3 more podcasts I love in 2015

Two months ago, I had a great idea for a blog post.

As I thought about the many ways in which I consumed news and information, I came to a surprising revelation: I listen to podcasts more than ever.

Rarely did a day go by without me loading up Stitcher radio and pressing “Play” on a podcast. While I enjoyed many popular choices (This American Life, On the Media, 99% Invisible), I also felt I had discovered several series that had not yet pierced the mainstream.

So I blogged about it, listing three podcasts I loved that had hit their stride this year.

That was in September.

Now it’s November, and another revelation has arrived: I have discovered even more great podcasts bubbling up in my feed.

Perhaps I simply crave podcasts more than most. Or perhaps the podcasting industry is developing at an extreme rate, with increasing quality and diversity.

So two months after listing three podcasts I love, here are three more I love; I hope you feel the same way.

Criminal (Radiotopia/PRX)

I always appreciate storytellers who use their talents to provide multi-layered portraits of underserved populations.

One such storyteller? Phoebe Judge.

She covered, while at the Mississippi Public Radio, the BP oil spill and Hurricane Katrina. She has captured awards from both the Associated Press and RTNDA (of the Edward R. Murrow awards). Now she has co-created — and hosts — a fascinating podcast called Criminal.

The “About” page on Criminal’s web site makes clear its creators’ motives and efforts. The podcast, says its description, provides “stories of people who’ve done wrong, been wronged, or gotten caught somewhere in the middle. The show’s producers are full-time radio people, but Criminal is what we do when we go home at night.”

In short, this is a labor of love that rises above the podcast pack.

Working with Eric Mennel and Lauren Spohrer, Judge addresses issues of crime in an informative, empathetic way. I recently highlighted an episode in which reporter Lauren Ober profiled a transgender woman being held in a men’s cell block. Each episode, I feel, leaves me feeling more emotionally connected to a population I rarely encounter.

Kudos to all involved for using personal time to achieve such meaningful work.

You Are Not So Smart

At least once a week I take a long walk around my Atlanta neighborhood, often for 80-90 minutes, and cue up a podcast.

Recently, I have been cuing up this one.

With a name like You Are Not So Smart, one expects a healthy amount of wit and a healthier absence of ego. With a host like David McRaney, one gets exactly that. The longtime journalist produces a thoroughly enjoyable and engrossing podcast about psychology, distilling textbook concepts into relatable and manageable terms.

At least, that’s what he does during the podcast’s first segment. McRaney routinely cites pop culture (the finale of Mad Men, a famous episode of The Twilight Zone) to introduce his episodes’ themes.

But then he turns it up, digging into those themes with special guests who provide a much deeper perspective. This is where his podcast goes from gimmicky and slick to in-depth and rewarding, and much like Criminal, it leaves its listeners feeling far more enlightened.

Switched on Pop

So far in this article, I have mentioned podcasts produced by moonlighting journalists.

This podcast? It comes from a songwriter and a musicologist.

I am unsure if the latter title is something official, but the man to whom it applies is Nate Sloan, a PhD candidate at Stanford who teaches music theory classes at the California Jazz Conservatory. Sloan co-hosts Switched on Pop with the aforementioned songwriter, Charlie Harding, and the duo uses each episode to de-mystify some of popular music’s greatest trends.

(For those who saw my 3 Great Stories column this week and read the piece in The Atlantic about hit-making factories and producers, you will find very similar explorations here.)

Sloan and Harding bring a joyous and refreshing nature, and they treat the often self-serious world of pop music with the right amount of subversiveness and passion. They clearly love music, and they equally love breaking it down.

I love listening to their work … even if their recent episode about earworms had me humming a Fine Young Cannibals tune for the rest of the day.

Matt Pearl is the author of the Telling the Story blog and podcast. Feel free to comment below or e-mail Matt at matt@tellingthestoryblog.com. You can also follow Matt on Facebook and Twitter.

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