Podcasting has changed the way we tell and consume stories. Our devices have become the proverbial fire that we all gather around for warmth, comfort, a good yarn, and maybe a scare or two. We listen. We learn. We come back for more.
The ability to tell a good story is the backbone of a great pod. The great storytellers captivate us, make us laugh, cry, and help us find catharsis. So we thought we’d put together a list of some of our favorite storytelling podcasts out there. This list transcends classic genres like “true crime” or “history” because, well, storytelling transcends genre. Some of the below are stories about history. Some of them are personal tales of failure and redemption. Some of them relate crazy crimes. All are fascinating as hell.
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Ready to play #BattleOfTheSLAMs? 1. Text SLAM to 71-777 (not too hard). 2. Make a donation of any amount (even $3 helps in a big way). 3. Every dollar raised will be matched 1:1 by an anonymous donor (thanks donor!!) 4. The city that raises the most will win their own episode of The Moth Podcast in 2017, hosted by their regional producers (yesss).
The Moth is the gold standard of great storytelling. The format is simple: People from all walks of life take to the stage to tell a five to ten-minute story. It’s succinct and engaging. Each podcast episode, also known as The Moth Radio Hour, is a collection of around five stories bundled around a theme.
You can jump in anywhere. Find a story that interests you and start listening. There will be laughs, inspiration, and maybe even a tear or two with each episode.
Malcolm Gladwell made his name by writing books that took a big step back and asked why we are the way we are. His podcast, Revisionist History, steps in and explores our world, quirks, and experiences through personal storytelling and experiences. Each episode offers an insight right along with entertainment.
A great place to start is ‘McDonald’s Broke My Heart‘ wherein Gladwell’s longs for the old days when McDonald’s fries were still made with beef tallow instead of a blend of vegetable oils. It’s informative, fascinating, and funny — everything you want in a great podcast.
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Risk! is the brainchild of comedian Kevin Allison of MTV’s much-lauded and missed show The State. Allison curates a collection of stories as told by comics, actors, writers, and entertainment types. Each episode is a collection of stories with a loose theme. Case in point, the latest episode revolved around illicit drugs as a driving force of each story told.
There 300 episodes on iTunes to choose from. Our best advice is to dive into the latest episode and work your way around from there. Once you’re hooked, you can catch hundreds of more episodes for .99cents a piece on the show’s webpage.
THE SECRET ROOM
The Secret Room delves into stories that people keep secret — well… until they tell their stories on a podcast, that is. Hosts Dahlia Beta and Ben Hamm take turns meeting with guests to learn their stories and secrets that range from keeping the death of a loved one a secret to having a DL career in porn to surviving female genital mutilation. It’s an engaging look into the lives we live that we don’t necessarily want anyone else to know about.
The Secret Room is another podcast where you can really jump in anywhere. There are 56 episodes to choose from on iTunes so you can start at the beginning, or work your way back to front, or just hop around as the mood suits.
BASED ON A TRUE STORY
Based On A True Story is kinda like storytelling inception. Each episode delves into a film that’s “based on a true story” — using storytelling to call bullshit or support the veracity of the biopics. If you’re a cinephile, this one is a must listen.
Again, there’s no serialization here. Each episode is a stand-alone and very engaging. So, thumb through the 98 available episodes and find the movie you just gotta know more about.
Strangers is a podcast about making new acquaintances. Each story told takes you into someone’s life in an intimate and empathic way. The stories revolve around finding kindness and hope in a weary world. It’s a harrowing and heartening look at the lives we live.
Each episode is a standalone and serves as a succinct story. Jump in anywhere.
Ear Hustle takes a wholly unique look on the storytelling genre. The podcast turns the mic on prison inmates and lets them tell their stories from behind bars. Episodes range from 20 to 50 minutes and are a raw, unfiltered look at life in the US penal system. It’s eye-opening and essential listening.
This is a great podcast to start at episode one and just listen all the way through. It’s not serialized, but every episode is an enlightening and worth your time.
MISFORTUNE: A FINANCIAL CRIMES PODCAST
Misfortune: A Financial Crimes Podcast takes the evergreen true crimes genre and tweaks it towards the great financial crimes our society has endured. Hosts Adam Tod Brown and Danger van Gorder color in the details from major money crimes that many of us likely only read a few headlines about. Brown serves as the ship captain through the choppy waters of money laundering, vice, and Ponzi schemes; while van Gorder acts as the whimsically innocent passenger who’s often shocked by the depths that humans are willing to plunge to for personal gain.
The show is the youngest on the list and there are only five one-hour episodes to choose from. We recommend starting with the first, The Lou Perlman Story, and binging from there.
HISTORY ON FIRE
History on Fire is a history podcast not unlike Dan Carlin’s Hardcore History. And the greatest asset to both of those shows is the fact that history is delivered like a story around a campfire. These are information dense, but there’s context and real excitement behind the story. Danielle Bolleli is one of the great engaging storytellers of our time. He brings history to life and makes them real right now. That’s no small feat.
The subjects Bolleli covers span multiple episodes. Currently, History on Fire is delving into the massacres carried out by the US military at Sand Creek against Native Americans and My Lai against the Vietnamese. The episodes offer a harrowing glimpse into the dark chapters of US history — trying to get under the skin of why we’ve engaged in such horrific acts and even examining those who refused to murder innocents in the name of their country. It’s essential listening.
THIS AMERICAN LIFE
This American Life with host Ira Glass is the classic storytelling program that crafted the mold we all use today — delving deeply into human stories from all around the world. There are 23 years worth of episodes available on the show’s webpage and they’re all free.
With 641 free shows to choose from, you can really dive in anywhere. Although, if you’re listening on an iPhone, only the last few episodes tend to be up at any one time. The latest episode — about people who live in countries and cities with walls to separate people — is a fascinating and empathetic place to start your journey with This American Life.