) and it’s sort of an overview of all the tech news out there. They sort of get on a topic and get stuck sometimes (days of iphone, kindle, and twitter banter), but its usually entertaining.


Suzie • June 16, 2009 at 1:13 pm

I also love all of these! I would have to add A Prairie Home Companion to that or at least Tales From Lake Woebegone. We listened to podcasts almost exclusively as we moved from Indiana to Southern California (that’s a 30 hour drive). There is just something about listening to a conversation that keeps me from getting sleepy or bored in the car.


Lainey • June 16, 2009 at 1:14 pm

I…don’t know what a podcast is or how you find it, or how you listen to it. Do you need an ipod?

If I did know these things, then I’m with those of you who like to listen to things about science and skepticism. If Penn and Teller have podcasts, I’d be all over that!

The ones Les mentioned sound the best to me.


PastaQueen • June 16, 2009 at 1:20 pm

@Lainey – Podcasts are MP3 files you can download online. They are usually associated with an RSS file which updates when a new episode comes out. What that means in human speak is that certain programs like iTunes can look at that RSS file and will automatically download new episodes for you when they come out. You don’t need an iPod to listen to them, just a computer with speakers or a headphone jack. It’s nice to listen to them on an MP3 player though, particularly in the car or on walks.

Penn Gillette used to have a radio show that was available as podcasts. It went off the air a year or two ago and I’m not sure if the archives are still available.


Lee • June 16, 2009 at 1:23 pm

I lurve This American Life. This is a good reminder to get into podcasts. After biking so much walking seems boring now. Listening to podcasts would help. Had never heard of RadioLab, will check it out. Thanks for sharing your list.


KLCthe BookWorm • June 16, 2009 at 1:28 pm

Galactic Watercooler It started off as a discussion on just the revamped Battlestar Galactica, drifted to other science fiction during the breaks, and now that the show is over they’re continuing with more science fiction. I have loved all their insights, and the hosts are just as geeky as the rest of us fanatics. My one complaint is when they go off on a tangent, it takes a while to get back.


wyn • June 16, 2009 at 1:54 pm

I listen to a host of podcasts that seem to also span the spectrum of interests yet don’t overlap your podcasts AT all. :D

* GrammarGirl – short podcasts from the Quick & Dirty Tips site – she’s very intelligent and authoritative

* From the same QDT site, I also like to listen to Nutrition Diva

* CBC Spark – a “technology” podcast that is more about the cultural impact of tech rather than newest tech’s specs

* KCRW Good Food – weekly show based out of L.A. with reports from the farmer’s market and great interviews

* A whole host of other shows from our national broadcaster in Canada (CBC) like book clubs where a book chapter is read aloud, science show, short movie reviews, etc.

* And BBC documentaries are just 25 minutes long and very insightful!

Podcasts rock for they are so specific in their content and, like you said, NEW material other than listening to the same pop song. However, I made the mistake of listening to podcasts during my last marathon with, might I add, broken earphones. I blame my poor performance on straining to hear through my broken earphones, being absorbed in the news and not running, and not having energy-inducing sounds!


Susan Eitelman • June 16, 2009 at 2:08 pm

OMG! Wait Wait is FANTASTIC! I use it to get myself back into running (no, I don’t have any weight loss wonders to share). I love it when I’m on the treadmill at the gym (because nobody hears if I’m running outside) when WW gets me to laugh out loud during a run. The looks people give! Podcasts are so great – thanks for sharing more good ones to check out!! :)


Donna • June 16, 2009 at 2:55 pm

@Red – The Moth was the one I was going to recommend; my husband and I are both fans. He also likes the Transom podcast; stories perfect for public radio that didn’t make it on for one reason or another.


Flora • June 16, 2009 at 3:26 pm

You have good taste in podcasts. I LOVE Terry Gross’s voice. I also love:

KCRW’s Good Food with Evan Kleiman: as somebody else up there said, daydreamy farmer’s-market reports from Santa Monica and enthusiastic, insightful reports on the world of food.

