December 16, 2020

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

Daily Briefing

    Just in time for your holiday social distancing, the Radio Advisory podcast team offers eight recommendations on the podcasts you should listen to now to better understand issues of social justice, power, and inequity; decipher the meaning behind your favorite songs; and dig into "all the thought that goes into the things we don't think about."

    1. Science Vs.

    Rachel Woods, Senior Director

    Radio Advisory's host and head of content

    I have been listening to Science Vs since graduate school. Every episode manages to distill complex areas of science into bit sized episodes that be understood by your average person. As someone who spent most of her education studying public health and exercise physiology, I appreciate host Wendy Zuckerman's ability to separate fact from fiction (looking at you seven-minute workout). The Australian accent and a healthy dose of humor helps too.

    Being a science podcast, it shouldn't be a surprise that Science Vs quickly pivoted to covering the coronavirus. I recently went back and binged all 22 episodes they have done on Covid-19. I know what you are thinking: You can't possibly imagine spending your personal time taking in any more information about the pandemic. But here's why I keep coming back:

    • Episodes cover questions such as, "Can you get it twice?" and "Should I disinfect everything?" These are great episodes to share with friends and family outside of the health care industry.
    • Even with a focus on Covid-19, each episode ends with the with what they've termed "NCVC," or "non-coronavirus content." In typical Science Vs fashion, these final minutes cover topics such as the smell of rain and or tell the story of the latest scientific discovery (like that of what might be the longest creature in the world).
    • If you are looking for more of an escape, don't worry. There are 8 seasons of nerdy content to dive into, including topics such as how to stop a killer asteroid, and why heart break hurts so bad.

    2. Switched on Pop

    Chris Phelps, senior product manager

    Radio Advisory's producer

    I like music, and I like podcasts about music. If I'm not listening to Song Exploder or Strong Songs, it probably means I'm listening to Switched on Pop. You may not even be a fan of pop music, but I've learned there's more to it than just catchy lyrics and tunes. The hosts dive into the meaning of and purpose behind the genre, the storylines that go into making a pop song, and the ways pop music even draws from the past (hello Beethoven!). It's a fun listen that'll teach you something you didn't know about songs at the top of the charts.

    Here's where to start:

    3. Scene on Radio

    Jared Landis, Managing Director

    Radio Advisory guest

    I highly encourage everyone to check out Scene on Radio—a tremendous podcast produced by Duke University's Center for Documentary Studies.  Yes, I'm a Duke alum myself, but that nothing to do with why I'm recommending Scene on Radio… simply put, Scene on Radio is a terrifically researched documentary podcast that challenges the conventional understanding of our national narrative on issues related to social justice, power, and inequality.

    Scene on Radio is best known for its Peabody-nominated Season two series, Seeing White. Seeing White takes listeners on a step-by-step journey that starts with the initial construction of race and "whiteness," and then explores how manmade whiteness has been codified into American society. And, in turn, explores how this manmade construct has dictated our country's "haves and have nots." The episodes are built on the excellent documentary work (i.e., research, facts) that I love as a researcher, but each closes with a more personal discussion between the host John Biewen and his collaborator, Chenjerai Kumanyika, to help listeners understand the real-world implication(s). Seeing White is a timeless discussion that's even more relevant after the summer of 2020.

    In seasons three and four, Scene on Radio applies the same formula to educate listeners and debunk common myths about sexism and patriarchy (Season 3: Men), as well as democracy (Season 4: The land that never has been yet).  Do yourself a favor: Listen to Scene on Radio, get smarter on these topics and start your own conversation.

    4. Song Exploder

    Darby Sullivan, Consultant

    Radio Advisory guest

    One of the podcasts I've been most enjoying lately is Song Exploder. Each episode features an artist telling the story of how one of their songs were made. As a non-musician music lover, it's remarkable to hear about the creative process—how a song might start with one lyric, or a melody, or a half-broken instrument an artist found in a pawn shop, and sometime later it emerges fully formed and on repeat in my headphones. As great as it is to listen to some of my favorite artists (check out Waxahatchee discussing her song "Fire" and Janelle Monáe's "So Afraid"), the most interesting episodes are often about how theme songs were made (think The Daily or BoJack Horseman).

    And can't resist making one other podcast plug: It's almost a year old at this point, but it's never too late to listen to The New York Times' 1619 hosted by the incomparable Nikole Hannah-Jones. At only six episodes, it grapples with how the legacy of American slavery manifests today from the economy to music to health care. Fascinating and moving, 1619 offers another avenue for learning about structural racism. Here's to hoping there's a season two.

    5. The Readout LOUD

    Brandi Greenberg, Vice President

    Radio Advisory guest

    Lately, I've become a regular listener of STAT's The Readout LOUD podcast. Given my preference for old-school reading of books and articles, I was late to the podcast club—and I still struggle to hold my attention with some of the longer, deep-dive podcast formats. But the Readout Loud podcast holds my attention each week.

    As with its parent media company, STAT's podcast is laser-focused on the biopharma industry. But within that industry, it covers a huge range of topics—integrating stories of scientific breakthroughs with stories of potential pricing regulations, moving from stories about Covid-19 treatment options to stories about diversifying clinical trial participants and trends in venture capital investment. The three hosts keep conversation flowing fluidly among each other and with expert guests (such as Zeke Emmanuel) and a range of biotech executives. In brisk episodes ranging from 20-30 minutes, I am able to stay up to speed on the major trends affecting biopharma and often pick up one or two "aha" insights I can share with my team.

