May 5, 2020

The 10 podcasts to listen to right now, according to the Radio Advisory team

Daily Briefing

    Advisory Board experts have been listening to podcasts for a long time. But with the launch of our own podcast, Radio Advisory, this past month, our podcast team has been thinking even more about what makes a show or episode compelling, entertaining, and informative.

    Radio Advisory: Listen to our new podcast for health care leaders

    The result? The podcast team created a roundup of some of our favorite podcasts, in the hopes that these stories will offer you new perspectives about the world—both about the Covid-19 crisis and beyond.

    And if you still have room in your queue, we hope you'll download Radio Advisory for executive insights on how to navigate Covid-19 and health care's future. Find it in your favorite podcast app, or click below to hear our early episodes on:

    1. The Daily

    Rachel Woods, Host

    I've been an NPR loyalist ever since I first started listening to the channel while walking to class in college. Yes, I was THAT person. But after the New York Times launched its morning podcast "The Daily," it has usurped NPR as the most integral part of my morning routine. It's now become: brush teeth, walk dog, listen to The Daily, repeat. (But don't worry, I still make time for NPR).

    The Daily is special for me because of how it weaves the news you need to know into compelling, digestible stories. Lately, the podcast has also been experimenting with different content to help break up the news cycle. The "Bits of Relief" and "The Sunday Read" series have dramatically increased the amount of time I spend walking my dog. Specifically, episodes from these series covering "Weird Al Yankovic's Weirdly Enduring Appeal" and the latest Sunday read, "Closing the Restaurant that was my Life for 20 Years" have kept me enraptured—doing laps around my neighborhood as I maintain distance from other Virginians adorned in their masks.

    Having Michael Barbaro in my head every morning for the last few years has absolutely made an impact on my approach to Radio Advisory. Every time we record, I find myself unintentionally saying a few "hmm's" into my microphone in response to answers just like Michael (though perhaps his are more purposeful). I've also tried to make each episode into a conversation the way Michael does, seeking to make what can feel overwhelming in the world into a more digestible chat between colleagues.

    2. Social Distance

    Jackie Kimmell, Content creation

    I've been a fan of James Hamblin, The Atlantic's resident doctor, for a long time. He's not only a fantastic writer, but also the host and video producer of an excellent series (and later book) called "If Our Bodies Could Talk." As a result, I was beyond thrilled when he announced he and podcast producer Katherine Wells would be co-hosting a podcast about Covid-19.

    The podcast has exceeded my expectations. I think we can all agree that the Covid-19 news cycle has been overwhelming, and after a day of reading about death tolls, testing, treatments, and the struggles of frontline workers, we all may need a break. At the same time, it seems strange to think about anything else right now. Enter: Social Distance. It strikes the perfect balance of engaging with lighter topics around Covid-19 (such as a hilarious episode exploring whether Covid-19 provides a reason to text your ex) as well as far more serious issues (such as the science of why some people get sicker than others and the costs of seeking treatment).

    One of the most compelling episodes features Bootsie Plunkett, a spunky older woman who Hamblin first met when he spoke to her about Covid-19 in mid-March on The Late Show with Steven Colbert. Hamblin's interview with Plunkett on the show was lighthearted—Plunkett kept referring to him as Dr. Handsome—and mostly served to inform the public about the virus' risks. But we learn on the podcast that just a few weeks later, Plunkett actually ended up in the hospital diagnosed with the virus. Hamblin and Wells interviewed her about her experience, leading to one of the most heartwarming and refreshingly honest conversations I've heard about what it's like to live through Covid-19. As Hamblin concludes the episode, "We have to keep the story of people like Bootsie top-of-mind or we risk losing perspective of what this actually is." "Well said, Dr. Handsome," Wells concludes.

