A guide to podcasts — an underrated gem mine

October 4, 2019 — by Annissa Mu

Teens binge-watch Netflix and spend hours on YouTube and social media. They don’t do podcasts — or at least that’s the popular perception.

When people who have never tried exploring the world of podcasts think of them, they might imagine their grandmother or grandfather sitting in their rocking chair, listening to another older person go on and on in a monotone about politics, history or classical music. Clearly, most people don’t realize how diverse and exciting podcasts can be.

That’s why I compiled a guide to my favorite podcasts, hand-selected to meet any entertainment preference, in hopes that more people my age will open their arms to this wonderful medium.

The first podcast I would like to introduce is a great example of the vivid imagery that can be conveyed with just words. If you like stories of the mysterious and spooky, similar to hit shows like “Stranger Things” or “Gravity Falls,” listen to “Welcome to Night Vale.” The podcast is in the style of a community radio station of a fictitious town called Night Vale. Similar to “Gravity Falls,” Night Vale and its citizens are characterized as incredibly strange and abnormal but are written off by the radio host as the most normal and mundane.

However, “Welcome to Night Vale” is not a narrative story, which may be a turnoff for some people. For those who love mystery and plot, I suggest the podcast “Big Data.” This podcast is made from the perspective of two news reporters investigating a robbery that eventually leads to the end of the internet. Hilarious and enthralling, “Big Data” is the perfect podcast for anyone who likes crime and heist stories. It’s a little like the movie “Catch Me If You Can,” except instead of magicians, it’s hackers.

Speaking of crime, what about crime fighting? A great fictional crime-fighting podcast to listen to is “The Penumbra.” My favorite arc is the story following a cynical yet brilliant private eye on the planet Mars named Juno Steel. While “Big Data” and “Welcome to Night Vale” focus more on suspenseful mysteries rather than story, “The Penumbra” follows a more typical narrative format that includes more character development and a mostly linear plotline. 

The biggest appeal of the adventures of Juno Steel is the blood pumping action scenes accompanied by Juno Steel’s hilarious dry wit. We also love a good tragic Juno Steel backstory to pull our heartstrings.

Moving on from fictional podcasts, I would be remiss not to mention the absolute classic that is “This American Life,” a journalistic short story and essay podcast exploring the  lives of different Americans. Despite releasing its first episode in the 1990s, “This American Life” has a consistent 2.2 million listeners, thanks to the many interesting stories it tells. 

For example, who could forget the Chinese immigrant who was contained in a shelter because no authority figure would believe she was an adult? Who could stray away from the experiences of the football player who was terrified of being touched?   

If someone were to take one of the individual stories from “This American Life” and pour an immaculate amount of investigation and production into it, they would get my personal favorite journalistic and true crime podcast: “Dr. Death.” 

“Dr. Death” is the story of Christopher Duntch, a neurosurgeon who ruined 33 patients in surgery, and covers how the medical system failed to stop him. Full of gut-dropping twists and turns and haunting testimonies from several close sources, “Dr. Death,” is just like a page-turning book, impossible to put down. 

Podcasts are a diverse and versatile form of entertainment, containing so many different genres and personalities. However, the strength of all podcasts are their voices. Voices breathe life and interest into what could be boring or hard to communicate. 

I can’t imagine “Welcome to Nightvale” or “Big Data” without the over-the-top voice acting that brings out the wonderfully insane personalities of their characters. And I can’t imagine hearing about the random stories of real-life people without the hysterical laughter of the hosts from “This American Life” or the perfect dramatization and calm narration in “Dr. Death.” 

Because of this, podcasts are just as, if not more, valuable than any other book or television show and should be bingeable entertainment for young and old alike.     


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