There’s one question I get more than any other when I tell people about my job. As soon as I mention that I produce podcasts, I know this statement is soon to follow:
Oh, I want to listen to podcasts, but I don’t know how to find good shows.
This lament is really a question: “How do I find podcasts I’ll like?”
Diving into a new medium, especially one growing as rapidly as podcasting is, can be challenging.
Over the last ten years of being a podcast fan, along with five years of editing and producing podcasts, I’ve come up with a simple strategy guaranteed to find you podcasts you’ll love. I introduced our CEO, Matthew Gartland, to the joy of podcasts five-ish years ago. He wasn’t the easiest sell, but when I finally convinced him to listen, he called me in the middle of the day at work because he was so excited about the shows he had just listened to.
So, I can get you into podcasts, too!
Two Questions, Plus a Little Bit of Patience
The heart of this strategy is simple. It boils down to two questions and adopting an attitude of exploration. We’re going to create a sample list for you—a list of podcasts that, based on your interests, are likely to be interesting to you. Some of them will be amazing, some of them will be duds, but I know you’ll come away from this exercise with a couple of winners.
Honestly, there are a lot of bad podcasts, and even more podcasts that are good but perhaps aren’t your taste. To find shows you like, you will end up listening to some duds—but my strategy will help you keep the number of boring/bad shows you try out to a minimum.
Your Tools—And Why iTunes Still Matters
Before we get started, you’ll need a tool for searching and subscribing to podcasts. I am going to assume that you plan to listen to podcasts from a mobile device.
On Android, you’ll need to pay to get a good podcast app. I recommend Pocket Casts app; it costs $3.99, it organizes shows well, and it automatically deletes files to keep you from filling up storage. Lifehacker has a good review of it here, along with a few other recommendations.
Next, you’ll need a tool for searching for new podcasts. Here is where I still recommend using iTunes, preferably from a desktop computer. While we’re going to download podcasts from iTunes, I think it is still the easiest way to search individual podcast episodes, which is what we’re going to do in question #1.
Note: While I prefer to listen to shows with apps like Pocket Casts or Overcast, the search strategy I recommend in Question #1 does not work inside most podcast apps.
If you hate iTunes, I understand. We’re just going to download it, run our search, and then you can uninstall it when we’re done. Download iTunes here.
Question #1: Who do you find interesting?
Who are the people you find fascinating? Who is the person that would make you tune in watch this week’s Saturday Night Live? Or make you tune in to a 60 Minutes interview? Who is the person that would keep you sitting in your car after you’ve arrived home, just so you can finish the radio interview?
This is the person who is going to help you find new podcasts.
What do I mean? We’re going to use podcast episodes this person is featured on to help us identify shows we might like. I’ll use Neil Gaiman for my example, because his insights on writing are fascinating (and I love his accent).
Search the iTunes store for Neil Gaiman, and then scroll down to Podcast Episodes. Click on See All. This is where we’re going to build our podcast sampler.
It will take you to this view.
This view shows me the top 100 episodes of podcasts where the name “Neil Gaiman” appears in the episode title. The most popular episodes are listed first. But what I really see here are dozens of podcasts talking with or about a person I find fascinating. I want to hear what they have to say.
If I click on the show logo, I can see more about that show, including a list of the episodes available. If the podcaster has done a good job, the titles of their episodes will give me a good sense of what the show is about.
Explore this list for a few minutes, and then choose about a dozen shows to try out. Pull up each show in your podcast app, scroll through the show’s episode list, and download the episode of that show that features Neil Gaiman. Here’s what it looks like in my Pocket Casts app for the New York Public Library podcast’s episode.
Now you have a dozen podcasts to try out. For some, you’ll know within a couple minutes that the show isn’t for you, and that’s okay. Unsubscribe and move on to the next show. If you’re on the fence, I recommend listening to the whole episode. A few of my favorite podcasts took a while to grow on me.
If you loved the episode, download another one. Unless it’s a fiction podcast where episode order matters, skip around. Look for episode titles or guests that intrigue you. You don’t have to listen to every episode of a podcast that you follow.
This strategy will likely net you one or two shows that you’ll keep. Try the strategy with a few different people you like; next time I’d search for Amy Poehler or John Green. You’ll find the most results with comedians and actors (getting publicity is part of their jobs) but most any notable figure will yield you a list of results.
Question #2: What do you love to talk about?
What are you passionate about? There truly is a podcast (or twenty) out there for every topic, no matter how obscure. Don’t fall into the trap of feeling like your podcasts have to be about important topics—they just have to be important to you. It’s okay if you don’t want to listen to shows about politics or international affairs or whatever your career is about. It’s okay if you really just want to unwind with a show that goes incredibly deep into fantasy baseball leagues or trashy reality television. You have my permission to listen to whatever you want.
Perhaps a better way to put this question is, “What’s a topic you wish you could talk about with a friend?” The first podcasts I listened to were all about knitting—just people sitting around talking about their knitting projects, yarn, and their favorite yarn shops. While that may sound boring to you, I loved it, especially because I didn’t know any other knitters. I had no one to talk to about my passion for knitting, and so I found through the podcast, people who were talking about something that interested me.
Podcasts are for you. You don’t have to impress anyone with your choices. You don’t have to listen to Serial if you really just want to listen to a Riverdale fancast.
Here’s how to find shows.
Unlike with the search strategy in Question #1, you can easily search by topic in your podcast app, or you can continue to do this in iTunes. Pick a topic that really gets you excited; I’ll use “book publishing.”
Whichever platform you use to search, you’ll get a list of results. Here’s the key takeaway: Don’t subscribe to one or two shows. Subscribe to six. Ten is even better.
Why? Because you won’t like at least half. That’s okay. Unsubscribe as soon as you know the show isn’t for you. The frustration of finding new podcasts for a lot of people, I’ve found, is in the search. Searching feels hard. So search once, add a bunch of shows, and then whittle your list down to the good ones.
The more niche you get, the fewer shows you’ll find. For example, my search of The West Wing, a great television show that concluded twelve years ago, only brings up six viable results. If you can’t find any good shows on that topic, take it as your cue to start your own!
This is way too much work. Just tell me what to listen to.
I recognize that most people don’t get quite as excited about podcasts as I do. If you really just want a list, then here are a few good lists.
First, if you like public radio, start with NPR’s featured podcasts. In addition to their regular shows, they have a lot of podcast-only gems like Pop Culture Happy Hour. https://www.npr.org/podcasts/
Then, just search for best-of lists on your topic of choice. Here are three good round-ups:
- WIRED‘s pick of 32 of the best podcasts for curious minds
- Entertainment Weekly’s best podcasts of 2017
- The Atlantic’s 50 Best Podcasts of 2017
Finally—and most importantly—subscribe to Winning Edits’ own Hyperlink Radio. Happy listening!