    3. This Podcast Will Kill You

    Emily Connelly, Guest

    Suggesting a podcast called This Podcast Will Kill You may seem like a strange choice right now. But it's actually an interesting distraction in these strange times to hear about everything else that's unknown, mysterious, and sometimes deadly. Co-hosts Erin and Erin are both PhD students and epidemiologists who cover the biology and history of a new disease each week with an expert blend of science and humor. Listen to recent episodes for a deep dive into Covid-19 and its frontline impacts, or go back further for episodes covering influenza, polio, tuberculosis, HIV/AIDS, scurvy, measles, Zika, past coronaviruses, and pretty much every other disease you can imagine. After a few episodes, you'll be the most well-informed person at any dinner party (err, Zoom video party) for a long time.

    4. Still Processing

    Joe Shrum, Sound production

    I discovered Wesley Morris through articles and podcasts on the now defunct Grantland, and quickly admired his insightful commentary on film and television. He's now a culture writer at the New York Times where his personality and voice shine as a co-host of Still Processing along with Jenna Wortham (who I was also quick to adore). Wesley and Jenna push listeners to think about TV, movies, music, the internet, yes—even podcasts, in a different way. Topics are usually timely and the discussion draws on historical references and personal connections.

    A recent episode—Psychobros—considers masculinity and mental illness. The conversation starts on an old Rolling Stone essay and photo spread featuring Brad Pitt, transitions to his performance in "Fight Club," circles back to recent releases ("Joker," "Succession"), and ends on current events (the Cambridge Analytica social media disinformation campaign). An older episode examines the podcast S-Town and how it avoided important questions on race and American history, and what S-Town, the horror film "Get Out," and a Pepsi commercial starring Kendall Jenner have in common.

    And I'm going to break the rules a bit by recommending a second podcast but I can't possibly not recommend 99% Invisible. In a podcast about how the world is designed, there's something for everyone. Masking for a Friend (how the culture of mask-wearing developed in parts of Asia), Sound and Health: Hospitals (well, about sound and health in hospitals), Design for Airports (you'll start to notice all the subtle wayfinding that is incorporated into things like carpeting). I sometimes find myself reading to my kids in the voice of host Roman Mars. And don't forget, always read the plaque.

    5. Throughline

    Megan Tooley Director, Guest

    I've been a fan of the NPR podcast Throughline since it launched early last year. Each show explores a relevant contemporary issue through the lens of history, illuminating how the topic has manifested across centuries to offer context on where we are today. They've tackled a range of subjects from the opioid epidemic to vaccination, the U.S. space program to zombies. But in light of the Covid-19 crisis, they have recently chosen themes that have a relevance to what we can learn from past pandemics and major health events. Of course, the 1918 Flu was an obvious choice for the first episode in this series, but since then they have addressed other natural and biological forces that have impacted society dramatically: mosquito-borne diseases, a massive flood that inundated seven states, and the worst nuclear accident in American history.

    The show has certainly helped my Zoom small talk in a time where I'm not getting out much. Did you know mosquitos were essentially used as biological warfare in ancient Rome and World War II? And that they've killed an estimated 50% of all humans who ever lived? Or that—while social distancing seems like a new concept to us today—in 1918 they took similar measures, closing dance halls and churches, banning door-to-door salesmen, and outlawing spitting in public?

    More importantly, the show has equipped me with a better understanding of how our world is reacting today: how we have evolved (we no longer think whiskey and bloodletting is an effective treatment), and where we still have ample room to improve (racial disparities in treatment and support following a disaster). The vignette that sticks with me the most from the series thus far is the description of a photograph from the 1918 pandemic. Nurses are assembling cloth masks with a sign in the back that says "If I fail, he dies," emphasizing how individual actions can have widespread effects. In 2020, we yet again see the same resilience and determination of our health care workforce. There's some, albeit small, comfort in knowing that we've been here before—and we'l make it through.

    6. Good One: A Podcast About Jokes

    John League, Guest

    One thing everyone likely needs right now is a bit of humor. As much as I tried to bring humor to my role as a guest on Radio Advisory, I know that jokes about telehealth can only go so far. Therefore, I want to recommend a podcast that is neither related to telehealth nor health care at all, but I believe might help you laugh during these uncertain times.

