The Best Podcasts of 2017 You Really Need to Hear
With everything from news podcasts produced on a near daily basis to a musical podcast that lasts just three episodes, there’s a little something in here for everyone. So in no particular order, here are 12 of the best podcasts you’ll want to add to your collection as we cross over into 2018.
1. The Daily
There are plenty of news podcasts out there, but the New York Times’s The Daily highlights two or three of the most important stories of the day, with a particular focus on just one story.
If you’re looking for a run down of the top stories, this isn’t the podcast for you. If you’re looking for an in-depth conversation that goes beyond the headlines, you’ll love The Daily. Podcast host Michael Barbero speaks with reporters writing for the Times and beyond about the day’s most important headlines, with a particular focus on local U.S. news.
At just 20 minutes, five days a week, it’s one of those perfect podcasts for your commute , and will give you a little extra to discuss over your morning coffee. (If your commute is longer than 20 minutes, you can add NPR’s morning news podcast Up First to your queue.)
2. Dirty John
At just six episodes, you’ll binge through Dirty John pretty quickly. In the interest of avoiding spoilers, we’ll just tell you this: The Los Angeles Times podcast, hosted by Christopher Goffard, tells the true story of Debra Newell. She meets John Meehan online and is caught up in a whirlwind romance. Debra’s family, however, doesn’t think John is being completely forthcoming about his past or his intentions.
Great storytelling of an intriguing tale will make it difficult to set this podcast aside until you’ve finished all six episodes.
The second season of Serial was a serious letdown, but S-Town more than made up for it. A podcast from Serial and This American Life, S-Town kicks off with a story that sounds like it was tailor made for true crime fans. Host Brian Reed starts to look into a story that Alabama resident John writes to him about: did the son of a wealthy family in this small Alabama town kill a young man and not only get away with it, but was living free and happy to brag about the murder?
S-Town isn’t what it seems, and the twists the podcast takes leaves some feeling betrayed, and others questioning the journalistic integrity of the show. But we can’t go into any more than that without some major spoilers, so you’ll have to hear it for yourself and decide.
4. The Thread
Think of it as six degrees of separation for history. Starting with John Lennon’s assassination in 1980, the podcast travels across decades and thousands of miles to the Russian Revolution and Vladimir Lenin in the span of just six episodes.
The podcast is something of a theoretical exercise. If J.D. Salinger hadn’t written Catcher in the Rye, would Mark David Chapman have killed John Lennon? If Oona O’Neil Chaplin hadn’t met J.D. Salinger, would he have written Catcher in the Rye? You get the picture. It’s an interesting exercise, and one that will appeal to history and literary buffs alike.
NPR’s Rough Translation takes common stories but transplants them into a less familiar environment. The most recent episode is about looking for love amid the trials and tribulations of online dating. But the story is told from the perspective of a Syrian refugee living in Berlin. Another episode explores the emotional journey of surrogacy. But in this case, the surrogate is an American woman carrying a baby for a Chinese woman.
Hosted by Gregory Warner, the podcast appears to have an overarching message (if we’ve understood it correctly), and that is that we aren’t all that different the world over.
6. The Nod
It’s really hard to pick just one new Gimlet podcast to include on this list, especially with the sheer number of podcasts they’ve added to their lineup this year.
Twice Removed, like The Thread, is all about finding a direct line between two people, but in this case it’s through their family genealogy. (Sadly this one was cancelled due to the amount of work it took to put together just one episode.) The Pitch (think of it as the Shark Tank of podcasts), while technically not new, is new to the Gimlet family. Not to mention Heavyweight, Uncivil, and Mogul.
Out of all these many new podcasts, one of our favorites is The Nod. Hosted by Brittany Luse and Eric Eddings, it explores what it means to be black in America. They have episodes on everything from the significance and popularity of grape-flavored drinks to how black fashion made it all the way to Paris in the seventies. You know if it’s from Gimlet, it’s going to be good.
Frontline isn’t exactly known for its feel-good comedies, and you can expect more of the same from their new podcast. The show takes a look at hyper-local U.S. issues like earthquakes in Oklahoma caused by oil-industry practices to ripped from the headline stories with a human touch, like their piece on war-torn Yemen.
Frontline fans will not be disappointed. This podcast brings the same detailed, fascinating documentary approach to the audio world. (And don’t forget that you can also take Frontline itself on the go with you, listening to the documentary shows as podcast episodes instead.)
