Looking to dip your toes into the ever-widening pool of audio dramas swiftly overtaking the internet? No idea where to start? I get it. Since the basic ingredients of any podcast are a decent mic, some audio editing software, and a few friends to bring your script to life, creators of all varieties are turning to podcasting as a new form of storytelling. Podcasts are much, much cheaper to produce than any TV show or movie, and without corporate producers creators more control over their content. This is especially beneficial for LGBTQ+ and other minority creators, who can tell the stories they want to tell in the exact ways they want to tell it. Because there are so many artists hopping on the bandwagon, there are plenty of pods to choose from—but to the beginner, the iTunes library may be overwhelming. Where do you jump in?
Some podcasts are vastly more popular than others with the number of downloads reaching the millions. For example, pretty much everyone and their mother has heard of Jeffrey Cranor and Joseph Fink’s wildly popular surrealist podcast Welcome To Night Vale. And sure, Night Vale is wonderful. It’s unique take yet approachable format opened the door for other podcasts to get crazy and experimental. It was even my first podcast back when I was a baby middle schooler and could barely figure out how to use Grooveshark.
But as great as Night Vale is, it’s a huge undertaking to the beginning podcast listener. As of March of 2018, the “small desert community” has exploded into 124 episodes, 4 novels, and a TV deal. The numbers can be intimidating, and perhaps quirky, horror-ish, pseudo-radio-show narratives might not be your thing. But don’t worry: there are still options for you beyond the top-rated and professionally produced shows!
With so many podcasts to choose from, there’s something out there for everyone. Compiled below are just a few of my personal favorites, in order of longest in length to shortest. So pick one off the shelf, pop in your headphones, and enjoy your first foray into the world of audio dramas.
Video killed the radio star. But now podcasts are here for revenge.
— Ben Schwartz (@rejectedjokes) March 14, 2018
Wolf 359 (Gabriel Urbina, Sarah Shachat, Zach Valenti)
For fans of: Firefly, The X-Files
“WOLF 359 is a radio drama in the tradition of Golden Age of Radio shows. Set on board the U.S.S. Hephaestus space station, the dysfunctional crew deals with daily life-or-death emergencies, while searching for signs of alien life and discovering there might be more to their mission than they thought. Tune into your home away from home... seven and a half light years away from Earth…”
Quick Review: Has made me drop my knitting needles in distress more than once.
The Bright Sessions (Lauren Shippen)
For fans of: The Gifted, This is Us
“The Bright Sessions is a science fiction podcast that follows a group of therapy patients. But these are not your typical patients - each has a unique supernatural ability. The show documents their struggles and discoveries as well as the motivations of their mysterious therapist, Dr. Bright.”
Quick Review: Almost makes me cry in dining halls on a semi-frequent basis.
Mabel (Becca De La Rosa, Mabel Martin)
For fans of: Pan’s Labyrinth, The Spiderwick Chronicles
“A podcast about ghosts, family secrets, strange houses, and missed connections.”
Quick Review: For those who love the moon, poisonous flowers, and calling their grandmother a coward.
ars PARADOXICA (Daniel Manning, Mischa Stanton)
Science-Fiction, Historical Drama
For fans of: Doctor Who, The Americans
“When an experiment in a time much like our own goes horribly awry, Dr. Sally Grissom finds herself stranded in the past and entrenched in the activities of a clandestine branch of the US government. Grissom and her team quickly learn that there's no safety net when toying with the fundamental logic of the universe.”
Quick Review: Wow, you really can’t trust the government with anything, huh?
Greater Boston (Alexander Danner and Jeff Van Dreason)
For fans of: Six Feet Under, Community
“Greater Boston is a bi-monthly full-cast audio drama set in the Boston metro area, blending the real and the unreal, the historical and the fantastical. It all begins with the death of Leon Stamatis, a man so enamored of predictability that the least hint of uncertainty makes life unbearable. But by leaving the world, he has irrevocably changed it.”
Quick Review: You’ll laugh, you’ll cry, you’ll never see Google Calendar and baked beans the same way again.
Limetown (Zack Akers, Skip Bronkie)
For fans of: The Killing, Twin Peaks
“Ten years ago, over three hundred men, women and children disappeared from a small town in Tennessee, never to be heard from again. American Public Radio reporter Lia Haddock asks the question once more, "What happened to the people of Limetown?"”
Quick Review: Who needs alcohol when this show can f**k you up in three hours or less?