Reaching the end of the 2010s means that most people reading this article no longer need a primer on what podcasts are or what they’re good for. The medium has steadily gone from a fringe interest to a cultural tentpole within the past decade, creating new careers, garnering coverage in legacy outlets and even inspiring a parody on “Saturday Night Live” along the way.
Podcasts of all stripes have accompanied us on road trips, long commutes, workouts and marathon cleaning sessions, sustaining our attention through otherwise unremarkable but necessary tasks.
As the world of podcasts has grown, so has the number of people who flock to it. There are the comedy devotees, the history nerds, the news junkies, the sports nuts, the true-crime aficionados. As such, one person’s playlist can look vastly different from another’s. Even the most dedicated listener will inevitably neglect entire genres. There are only so many hours, as they say.
With that in mind, these nine series that arrived in 2019 were chosen to reflect some of the best new contributions to the medium as a whole — they’re surprising, fascinating, deeply personal and, above all, endlessly listenable. They’re propulsive, leaving the listener wanting more at the end of each episode. And they’re just a small slice of the worthy offerings out there.
Even if these series fall outside of your typical listening habits, they’re all deserving of a weekend binge or a spot on your regular rotation. All you have to do is press play.
"Headlong: Running from Cops"
Topic/Pineapple Street Media/Dan Taberski
Dan Taberski, who made a splash on the podcasting scene with "Missing Richard Simmons" in 2017, turned his focus to another pop culture oddity: "Cops," the longest-running reality show that presents interactions between police officers and civilians in unsparing style. And he had a few questions, like: Are viewers getting the full truth of what's happening on their TVs? How did it change the way we view law enforcement? And what happened to those arrested after the cameras turned off? The result is a meditation on popular media and a fascinating six-part examination of a staple of broadcast television.Learn more: Website / Apple Podcasts
The New York Times
The title of this New York Times podcast, which accompanied a sweeping multimedia journalistic and literary project
, marks the year that the first group of enslaved Africans were sold to colonists in what would become the United States, exactly 400 years ago. The enslavement of African people and generations of Black Americans thereafter became deeply entrenched in the making of the U.S. and its development into a world power, a brutal and shameful history with consequences in modern American society. Podcast host Nikole Hannah-Jones weaves her own family story in with those of the past, making this as much a piece of American history as it is American present.Learn more: Website / Apple Podcasts
The internet is full of mysteries, and podcasts have proven to be an entertaining space to unravel them. Joining the ranks of the legendary "Mystery Show," the prolific "Reply All" and the quirky "Endless Thread," this year is "Underunderstood," which trains its magnifying glass on, well ... just about anything. Why don't McDonald's employees stir McFlurries anymore? Is a viral 9/11 photo actually real? What made a Facebook group rally around a fast-food manager? Each episode unspools a fascinating and wholly unique journey — one you didn't know about before, but are glad you do you now.Learn more: Website / Apple Podcasts
"Tell Them, I Am"
KPCC/Southern California Public Radio
During Ramadan this year, Southern California public radio station KPCC released the series “Tell Them, I Am,” a compelling collection of narratives from Muslim individuals. Certain moments that host Misha Euceph zooms in on with each episode’s guests — who include Tan France, Alia Shawkat and Ramy Youssef, among others — feel both personal and universal, covering topics like dating as a teen, navigating life after a loss and explaining your art career to your parents. It’s not a complicated conceit, but the combined effect of the series marks a space for Muslim stories of everyday life, something seldom seen but deeply needed.Learn more: Website / Apple Podcasts
"We Share the Same Sky"
In this podcast, Rachael Cerrotti tells the story of her grandmother Hana, a Holocaust survivor who lost her entire family in the war. After Hana's death in 2010 at age 85, Cerrotti discovers a trove of papers and photographs from her life, prompting a move to Europe to attempt to track down and document those who helped Hana avoid death. What's special about this show, produced for USC Shoah Foundation, is that Cerrotti herself becomes an equally compelling figure in the narrative, showing how history resonates across generations.Learn more: Website / Apple Podcasts
When comedian Chris Garcia's father died, he had one wish — to have his ashes scattered on the shores of his native Cuba, the country he and his wife left nearly half a century before. Garcia's mom, however, has no interest in returning. As he attempts to fulfill his father's wish, Garcia — an affable and easy host — confronts his dad's mysterious past and the conditions that led him to immigrate to America. It's a personal journey that feels especially resonant amid our current administration's vitriol toward those who seek refuge in the U.S.Learn more:Website
/ Apple Podcasts
"Julie, or the Unwinding of the Miracle"
Pineapple Street Media
When Julie Yip-Williams learned she was going to die from colon cancer, she decided she would track the process as closely as possible — “the unwinding of the miracle,” she called it. She captured the process in a blog, a posthumous memoir, and this brief yet affecting podcast, which includes interviews with Yip-Williams and her loved ones before her death in March 2018. It provides an affirming window into the pain and love present in the final years and months of a terminal illness.Learn more: Apple Podcasts
The word “utopia” conjures a certain kind of paradise; the phrase “failed utopia” brings that lofty dream firmly down to earth. In home and real estate outlet Curbed’s “Nice Try!” podcast, host Avery Trufelman (familiar to podcast fans of “99 Percent Invisible”) examines human limitations when it comes to trying to build a perfect society. Among the topics covered are Disney’s ventures into the utopian, the lasting damage caused by the first British settlement Jamestown, and the cookie-cutter suburbs of Levittown, New York. The result is educational and surprisingly resonant listening.Learn more: Website / Apple Podcasts
"Dolly Parton's America"
WNYC Studios & OSM Audio
Whether you’re a diehard Dolly Parton acolyte or have a passing familiarity with the songstress who bore “Jolene” unto this earth, WNYC’s examination into what the longtime country star can tell us about the state of the nation is a compelling mix of interview, biography and just plain good listening. It’s a fascinating deep dive into an enduring icon.Learn more: Website / Apple Podcasts