HAVE A LONG road trip coming up? Worried how you’re going to make it through 10-hour stretches of driving without losing your mind? Matador editors Carlo Alcos, Katie Scott Aiton, Morgane Croissant, and Matt Hershberger have you covered — here are 12 podcasts you can binge on during your drive.
1. Serial Season 1
I discovered Serial in the spring of 2017, after listening to S-Town (see Matt Hershberger’s review). The first season of this show aired in the fall of 2014, so I was a little late to the party, but since the events that are discussed in this podcast are still unfolding, you can listen to it at any time and it will still feel current.
I chose season one of Serial over season two (they are two entirely different stories) because it was about a real murder and the detailed search for the culprit, and I am a freak for crime stories. If you’re like me, this podcast will keep you on tenterhooks.
Sarah Koenig, the podcast host, did an incredible research job; all 12 episodes of the season lay out details and theories in a way that only a talented and conscientious journalist would do. I can say with certainty that this is the best crime story I have ever heard.
Episode to start with: Episode 1 “The Alibi.” The case is laid out in this episode and you don’t want to miss a second of it or you might not understand details that come out later on in the season. Synopsis of the case: A high school girl, Hae Min Lee, was found dead in Baltimore in 1999. Her ex-boyfriend, Adnan Syed, was quickly arrested for her murder. As the series begins, Adnan has been in prison for this murder for nearly 15 years and still claims he is innocent. Sarah Koenig goes back to the evidence in an attempt to discover what really happened the day Hae was killed — and who did it. –Morgane Croissant
2. Out in the Open
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The CBC has been called the Canadian counterpart of America’s PBS. They’ve created a lot of great podcasts. Out in the Open, hosted by Piya Chattopadhyay, digs into traditionally taboo subjects like pregnancy loss, body hair, what moms can’t say, and addiction. Through shared personal experiences, and professional commentary, the listener hears a well-balanced discussion that often results in an, “Oh, so I’m not alone.” moment.
Episodes to start on: To begin listen to this episode about sexual consent, a topic that has been making major headlines in recent years. It includes some material that is hard to listen to, but is so important to talk about. –Carlo Alcos
3. Guys we Fucked
Launched in 2013, Guys we Fucked is hosted by the New York-based comedians Krystyna Hutchinson and Corinne Fisher, and was based on a set of hilarious interviews with ex-lovers. Today it is heralded as the core platform for chat about sex-positive topics and sexual politics. If you squeamish about an open and honest conversation about bodies and love-making, I’d skip this podcast, although it might do you some good. The weekly show has become an essential voice of feminism, women’s bodies and politics in general.
Episodes to start with: I’d suggest downloading the entire catalog and bingeing, but if you are short of storage and want to try before you download, go for last week’s episode, How anorexic are we talking?, with guest Alyssa Limperis and Are people in ISIS having sex?, with Mubin Shaikh. –Katie Scott Aiton
4. Welcome to Night Vale
Imagine you’re living in a town where every conspiracy theory, every X-Files episode, and every sci-fi conceit is true. Now imagine you’re listening to public radio in that town. The result is Welcome To Night Vale. The show is in its fifth year, and while you mostly just hear the smooth, baritone voice of the show’s host, Cecil Baldwin, the cast of the show has grown to a size that rivals The Simpsons. It includes a Glow Cloud that controls the town’s school board, The Faceless Old Woman Who Secretly Lives In Your Home (played by Mara Wilson, of Matilda fame), the Old Woman Josie who lives on the edge of town with a flock of angels (played by Retta, of Parks and Rec fame), Earl Harlan, a local chef who is lost in time and makes delicacies using the less-used parts of the animal (voiced by Wil Wheaton), and Hiram McDaniels, a literal five-headed dragon (voiced by Jackson Publick, of The Venture Bros.).
Episodes to start with: The series is best listened to in order — you don’t need to start at the beginning, but there are subtle call-backs and elaborate histories that are built on episode by episode. You’ll know by the end of the second episode whether it’s for you or not. –Matt Hershberger
LORE, hosted by author Aaron Mahnke, is a bi-weekly podcast that tells frightening stories of supernatural happenings throughout time and from around the world. His well-researched episodes delve into folklore, urban legends and supernatural yarns — and how these shape society. His balance between historical accuracy, cultural context and human psyche makes him something of a storytelling master.
Episodes to start with: Unboxed. In this episode, Mahnke discusses material possessions and the connection they can have to humans and the soul. Through a real life account of a doll that won’t leave its owner alone, Mahnke examines anthropomorphism, the practice of attributing personality and emotion to material things. –Katie Scott Aiton
6. Story Corps
“They intended to get all of us January the 10th, 1966.” [Link in Bio] Vernon Dahmer was a successful farmer and businessman in Hattiesburg, Mississippi, who fought for voting rights in the mid-1960s. He was killed on January 10, 1966, after the Ku Klux Klan firebombed his home. At StoryCorps, his widow and daughter remember that night. #ICYMI on #NPR Morning Edition, click the link in the bio.
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Story Corps is a massive archiving project to capture and preserve real human stories in the Library of Congress. There are recording sites around the US to which you can bring someone and have an open discussion, and you can also download their app to record your interview and upload to their archive from your phone. They provide a lot of sample questions in different categories, so it’s easy to do and can be illuminating (I did this with my parents who are now in their mid 70’s). The podcasts are curated and the stories can be sometimes heartwarming and sometimes heartbreaking — but they are always poignant and raw.
