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Trade in your Spotify playlist (every now and then) for these life-changing podcasts.

I know. You’ve found the perfect Spotify playlist for your morning commute to work and now you can’t imagine starting your work day without listening to your pump-up anthems. But eventually, after a few weeks, that playlist will get old, which is when you should give podcasts a second chance.

Podcasting, which is essentially radio broadcasting that can be subscribed and listened to at your convenience, began in the early ’90s, but didn’t really catch on until mobile devices were created, which allowed the broadcasts to accompany listeners away from their home computers.

In recent years, podcast listening has gone up, with a 21 percent increase in listeners between 2015 and 2016. Typical podcast episodes range from twenty minutes to an hour, though the formats vary, which allows for writers to create compelling audio stories, interviews and lectures that have cleaner production and story arcs than everyday radio. If you haven’t given podcasts a chance, start with one of these five shows. I guarantee your commute will suddenly become the most thought-provoking, exciting part of your day.

1. “Serial”

Begin your dive into podcasts with this detailed examination of a twenty-year-old murder case that captivated over 80 million listeners and reignited public interest in podcasting. “Serial” re-opens the 1999 murder of teenager Hae Min Lee, and calls into question the guilty verdict her ex-boyfriend, Adnan Syed, who is currently serving time for in prison.

The tale is thoroughly researched, allowing the story’s many inconsistencies and contradictions to rise to the surface and inspire doubt in even the most stubborn listeners. Sarah Koenig, the show’s host, expertly withholds details and facts between episodes to increase suspense and create interest.

“Serial” garnered more than eighty million downloads (Image via Playbuzz)

This was the first podcast I ever listened to. I can remember sitting for hours in my dining hall freshman year, eating and then coloring so that I could keep my hands busy while obsessively listening to Lee and Syed’s story. This podcast is a great one for summer binging, (no need to worry about skipping class to listen!) whether you’re by the pool or filing papers at your summer job.

2. “On Being with Krista Tippet”

With “On Being,” host Krista Tippet attempts to do the impossible—define what it means to be a human who lives life with meaning. Tippet has on guests from all areas of study, occupation and religion. Guests have included the music group the Indigo Girls, poet Nikki Giovanni (a favorite episode of mine) and Facebook CEO Sheryl Sandberg, among hundreds of others. Each interview focuses on the subject’s life philosophy, or the guiding morals and ideas that have shaped their lives and careers.

I use this podcast to reset and refresh. When you’re overwhelmed with negative headlines or inundated with self-doubt, listening to the stories of other people who have found a way to go through life gracefully lifts a huge burden. The interviews not only remind us how to live, but of the fact that everyone, even the most respected spiritual thinkers, business leaders and artists, struggle on the path to inner peace.

3. “More Perfect”

Okay, “interesting” probably isn’t the first word to come to mind when you think about forty-minute explanations of old Supreme Court cases. But trust me, “More Perfect” from Radiolab is a gem in a field full of well-meaning, but sometimes boring, history-centered podcasts. The series’ trick is its ability to humanize the cases and make them relevant to listeners’ sympathies.

“Cruel and Unusual” offered a nuanced view on Supreme Court cases surrounding the death penalty and caused me to develop passionate opinions about a political issue I previously had little interest in. “Adoptive Couple v. Baby Girl” pulled at my heartstrings and left me feeling conflicted and vulnerable. Though it only has seven episodes, each one will make you think about the larger implications of the justice system on everyday lives.

4. “Invisibilia”

Co-hosts Lulu Miller, Hanna Rosin and Alix Spiegel combine science and narrative storytelling to explore “the invisible forces that control human behavior.” Each episode takes reported stories and analyzes them within a scientific, psychological frame. This podcast made me more aware of the “invisible factors,” as the hosts often say, that rule over my thoughts and actions.

Hosts of the podcast “Invisibilia” (Image via NPR)

I identified with an episode on obsessive fear and felt awed after learning that changing social norms on an oil rig can save lives. It’s rare that a show can simultaneously reflect a part of your personality back while also managing to surprise you at every turn, but “Invisibilia” does just that in almost every episode.

5. “Guys We F****d”

Branded as the “anti-slut shaming podcast,” comedy team Corinne Fisher and Krystyna Hutchinson host “Guys We F****d” with both humor and sincerity. The concept began as a quest for the hosts to interview the men they have slept with, but has grown to mean so much more. The podcast is a place for safe, frank discussions about female sexuality and the modern experience of dating, loving and hooking up.

The hosts place a special emphasis on eliminating the shame that so often accompanies conversations about sex for women. Hutchinson told the “Huffington Post,” “We wanted to make women feel more comfortable, and for men to feel more comfortable and to hear what we talk about.” A friend recommended the podcast to me, and since then we’ve had many open conversations together about sex that might have made me embarrassed or uncomfortable before, but now make me feel empowered and less alone. It’s not for the faint of heart, but I promise that many episodes will answer the sex questions you always wondered about, but never dared to ask.

6. “The Daily” from the “New York Times”

For a podcast-lite introduction, try this daily update from the “New York Times.” All episodes are around twenty minutes long and start with the biggest headlines of the morning before moving into in-depth reporting of one story. New episodes are released everyday Monday-Friday, meaning the news is as current as the paper itself. It’s short and easy to listen to while you’re getting ready for work or class.  

These are just a few of the many, many podcasts out there, on everything from books, pop culture, fashion and music to history, mysteries and science. Visit the iTunes Podcast store or Spotify and start curating your own taste in podcasts today. Your brain will thank you.

Writer Profile

Carli Scalf

Ball State University
English & Journalism

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