Back in my college days, I had a 45-minute (each way) commute to school. Being in my 20s, I spent my car-bound jaunts mostly listening to ’90s alternative radio and (shudder) cassette tapes from my favorite bands. How I wish iPhones and podcasts had been around back then. I would have tapped in to the best news podcasts and learned so much about art, news, history, politics, etc., instead of amassing a near-encyclopedic knowledge of bands like Pearl Jam, Stone Temple Pilots and the Counting Crows.
For you lucky souls who now get to make long commutes with smartphones at the ready, I’ve compiled a list of the best news podcasts that will make your journeys worthwhile. (Although if you still have Pearl Jam’s “10” on your phone, I recommend giving that a listen, too. “Once” and “Black” are sure to enliven your ride.)
Need to boost your brainy quotient ASAP? You’re in luck. We’ve rounded up what we think are some of the smartest and best news podcasts to kick your neurons into overdrive.
The best news podcasts
Host Marco Werman fleshes out news and fun feature stories from around the globe – with cool tunes thrown in – in this weekday podcast. Recent shows touched on Mexico’s black market for Krispy Kreme doughnuts, a disappearing language in the Netherlands and Cuba’s booming artisanal charcoal business.
This weekly podcast, from HowStuffWorks.com, makes learning fun again. On any given day, you might hear cohosts Tracy V. Wilson and Holly Frey talking about ghost ships, the latest in technology, the history of baking in America or the ancient stone city of Great Zimbabwe.
This weekly podcast, from the Smithsonian, brings stories about technology, art and history to life. The anecdotes are culled from the hallowed institution’s 154 million treasures, including comedian Phyllis Diller’s joke file – a cabinet that held 50,000 typewritten jokes that she’d perform during her standup routines – to the days when it was legal to send a baby through the mail. Check out the “Artist in Dissidence” episode, which chronicles the career of provocative Chinese artist Ai Weiwei.
From John Singleton Copley to avant-garde multimedia artist Pipilotti Rist (whose 1997 work is eerily reminiscent of Beyonce’s car window-thrashing “Hold Up” video), host Tyler Green (a historian and award-winning critic) explores all manner of art in his weekly one-hour show. Recent episodes have explored the works of Italian artist Medardo Rosso and the portraits of Gustav Klimt.
No more waiting for the top or half of every hour; now you can get your news whenever you want it from NPR, in handy five-minute chunks. How’s that for modern technology? It’s updated hourly, every day and every night. Yes – if you’re dying to find out what’s new at 3 a.m. on a Tuesday, NPR will sate your newsy appetite.
Hosts Stephen Dubner and Steve Levitt – the duo behind the best-selling “Freakonomics” books – spin yarns about politics, talent, technology and fascinating phenomena in this weekly podcast. Recent episodes have delved into the psychology behind bad decisions, why we still use cash in a debit card-laden society, and 10 ideas to make politics “less rotten.” Ha! They must be doing something good: The podcast gets downloaded 8 million times a month. Whoa.
Food, food, glorious food. Cynthia Graber and Nicola Twilley discuss everything from flexitarian diets to the growing problems facing cacao cultivation to how and when the first restaurant was invented. They even look into the recent popularity of seltzer. (Seriously – everyone is drinking it! Is there something I’m missing?) Episodes air every two weeks, and even if you’re not a gourmand you’ll find yourself fascinated with the topics.
Los Angeles-based KCRW hosts this weekly roundtable discussion, which features – you guessed it – a guest from the liberal side of the political spectrum, a centrist, and a guest with a more conservative bent. It’s one of the best news podcasts for gaining a well-rounded knowledge of current events, without the self-imposed digital news and politics bubble so many of us find ourselves immersed in these days. During the lively debates you’ll learn how all sides feel about hot current events like the attempts to repeal Obamacare, the immigration debate and President Donald Trump’s initiatives.
What do you think is the best news podcast out there? Think we need to add one to our list? Let us know in the comments.