Talk radio is a staple of many of our childhoods. Think back to all the road trips and vacations we took with our families, and remember listening to the voices coming from the people on the radio–the ones who read the news calmly and composed and the sports announcers, who practically shouted their emotions through the airwaves. Those voices made those seemingly endless drives bearable and those voices stuck with us, long after the family vacations were over.
With technology changing the way we consume media now, a lot of us don’t really use radios anymore. Ask anyone when was the last time they purposely listened to the radio? It’s awesome that we live in a world where we can control what we listen to, but what about those voices, filling our minds with information, exposing us to new discussions and opinions, where could people who yearn for those voices find them in the digital age?
Podcasts, a digital medium that has become very popular over the past decade has filled that hole, with NYC becoming a hub for interesting, thought provoking and entertaining podcasts. For the podcast obsessed, or for those wanting something fun to listen to on the long commute to work, we have compiled a list of 10 of the best NYC Podcasts, from the most notable to the most controversial.
1. This American Life
Pretty much everyone’s first podcast. If you have installed iTunes in the last eight years, you have had an opportunity to listen to This American Life. The weekly public radio broadcast, founded by host Ira Glass and Torey Malatia has been around since 1995, but was one of the first to successfully make the jump to a digital format. Not a week goes by where we don’t want to hear the high, nasally voice of Ira Glass, who by now has recorded and released over 500 episodes of the program.
This American Life has won every broadcasting award there is to win and is downloaded over one million times a week. Episodes have included a month stay at a Long Island dealership, a five-month stay at a local Chicago high school plagued by violence (which was released in two parts) and a live show at BAM. While being produced by WBEZ Chicago, This American Life, as of 2007, has recorded and had its offices right here in NYC.
2. The Moth
Another podcast juggernaut that receives a million downloads a week is the storytelling podcast The Moth. Since 1997, this non-profit organization has been at the forefront for promoting and advancing the act of storytelling. Storytellers who have come to the Moth to tell their first-person tales have included Mike Birbiglia, David Chang, Margaret Cho, Malcolm Gladwell, Ethan Hawke, Al Sharpton, Molly Ringwald and Jonathan Ames to name a few. The podcast has expanded onto a weekly public radio program (The Moth Radio Hour) and a best-selling short story collection (The Moth: 50 Stories).
WNYC’s Radiolab is a show that tackles various topics with a scientific and philosophical viewpoint. Jad Abumrad and Robert Krulwich have hosted the show since its first season in 2005. Jad, while working for ABC News in 2003, interviewed Krulwich and finding a natural chemistry between the two, decided to start collaborating on radio programs that experimented with music, dialogue and broad scientific topics. The first podcast the two recorded (before hosting Radiolab), was initially pitched to This American Life, which host Ira Glass is quoted as thinking it was “terrible”; Glass would later give praise to the experimental nature of Radiolab, calling it a “wonderful program.”
In the almost 10 years of the program, the hosts have asked questions like: “What is the soundtrack for the end of the world?” The science of colors and the mystery behind some of the world’s most deadliest diseases. They answer these questions (or at least try to), without getting so all Christopher Nolan-y with us; they allowing us not so scientifically minded to catch up with the high-minded theories and conversations guests of the podcast bring to each episode.
4. Filmspotting: SVU (Streaming Video Unit)
Filmspotting: SVU is a sister show to Chicago film review show Filmspotting. Beginning last year, hosts Matt Singer (Screen Crush) and Alison Willmore (Buzzfeed) have reviewed and explored the world of online movies. This podcast is for those who have countless films on Netflix/HBOGo/Hulu+/VOD etc. watchlist and don’t know what to watch. Every two weeks the two film critics tackles a specific topic and offer streaming recommendations to movie lovers who have either one or all of the many streaming services. Previous episodes have focused on 80s movies, TV recommendations and indie horror.
5. The Bowery Boys
Since 2007, Thomas Meyers and Greg Young, known as The Bowery Boys have recorded and released over 150 episodes, each one focusing on a particular person, place or event in NYC history. Topics have included the life of Robert Moses, The New York State Pavilion and Studio 54. Some of their most popular podcasts are their Halloween special episodes, where the two discuss NYC ghost stories from centuries past. This is the perfect podcast for those who want to learn more about the history of the city and the people who helped shape it into what it is today.
