What happened with podcasting in 2016? Certainly there was no runaway hit like “Serial” Season 1 that we can use as a tentpole to draw conclusions about The State Of Audio Today. When I think of this year’s water-cooler conversations on culture, the things that come to mind are “Stranger Things,” “Westworld” or “La La Land” — at least in my experience, no one podcast has yet to reach the critical mass of Sarah Koenig and co.’s serialized investigation of a murky Baltimore murder.
In an episode of Chris Gethard’s podcast “Beautiful/Anonymous,” he tells someone that in doing his show (wherein anyone can call in anonymously to a number and Gethard will give them one hour of his time to listen and chat), he hopes that people find solace in having a platform and feeling listened to. And in turn, listening to people reminds him that his everyday trials and anxieties are part of a larger whole.
That is part of why I find podcasts so appealing — they help me remember that there are millions of experiences and perspectives I have yet to learn from, or appreciate. In short, in 2016, I spent a lot of time listening to people.
Below is a selection of podcasts that were born (or reborn) in 2016 that I loved, and hope you will, too.
If you like: Hella conspiracies
Beyonc and the Illuminati. Katy Perry as JonBent Ramsey. The moon landing. Incandescent lightbulbs. If youve ever felt skeptical about any of these things and yearned for an in-depth, often hilarious discussion about these and other conspiracy theories, Lizard People is for you. Host Katelyn Hempstead discusses one topic per episode with a guest, then assigns two ratings: how much she wants to believe a particular theory and how well the guest has convinced her. And, seriously: Listen to the lightbulb episode.
“Alice Isn’t Dead”
Night Vale Presents
If you like: Long night drives in a 16-wheeler, existential dread
Its no surprise that the creators of Welcome to Night Vale delivered full-force on the creepy and the beautiful in Alice Isnt Dead, a fictional narrative that follows a truck driver as she delivers supplies across the U.S., monologuing along the way about her ex. As listeners, we experience everything through Alice and she provides just enough to terrify and delight until the next episode.
“2 Dope Queens”
If you like: Crying-laughing on the subway
I believe it is all but confirmed that Phoebe Robinson and Jessica Williams are the podcast queens of 2016, thanks to their essential and hilarious 2 Dope Queens. As the hosts told The Huffington Post in April, the series was created in part to carve a space in the comedy world that featured voices other than the straight, white male lineups that so often appear on club marquees. Each week, they feature different stand-up comedians and other stars to crack listeners up but the shows signature has become the affable banter between Robinson and Williams themselves. Well need to keep laughing in 2017, so were grateful that these two will be in our earbuds.
If you like: Slowly realizing everything is run by the mob
Gimlet got into the popular true crime genre at the end of 2016. Instead of focusing on one crime in particular, as Serial or In the Dark do, this show spans an entire city: Providence, Rhode Island (at least for Season 1). The first few episodes delve into the citys mafia past and introduce Buddy Cianci, the Providence mayor who was forced to resign after he pleaded no contest to charges brought against him and then secured the office once more under a decade later.
If you like: Hearing about race, identity and culture from journalists of color
With the rise of Black Lives Matter in response to police violence against unarmed black individuals, and the uptick in hate crimes since the presidential election, its more clear than ever that a post-racial America has never existed. The question then becomes: How do we talk about race? Leave it to the team at NPRs Code Switch, a group of journalists who spark discussion on topics including Tupacs legacy, Christopher Jacksons time playing George Washington in Hamilton, the racial politics of O.J. Simpsons trial, and more.
“Beautiful Stories From Anonymous People”
If you like: Eavesdropping on interesting strangers
Comedian Chris Gethard has a knack for the back-and-forth, as evidenced on his eponymous call-in and variety cable-access show that became a cult New York hit. The premise for his podcast is simple: Gethard posts his number, waits for calls, records his funny and illuminating chats with strangers and lets us all listen in. Try Ron Pauls Baby for some unexpected life affirmation or Escape from a Cult to hear what long-term healing really sounds like.
