In October of 2003, software developer Dave Winer and journalist Chris Lydon arrived at Bloggercon—a gathering of scrappy internet innovators—armed with a new form of content-sharing. They called it audio-blogging. Within a month, Lydon had launched the first ever podcast, spotlighting political campaigns gearing up for the 2004 election.
Fourteen years later, the art form has evolved in unimaginable ways, impacting every aspect of our lives from pop culture to legislation, not to mention our daily commutes. So in celebration of the birth of podcasting, we've rounded up some of the most iconic and innovative series that have ushered us into a golden age. Some are recent, others are old standards, but all will be remembered someday as part of a podcast canon. A pod-canon, if you will. (Will you?)
Let's start with a whopper: This American Life, perhaps one of the best podcasts to start with if you're a newbie. Since 1994, Ira Glass has chosen a weekly theme and brought us different kinds of stories on that theme...effectively exploding our brains in 60-minute increments. In its incarnation as a podcast, the series regularly pulls in over 2.2 million listeners a week, and serves as an incubator for long-form reported spin-off series like Planet Money and oh, see below.
In 2014, TAL producer Sarah Koenig introduced 10 million listeners to the first season of Serial and the case of Adnan Syed, who was convicted of the murder of his ex-girlfriend. The series became the first podcast to win a Peabody Award, and also prompted the courts to reconsider the possibility for Syed's appeal.
If Serial sparked our addiction to podcasts and proved more influential than anyone imagined, this year's S-Town elevated the art form. Hosted by Brian Reed, another TAL veteran this unexpectedly tender, heartbreaking and spiraling Southern Gothic narrative began with a strange call from a listener named John B. McLemore and unfolded into a layered and intimate portrait of a troubled genius. The fact that all the episodes were released in one day proved that great podcasts could follow the same binge-worthy model of great Netflix series.
In the world of boss-lady podcasts, Emma Gannon is chief. Her interview series with tech innovators from Lena Dunham to Tavi Gevinson has become an instant cult hit. Through her conversations, Gannon explores the struggles and triumphs of interneting while female with a candor few other hosts can claim.
Before she penned the incredibly popular novel Wild, Cheryl Strayed was the brains behind Dear Sugar, an advice column that ran on The Rumpus from 2010 to 2012. It was so popular that it became a book and a podcast, and now, she works with Steve Almond to give heartbreakingly beautiful advice for those who write in with their most intimate struggles. Like the original column, the podcast sets a new standard for advice columns, bringing deep wisdom, compassion (and often celebrated literary stars) to issues of sexuality, relationships, body image and self-esteem.
Brothers Hank and John Green may have very different expertise—Hank specializes in science, while John is known for his incredibly famous novels such as The Fault In Our Stars and Looking For Alaska—but they're the perfect combination in this listener call-in podcast. Since 2015, they've provided hilariously wild and zany facts in over 100 episodes, as well as what they call "dubious advice." Just listen, and you'll understand.
Inspired by the long-running New York Times essay series, this podcast recruits big names like Judd Apatow and January Jones to read Modern Love entries past—and then follows up with the writers behind the stories to see how their lives have changed since the publication. It's a strong example of how podcasting can bring written content to life in new,and innovative ways.
Perhaps one of the most ironic relationships in the world is the one between comedians and depression. Through famous comedians like Maria Bamford, Paul F. Tompkins, and Andy Richter, John Moe's podcast aims to destigmatize mental health issues through radical honesty and, of course, a little true-to-life comedy.
It may be only a year old, but Aminatou Sow and Ann Friedman's podcast is already a cult classic. A conversation between two long-distance best friends covers everything from weird belly-buttons to feminist theory.
This true horror anthology has been examining the darkest corners of history in each episode since 2015. in that time, listeners have swelled to the millions and the bi-weekly series has even been adapted into a television show, set to air on Amazon in October.
Karina Longworth's podcast focuses on Hollywood in the last century—a topic so juicy it sells itself. But what makes her show so utterly addictive is her retelling of the lives of Marilyn, Rita, Joan, Jane and Jean through a feminist lens, flipping the script on patriarchal narratives and recontextualizing their legacies in a whole new way.
Maron's interview series has been as defining for the comedian's career as it has for the podcast itself. Few other hosts get as up-close, personal and probing with high-profile subjects. And by high profile, we mean Barack Obama.
What began in 2013 as an hour-long conversation between two close friends and pop culture fanatics, Kid Fury and Crissle West, has evolved into a crucial element of our podcast diets. The 3-act show combines advice and cultural commentary with loving homages to Beyonce and smart-as-hell takedowns.