On my commute: Podcasts I love

I like to listen to podcasts … A lot.. Because I drive A LOT.

My drive is about 1 hour each way. Often more because of traffic. The drive to work is about 35 miles, along one of the most obnoxious freeways in Los Angeles. Which means that is 35-miles-of-potential for car accidents or mattresses on the freeway or road construction.

Almost always road construction.

Each night at work, I have to check the Metro website to find out what on ramps are open. Every night. I literally cannot get on the freeway to get home without checking this online resource (which is not always updated correctly).

And then by the time I finally get on the freeway, lanes are closed right and left.

So, yea. I spend a lot of time in the car and have a lot of time to listen to podcasts.

I subscribe to a bunch and then listen to all the archives of one of the shows for a few months, and then switch and listen to a few months of archives for another …. I think I might be addicted. .. I keep subscribing to more and more…. I have marketing and photography and storytelling and science podcasts and on and on and on…

Many (many) of them are not specifically arty, creative, and all …. But I still love them.

Here are my 10 top suggestions for some non-crafty, non-arty podcasts to inspire you in new ways!

This American Life:

I’m going to be blunt. If you consider yourself a storyteller of any kind you MUST listen to this podcast.

Also, I mean, hello? Ira Glass!? In love with him.

This podcast/radio show appeals to my cultural studies interests. They’re such beautiful snapshots of someone’s American life.

In the highly unlikely instance that you have never heard of This American Life, each week’s hour-long show loosely centers on a particular theme. The theme of the show is explored in several “acts,” usually two to five. 2 to 5 stories that each look at different angles of that week’s theme. Themes include ‘Prom,’ ‘Fear of Sleep,’ and ‘Switched at Birth.’

Ira Glass and the other producers are such amazing storytellers. This show genuinely makes me love America. This show makes me want to write. This show makes me want to interview strangers and hear about their stories.

One day I will get up the guts to pitch a story to This American Life. …. and then one day (long) after that, I may actually get my story ON the show!

How Stuff Works:

How Stuff Works is actually a website that produces several podcasts (as complementary to their website content) …. Specifically I subscribe to Stuff You Should Know, Stuff You Missed in History Class and Stuff They Don’t Want You To Know. There are also a TON more podcasts from How Stuff Works that I want to look into. I learn so many things I would have never otherwise have found the time to research on my own!

Stuff you Should Know was the first one I listened to … It’s very sciency and fascinating. The hosts (Josh and Chuck) have such a cute little bromance going, they are so entertaining!

Stuff you Missed in History Class is close to my heart – I love history. Stuff They Don’t Want You to Know is a short, weekly video podcast about conspiracy theories – fascinating!

I kind of wish I lived in Atlanta so I could work for HowStuffWorks.com.


RadioLab reminds me of a cross between This American Life (1 hour program, broken into 3 or 4 different related stories) and Stuff You Should Know (sciency, non-fiction, etc). Super interesting.

The first few seasons need a better editor…. but all-in-all this podcast is quite enjoyable.

I even learned about String Theory and UNDERSTOOD IT while listening to one of these episodes!

Miraculous, I tell you. I am not a science-girl by any stretch of the imagination.

NPR’s Planet Money:

I first heard about this relatively new NPR show by listening to This American Life. The Planet Money staff did an episode called “The Giant Pool of Money” and I learned so much about global economics. …. So I immediately subscribed to the Planet Money podcast.


This is a podcast that started right about the time the entire global meltdown happened (August or September 2008). The brilliance of this podcast is the anchors and reporters were NOT economics reporters when they started, so when they tackle the basic basics…. it really is basic. Learning along with them made economics completely approachable.

I learned about credit default swaps; I learned about toxic assets; I learned about the international manufacturing industries. I learned about the economics of schools in Haiti; I learned about foreclosures in Spain; I learned about Alexander Hamilton’s vision for United States debt.

If you decide to subscribe to Planet Money, I would recommend starting at the beginning beginning. So fascinating!