Episodes to start with: One of the most interesting episodes I’ve listened to is the story of a man who had a lobotomy in 1946 — when he was 12 years old. He was a patient of the infamous neurologist, Walter J Freeman, who pioneered the “ice pick lobotomy” to treat people with mental illness, a procedure that removed part of the patient’s frontal lobe by going through the eye socket with an ice pick. Some of the descriptions are a painful to hear, but it’s fascinating and hard to comprehend that these mutilations even happened. –Carlo Alcos
7. The Memory Palace
I don’t know how Nate DiMeo does it. He finds the most obscure and strange footnotes from history, and tells sweeping, beautiful, moving stories about them in the span of just a few minutes. Episodes rarely exceed 20 minutes, many are under 10. The Memory Palace is my go-to during long road trips when I need to break up the monotony of having binged another podcast for a little too long, or having become burnt out on stand-up comedy or a certain musical artist.
Episodes to start with: If you want to know if you’ll like the podcast within 3 minutes, listen to the Secret Kitty episode. If you want to be moved to tears, listen to A White Horse. –Matt Hershberger
8. Under the Influence
Under the Influence is a CBC show hosted by Terry O’Reilly, an advertising copywriter turned radio-host and producer. Under the Influence is all about the societal impact of advertising and marketing on our daily lives, and in the success of businesses from all around the world.
Each episode is quite short (less than 30 minutes) and covers marketing topics ranging from real estate advertising to gender marketing to advertising and porn. Even if you’re not interested in the inner workings of major corporations, you’ll enjoy listening to the details of the behind-the-scenes work done by advertising agencies to promote their services and products. It’s like listening to Mad Men with actual work being done and there’s no relationship drama or heavy drinking going on.
Episode to start with: You can listen to each episode independently. I recently listened to the episode entitled “How marketing broke taboos” and particularly enjoyed it. You’ll learn everything about the very first condom TV ad, how women’s menstrual products get promoted, and why Lysol was once considered a contraceptive. –Morgane Croissant
9. Book Shambles with Robin and Josie
The world of podcasting is full of shows where the hosts just sit and talk and hope they are interesting enough to hold your attention. Few are. But Robin Ince and Josie Long are huge exceptions. The show is ostensibly about books, but their conversations with authors touch on almost any topic. You can listen to a show and it’ll give you food for thought for hours.
Episodes to start with: The episode featuring Alan Moore is staggering in its scope. In the first five minutes, Moore gives his theory as to why poetry exists, and from there, they touch on comics, American horror, David Foster Wallace, Chuck D’s brilliance as a rapper, and H.P. Lovecraft. A good follow-up episode is the one featuring Dr. Karl Kruszelnicki, who explains how sewing is the reason humans are smart, and why we may not be totally screwed, in spite of the ominous direction the world is heading in. –Matt Hershberger
10. Ideas in the Afternoon
Ideas in the Afternoon is a CBC show hosted by Paul Kennedy, a man whose voice is like a velvety chocolate fondue.
Ideas in the Afternoon is a documentary-style radio show that covers “social issues, culture and the arts, geopolitics, history, biography, science and technology, and the humanities.” You’ll find yourself thinking you don’t care much about “How the tape recorder revolutionized the music industry,” but you’ll start listening and get enthralled with the details of it all. It’s a great way to learn a lot about a topic you previously knew nothing about, in just 54 minutes.
Episode to start with: The Gender Trap, a two-episode show (each of them 54 minutes) that uses psychology and neuroscience to study the claim that boys and girls have different brains and, therefore, different abilities. It is the most in-depth, clear, and accessible explanation about the science behind gender stereotypes that I know. A show that every feminist should listen to, especially parents-to-be. –Morgane Croissant
11. Hello From the Magic Tavern
A few years back, Arnie Niekamp fell into an interdimensional rift behind a Burger King in Chicago, and into the fantastical, magical world of Foon. Now, using the wifi signal he’s getting through the rift, he records a weekly podcast with his magical buddies, Chunt, a shapeshifter who takes the form of any animal he sleeps with (he’s usually a badger), and Usidore the Blue, a washed-up wizard with a very long name. It’s rare that an improvised podcast is this reliably funny.
Episodes to start with: There’s something that resembles a plot in this podcast, but it doesn’t matter. Jump around. Flower is the first one that made me laugh very hard, followed by Pimbly Nimblebottom and Krom the Barbarian. Like all improv podcasts, some episodes are better than others, but I have yet to find a boring streak. –Matt Hershberger
In 2012, John B. McLemore, a bipolar, eccentric clockmaker, sent an email to This American Life producer Brian Reed about a murder cover-up in his hometown of Woodstock, Alabama, which McLemore referred to as “Shit-town.” Reed went to Woodstock to look into it, and produced this epic, eerie, 7-episode podcast that revolves around McLemore and the almost unbearably beautiful world he built for himself in a place that he hated. It’s impossible to describe the series without giving too much away, but if you’re interested in clock-making, murder, politics, and/or the end of the world, you’ll be into this show.
Episodes to start with: This series MUST be listened to in order. –Matt Hershberger