Recently finished the seventh episode of S-Town and finding yourself in a fairly serious depression now that it’s over? Been there. While there’s little that can replicate that journalistic feat by the producers of This American Life and Serial, the world of podcasts is vast and plentiful, so don’t give up. In pursuit of the next great listen, we’ve rounded up a few noteworthy options you should download ASAP. While they may not totally bring you out of your S-Town haze, they’ll at least reignite your excitement for getting in the car or working out. Some are intellectually stimulating, some are mindless fun and some are straight-up inspiring. All are worth a listen. Click through and let the downloading begin.
Ever wonder what life was like behind bars? No, you haven’t? Well you might start thinking more about it after giving Ear Hustle a listen. A podcast that actually takes place inside San Quentin, a California prison for men, Ear Hustle teaches you about things like the importance of a good “cellie ”(an inmate one shares his tiny 4’ x 9’ cell with) and what the term “Ear Hustle” actually means. (Spoiler alert: It’s prison slang for “eavesdropping.”)
Hosted by visual artist Nigel Poor, who is not incarcerated but works with those who are, and actual inmate Earlonne Woods, the podcast is both fascinating and oddly charming. Even though Woods is serving a 31-to-life sentence for attempted second-degree robbery, those years behind bars have not dimmed his charm or quick wit. Even if you’re just curious after watching a few too many Oz or Orange Is The New Black episodes, Ear Hustle is definitely worth a listen.
Before Cheryl Strayed became well known for her best-seller Wild, she was a beloved advice columnist on the literary website The Rumpus (via the original Dear Sugars column). She gave insightful advice on every subject imaginable—jealousy, being single, not having kids, wanting to be financially independent, etc. Strayed stopped her two-cents-giving in 2012, but through the podcast Dear Sugars, that thoughtful, poignant brand of advice has been resurrected.
Hosts Strayed and Steve Almond (who is an original Sugar) read people’s often-troubling, always-engaging letters and then discuss how these individuals should best tackle the issue at hand. Those subjects can range from a loved one gaining weight to how to learn to say no to dealing with inexplicably terrible things happening to—of course—matters of the heart. The hosts’ soothing voices don’t hurt matters, and Strayed has clearly not lost her knack for incredibly honest, raw and well-articulated insight. Whatever issue you’re dealing with in your own life, Strayed and Almond are bound to read a letter and offer feedback that somehow sheds light for you too.
The NPR-produced Fresh Air is hosted by Terry Gross and features in-depth conversations with an array of fascinating and brilliant characters—from Al Gore talking about the sequel to An Inconvenient Truth to author Ariel Levy discussing her recent memoir The Rules Do Not Apply. There is also a former FBI agent talking about capturing the Unabomber and an investigative journalist discussing the recently declassified documents about JFK’s assassination. Another episode features The New York Times’ Chief White House correspondent getting real about his job during the current administration. Gross goes deep, and in turn, her guests are both forthcoming and honest, making for incredibly involved and interesting interviews. Fresh Air gives you cocktail-party fodder for days.
Love And Radio
There is a good reason Love & Radio’s tagline is “Listen with headphones on.” There is no subject too evocative for this no-holds-barred podcast. There’s the one where a woman calls up a “Superchat” hotline to see what people use the number for. The answer? Phone sex. And then there are the episodes in which a woman calls her ex-boyfriends and discovers exactly what happened to their doomed relationships. (One of the guys threatens to kill her with startling sincerity.) And then there’s the episode entitled Living Room, in which a woman obsessively watches her neighbors through the window in her apartment that looks out onto theirs, but what she ultimately sees is very different from what she originally thought. Dying to get something off your chest? You can call a phone number on Love + Radio’s website and confess your deepest, darkest secret. Seriously.
File Bitch Sesh under the guilty pleasure category. On this weekly podcast, actress Casey Wilson and comedy writer Danielle Schneider delve into the many Real Housewives franchises—in addition to a few other Bravo gems—in between recounting the entertaining and often embarrassing ins and outs of their own lives. The two are funny and self-deprecating, and their take on all the first ladies of Bravo can range from harsh to hysterical. If you’re a Real Housewives fan, this is a must-listen.
If you have entrepreneurial dreams, need a little career inspiration or simply have a pulse, you'll love—with a capital L—How I Built This. Host Guy Ross interviews innovators, entrepreneurs and idealists, asking them how they built their empires. Guests have included the minds behind Whole Foods, Warby Parker, Zappos, Patagonia and pretty much every other cool brand you can think of. Learn how Instagram filters came to be, why Spanx's Sara Blakely once paid people to buy her product, what successful companies Blake Mycoskie launched before Toms and much more. Fair warning: Once you start, you'll likely find reasons to get in your car or extend your hike just to keep listening. You may also have the sudden desire to start your own company.
This scripted podcast stars the incomparable Catherine Keener, David Schwimmer, Oscar Isaac and David Cross in a story about an experimental facility for veterans suffering from PTSD. Catherine plays a caseworker and David Schwimmer is her micromanaging, pathological boss in the six-episode first season (season two was recently announced). The episodes are short—usually 20-some minutes—and the reveals come fast, so it's an easy listen that leaves you eager for more.
Ever wonder how the former queen of daytime TV earned her crown? In this three-part series (plus a few bonus episodes), the story behind Oprah's talk show is revealed through interviews with former producers, staffers and even the big O herself. You'll find out how it grew from salacious interviews to a place where people learned how to live their best lives (and occasionally left with a new car). Oprah's epic 25-year run is just as interesting in podcast form as it was on the tube.
In this Refinery 29 podcast, hosted by the site's executive producer Elisa Kreisinger, elements of fashion and pop culture are touched upon in an intelligent and poignant way. Subjects range from how Instagram can make you feel inadequate to recovering from a post-election haze, all covered in short, fast-paced episodes with thoughtful, well-spoken guests. The episode titles say it all, including "Lipstick Isn't a Sign of a Declining Mind" and "No Shame in a Selfie."