8. Sincerely, X
This podcast is a joint production from TED and Audible, but don’t expect to hear what you would at the public TED talks that grace stages all over the world. Instead, this podcast shares stories that are confessional in nature, and are shared completely anonymously.
These are the stories they think are worth sharing that could never be told with a name or face attached to them. Stories that are shared include those from a doctor who reveals the consequences of allowing her patient to leave against medical advice (and her better judgment), as well as that of a Silicon Valley entrepreneur battling depression. The tone of many of the episodes feel like someone sharing a secret just with you.
LeVar Burton is a name that most American kids of the 80s will probably recognize. The PBS show, Reading Rainbow, hosted by LeVar Burton was the quintessential public TV show encouraging children to read. Now Burton returns and the audience of his new podcast is probably largely made up of the same people who listened to him as kids. Because this time around, Burton is reading stories aimed for an adult audience.
The Tortoise and the Hare has been exchanged for a story by Haruki Murakami. Instead of If You Give a Mouse a Cookie, you can hear Burton share a popular Neil Gaiman piece. So if you need a break from the depressing stories from the headlines or true life crime, a little bit of fiction might be the best form of escape for you.
10. First Day Back [No Longer Available]
Technically, First Day Back was launched in 2015. The first season was about coming back from maternity leave but has been on hiatus since mid-2016. The show returned for a second season in April 2017 with a slightly different type of story in a genre that is extremely popular in the podcast world: true crime.
The new season tells the story of Lucie who spent five years in prison on charges of killing her husband of thirteen years, Gerry. The podcast is about coming back from a life changing event and in season two, it asks the question, “How do you come back from the worst thing you’ve ever done when you don’t even remember doing it?”
Lucie has no recollection of killing Gerry, and describes it like falling asleep watching a movie: “You saw the beginning of the movie, and you saw the end… but what about the middle?” The show is a devastating exploration into the question of how all this happened, taking you on Lucie’s post-prison journey in the wake of an event that she will never remember.
In this podcast, you’ll hear mostly from Lucie herself, as well as others involved in her story: a local reporter who covered Gerry’s death, Lucie and Gerry’s family and friends, her defense and prosecution, and more.
11. Ear Hustle
Ear Hustle is a podcast about life in prison that has set itself apart from other shows that share stories from incarcerated individuals. We all remember Adnan Syed from Serial, and in Frontline‘s new podcast, The Frontline Dispatch, we hear from Kempis Songster who was sentenced to life in prison without parole at the age of 15. Ear Hustle, on the other hand, is produced by Earlonne Woods and Antwan Williams, with the help of artist Nigel Poor (who sounds a lot like Sarah Koenig). Ear Hustle is different because Woods and Williams are both serving sentences in San Quentin State Prison.
The name of the podcast is a term used in prison for eavesdropping on conversations you shouldn’t be hearing. With episodes on everything from sharing a 4 x 9 foot cell with a complete stranger to the challenges married inmates face in maintaining relationships with their wives, the podcast is a unique opportunity to hear the story of prisoners exactly the way they want them to be told.
Ear Hustle will be back for Season 2 in March 2018.
12. 36 Questions
36 Questions is a fictional podcast that brings with it plenty of podcast crossovers. It comes from the same production company that brought you the popular fictional podcast Limetown, and there’s definitely a quality similar to the way in which the stories are told, with one significant difference: 36 Questions is a musical.
Starring Jonathan Groff (best known for his role in the hit Broadway musical Hamilton) and Jessie Shelton, 36 Questions tells the story of a married couple trying to save their relationship. Their vehicle for salvaging their marriage is a New York Times questionnaire with 36 questions, which was first published as part of the Modern Love series. And that particular essay also happens to have made it into the Modern Love podcast.
If you’re not a fan of musicals, you’ll know to stay far away from this podcast, but the extremely challenging format is surprisingly successful in 36 Questions. Sadly, the entire podcast is three episodes long, each lasting a little less than an hour.
If you’re curious about what made the cut last year, be sure to check out our list of best podcasts of 2016 . After all, although they’re no longer fresh, they’re still all podcasts we would recommend you download.
What podcasts did we miss off our list? Are there any pods you would add to this list? Let us know what your favorite podcasts of 2017 were in the comments below!