The sky is the limit these days, when it comes to podcasts. There are just so many great ones out there -- whether you're just getting started or you need to freshen up your queue, we thought we'd compile a list of some of the best of the best: everything we're loving lately.
Got a recommendation for us? Leave it in the comments before you go. Without further ado ...
Have you ever gotten a message on social media from someone you haven’t spoken to in years? Maybe you were even excited to catch up with that person, or perhaps you were weirded out as to why they'd be messaging you in the first place, after all this time. And then … has that same acquaintance ever tried to sell you something? Is this starting to sound familiar? "The Dream" is all about schemes like that one -- and the world of pyramid schemes, multi-level marketing, and all the other businesses that require their members to recruit their loved ones in hopes of a commission check. The host, Jane Marie, traces the path of get-rich schemes from her hometown in rural Michigan all the way to the White House. It’s a bit of an accidental history lesson at times, but it’s enlightening, informative and an easy listen. Learn more.
If you followed the trial of former Olympic gymnastics doctor Larry Nassar and his fall from grace (to put it mildly), then you might have found yourself asking, how in the heck did Nassar get away with abusing hundreds of people for two decades? Seriously. How? “Believed” is an inside look at how a team of women won a conviction in one of the largest serial sexual abuse cases in our country’s history. It's a story of survivors finding their power. It's also an unnerving exploration of how even well-meaning adults can fail to believe others, especially those who are younger. The reporting involved here is simply outstanding. It's what you've come to expect from an NPR station, and it truly takes you behind the headlines. Spoiler alert, you might tear up at times and get exceedingly frustrated. Thank goodness Nassar is finally behind bars, where he belongs. Learn more.
Uncover (Escaping NXIVM)
Season one of “Uncover” is so riveting and compelling -- you’re going to binge it in a day or two, just wait. NXIVM (pronounced "Nexium") is a group that calls itself a humanitarian community. But experts call it a cult. So, which is it? You can make your own judgment on that once you listen. Hosted by Joshua Bloch, of Canada's CBC, he takes a look at NXIVM from the inside, thanks to one of his friends from childhood who he happened to run into one day, fairly recently. Former NXIVM member Sarah Edmondson was with the group for 12 years, and she opens the season by describing, in pretty graphic terms, the horrific branding ceremony in which she participated -- and the symbol left behind on her hip. The ordeal served as a wakeup call for Edmondson, who later said she realized that the mark wasn't "just" a mark; it was initials -- belonging to group leader Keith Raniere and former "Smallville" actress Allison Mack, who is currently facing charges in connection with the NXIVM investigation. This is a story about slaves, masters, collateral, money, secrets, betrayal and loyalty. Edmondson's journey, and Bloch's handling of the investigation, will leave you with some lingering questions, that's for sure. Learn more.
Season one: Black Friday
In 2010, on Black Friday -- the day after Thanksgiving, and a day usually known best for holiday shopping -- three young boys vanished from a small town in Michigan. The tragic case turned a small town upside down, left its people brokenhearted and drew national attention to a situation that remains unsolved. When the Skelton brothers disappeared, they were ages 9, 7 and 5. The boys’ father, John Skelton, is still the main suspect. Almost a decade later, the mystery of what really happened remains just that -- a mystery, with their small Michigan hometown wondering: could a father have committed an unimaginable crime? This is a fast listen and you're going to whip through it if you're anything like us -- it'll leave you on the edge of your seat, begging for answers. Learn more.
Florida's Fourth Estate
This podcast focuses on the wildly unique state of Florida, a state that catches a lot of flak, yet is home to a booming economy, a fascinating space industry and some of the craziest people on planet Earth. Co-host Matt Austin said, "Our guests range from scientists who sent a spacecraft to an asteroid, to a high-powered political player (who called the Governor’s Mansion a s---hole on our show) and even a young woman raised as an only child to later find out she has 46 half siblings." Whoa. This one's a must-listen, for sure. Learn more.
*Produced by News 6.
Season two: White Boy Rick
At 14, Rick Wershe Jr. became the youngest FBI informant ever and helped bring down some of Detroit’s biggest drug dealers. Then the FBI abandoned him, and he flipped the tables, becoming the dealer -- that is, until he was busted with eight kilos of cocaine. Wershe has been in prison ever since. Sound familiar? Wershe's story was recently made into a major motion picture, starring none other than actor Matthew McConaughey, who's featured in the podcast, by the way. This season of "Shattered" chronicles Wershe’s improbable life story and showcases some truly top-of-the-line reporting. No stone is left unturned. Learn more.
*Produced by our parent company, Graham Media.
