3 Podcasts That Will Improve Your Life

If you’re a fan of podcasts, you know there’s an ocean of them out there. There’s truly one for whatever suits your fancy (if you think I’m exaggerating, check out The Pen Addict, a podcast about pens.) And that's a good thing because on average the commute of Americans is already at  26 minutes each way to and from work, and podcasts are a great use for that idle time whether you want to learn something or just be entertained.

I originally wanted to share with you three podcasts I really enjoyed, but felt that wasn’t enough. So I reached out to the producers of those podcasts and got the full scoop on each of them. Enjoy!

The One That Makes You Smarter: Hidden Brain

Producer: Tara Boyle, 38

Why would someone listen to your podcast?
There are plenty of truly great storytelling podcasts. What our show tries to do is to spark “a conversation about life’s unseen patterns” and in the process, help people understand themselves and the world a bit better. Why are men often assumed to be better leaders than women? How does a crime-fighting theory go from an academic journal to the streets of a major U.S. city? And why is it so hard for us to shake our worst vices and addictions? These are the sorts of questions we try to answer.

How did you get started?
I’ve been in journalism since the mid-1990s, when I published my first stories for my hometown newspaper, The Catskill Mountain News. I went on to report for The Boston Globe before landing my first public radio gig as a production assistant at WBUR in 2001.

I was six weeks into my new job when the 9/11 attacks happened. My colleagues and I were in the studio that morning, lamenting what a slow news cycle we were in when our senior writer ran in and told us that a plane had hit the World Trade Center. It’s hard to describe what that day was like without falling back on clichés. It was intense and scary, and it often felt like we were running at a sprint without always having a clear sense of where we were headed. It was both a terrible time and a tremendously important training experience for me.

I worked at WBUR for two years, learning the basics of broadcast writing, audio editing, and show production. In 2003, I moved to the D.C. area for grad school, and in 2005 I started working at WAMU, the public radio station in D.C. I spent six years at WAMU’s local talk program, The Kojo Nnamdi Show, and another four as the producer of a weekly newsmagazine called Metro Connection, hosted by Rebecca Sheir. Along the way, I also edited and produced a number of documentaries and special projects, and ran WAMU’s newsroom for a bit. In other words, though I’m new to the podcast format, the kind of long-form storytelling that we do on Hidden Brain is very much the sort of work I’ve done and loved in the past.    

Is the podcast your main job?
Yes. We put out a weekly podcast and also do shorter pieces for NPR’s newsmagazine shows. I’m involved in all aspects of Hidden Brain – managing both the people who work on the show and the content they produce. I also work closely with our host Shankar Vedantam on a range of projects, and oversee the budget and administrative needs of the show.

Where do you record?
We record all of our narration in our studios at NPR (the studios and mics here are so great – I still feel like I’ve died and gone to audio heaven). We record our conversations with interviewees in a range of ways. Sometimes, our guests come here to NPR, and sometimes they’re talking with us from a remote studio or out “in the field.”

What other podcasts do you like?
This is where I put in a shameless plug for my colleagues at NPR. Seriously, you should check out our shows if you haven’t already! I’m anxiously awaiting new episodes of Embedded and Invisibilia, and just caught up on my listening to How I Built This and Codeswitch. Outside of NPR, I’ve been listening quite a bit lately to Heavyweight and The Heart.

The Guilty Pleasure: Fangirl Fridays

Producer/ Talent: Maren Ziobrowski, 34

Why would someone listen to your podcast?
If you love pop culture and TV from the '90s and 2000s, you'll love Fangirl Fridays. My co-host and I literally freak out on everything from back-in-the-day babes to which TGIF theme song was the best. It's light, fun and heavily steeped in genuine fandom.

How did you get started?
We had a company-wide initiative to create original content. Our Head of Programming approached me and my co-host to pitch him an idea around nostalgic TV - probably because he was tired of hearing us talk about it across our desks all day! We pitched the idea for Fangirl Fridays and it was approved!

Is the podcast your main job, your side gig or your passion project?
In the beginning, it was a side project. Based on the success of Fangirl Fridays, my co-host and I were asked to spearhead a new podcast division where we're in the process of developing 10 new shows - ultimately building a network of TV-focused podcasts!

How much equipment do you use and where do you do it from?
Initially, we recorded at my house with a freelance producer and a sound engineer. We have microphones, cords and mic stands - the engineer provided the sound board and editing equipment. As we launch our network, we have a dedicated studio at our office with sound equipment and editing software.

What other podcasts do you like?
The Great Debates, Lore, Criminal, Invisibilia, You Must Remember This, Bitch Sesh.

The One That Motivates You: The Undefined Gen

Producer/ Talent: Marissa Comstock, 27

Why would someone listen to your podcast?
What I hope to do is show people that Millennials are an incredibly passionate, hard-working generation with roots that run deep in diverse communities. Young people have not given up. They care immensely about creating the world in which they want to live. I care about that. I think that someone who is listening to my podcast either wants to be inspired to pursue their own passion project or make the changes they want to see either in their industry or their community. I think that you'd listen to my podcast if you want to feel motivated as well as if you want to learn about diverse industries and topics from a perspective of hope and activism. Every person I interview is not only working 9-5 but also pursuing their passion, and giving back 200 percent to their community.

How long have you been doing the podcast?
I just hit the six-month anniversary of doing The Undefined Gen podcast and have done 23 interviews with a couple bonus episodes.

How did you get started?
I started the podcast the day after my 27th birthday. I was unhappy with my job and started wondering what some of my friend's were doing. The more I thought about it, the more I realized that I have a huge number of people in my life who are absolutely extraordinary. Many of these people have started their own companies, or are activists, or are a part of a unique branch of science or technology. I wanted to talk to these friends and get to the bottom of why they were so driven and passionate and in so doing, maybe find some answers for myself.

Is the podcast your main job, your side gig or your passion project?
My podcast is my passion project. I'm a visual effects artist and programmer. I'm also an artist and sell paintings here and there. I absolutely love doing the podcast. I've learned so much about interviewing people and have learned to talk to people in a way that makes them comfortable to share stories and dig deeper into their answers. What makes me happiest is meeting passionate people and collaborating with them on projects that we feel will have a positive impact on the world. I would love to eventually devote myself full-time to this project.

How much equipment do you use and where do you do it from?
I record my narrations and half my interviews out of my kitchen in my studio apartment in West Oakland, California. The other half of my interviews I do when I travel or when someone I'm interviewing prefers for me to come to them. These interviews I record on a Zoom Field Recorder that I borrow from one of my amazing coworkers. Going back to my home set-up, it's fairly simple. I have a Focusrite mixer and a couple Audio-Technica mics and then everything is recorded and edited through Garageband.

What other podcasts do you like?
I absolutely love Mysterious Universe. It's a fantastic podcast from two guys in Australia who talk all about supernatural awesomeness like aliens and Bigfoot theories. It's such a fun show. They're hilarious and as much as you can tell they want to believe every story, they bring a really healthy dose of skepticism. It's great. I also love Millennial. I think Megan Tan brings a really refreshing dose of honesty and realness to the worries and struggles of being in your 20s. Super relatable. Finally, I also really dig Reveal. I love investigative journalism. In another lifetime, I would have liked to be [an investigative journalist]. I think they cover really awesome topics and I learn so much each episode.