What The Hell Is a Podcast? Where Should I Start?

Iowa City
United States

A year and a half ago, I found myself in the same position you are. I kept hearing my friends discussing this podcast or another, and I was lost. It was the overwhelming loneliness of not being in on a joke. I wanted in so I started in on the very same journey you are about to embark on. Let’s start simple. 

What the hell is a podcast?

Podcasts are like your morning radio talk show. There are hosts and dedicated segments and subjects, and it runs on a certain schedule. However, podcasts are just a step more complicated. No two podcasts are alike. There are a variety of formats, methods of recording, subjects, and platforms (or podcatchers, depending on who you talk to). 

So where do you start? 

    Start with a subject that you're interested in. Some podcasts include analyses, book clubs, and advice on literally everything, such as horses, news, true crime, and so so so much more. The first podcast that I binged was about the history of Hollywood. With the guarantee that I enjoyed the subject material, I was able to truly explore this new media format. I found what I enjoyed, what bothered me, and what made something absolutely impossible to listen to. I also found my limits. I have ADHD, and that makes it hard for me to comprehend media like TV shows and movies because they demand your full attention visually and audibly. Podcasts became something I could truly comprehend while also doing other tasks. I could clean my room, take a walk to Dane’s Dairy, or even drive back home to Florida while listening. There are podcasts of all lengths. Some are as short as 15 minutes, some are as long as four hours, but there are plenty in-between. So take the plunge, and if you don’t find one you like at first, try again and try again and try again and try again. There is something out there for everyone. 

     I know its overwhelming to look at a list of podcasts with over 50 results, let alone hundreds. So here a few recommendations for a variety of subjects. These are all part of my podcast rotation, and if you don’t like any of the ones on the list, don’t let that discourage you. Find a celebrity you admire and start with podcasts they’ve been on, use a random number generator to pick one of the results in a search, or read the reviews on iTunes.

  1. 1. My Brother My Brother and Me

    “My Brother, My Brother, and Me” By Maximum Fun. A weekly comedy advice podcast on the Maximum Fun network, that is in fact hosted by three real-life brothers. The McElroy’s are self-proclaimed (rightly so) the first family of podcasting. “My Brother, My Brother, and Me” or MBMBaM (M-Bam-Bam) for short has been recorded weekly for 10 years, there are currently over 500 episodes. The feed is a mix of in-studio and live shows, there are so many segments and content. You will never ever be bored with this show. If you need to dip your toes in there are a lot of highlights on YouTube that will introduce you to McElroy’s brand of comedy. The brothers also have a Real Play Dungeons and Dragons Podcast called “The Adventure Zone” if you want a little more of McElroy content. You can find MBMBaM on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Maximum Fun, and Stitcher to name a few.

  2. 2. Serial

    “Serial” by NPR. Serial is a spin-off of “This American Life” also by NPR. Serial is a true-crime podcast that tells one story, week by week until it reaches the end. If you enjoy true crime this is probably one of the best introductory podcasts for you. Hosted by Sarah Koenig, the listener discovers the leads, twists, and heartbreaks, as Koenig does. Each season focuses on a different story. There are three seasons, and each season is better than the one that proceeds it. You can find “Serial" on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Google Podcast, Pandora, and many other podcatchers. Check out serial.com for more information on each episode.

  3. 3. The Bright Sessions

    “The Bright Sessions” by Atypical Artists. This is a fictional podcast, that is essentially about people with secret powers going to therapy with specifically one therapist, Dr.Bright. “The Bright Sessions” is a drama that takes you through almost every emotion that there is, it makes you laugh and cry. You root for some of the characters and you love to hate some of the others. There are questions of morality, and there are moments of happiness. It is honestly amazing. The main show has concluded its run but has a spin-off on Luminary. Please start at the first episode of this podcast. “The Bright Sessions” can be found at any podcatcher of your choosing, make sure to check out their website at thebrightsessions.com.

  4. 4. Horse

    “Horse” By Multitude Productions. Horse is a basketball podcast that isn’t about the wins and losses in the NBA, but rather the drama. It is great for a novice to sports and pro-players. The co-hosts play off each other brilliantly, they are serious when they need to be and are funny the rest of the time. The show has the same structure every episode which makes it great for beginners. You can listen to Horse at horsehoops.com, Spotify, and apple podcasts.

  5. 5. Sawbones: A Marital Tour of Misguided Medicine

    “Sawbones: a Marital tour of Misguided History” By Maximum Fun. Dr.Sydnee McElroy and her husband, Justin McElroy (of MBMBaM), explore the way humans have practiced medicine throughout the ages. Sydnee brings the information and Justin brings the goofs. The most recent episodes focus on more recent medicine because, well you know, we're in a pandemic. I suggest starting at earlier episodes as they do reference material that they have already covered. You can find Sawbones at Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Maximum Fun, and Stitcher to name a few.

  6. 6. Beach Too Sandy, Water Too Wet

    “Beach Too Sandy, Water too Wet” By Alex and Christine Schiefer. This comedy podcast has siblings Christine and Alex reading 1-star (and occasionally 5 star) reviews and challenging each other with increasingly harder stipulations on what those reviews must contain. BTSWTW episodes run at most 20 minutes but are short and sweet which is great for a quick pick me up. You can find BTSWTW on Spotify, Apple Podcasts, and Anchor.

  7. 7. Dungeons And Daddies: Not A BDSM Podcast

    "Dungeons and Daddies: Not a BDSM podcast” by Matt Arnold, Will Campos, Freddie Wong, Anthony Burch, and Beth May. A real play podcast about four dads from our world getting transported into the world of Dungeons and Dragons. This is a Mature podcast. Please don’t have children listen to this. Dungeons and Daddies has five friends playing DND and having a fun time. It's funny and heartwarming, and sometimes very serious. It is a great way to escape with some of the good old dad humor we all love. Fun fact, only one member of the party is actually a dad, which makes it somehow so much funnier. Dungeons and Daddies can be found on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, and podcatchers everywhere.

  8. 8. And That's Why We Drink

    “And That’s Why We Drink” By Kast Media, is a show about two best friends who like murder and ghosts. It is the perfect mix of true Crime and hauntings across the world. Em and Christine know how to make each other laugh and lighten up the dark material they are talking about. Every month there are listener episodes where they read their listener's stories which somehow so much spookier than the normal episodes. If you need a good freight make sure to listen to these two friends while they drink wine and milkshakes, and when the episodes get maybe a little too dark they also have Christine’s dog, Sweet Baby Gio to lighten the mood. “And That’s Why We Drink” can be found on Apple Podcasts and Spotify.

There you are. 8 podcasts, some finished, some not, some fictional, most not, either way, a decent variety. If you like these, explore the other works these artists and journalists have made, and if you don’t that’s okay. You’ll find a podcast for you eventually, just keep trying. There are a number of classics that I didn’t include on this list for one reason or another, but I promise you there is something out there for you. Don’t give up.