“Keepin’ It 1600”
If you like: Breaking down political news with four former aides to Obama
Keepin It 1600 kept merelatively sane during the grueling election campaign,and the four hosts at the helm (Jon Favreau, Dan Pfeiffer, Jon Lovett, and Tommy Vietor) have kept the discussion going ever since Nov. 8. The commentary wont be for everyone dont be surprised when their views lean to the left but for those who continue to grapple with the reality of a Trump presidency (and the seeming deluge of bad news that has followed the election) this show can be a humorous and informative listen.
“Bad with Money”
If you like: Waiting for a windfall of cash that will make your credit card debt disappear
Money is hard to talk about but listening to Gaby Dunns podcast is easy. A YouTube star whos written extensively about the economics of internet fame, Dunn is frank and funny with her financial shortcomings. On her way to a better bank account, she interviews everyone from her parents, her boyfriend and her business partner to big names like Roxane Gay and Hank Green. Listen to it while skipping a night out at the bar for some ramen and feel justified in your actions.
GE Podcast Theater
If you like: Her, The Message, feeling smug that you wont let grief rope you into a corporate-spying scheme
What if you could access your dead loved ones through their old social media post? GEs second podcast, LifeAfter, tackles this very question, following fictional low-level FBI employee Ross Barnes through a nail-biting story. Ross listens to his late wifes audio posts from a social media network called VoiceTree, until one day, they disappear. When he hears her voice again, things are different. And thats just the beginning.
“My Favorite Murder”
If you like: Investigation Discovery, hilarious banter, inside jokes
At face value, this podcast seems like another strictly true-crime rundown of notable murders, but hosts Karen Kilgariff and Georgia Hardstark make it so much more. While discussing their macabre interests, the two comedians share life insights and advice (Youre in a cult, call your dad and F**k politeness are two notable offerings) while being just darn fun to listen to.
If you like: Un-treacly human connection, hotel pools, revelations
Sook-Yin Lees CBC podcast is weird, and we like it that way. The podcast host invites three other humans for a sleepover in a hotel room. Each is supposed to bring a specific problem theyre trying to unravel, and the result is something endearing and magical. Lee captures the groups conversations, points of tension and revelations; a useful reminder that even the most dissimilar-seeming people have more in common than meets the eye.
“Why Oh Why”
If you like: Lamenting the current state of online dating but also being thoroughly invested in it
There are plenty of podcasts about love and dating out there, but Why Oh Why stands apart from the crowd. Aside from its ever-changing title cards (a fun bonus to listening), the show features host Andrea Silenzi diving into all aspects of modern love, probing into priests dating lives, Tinder for celebrities, a revamped dating show and a particularly moving episode about her own recent breakup. Shes inquisitive and hopeful throughout, eschewing the more frequent technology is ruining human connection you see pop up in media in favor of a dating future that looks bright.
The New York Times
If you like: Pretending Jenna Wortham and Wesley Morris are your two coolest friends
The New York Times is just one of the major media presences to expand their podcast presence in 2016. Their standout has been Still Processing, in which NYT staff writer Jenna Wortham and Pulitzer Prizewinning critic Wesley Morris take on culture at large, from Grammy nomination reactions to favorite TV shows and Moonlight. Their post-election episode was a poignant testament to the hosts ability to synthesize and comment on the years most difficult, at-a-loss-for-words moments.
“Up and Vanished”
If you like: Serial, amateur sleuthing, Southern accents
A teacher and former beauty queen named Tara Grinstead was last seen leaving a friends barbecue in late October 2005, never to be seen or heard from again. Atlanta director Payne Lindsey decided to shake up this cold case with his true crime podcast this year. Its addicting to listen in as he re-interviews people involved in Taras life and takes calls from listeners to discuss overlooked evidence and theories.
“Matt & Doree’s Eggcellent Adventure”
Matt Mira and Doree Shafrir
If you like: Hearing two charming people discuss the long road that is IVF
Whats it like to undergo IVF once youve decided to start a family? Allow the charming Matt Mira and Doree Shafrir to explain it to you via their personal experience of trying to get pregnant. Instead of feeling overly scientific or unrelatable, the couple approaches their subject matter with humor and warmth.