Spoken word is experiencing a renaissance thanks to podcasts. The medium enjoys a flood of creativity, most of which manifests itself in narrative. Storytelling podcasts have driven the recent surge in listenership.
It’s no surprise that strong narratives resonate with people. After all, stories are essential parts of life. We process information best when it’s packaged in narrative form. Stories provide models to follow when we’re not sure what’s next.
Storytelling podcasts are a big part of my media diet. Aside from motivational podcasts, I often listen to shows with captivating narratives.
If you need recommendations, you’re in luck. Below are 11 of the best storytelling podcasts to listen to.
This American Life
This American Life sets the bar for all storytelling podcasts. It’s journalism built around plots and characters. Each week centers on a set of narratives tied together by a common theme.
Founded and hosted by Ira Glass, This American Life has been airing since 1995. Before starting it, Glass was a reporter for NPR. He also co-hosted another program on Chicago Public Radio called the Wild Room. This American Life has produced some of podcasting’s most talented storytellers, too. Alumni include Sarah Koenig, host of Serial, and Alex Blumberg, CEO of Gimlet Media.
Recommended Episode: That’s One Way To Do It
Summary: Stories about people who find creative solutions to problems. It includes one about a young American voter who defies political convention.
- Average Show Length: About an hour.
- Publishing Schedule: Episodes posted every Sunday.
- Find the complete show archive of This American Life on Listen Notes.
“Because sometimes the past deserves a second chance.” That’s the tagline of Revisionist History. It’s a story podcast that re-examines history from an alternate perspective. Each episode focuses on a historical event, person, or idea. Revisionist History reinterprets each element, leaving listeners to ponder what actually happened.
Malcolm Gladwell hosts this storytelling podcast. From the late eighties to the mid-nineties, he reported for The Washington Post. He later brought his curiosity to The New Yorker, where he continues to write today. Gladwell also authored several best-selling books. Among them are Outliers, The Tipping Point, and David and Goliath.
Recommended Episode: Free Brian Williams
Summary: This episode examines the problems of human memory. It revisits the story of a journalist who misreported on an experience from Iraq.
- Average Show Length: About 30 to 50 minutes.
- Publishing Schedule: Seasonal show that airs usually in the summer. New episodes released on Thursdays.
- Find the complete show archive of Revisionist History on Listen Notes.
On the surface, Reply All is a storytelling podcast about internet culture. But at its core, it’s about the people who perpetuate that culture. Some stories uncover uncomfortable truths about how much of our information is online. Others, meanwhile, detail how social media has helped topple oppressive governments.
PJ Vogt and Alex Goldman are the creators and hosts of Reply All. It’s the second podcast created by Gimlet Media. Before starting this story podcast, Vogt and Goldman co-hosted TLDR. It was a show about technology and culture on WNYC.
Summary: Reply All travels to the other side of the world to report on a scam in technical support.
- Average Show Length: 30 minutes to an hour.
- Publishing Schedule: Episodes released twice a month, every Thursday.
- Find the complete show archive of Reply All on Listen Notes.
Terrible, Thanks For Asking
When someones asks how you’re doing, what’s your usual response? I bet it’s “I’m fine.” But deep down, you know it’s more complicated. Terrible, Thanks For Asking is a story podcast that confronts that complexity. It tells tales of people who offer honest answers to that very question.
The host is Nora McInerny, a “reluctant expert in difficult conversations.” That’s because her writing has focused on grief and loss due to her own experience. In 2014, she lost both her husband of three years and father to cancer, while also suffering a miscarriage. Along with the podcast, McInerny has also written books. They include It’s Ok to Laugh (Crying is Cool Too), The Hot Young Widow’s Club, and No Happy Endings.
Recommended Episode: Unbroken (#metoo)
Summary: A rape survivor speaks in detail about the most harrowing ordeal of her life.
- Average Show Length: About an hour.
- Publishing Schedule: New podcasts out every Wednesday.
- Find the complete show archive of Terrible, Thanks For Asking on Listen Notes.
Many of us have moments that we wish we could do over. Heavyweight tells the stories of people who aim to make that reality. Each episode focuses on someone holding onto something from the past. Host Jonathan Goldstein then tries to help that person confront and right any wrongs.
This podcast is both heartwarming and humorous thanks to Goldstein’s self-deprecating demeanor. It demonstrates the flaws of being human in a light-hearted, yet respectful way.
Goldstein is an author, humorist, and radio producer. He’s contributed to popular podcasts like This American Life. Goldstein has also written for publications such as The New York Times Magazine and GQ.
Recommended Episode: Gregor
Summary: Two decades ago, Gregor loaned some CDs to a friend, who was an aspiring musician. Fast forward to today, and that friend is considered one of dance music’s most iconic producers. Now, Gregor wants his CDs back.
- Average Show Length: About 40 to 45 minutes.
- Publishing Schedule: Heavyweight airs new seasons in the fall. Episodes release on Thursdays.
- Find the complete show archive of Heavyweight on Listen Notes.
There’s a hidden side to everything, according to Freakonomics Radio. It’s a storytelling podcast based on the best-selling book of the same name. The show examines a mix of subjects in socio-economics.