Slate’s Culture Gabfest: Just what it says on the label. I love Stephen Metcalf and Dana Stevens and I want to throw a slumber party in their honor someday.

To the Best of Our Knowledge from the incredibly hardworking people at Wisconsin Public Radio: similar to TAL (a variety of stories on a different theme each week), but slightly less trendy and more academic.

Slate’s Poetry Podcast: a different poem read out loud each week. Good for bedtime.

PRI’s Selected Shorts and The New Yorker Fiction: Short stories, also good for bedtime.

NPR: All Songs Considered, because I don’t have time to listen to college radio anymore.

ESPN’s Football Today: well, it all depends how you feel about football.


Tina • June 16, 2009 at 3:31 pm

I’ve been listening to the Jillian Michael’s podcasts, but I also love All Songs Considered and Car Talk. I recently discovered KCRW’s podcast collection and have been exploring them gradually while it’s been quiet at work.


Nina • June 16, 2009 at 5:11 pm

I love listening to Jillian Michael’s podcasts on KFI – lots of good info on health/weight loss. I love the live call-in and q&as.


Renee • June 16, 2009 at 5:25 pm

Love to listen to Cogknitive, which is a psychology-knitting podcast, and also Forgotten Classics, a book podcast where the host reads books that are in the public domain.


Kimberly • June 16, 2009 at 5:43 pm

Radio Lab is my absolute favorite. Like you, I feel it’s opened up my mind and made me think about the world in ways I never considered. I love it for long car trips!


Jeanne Kischkau • June 16, 2009 at 6:02 pm

Oooooohhhh! I can’t wait to check these out! I’ve just recently gotten an Ipod and haven’t ventured into podcast territory yet. Thanks everyone!!!


Ginny • June 16, 2009 at 6:20 pm

I used to listen to podcasts before my kids. Now it’s more kid’s music than anything else! =) I would love to try out some of the ones mentioned. Maybe this summer.

And I know who Patrick Fitzgerald is! He’s kicking ass and taking names here in Chicagoland. It’s a first!


Lynda • June 16, 2009 at 7:39 pm

I see that some of my faves are listed by others!

I listen to:

Grammar Girl

Rick Steves Travel Guide

Prairie Home Companion

I will try the ones you listed too!


Laura • June 16, 2009 at 8:22 pm

One more NPR podcast I love, (or is it PRI?) is “Selected Shorts” — 2 or 3 short stories a week, read by well-known actors, usually centering on a theme. Great way to discover new-to-me writers.

I am also addicted to 2 great podcasts from the New Yorker magazine: “The Political Scene”, a weekly ten-minute discussion by their best political writers, is first-rate. Once a month the magazine updates its fiction podcast — one short story from its archives, selected and read aloud by another fiction writer. It’s great.

Finally, I love the New York Times book review podcast — reviews, short interviews, tidbits about the literary scene, lively and short.


couch • June 16, 2009 at 10:54 pm

nthing Jillian Michaels.

If you like science, Dr Karl on JJJ is great. I listen to the radio show live, but the podcasts are available here:



Lori • June 16, 2009 at 11:29 pm

APM: The Story

APM: American Radioworks

BBC Documentaries

The Moth Podcast


Theresa • June 17, 2009 at 12:18 am

I listen to Fresh Air everynight on podcast to go to

My favorite I used to listed to all the time was the Reader by Dick Estell, he picks different books and reads them. He has the best voice. Unfortunately, he took all of his books off of podcast. You can check them out of the library though.


Sarah • June 17, 2009 at 12:39 am

I’ve only just gotten into podcasts. I would see/hear about them, but was under the misguided impression that they were an ipod thing rather than an mp3 thing. my current favorites are

-the official lost podcast – because i don’t know what i’ll do when it ends!

