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There are lots of fun and interesting podcasts available these days. This includes podcasts dedicated to technology, podcasts aimed at men, and podcasts about financial matters. Some of the most entertaining podcasts are, rather surprisingly, the ones based on real-life experiences or true events.
True-story podcasts are great for two reasons. First, the presenter often speaks from personal experience — whether they lived through or investigated a situation — making them that much more passionate. Also, these podcasts include the “that really happened” element, which can make the stories even more inspirational. Some may even chill you like these scary TV shows.
Here are 11 of the best true-story podcasts available online.
1. Mystery Show
Created and hosted by public radio producer Starlee Kine, Mystery Show is exactly what you think it would be: a show about mysteries. In one, a woman rents a movie from a video store (remember those?), but when she tries to return it the next day, the store is completely gone.
The Gimlet Media production also includes producers Alex Blumberg, Melinda Shopsin, Eric Mennel, Chris Neary, and Wendy Dorr, with help from contributing editor Eli Horowitz.
Another from Gimlet Media, Heavyweight is about traveling back to a moment when everything changed — usually for the worse. Former CBS Radio personality Jonathan Goldstein hosts, and he brings plenty of experience with him. He has also contributed stories to This American Life. In one episode, a man reflects on fouling up his relationship with each of his three godchildren. He now wants to win them back, afraid he may never have kids of his own.
If you’ve ever had a moment you’ve lived to regret — and who hasn’t? — this is one podcast worth checking out.
3. Reply All
Hosted by PJ Vogt and Alex Goldman, Reply All is a show with a little of everything. At its heart, Reply All focuses on the internet, but it also touches on many other topics, including iguanas in the workplace, time travel, and trained rats. In one episode of this Gimlet Media production, Vogt and Goldman attempt to take calls on any subject for 48 hours straight.
One of the best things about the podcast is its depth — there are currently more than 80 episodes available.
4. Fresh Air
Produced by WHYY-FM in Philadelphia and broadcast nationally by NPR, Fresh Air is a podcast that’s also broadcast on more than 500 stations across the U.S. Hosted by Terry Gross, one of the strong points of Fresh Air is its star power. The show frequently features some big-name guests. Celebrities who have recently appeared include Anthony Bourdain, Francis Ford Coppola, Trevor Noah, Anna Kendrick, Stephen Colbert, and Garry Trudeau.
The podcast airs each weekday, so there are plenty of past episodes for you to catch up on.
Listen on — iTunes | SoundCloud
Hosted by Whit Missildine, This Is Actually Happening is a bi-weekly podcast that looks at extraordinary events in people’s lives that turned out to change everything. Each episode is heavily edited to give them a true first-person feel. Stories include a son who was shot by his father, a woman whose sister has multiple personalities, and a man who wakes up in a morgue.
The show is produced by Missildine’s Permatemp Corporation, which he describes as a creative umbrella for experimenting with art, film, and audio.
Produced to “help you waste time as enjoyably as possible,” the Futility Closet podcast features stories across topics including art, philosophy, history, literature, and even math. One recent episode looked at the story of two clam diggers in 1896 New Jersey who set out to cross the Atlantic in a rowboat.
One of the strengths of Futility Closet is the amount of research that goes into each episode, all cited on its website. As an example, for the episode mentioned above, the show’s official website lists no fewer than 20 sources of research.
In Generation Why, co-hosts Aaron and Justin present theories and share their opinions about various mysteries, including true crime, unsolved murders, and other various conspiracies. There’s plenty of content to sift through — there are currently more than 200 episodes of Generation Why available.
In a testament to the podcast’s popularity, there are “premium” episodes available for purchase on its website. There is also other branded merchandise, including T-shirts, coffee mugs, and vinyl stickers.
Listen on — iTunes
Produced by CBC Radio and hosted by David Ridgen, each season of Someone Knows Something takes a look at a separate mystery. In season one, Ridgen looks into the case of a missing boy named Adrien McNaughton, who disappeared during a fishing trip more than 40 years ago.
Very much in the vein of Serial, this podcast examines the case across multiple episodes and attempts to tie up loose ends. In the second season, Ridgen joins a woman named Odette Fisher in her quest to solve the mystery of her missing daughter, Sheryl Sheppard, who disappeared in 1998.
Listen on — iTunes
One of the more sobering podcasts on this list, Actual Innocence tells the story of those who served time for crimes they didn’t commit. Each episode tells a different story, and each varies in length. Some are barely 25 minutes long, while others last more than 80 minutes. The show was founded by licensed social worker Brooke Gittings, who also hosts and produces. Stephanie Sottile, Meg Delaney, and Sarah Nelson also contribute.
One of the strengths of Actual Innocence is its ability to encourage actual change — the show has led to a number of volunteer opportunities.
Listen on — iTunes
10. Missing [No Longer Available]
As the title indicates, the Missing podcast investigates the world of missing people, including why and how people disappeared. Crime writer Tim Weaver hosts the podcast, which has won a number of awards over the years. The mission of the podcast is to answer the question, “Is it really possible to disappear?”
In each episode, Weaver chats with experts in surveillance, data, forensics, psychology, and technology in an effort to get to the bottom of each case.
The Thinking Sideways podcast describes itself in a rather straightforward manner: “investigating things we simply don’t have the answer to.” The unsolved mystery show features a trio of hosts named Steve, Devin, and Joe. They don’t claim to have any formal training in the world of research or investigation, but they make clear that this has never stopped them before.
There are a number of episodes available, dating back to August 2013. In one, the group looks at the case of two otherwise healthy men who were found dead near Rio de Janeiro while wearing suspicious lead eye masks. In another, they investigate the Smiley Face Murders, a loose theory that may or may not be linked to a serial killer.
Listen on — iTunes
What True Story Podcasts Will You Listen to First?
True story podcasts can be truly addicting and enlightening. Some of the topics may be heavy going, but there are others that focus on the lighter side of life.
No matter what story you end up listening to, it’s always somehow comforting to know that other people are out there living their lives, just like you’re out there living yours. With that in mind, whose story will you listen to first?
Do you have a favorite true story podcast? Or a favorite episode from the podcasts we have featured above? What do you find so compelling about true story podcasts? Please let us know in the comments section below!
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