    6. Still Processing

    Clare Wirth, Consultant

    Radio Advisory guest

    Like many others, I took time this summer to learn about racial injustice. For that reason, the latest addition to my podcast lineup is The New York TimesStill Processing. Culture writers and hosts Wesley Morris and Jenna Wortham help listeners understand the enormity of structural racism and how it manifests in our popular culture. They pore through TV shows, movies, art, and the internet. Recent episodes examined the musical Hamilton, Aunt Jemima, Westworld, and Halle Barry.

    What I love most is how the hosts challenge each other's thinking in real time, with the undercurrents of big cultural shifts as the backdrop. Yet, somehow the two balance these raw, difficult, and nuanced conversations with moments of levity. They're clearly great friends. If you want a podcast that challenges you to think more critically about popular culture, look no further.

    7. 99% Invisible

    Natalie Trebes, Director

    Radio Advisory guest

    Did you know that you’ve probably only seen just one New York City alley in film and TV? Did you know it's because there aren’t really many alleys in Manhattan?

    That's the question-your-reality story that first got me engrossed in 99% Invisible. I could no sooner choose a favorite podcast than a favorite payment model, but 99% Invisible comes pretty close. Helmed by Roman Mars, the show is best described in its own words: It's "about all the thought that goes into the things we don't think about."

    Each episode focuses on thoroughly exploring something big or small that often goes unnoticed—from how cars have led to increased policing power, to why inflatable tube men are the staple of all used car lots. Yes, it really is as broad a scope as that: Some of the self-described main categories the show covers include "Objects," "Sounds," "Visuals," and "Cities."

    It's the one podcast that I know is going to leave me intrigued, bemused, and inspired all at once. At the center of it all, Roman elegantly weaves each episode's journey with heartfelt moments that will leave you with a better understanding of human connections and a new way to look at the world.

    Start with a recent favorite of mine: The tale of an obscure stamp that represented an entire multinational ecosystem that cropped up among merchant ships stranded for months in the Suez Canal after the Six-Day War in 1967. Crews from several different countries formed the Great Bitter Lake Association and together, despite language barriers, celebrated Christmases and staged their own Olympics. And even made their own stamps.

    8. You Made It Weird with Pete Holmes

    Ben Palmer, Senior Staff Writer

    Radio Advisory copy editor

    I'm a sucker for interview podcasts, which is what initially drew me to comedian Pete Holmes' You Made It Weird podcast. Little did I know that this podcast was so much more than just a simple interview podcast.

    Holmes is one of my personal favorite comedians—he's excellent at improvising, which makes the podcasts fun, and he's someone who exudes joy in every way, which is infectious to his guests. He's also a fantastic interviewer and goes out of his way to make his interviews unique from your run-of-the-mill press junket talk show interviews.

    But perhaps the main draw for me, personally, is how deep into spirituality, mysticism, and mindfulness Holmes is, and how much he incorporates that into each and every podcast. Raised in an evangelical Christian home, Holmes spent a lot of his 20s re-contextualizing his faith and discovering a whole new world of spirituality.

    Every conversation that Holmes has on this podcast delves deep into the great mystery of life—the fact that we're all living embodiments of awareness, spinning on a rock through an infinitely expanding universe. Whether someone uses religious or non-religious language, Holmes is there to just chat (often for 2.5 hours or more). The way he describes the podcast is probably best—it's like he and his guest were sitting at a coffee shop chatting, and you just happened to be sitting behind them, eavesdropping on the conversation.

    Whether he's interviewing Adam Sandler, Ezra Klein, or a Buddhist guru, every episode of You Made It Weird is engaging and fascinating.

    9. No Stupid Questions

    Alice Lee, Senior Director, Marketing

    This is my latest favorite podcast to listen to during my early morning walks. If I were to go back in time and choose a different career, I am quite sure that I would have ended up in psychology – I’ve always been interested in the way that our minds work and what drives us to do what we do, and hosts Stephen Dubner and Angela Duckworth delve into interesting human behavior questions like “How effective is the placebo effect?”, “Are you a maximizer or a Satisficer?”, and “What is the optimal way to be angry?”.

    They engage light and witty banter while citing plenty of research studies that bring legitimacy to their assertions and that also help me build out my (aspirational) reading list. After we enter the sixth month of social distancing, I have found the quick episodes of this podcast to be a fun escape that have also inspired careful examination of how I approach parenting, work, prioritzation, and relationships.

    10. Ghibliotheque

    Joe Shrum, Senior Marketing Specialist

    Radio Advisory sound production

    Each episode of Ghibliotheque explores a single feature film from legendary Japanese animation house Studio Ghibli. One of the hosts has seen every film and serves as a guide to the other host who hasn’t seen any of them. The podcast is low-stakes, has a relaxed aesthetic, and is the perfect excuse to watch more movies.

    There’s never been a better time to discover (or rediscover) Studio Ghibli. Most of the studio’s catalog is available through HBOMax for folks in the US, or Netflix for everyone else. If you’re new to Ghibli and don’t know where to start, this New York Times article offers some recommendations. You could also start with episode #1 of Ghibliotheque (Spirited Away) and work your way through them—though to be honest, I would skip Grave of the Fireflies and come back to it later. It’s an absolutely brilliant film, but it’s a reeeaaal heavy gut punch.

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