Things don't always fit together neatly. Life would be really boring if they did, right? "Mismatch" is based on the idea that some of the most compelling stories feature some element of a mismatch: people who don't line up with each other, or with their circumstances, or even the era in which they live. Square pegs in round holes often lead to complications and consequences. This show is practically guaranteed to captivate you, once you give it a listen. It's hosted by the veteran and award-winning reporter Roger Weber, and it's now in its second season. Some of the stories it's focusing on include the first-ever Siamese twins (who had 21 children between the two of them!), a box of hidden letters that opened up a family's secret history, and the Amazonian expedition that nearly killed Teddy Roosevelt, just to name a few. Actually, we're still thinking about that box of hidden letters. These stories are so well-told, so well-researched and, at times, pretty funny. You've got to give it a shot! Learn more.
*Produced by our parent company, Graham Media.
The Eyes of Texas
Every week for 30 years, a TV station in Houston, KPRC 2, hit the road with a mission of finding a good story and sharing it. The station produced a show about the people, places and issues that shaped the Lone Star State -- and it became must-see TV for scores of people. Houstonians were granted a front-row seat to the state's culture, history and flashes of everyday happenstance: it was Texas, as told on TV. Texas' many treasures were featured: from the rush to mine Topaz, the state's official gemstone; to historical highlights, this program brought it all, giving sight to stories that underscored life in Texas. And then it went away for a spell, so why are we telling you all of this? Well, because "The Eyes of Texas" is back and better than ever -- only this time, it's in podcast form. We endorse this wholeheartedly. Learn more.
*Produced by our parent company, Graham Media.
In the Dark
This podcast won a Peabody Award in 2016, so we're obviously not the only ones who love it. In season one, the hosts dive into the abduction of Jacob Wetterling, which went without any answers for ... wait for it ... 27 years. So, how did law enforcement officials mishandle one of the most notorious child abduction cases the country had ever seen? How did those failures fuel national anxiety about stranger danger? "In the Dark" gets into all of that, as well as diving into the topics of sex-offender registries and accountability. In season two, you'll learn about Curtis Flowers, a man who has been tried six times for the same crime. Yes, you read that correctly: six times. And for 21 years, Flowers has maintained his innocence. He wins his appeals, but then the prosecutor just tries the case again. What gives? What's up with the evidence in this case? And how can the justice system keep Flowers on death row? Tune in; you won't regret it! Learn more.
There are a lot of podcasts out there that cover pop culture, but "Keep It" feels different than all of them, and that's mostly due to its host, Ira Madison III. Madison, who was once a pop culture critic for "The Daily Beast," coined the term "keep it" on Twitter for when celebrities said or did idiotic things -- or there was news with which you didn't agree. Some examples? Kanye West saying slavery was a choice: keep it. When that tennis referee fined Serena Williams for her catsuit: keep it. Madison, along with co-hosts and fellow pop culture critics Kara Brown and Louis Virtel, will take aim at any celebrity that needs to be called out. From Kim Kardashian defending her husband's insane ego or Justin Timberlake wearing a "Time's Up" pin at the Golden Globes while acting in a Woody Allen film, the hosts of "Keep It" don't have time for any celebrities insane antics. Love the honesty! Learn more.
Ugh. That's all we can say right now, as we're about halfway through this one, and already recommending it to everyone we know. But gosh, is it ever heartbreaking. "Broken Harts" covers the story of Markis, Hannah, Devonte, Abigail, Jeremiah, and Sierra Hart — six black children ranging in age from 12 to 19 — who were adopted by a white lesbian couple, Sarah and Jennifer Hart. Jennifer made it look as if they were the perfect family. She had curated her Facebook page to a T. But in reality, the situation was a bit grimmer. No, a LOT grimmer. You'll learn about all of that. And then in March of 2018, the family’s SUV was found overturned on the rocks below California’s winding Highway 1. The Yukon had crashed 100 feet into the Pacific Ocean. At first, officials thought it was a tragic accident. Now, the case is considered a murder-suicide. The story made national headlines last spring and leaves many people asking if anything could have been done to save the children, seeing as the Hart couple had a history with Child Protective Services. Make sure those tissues are ready. Learn more.
So next time you're in the car, at the gym or just hanging out at home, give one of these a shot. You can listen anywhere, any time.
Podcasts, by the way, are really easy to access -- even if you’re not very tech-savvy. Don’t let the word throw you off. Kind of like we mentioned up top, though podcasting is a new technology, it revives an old art form: pure storytelling. Let’s say you’ve never listened to a podcast before. You can typically go to the podcast's website (which are all linked above), hit “play” on the episode of your choosing, and it’s as simple as that.
iPhones even come with a Podcast app where you can subscribe, and if you own an Android, you can download an app -- Stitcher is a good one -- to accomplish the same thing.