6. The Combat Jack Show
Reggie Ossé a.k.a Combat Jack is a former entertainment lawyer whose clients have included Nice-N-Smooth, DJ Clark Kent and Jay-Z. He has seen the evolution of the Hip Hop culture first hand, by being foremost a fan and by being in the industry (as a lawyer, author, blogger now podcaster) for over 20 years. His podcast (The Combat Jack Show) is a platform for Hip Hop legends (Ice-T, Pete Rock, Chuck D) and current stars (Big K.R.I.T, Kevin Gates); as well as the executives who were behind-the-scenes (Kevin Liles, Damon Dash), to discuss the history and current state of Hip Hop culture.
Viewed as an elder statesmen in the eyes of die-hard Hip Hop fans, the weekly conversations between Jack, his co-host Dallas Penn and the guest of the week tackle more than just Hip Hop; the host and his guest have been known to discuss many of the social issues that have a significant meaning to those in NYC and around the country. Broader topics like the riots in Ferguson earlier this year, and the ever-expanding topic of homosexuality in today’s Hip Hop culture, The Combat Jack Show maybe labeled as a music podcast, but it has formed to become one that offers a significant education to those who are unaware of the plights and advancements in black/urban culture.
7. Slate Cultural Gabfest
Columnist Stephen Metcalf, film critic Dana Stevens and Slate’s E.I.C Julia Turner discuss both high and low cultural on The Slate Cultural Gabfest every week. Want to hear intelligent, interesting conversations about the new Christopher Nolan movie? Or the new CW show Jane The Virgin? The newest Jeff Koons retrospective? Kim Kardashian and what ever she did this week to “break the Internet?” All of this and more is what make up the weekly discussions between the three cultural critics.
There are plenty of story telling podcasts out there. From The Moth, to Snap Judgement, to Radio Diaries, the amount of podcast’s that focus entirely on first person storytelling is massive. What makes Risk! a storytelling show hosted by Kevin Allison of cult comedy sketch show The State features stories that no one with any sense would tell anyone, let alone an audience.
The stories on Risk! are some of the most embarrassing, overtly sexual, heartbreaking and funny stories we have ever heard. From a gay rapper who comes out in the middle of a rap battle, to the host detailing his adventures at kink camp (a two parter); the podcast is not one we would suggest you play in the office, or when you visit your parents, but it’s one that you share among your friends who love hearing the most outrageous and once-in-a-lifetime stories they will probably ever hear.
9. Fireplace Mystery Theater
The youngest podcast on this list Ms. Ali Silva’s Fireside Mystery Theater mixes together classical radio drama programming, with a contemporary twist. Performed in front of audience at venues around NYC since 2011, the podcast has been available to those who were unaware of the show’s existence or can’t make their monthly shows at the LES venue The Slipper Room. Each show features actors in full costume and (like in classical radio) a live band to perform a score, and sound effects to assist in the performance.
It might be new and unknown to most of the podcast obsessed, but in a few years, you can tell many that you were on board from the very beginning.
10. Desus Vs. Mero
At the beginning of every podcast, a voice reminds listeners that “the opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect the opinions of Complex Media.” The opinions that are expressed come from two Bronx natives, whose popularity on Twitter has spread into a popular weekly video show and podcast. Desus Vs. Mero consists of native New Yorker’s Desus Nice (a.k.a Yung Chipotle) and The Kid Mero (a.k.a The Human Durag Flap) riffing on the current events of popular culture.
It would be an understatement to say that no one is safe from the vile, controversial and often hilarious comments made by the so-called “Bronx Bullies.” Athletes, musicians, children and the elderly are all targets for Desus and Mero’s comedy, to them, there is no statement too out of bounds, or a topic too obscene to discuss. Desus and Mero is for New Yorker’s who hate Taylor Swift, all things artisanal and especially pumpkin spice lattes. It is also for those who order a chopped cheese sandwich every morning before work, who think Migos are better than the Beatles and for the people who love the Knicks, even though we all know they are going to disappoint us.
Bonus: Also a big shoutout to Untapped Cities veteran Rembert Browne’s new podcast on Grantland, Rembert Explains, which launched earlier this week and we’ll be listening to avidly. It also comes with a YouTube counterpart so you can also watch what’s happening during the podcast. If you don’t know Rembert yet, what have you been doing all your life?
All he wants to talk about lately is Serial, to talk to him about it, contact the author @ChrisLInoa