    Good One, a podcast from Jesse David Fox of Vulture, only explores one joke per episode. Fox plays a recording of the joke then talks with the stand-up comedian or comedy writer who made it for an hour or so. They look at how the joke came to be, how it fits in with the comedian's life and repertoire, and then what makes the joke "work." It's not always just funny—a recent episode exploring Patton Oswalt's "Polish Woman of Doom" joke written about adjusting to life after his wife's death made me laugh and cry at the same time. But laugh or cry, it's taught me an enormous amount about what it means to be funny in front of other people.

    7. WorkLife with Adam Grant

    Alice Lee, Podcast marketing

    One of my new favorite podcasts is WorkLife with Adam Grant. Grant is a professor of psychology at the University of Pennsylvania's Wharton School who specializes in organizational psychology. I know what you’re already thinking: there's no shortage of podcasts offering advice on being a better working professional.

    But Grant's episodes take these conversations to the next level. He doesn't shy away from topics that many (myself included) are not always comfortable confronting, such as "How to trust people you don't like," "Faking your emotions at work," and "Bouncing back from rejection." Grant also clearly breaks down challenging habits to overcome. For instance, a recent episode on procrastination provided not only solutions, but an explanation of the reassuring reasons why we all procrastinate. If you're looking for a podcast that challenges you to look inward, is clear and concise in its delivery, and makes you slightly more comfortable with being "imperfect" this is the podcast for you.

    8. Tradeoffs

    Daniel Kuzmanovich, Guest

    We've all known that one person who swears that they know how to fix the health care system. In their mind, there's just that one thing, that magic bullet, which is sure to transform the way we operate to improve quality, reduce costs, and make the system more efficient.

    Those of us who work in health care are often quite skeptical of these people and their ideas. While we certainly know great ideas can transform parts of the system, we know that almost every solution requires a tradeoff in some other part. Enter: the Tradeoffs podcast. Tradeoffs' hosts have spent decades researching the tradeoffs in the health care systems as journalists and leading academics and they bring this experience to the podcast through remarkably compelling episodes. Each one explores what solutions to health care's problems might look like—and what tradeoffs they would entail. Recent Covid-19-related episodes have explored how the outlook for primary care may not be as dire as projected, outlined how we could expand COBRA for newly-uninsured Americans, and told the compelling stories of everyday Americans seeking care for drug addiction amidst Covid-19. It's a wonderful exploration of the tradeoffs we'll have to make as a society as we face the Covid-19 crisis head on.

    9. Recode Decode

    Rachel Sokol, Guest

    There are few journalists—or people—as effortlessly cool as Kara Swisher. The prominent tech writer is known for her longstanding, and often controversial, coverage of Silicon Valley and explorations of how the digital world is changing who we are. Her podcast, Recode Decode, is unsurprisingly home to much of the same. Swisher asks incredibly direct questions of tech executives, politicians, celebrities and others—leading to a good perspective on what tech can and can't do.

    In light of Silicon Valley's movement into health care, it also will also likely provide good background for your day job. Her most recent episode, for instance, explores how the Covid-19 pandemic could make Big Tech giants even more powerful. (Any executive fearful of Amazon may not want to listen to that before bed). For a bonus boost of tech and business news, you can also listen to Swisher's other podcast, Pivot, which, along with NYU Professor Scott Galloway, offers insight into how technology is shaping business and culture across industries.

    10. Six Feet Apart with Alex Wagner

    Sarah Hostetter, Guest

    There's been no shortage of Covid-19-related podcasts popping up to tell the stories of the politics, science, and personal tales of this crisis. But I've found that when the day is over and I need to relax from thinking about the health care system all day, it's the latter type of episodes—about the personal lives being upended by Covid-19—that have appealed to me most.

    Six Feet Apart tells these stories really well. Host Alex Wagner interviews people on the front line, like grocery store workers, athletes, those in the criminal justice system, funeral directors, and religious leaders, to learn how Covid-19 is impacting their business. The range of people she speaks to, prima ballerinas, inmates, drug dealers, and carrot company CEOs, help paint a picture of just how many lives are being changed by this pandemic and help us connect to others in a time where it can feel so easy to remain cut off.

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