Stephen Dubner hosts. He co-authored Freakonomics with respected economics professor Steve Levitt. Since it’s release back in 2005, the book has sold more than 5 million copies in 40 different languages.
Recommended Episode: The Stupidest Thing You Can Do With Your Money
Summary: A deep dive into one of the most prudent ways to invest.
- Average Show Length: About 40 minutes to an hour.
- Publishing Schedule: Episodes released every Wednesday.
- Find the complete show archive of Freakonomics Radio on Listen Notes.
Architecture and design shape much of our daily experience. Yet most of the time, we pay them no mind. 99% Invisible is a storytelling podcast that investigates these elements we often overlook.
Roman Mars hosts this story podcast, which he started in 2010. He did it by bootstrapping production, recording, and editing from his bedroom. 99% Invisible is one of podcasting’s most-listened to shows, yet remains independent. It also set a record as the most-funded podcast project in Kickstarter history.
Recommended Episode: Post Narco-Urbanism
Summary: Details the transformation of Medellin, Colombia from cocaine capital to model city.
- Average Show Length: About 30 minutes.
- Publishing Schedule: Episodes released every Tuesday.
- Find the complete show archive of 99% Invisible on Listen Notes.
I’m not married. But I’ve always thought the real work in a relationship begins when two people decide to commit. That’s what this next storytelling podcast investigates and confirms.
Committed details stories of people who go to great lengths to honor their marriage vows. It shows what couples learn throughout their relationships. This story podcast also highlights how they deal with obstacles along the way.
Jo Piazza is the host of Committed. She started the podcast not long after releasing her book How To Be Married. The book and podcast came as a result of her curiosity about marriage in the 21st century. Aside from books, she’s written for many publications, including the Wall Street Journal.
Recommended Episode: Love at First Slight
Summary: Sports journalism is competitive. This episode shows what happens when two rival reporters are also husband and wife.
- Average Show Length: A little more than 30 minutes.
- Publishing Schedule: New episodes published on Wednesdays.
- Find the complete show archive of Committed on Listen Notes.
To Live and Die in LA
Thanks to the success of podcasts like Serial, true crime is one of the medium’s most popular genres. There isn’t a shortage of great shows that tell true stories rooted in suspense and drama. One such story podcast that’s captured the attention of many is To Live and Die in LA.
The first season focuses on the disappearance of an aspiring actress and model. Like many before her, Adea Shebani came to Hollywood with dreams of becoming a star. But, those hopes turn into nightmares due to a romance gone wrong.
Best-selling author Neil Strauss hosts To Live and Die in LA. He’s best known for his book The Game, which chronicles his experience learning the art of seduction. He’s also written about some of pop culture’s most iconic figures, including Kurt Cobain and Elon Musk.
Recommended Episode: A Different Kind of Star
Summary: This first episode sets up the season-long roller coaster of a story.
- Average Show Length: Anywhere from 30 minutes to under an hour.
- Publishing Schedule: The complete first season, which is 13 episodes, is out now.
- Find the complete show archive of To Live and Die in LA on Listen Notes.
Your Last Meal
If you knew you’d die tomorrow, what would be the last thing you’d eat? That’s the burning question pondered in this next storytelling podcast. In Your Last Meal, host Rachel Belle interviews guests about, you guessed it, their last meal. But, she doesn’t stop there. Belle deep dives into a rabbit hole of food, unearthing the rich history behind every dish.
Belle is a feature reporter for KIRO Radio in Seattle, Washington. She’s also written about food for Eater and Seattle Weekly. In 2018, Your Last Meal was nominated for a James Beard Award.
Recommended Episode: Mara Wilson (San Francisco Mission Style Burrito)
Summary: An investigation into this staple of Mexican cuisine in the San Francisco Bay Area.
- Average Show Length: Under a half hour.
- Publishing Schedule: Episodes released twice a month on Thursdays.
- Find the complete show archive of Your Last Meal on Listen Notes.
This is another podcast that examines the things we can’t see, but still influence our lives. Each episode investigates abstract forces, like beliefs and emotions, that shape human behavior. It melds narrative and science in a way that leaves listeners pondering more.
Alix Spiegel and Lulu Miller co-founded Invisibilia in 2015. Spiegel began her career as one of the first producers of This American Life. Miller, meanwhile, got her start with Radiolab by WNYC. In 2015, the show added journalist Hanna Rosin as a co-host. Before Invisibilia, Rosin wrote for Slate and The Atlantic and authored two books – The End of Men and God’s Harvard.
Recommended Episode: A Very Offensive Rom-Com
Summary: A woman tries altering her love life after noticing a peculiar pattern.
- Average Show Length: About an hour.
- Publishing Schedule: The show is seasonal. New episodes released in the spring and/or early summer.
- Find the complete show archive of Invisibilia on Listen Notes.
Other Great Storytelling Podcasts
- How I Built This: It’s a show about entrepreneurs and the businesses they’ve built.
- Serial: This popular true crime podcast focuses on specific cases, as well as the broader criminal justice system.
- Work/Life with Adam Grant: Here, Grant examines the modern workplace and how people can make it better.
- The Radio Vagabond: Danish radio producer Palle Bo chronicles his world travels.
- Duolingo Spanish Podcast: This bilingual podcast details stories of real people from Spanish-speaking countries.
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