Podcasts are a fantastic way to spend time and occupy your mind.
Many people listen to podcasts while commuting to work, whether driving in their own car or taking public transportation.
They are good for providing entertainment while doing routine household chores like cleaning and mowing the lawn.
They are even perfect for during workouts. Some people may prefer music with a high BPM to motivate them during a workout or long run, but I seem to be able to work out longer and with more enthusiasm if my thinking mind is too busy with a podcast to have thoughts like, “Gee, I sure am tired and sweaty!”
Your reason for having time to listen to podcasts is possibly one consideration in choosing what specific podcast to listen to but understanding what you hope to get out of it is also important.
Are you listening for entertainment? For something to make you laugh? To get caught up with daily news? Are you interested in what your favorite celebrity thinks?
There are so many specific sorts of benefits that you can gain by choosing one podcast over another. I, personally, tend to want to learn something when I listen to podcasts. I am a nerd, so I like learning for learning’s sake and for the joy of learning, but I also like to add to my potential trivia knowledge stockpile.
In attempting to learn something from podcasts I have tried out many educational podcasts. I would like to share with you a few of the best ones that I have found.
Stuff You Should Know
50 Things That Made the Modern Economy
The End of the World with Josh Clark
Stuff You Should Know
Stuff You Should Know, abbreviated as SYSK, is by far my favorite educational podcast.
This podcast is created by the How Stuff Works network, which creates the HowStuffWorks.com website which creates and houses informational articles on nearly any topic you can imagine.
The show started off as simply short summaries of articles on the site with rotating staff members in an attempt to encourage people to check out the website and its articles. That has changed. Each episode is now a very detailed discussion of a topic that lasts anywhere from 30-60 minutes but tend to be closer to the one-hour mark.
The show is hosted by Josh Clark and Charles W. “Chuck” Bryant (the vast majority are anyways. The first maybe 15 episodes were Josh Clark with a few other staff writers and editors). Josh and Chuck are a couple of staff writers for the How Stuff Works website and actively wrote articles for the site until they became full-time podcasters. Now they spend all their time researching the subjects they plan to podcast on, recording podcasts, and doing live shows in cities around the world.
The episodes’ topics are a combination of listener requests, ideas by Josh and/or Chuck, and articles from the How Stuff Works website. Most of the topics have some sort of article on the site, so they start their research there, and continue to search the world and the web for sources and information until they are nearly experts on their topic.
It seems by how the show works out sometimes that Josh and Chuck don’t coordinate their research efforts or prepare their script, because during the episodes they sometimes mention that they hadn’t heard about some information the other has just shared.
Each episode starts with the incredible SYSK theme song, then Josh introduces himself, Chuck, and the producer for the episode (usually Jeri, but there are occasional guest producers). Jeri is never heard in the podcast, so all the talking is done by Josh and Chuck.
The pair lead into or tease the topic for the episode, usually by some roundabout bit of conversation which ends up being related (though not always!). Then the bulk of the episode is the two having a fun conversation about the topic and what they learned during their research and prep work.
One of the biggest plusses about the show, I think, is that they occasionally get side-tracked with interesting conversational tangents. A couple common ones are old movies and The Simpsons. I love that part of the show, but they claim they have gotten “hate” mail from listeners saying they wish Josh and Chuck would stay on topic and keep mention of their own lives to a minimum.
They sometimes talk about things that have happened in the past, and in a fun, theatrical manner, make use of “The Way Back Machine”. They will mention some past event, question aloud whether they should take “The Way Back Machine,” and then Jeri will add some sound effects that sound like an old car starting up with bubbles, and then they will act like and talk as if they are in that past place. It is really fun that they spice up some history that way.
The episodes end with either “Listener Mail” or “Administrative Details”.
Listener Mail is what it sounds like. People write in with comments, stories, or corrections, and those noteworthy enough get read on-air. Some of the listener comments are super interesting, and you should never skip over this segment!
Administrative Details is when Josh and Chuck thank the people who have sent them stuff. Whether for genuine love of the hosts of the show or for marketing purposes, people will send Josh and Chuck free stuff. They’ve received candy, coffee, beer, art, books, and basically anything small enough to be mailed to Atlanta, Georgia (where the show is recorded). During the segment, they mention the item that was sent, who sent it, what they thought of it, and thank them for it over the air.
The SYSK show has over 1,000 episodes because it has been going a very long time (since April 2008). I listen to this show frequently for more than a year and am still not even halfway through all the episodes. Some of the episodes that come to mind (and are therefore some of the best) include:
Great Pacific Garbage Patch,
Spontaneous Human Combustion,
so many more!
I love this show, I love the intensity and fact/time-density of the information you learn in each episode and how it is balanced out by the fun and funny conversation that Josh and Chuck share with us in each episode.
Please give this show a try, I’m sure you’ll love it!
