5 Podcasts for Every Occasion: Or Why I Can’t Live Without My Headphones

Since the rise of popular podcasts like Welcome to Night Vale and Serial, I’ve been aware that out in the world, people were listening to podcasts for entertainment. My friends posted about new episodes on Facebook and Twitter. But I didn’t feel that my life had a place in it for audio-entertainment.

What is a PodcastThen I moved to Vienna for study abroad. Suddenly I had a 30-minute commute which meant sitting (or standing) on a subway train every day, and the need for something to help pass the time. It was high time to give podcasts a chance.

Starting with the familiar, I downloaded some episodes from people whose other work I knew, like CPG Grey’s Hello Internet and Freakonomics Radio by author Stephen J. Dubner. Then I went to the source of all knowledge, Google.

I found lots and lots of articles with the best 5-100 podcasts of every kind that I should definitely be listening to. Information overload was staring to set in, but a few descriptions caught my eye. I sampled for several weeks, trying anything that seemed interesting, and listening to the iTunes-generated related shows. Like any good love affair, I was in the middle before I knew what was happening, but I was completely hooked.

Before, I had struggled to think of times when I might listen to podcasts. Now, I listen all the time. Since starting on the train, I now have an episode or two playing at the gym, while walking to class, and to help keep me up on long drives. Pretty much every day is improved with the addition of a podcast.

I believe that there is a podcast for every person and occasion, so I thought I should share a few of my favorites with you.

When you want to learn about remarkable ladies…

The History Chicks

the-history-chicks-logo-200Two women, Beckett Graham and Susan Vollenweider, decided that leaving history to the boys was boring. So they started a podcast about all of the women in history in order to tell the stories of these extraordinary lives. And they called it the History Chicks. Each episode or minicast is entertaining, well researched, and fascinating.

We all have things we missed in school, and for a long time I was missing history. Once I figured out that I could learn from podcasts, I thought it high time to try to fill in some of the history I was missing. I started off with the names I recognized. Women who’s claim to fame I was familiar with. But it was when I started listening to the episodes about women I had never heard of that I fully realized how great this podcast was. Graham and Vollenweider could start me at the very beginning of someone’s life and in an hour, I would have a new hero. They interweave commentary and a vivid historical backdrop into their stories. Because that is what every episode ultimately is, a story, with a beginning, middle, and end. Their tagline is right; listening in no way resembles a boring old history class.

Episodes to start with:

Episode 48: Agatha Christie

Episode 23 – Margaret “Molly” Brown

Episode 22 : Katherine of Aragon

When you want to be more cultured…

Classical Classroom from Classical 91.7

classical_classroom_logoHost Dacia Clay’s big secret is that she doesn’t know very much about classical music. Which is good, because I don’t either. Every week she acts as the audience stand in, interviewing classical music experts, professors, and musicians from Houston Public Radio, around Texas, and all over the world. As she learns about what exactly makes up specific pieces of classical music, I, the listener, get to learn with her. It is a brilliant model to get even reluctant music students like myself really engaged with classical music, ranging from Hayden to Steve Reich.

Since living in Vienna, home of Mozart, Strauss, Beethoven, etc., I have gotten serious about my desire to know more about classical music. And this podcast has helped so much. Not only have I been exposed to all kinds of pieces that I never would have otherwise heard, but I have also developed a much greater appreciation for the music as something beyond pleasant background listening. So, big thanks to the Classical Classroom for generally making me a happier, more cultured person.

Episodes to start with:

Episode 4: Leitmotif In Star Wars – Brett Mitchell

Episode 36: Catherine Lu welcomes the Year of the Horse with the Butterfly Lovers’ Violin Concerto

Episode 106: Bach Halloween Spooktacular With Keith Weber

When you want your mind blown…

99 Percent Invisible from PRX

99percent_invisible_logoDescribed as a “tiny radio show about design,” 99 Percent Invisible is much more than that. Each episode tells the story of something in your life that you may have overlooked: an obscure historic event, an everyday object, a fantastic building, anything imaginable. The stories are lyrical, informative, and enchanting.

I stumbled onto 99 Percent Invisible based on someone else’s list of podcasts, but after one episode I was completely hooked. The stories were so interesting, and each episode was relevantly short. And who can resist the draw of Roman Mars’ velvety smooth voice? If you are the kind of person who looks at something ordinary and asks, who thought of that? then this is absolutely a podcast you should be listening to on a regular basis.

Episodes to start with:

163- The Gruen Effect

133- Port of Dallas

137- Good Bread

When you want a laugh…

No Such Thing as a Fish from QI

No_Such_Thing_as_a_Fish_logoOn the surface, this is a podcast where four people just talk about trivia for 40-45 minutes every week. And I would be totally down for that, because I love trivia that much. But even if you aren’t a trivia buff, you want to be listening to this show, because the QI elves are hilarious. And they have delightful British accents to charm my American ears.

Whenever I am on the way to do anything unpleasant I listen to this podcast, because I know it is guaranteed to make me laugh. I’ve flown through a huge portion of their backlogged episodes, and share this podcast with everyone. What could have more appeal than funny facts?


Just a note: The jokes are intended for an adult audience, but are not very explicit or completely unsafe for work. Just a bit off colour every now and again. I don’t know if any of you are planning to listen with the under 13 crowd, but just in case.

Episodes to start with:

Episode 69: No Such Thing As The Pamplona Guinea Pig Run

Episode 63: No Such Thing As An Anti-German Sock

Episode 59: No Such Thing As Old Mother Bastard

When you’re hungry…

Burnt Toast from Food52

Burnt_Toast_logoCovering everything that is talked about around the New York office of Food52, Burnt Toast is a podcast about all things food-related. From what to eat on a first date to how to host a dinner party, they’ve got you covered. The hosts are funny and personable, and the special guests are always great. Their wide variety of topics also includes a peek inside the food industry, which I find fascinating.

I’ve loved Food52’s website and recipes for a while now, so I was thrilled when they started podcasting. I’ve listened to every episode. This show matches the tone of the website pretty well, with the addition of soothing, soft voices. The editors and guests tell lots of funny stories, so even if you don’t have a deep love of dish washing, you can totally relate. Every episode I finish inspires me to cook something.

Episodes to start with:

When Ruth Reichl Comes to Dinner

Lunch is a Point of Honor

Food Didn’t Mean Anything to Me Then


Honorable mention goes to: the gut-wrenchingly funny podcast The Sporkful from WNYC. A hardy dose of humor paired with each 20-30 minute discussion of food.


I could talk on about this forever. But for now, I sincerely hope that this has inspired at least one person to try these podcasts, or just podcasts in general. They are an exciting new area, and have become a big part of my entertainment.

If you are already a listener, what podcasts do you like? Let me know in comments, and I’ll be sure to check them out.



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