-all songs considered

– rick steves

– stuff you should know

– stuff you missed in history class


Diane • June 17, 2009 at 6:54 am

I like all different shows, but in addition to yours I listen to Car Talk, All Things Considered and some other ones which unfortunately I can’t even remember – although I’m sure they are really good!


msmezzo • June 17, 2009 at 7:54 am

Recently had a long road trip and had saved up weeks and weeks of Selected Shorts and Fresh Air to listen to…really made the trip go so fast! (I love to hear “I’m Terry Gross and this is FRESH AIR!”) Also listened when I was in bed with the flu and reading was more than I could deal with…what a great thing. I have listened to these NPR shows (TAL, Car Talk, Wait wait, etc) for years on a daily basis, really the best of radio. Also listen while I am on the subway, great way to block out the annoying people I share my subway ride with.


RG • June 17, 2009 at 9:09 am

New Sounds on WNYC is great for interesting music. I try to do Soundcheck if I want to learn about music with more talk-y stuff. Not sure if this is a podcast, but in terms of mind-opening stuff, the TED (Technology entertainment design) talks are cool. I was also listening to a lot of BBC stuff (also not sure if this is podcast) that would explain classical music and songs.

Hmm, realize after writing this that I don’t do the podcast thing at all. I prefer to get my information in a written form, where I can skim it much faster. Or savor it longer. I wish I had more energy to listen while running, but I find my brain’s pretty busy listening to my body, thinking about my day. I have some work-related memorization tapes, and I have to back up a lot because I realize I’ve missed a sentence.

I’ve heard a lot of people say how much they love prarie home companion and tal and I’ve never gotten it. I’ve seen them both live, a couple of times. I often think “oh, someone did something stupid, that’s news.”


Jaime • June 17, 2009 at 9:30 am

the local radio show (philadelphia area) Preston and Steve are pretty funny, but i dont think it matches what you are looking for.

i listen to these podcasts when my co worker is out and i have the office to myself. sometimes they do some pretty funny stuff. example of that. they took 10 thousand marbles and let them go on the stairs at the art muesum (think rocky running up stairs and those are the ones im talking about).

i know they have a huge podcast following though, it is Preston and Steve on WMMR. Steve is my favorite


Sherre • June 17, 2009 at 10:55 am

I love Bill Maher’s podcasts — and they’re free. Unlike HBO which airs the show.


PastaQueen • June 17, 2009 at 12:07 pm

Thanks for all the suggestions! I’ll start checking these out.


Lisa • June 18, 2009 at 8:58 am

Being an expat and right around the corner from them I love listening to Katia and KylieMac. They’re hilarious. And addictive!


another Lisa • June 18, 2009 at 8:37 pm

I absolutely LOVE Wait, Wait Don’t Tell Me.

Thanks for the other suggestions. I will definitely check them out.


Steffanie • June 19, 2009 at 12:15 am

My husband is now a huge fan of RadioLab thanks to you. He also loves TWIT.tv (this week in tech).


Cari • June 20, 2009 at 3:25 pm

You gotta check out my podcast, The ABC Book Reviews -http://bethandcari.blogspot.com

I’m not a big podcast listener myself, but I enjoy recording them! :-)


Cari • June 20, 2009 at 3:26 pm

Uh oh, I just realized I might invoke the Wrath of PastaQueen for putting my URL in the body of the comment instead of in the Web site box :-)


PastaQueen • June 20, 2009 at 3:49 pm

@Cari – Heh, heh, that’s ok. I’ve completely given up on that one :)


Nancy • June 21, 2009 at 3:51 pm

Not sure if you are still looking at these. I also have This American LIfe, Wait Wait and Fresh Air in my top 5. I also love “The Bugle” John Oliver from the Daily Show is one of the commentators, and it really is kind of just two guys talking about/making fun of world news….I don’t know if you will like it, but I really find it entertaining and when walking my kid in her stroller will sometimes laugh out oud enough that she asks me what is so funny…


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