The best podcasts not necessarily about tech
When I asked the staff to send me their favorite podcasts, not necessarily about tech, the replies I got back contained exactly one tech podcast. It isn’t that we don’t listen to them—it’s that we probably listen to the same ones as you do. (And there’s always our own Macworld Podcast, of course, at 465 episodes and counting.)
No matter what you like, someone is talking about it, and it’s easier than ever to get into podcasts. Apple’s got pretty much everything in the iTunes Store, and if you’ve got an iPhone, all the best podcast apps have a section devoted to discovering and subscribing to podcasts. Between searching for your interests and just browsing the categories, you can find a lot, and to get you started, these are our very favorites.
Oscar's favorite: StartUp
Serial tends to get all the praise for starting the episodic narrative podcast craze, but StartUp’s first episode aired a solid month before Sarah Koenig’s dive into investigative podcasting. When it first started, StartUp was as a podcast about starting a podcast startup. Very meta. Former This American Life producer Alex Blumberg shared his journey trying to find investors, build an audience and launch said podcast—offering fantastic insight into the real challenges that media entrepreneurs face in Silicon Valley. “There’s a higher chance that he’s going to give you money if you’re not wearing running shoes,” says Blumberg’s wife before his meeting with a prominent investor who funded Twitter and Uber.
The second season, which premiered in April, follows a team of women who’ve launched a dating website “in the male-dominated world of startups.”
Leah's favorite: The Jeff Rubin Jeff Rubin Show
Thank you, Tumblr community, for introducing me to The Jeff Rubin Jeff Rubin Show so many years ago. This show provides a healthy mix of pop culture weirdness, combining TV, books, movies, games, and more into this one-of-a-kind show. The show’s host, College Humor/BuzzFeed/YouTube comedian Jeff Rubin, interviews guests from the fringes of pop culture—people like Moira Quirk (the co-host of GUTS, a popular Nickelodeon game show from the 1990s), David Peterson (a linguist who created languages for HBO’s Game of Thrones, including Dothraki and High Valyrian), and Matt Chapman (creator of the internet cartoon Homestar Runner).
While the guests definitely lead the show, Jeff’s enthusiasm for his guests and their topics are infectious, which makes even the weirdest topics super interesting—like an episode featuring a paper airplane world champion, or another with a Broadway costume designer who also created a functional space suit. Yes, it’s super nerdy, but a super fascinating podcast, living up to its tagline of “interviews you didn’t know you wanted to hear.”
Susie's favorite: Back to Work
Merlin Mann and Dan Benjamin team up for Back to Work, which they joke is about comic books and germs and helping people. The real topics, which they get to eventually, are about doing your best work. They’ve covered everything from dealing with office politics to overcoming your own doubts, from stopping procrastination to juggling side projects. Every time I’ve felt stuck, or overwhelmed, or in need of some insight, I fire up Back to Work, and after half an hour of warm-up (yes, usually about comic books), the nuggets of wisdom that eventually leak out of my earbuds and into my head manage to make everything just a little better.
Roman's favorite: How to Do Everything
How to Do Everything is a question and answer show: You submit the questions, and hosts Mike Danforth and Ian Chillag provide the answers, or at least find someone who can. How to Do Everything has all the things that I like in a podcast: it covers a wide array of topics; the show is done in segments (great for my short attention span); and it’s funny. In the show’s recent 200th episode, Mike and Ian covered pie idioms, possible scientific names for an eight-legged chicken, and excessive use of exclamation points. The show is about 15 to 20 minutes long, so it’s a quick and easy listen for those times when you don’t feel like mentally investing in a long, deep, detailed interview or story.
Caitlin's favorite: Death, Sex and Money
WNYC’s Death, Sex and Money is “about the things we think about a lot and need to talk about more.” The wonderful host, Anna Sale, manages to get well-known guests like actress Ellen Burstyn (whose interview resulted in my all-time favorite episode of the show), comedian Ken Jeong, and writer Dan Savage to spill their guts about the Big Three Issues. Some episodes have themes, like cheating, living alone, money, and siblings, which are the most relatable half hours of radio you’ll ever listen to. This podcast alternates between moments of sweetness, darkness, and outright comedy, and has quickly become my favorite podcast subscription.
Susie's second favorite: The Dave Ramsey Show
I’m a nerd for a lot of things, but one of them is definitely personal finance. Dave Ramsey does a three-hour talk radio show called The Dave Ramsey Show every weekday, in which regular people call him up and spill all about their financial problems—it’s beyond fascinating—and all three hours are available as a free podcast. Dave counsels each caller, focusing on getting them out of debt, saving for emergencies and retirement, paying off their mortgages, and growing wealth to give it away. I’ve picked up tons of helpful tips on things like investing, real estate, and budgeting, but the real draw is hearing people talk about their lives, sharing their struggles as well as their triumphs.
Caitlin's second favorite: Reply All
Think you’ve already subscribed to every awesome tech podcast on iTunes? Add Reply All to your rotation. This new show from Gimlet Media is about the Internet, a broad mandate that lets hosts PJ Vogt and Alex Goldman explore everything from the secret world of domain name sales to Instagram-famous animals to what happens when a Hasidic Jewish man uses AOL to discover the world. Start with that episode and then dive in the remaining 29 episodes. You’ll learn something new, I promise.