Travel with Rick Steves:

If you don’t know who Rick Steves is, you probably have never been to Europe.

I’m not exactly his target audience (*cough* baby boomers *cough*), but I still love him.

He has his PBS television show, his guidebooks and this radio show/podcast.

His shows are all about an hour long and usually cover 2-3 topics. He’ll have his guide-friends on for an interview, or take calls from listeners with questions or even interview writers of travel-type books (like Road Trip USA which I love)

The only problem I have with Rick Steves’ podcast, every time I listen to one of these shows I have to add another vacation or trip to my “one day” list. :)   It’s an OK problem to have, though… I never would have thought about going to Slovenia without Rick Steves!

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The Moth

The tagline is ‘True stories told live’ – and while that does describe it, it can’t really encompass the breadth of humor, self-reflection and heartbreak that you will find in these true stories.

Some told by celebrities. Some told my everyday people.

One of the Moth favorites (that they publish often) is a NYC cop, in fact.

Molly Ringwald, A.E. Hotchner (fantastic story), Damien Echols and Edgar Oliver are just some of the more recent names you might recognize. But also an artist haunted by Montgomery Clift, a daughter tells about her immigrant father building an empire from nothing, a teacher faces an ethical dilemma when a student steals LEGOs, and a father details his daughter’s cosmopolitan imaginary friend.

This is a fantastic podcast that I listen to for the entertainment value, but also for observing quality story-structure in action.

WTF with Marc Maron

The bulk of each episode of WTF is a 45-minute+ interview with a comedian/actress/musician/artist. Most frequently comedians. And a whole lot of stand-up comics who I don’t know much about.

And that interview is the BEST part.

I’ve listened to a year or so’s worth of episodes – 2 each week. Maybe fewer….. Interviews with everyone from Michael Cera who I just love to Todd Glass who I have never heard of and know nothing about ….. I have such a fascination with most (all?) aspects of the entertainment industry … Listening to interviews with working actors, writers and occasionally musicians is so fascinating.

Sometimes the conversation is light-hearted and teasing (as with Jeffrey Tambor), sometimes it’s more reflective (as with David Cross) … and sometimes it’s downright intense (as with Todd Glass).

You really never know. There’s no SET structure to interview questions – clearly Maron has been doing this a long time and has excellent interviewing skills. Much of the interview just comes from the guest’s personality and what they end up sharing.

Profiled in detail here.

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Alec Baldwin’s twice-monthly podcast interview with various celebrities. My favorite so far is definitely Billy Joel.

This program is produced by WYNC – who you might recognize as the producers of Radiolab and Freakonomics and SO MANY other great shows!

Baldwin just has this gift of engaging conversation, intuitive questions and genuine curiosity that really draws out his guests and makes the whole interview seem natural and intimate. I love Baldwin’s approach to these interviews. … he has definite opinions on things like politics, and the entertainment industry and being a parent … and he is not afraid to turn his interviews into a 2-sided discussion, rather than just softballing easy questions to his guests.

Profiled in detail here

Writing Excuses

My brother introduced me to this podcast.

It’s basically a panel of 4 professional writers discussing various fiction-related topics over 15 minutes or so every week.

I admit, at least 1 of the writers (the main one it seems like) is kind of difficult to like at first – but they all know what they’re talking about. I look forward to every new episode now that I’m trying to do this thing for real.

The Nerdist

I got into The Nerdist on their Tom Hanks episode (who I worship). I’m not in love with the interviewing style of the guy(s) that host this podcast, but they get some pretty great guests so I’ll put up with it.

Interviews with actors/artists/musicians always inspire me to create on my own. I’ve been loving having another source of these interview to listen to.

What do you listen to while you commute?

P.S. Also: iTunes University and other free online classes

Leave a Comment

  • joh May 16, 2013, 4:02 am

    There aren’t many English-speaking podcasts I listen to, but you covered them all. Splendid selection! :) On my daily commute on the S-Bahn, I sometimes listen to BBC’s “In Our Time”: http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b006qykl

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