Short Stuff is a fairly new podcast by Josh and Chuck of the Stuff You Should Know podcast.
People love SYSK, but sometimes the episodes can be a little long, so Short Stuff is perfect if you have less time available to listen, because they are like mini episodes of the full-sized SYSK.
Short Stuff episodes have topics that are much like the ones used for SYSK, but they just don’t have enough material to fill out an hour without doing too much off-tracking, so they allot to it a shorter and more appropriate amount of time.
There isn’t too much to say about Short Stuff because it is so new (started in the fall of 2018) and because it is so similar to the Stuff You Should Know Podcast.
50 Things That Made the Modern Economy
This is a podcast created by the BBC World Service. The host of each episode is Tim Hartford.
Tim takes some idea or technology, most often something entirely mundane and ubiquitous that one would never take the time to think about or analyze it and tells its story.
Each episode begins with a bit of a story told about some moment or some person which was greatly affected by the subject of the episode or sometimes the story of the discover/invention. Then Tim describes how it came to be, how it spread, how it helped the world, and how its advanced to current day.
Each episode is short, only 8 to 10 minutes.
The show (as its title would have you believe) was originally made to cover 50 topics in 50 episodes, but then nearing the end of the original run, they ran a poll to determine a 51st topic. So there were 51 episodes. But now it seems that they have rebooted the series in 2019 with even more greatly influential things that have shaped the world economy.
Some of my favorite episodes are:
Barbed Wire, and
The End of The World with Josh Clark
This is a podcast created by Stuff You Should Know’s Josh Clark.
This is a ten-part series which covers the various ways that life could come to an end on Earth. The theme is “Existential Threats”, which are things that may occur which would wipe out all living things, things that bring an end to the “existence” of life.
The show talks about how an accident is simply an event which is certain to occur but at an uncertain frequency. These things that are talked about in the episodes are possible, they could happen, but we should certainly hope they do not.
The episodes are based in research and science but are speculative in nature because the things that are talked about have not yet happened, and the moment they do, we will all be dead and no longer be able to talk about them.
Each episode is around 40 to 60 minutes.
Josh does most of the talking but does include voice interviews with some experts in the field for whatever he is covering.
The show has a superb, futuristic-sounding soundtrack composed and produced by Point Lobo, and that soundtrack is now available outside of the show on Spotify, and possibly elsewhere.
Josh does a fantastic job of setting a mood. The episodes cover some dark material (the end to life is pretty dark), and the way he speaks is totally different from the upbeat, fun way he speaks on the SYSK podcast.
This podcast has also had live events where Josh covers additional topics and gives even more information.
A few of the episode topics are:
Artificial Intelligence, and
Planet Money is a production of National Public Radio (NPR).
Planet Money covers topics that are related to the economy. It is an educational, fact-based podcast, but it does what it does with a lot of story. They tell you how something happened and how it affected people, rather than just giving the statistics about what happened. They take things that might be boring and make them interesting.
The show is hosted by various members of a small team who, as investigative reporters, follow tips and story suggestions and then relay to listeners what happened. They make regular use of interviews of both experts and just regular people.
Each episode runs about 20-30 minutes long.
One of the people involved in the show is Adam Davidson, who was recently featured in an Amazon Prime show called “This Giant Beast That Is The Global Economy,” which stars host Kal Penn.
They’ve covered stories that touch on
the Fondue Industry,
Student Loan Servicers,
Cattle Theft, and
Sales and Revenge within Wells Fargo.
This show is seriously interesting and seriously addicting.
This show is made by the team of Planet Money and is a production of NPR.
Where Planet Money episodes come out maybe weekly or less often, The Indicator comes out daily.
Each episode is about 10 minutes long and covers some number or “indicator” that has to do with something in the news. The explanation of the indicator can really deepen your understanding of the current event, which without a decent explanation or previous understanding can sound boring or confusing.
The show often talks about government studies or reports, especially in Friday episodes which they call “Jobs Friday”. On Jobs Friday, they discuss a weekly government report about job creation and job loss on a national scale.
The hosts of this show are Stacey Vanek Smith and Cardiff Garcia.
I love this show especially because of its short length. When I have a short drive to somewhere nearby, I don’t want to listen to only part of a long episode, I want something that can be finished in that length of a trip. The Indicator is the perfect podcast for those short trips.
If you love to learn stuff, then these are the podcasts for you.
I wholeheartedly love these podcasts and I very much hope you give them a try and enjoy them as much as I do.
If you are a super-prolific podcast listener and fully consume all the episodes of each of these shows and are looking for even more awesome educational podcast content, check out the networks which produce SYSK and Planet Money.
SYSK is part of the How Stuff Works network, which has many other podcast shows like Tech Stuff and Stuff They Don’t Want You To Know.
Planet Money is produced by NPR which has a large number of programs which cover educational and news-based topics.
If you expand out to all the shows of both of those networks, you will have a bottomless pit of content to consume.