I listen to podcasts all the damn time. I listen in the car, when I’m in the shower, while I’m cooking dinner, when I do chores around the house and when I shovel snow. I listen when I run and when I walk the dogs and when I’m working on things that don’t require much concentration.
Pretty much all of the time I’m not watching TV, reading or writing or, you know, interacting with other human beings, chances are good I’m listening to a podcast. I am obsessed, y’all, so here’s a rundown of my favorites, the ones that I couldn’t stop listening to, that made me laugh and also cry, the ones that taught me something and the ones with stories I couldn’t stop talking about.
IF YOU LOVE A GOOD MYSTERY…
SOMEONE KNOWS SOMETHING
Someone Knows Something is investigative journalism at its best. Now in its third season, the first season focused on the 1972 disappearance of Adrien McNaughton who was just five-years-old when he disappeared during a family fishing trip in Eastern Ontario. It is the true story of a cold case, with input from Adrien’s family, members of his community, cadaver dog teams and search and rescue divers. It is brilliantly and compassionately told and, at around a dozen episodes, is easy to binge.
THIN AIR PODCAST
One of a handful of missing persons podcasts, Thin Air tells the story of one missing person every episode. They include interviews with family members and friends who help tell the story of the missing’s last known whereabouts, detailing where they were and who they might have been with, while also trying to determine their state of mind at the time of their disappearance. || GATEWAY EPISODE: Episode 22 & 23: David Sneddon
IF YOU LOVE TRUE CRIME…
IN THE DARK
In 1989, Jacob Wetterling was 11-years old. Following an evening bike ride with friends in Minnesota, he was taken by a man with a gun and never seen again and the case went cold for 27 years. In the Dark unintentionally dropped around the same time a man named Danny Heinrich admitted to abducting and murdering Jacob Wetterling and assaulting another boy, Jared Scheierl. It’s a podcast about Jacob, but it’s also about the investigation into his disappearance. Reporter Madeleine Baran, who tells the story, does a deep dive into how the investigation was conducted, what the environment was like in the 1980s when Jacob was taken, and the rippling effects of his case, including the 1994 Jacob Wetterling Crimes Against Children and Sexually Violent Offender Registration Act.
Dirty John tells the true story of John Meehan, a con man, and his relationship with Debra Newell and her family, who all help to tell the story along with host Christopher Goffard. It details his entry into their lives, their realizations about his true character and their attempts to get rid of him. The story is riveting because you know terrible things are happening and are going to happen, but you don’t know how it will all unfold. This is definitely one of the most binge-able podcasts on this list, as it’s only six episodes, each running about 45 minutes.
MY FAVORITE MURDER
Hosted by Karen Kilgariff and Georgia Hardstark, My Favorite Murder is a comedy podcast about murder. In each episode, both hosts tell the true story of a murder, with banter and sass sprinkled throughout. They’ve talked big deal murders and little known historic murders and all sorts of murders in between. Over their more than 100 episodes, they’ve coined catchphrases including, “Here’s the thing – Fuck Everyone,” “Stay sexy and don’t get murdered,” and “Fuck Politeness.” || GATEWAY EPISODE: 18 – Investigateighteen Discovery
IF YOU NEED A GOOD CRY…
TERRIBLE, THANKS FOR ASKING
In a six week span, Nora McInerny lost her husband, her father and her second pregnancy. In her podcast, she honestly, candidly and gracefully talks the sad and uncomfortable bits of life. Instead of saying “I’m fine,” to the oft-asked question of “how are you?” she digs right the fuck into the hard stuff, talking about death, sexual assault, loneliness and all the tough stuff in between. Terrible, Thanks for Asking is brilliant in its honesty and Nora is witty, sometimes cheeky and always compassionate. It is not a collection of sad stories, it is a collection of stories about real life that is sometimes very, very sad. || GATEWAY EPISODE: Episode #11: The Ending Matters or Episode #12: Horrible and Wonderful and Figuring It Out
Cheryl Strayed, who wrote Wild, and Steve Almond both used to write as Sugar for the advice column Dear Sugar. Now, they’ve teamed up to deliver Dear Sugars where they empathetically field questions from listeners, sometimes bringing in guests like Oprah and Esther Perel, to help find the best answer. Over the course of their multi-year run, the two have talked about family problems, love problems and life problems, often examining topics from various angles. || GATEWAY EPISODE: The Infidelity Episodes, Part 1-4
IF YOU WANT TO FEEL INSPIRED…
HOW I BUILT THIS
Produced by NPR and hosted by Guy Raz, How I Built This is about “innovators, entrepreneurs, idealists, and the movements they built.” Guy talks to the founders of brands like Airbnb, Spanx, Five Guys, Samuel Adams, Whole Foods Market, Drybar, Rent the Runway and Zumba to find out how it all began. || GATEWAY EPISODE: Five Guys: Jerry Murrell, Lonely Planet: Maureen & Tony Wheeler or Patagonia: Yvon Chouinard
IF YOU NEED DINNER PARTY CONVERSATION STARTERS…
EVERY LITTLE THING
This podcast is about every little thing, just like the title says. It covers all sorts of topics you’ve probably (maybe) wondered about, like why we don’t see living armadillos very often, why that one plastic lawn chair is so ubiquitous or what the numbers on packs of pasta actually mean. The episodes are short, usually only about 30 minutes or so, and include interviews with subject matter experts on all sorts of weird and wonderful topics. || GATEWAY EPISODE: Don’t Underestimate the Flamingo
Yes, this podcast is about true crime, but it’s a podcast about really fascinating true crime. Yes, some of the stories they tell are a little gruesome, but there’s usually an element of intrigue in there too. They’ve talked about the Alcatraz escape I mentioned in this post, surprising court sentences (like castration!), book thieves and the rise and fall of putting missing kids on milk cartons. || GATEWAY EPISODE: #77 The Escape or #67 Milk Carton Kids
IF YOU LOVE LEARNING ABOUT CULTS…
In college, I took a class on cults. I was a sociology major, so it made sense, but I’ve always been fascinated. Cults typically does 2-3 episodes per cult, and so far they’ve covered The Manson Family, Heaven’s Gate, The Family, The Children of God and a handful of other cults. Usually, they first profile the founder, then they dig deeper into the followers and explore a little bit of the physchology behind joining a cult. || GATEWAY EPISODE: E13-14 “FLDS” – Warren Jeffs Pt. 1 & 2
Hosted by Glynn Washington, who grew up in a cult himself, this podcast focuses on Heaven’s Gate, an American UFO cult that was based in California. The group is most infamous for the 1997 mass suicide that claimed 39 lives. Heaven’s Gate does a deep dive into the cult’s history and brings in former members, experts and family members to discuss the cult, along with recordings from cult leader Marshall Applewhite and recordings from cult members before the suicide.