7 podcasts beginning storytellers need to listen to

Frank Sinatra interviewed on the radio.

Radio has been an important tool for storytellers since its invention. Here, Frank Sinatra does an interview for Armed Forces Radio Service in the 1940s.

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The best storytellers are also avid story listeners and readers. Right now some of the best minds in storytelling are producing podcasts.

At a basic level podcasts are simply audio files and, therefore, spoken stories. Next time you write a story, read it out loud and think about how it would sound on a podcast. To get some inspiration or to get started, here’s a list of examples of great storytelling via podcast.

1. The Moth: True Stories Told Live

The Moth is a storytelling podcast and event series that works to “promote the art and craft of storytelling and to honor and celebrate the diversity and commonality of human experience.”

Start off by listening to the story A View of Earth by Michael J. Massimo; “An astronaut details his high stakes mission to repair the Hubble Space Telescope.

2. This American Life

This American Life is one of the pioneers in storytelling podcasts. Ira Glass and the numerous producers and contributors to the show put together a weekly hourlong podcast centered on a theme. The theme shines through in each act in very creative ways and the show can make you both laugh and cry, all within that 60 minutes. 

Start off by listening to the episode Doppelgangers; “We got a tip about a meat plant selling pig intestines as fake calamari, wondered if it could be true, and decided to investigate. Doppelgängers, doubles, evil twins and not-so-evil twins, this week. Fred Armisen co-hosts with Ira Glass.” 

3. 99% Invisible

“99% Invisible is about all the thought that goes into the things we don’t think about — the unnoticed architecture and design that shape our world.” You will find yourself intrigued by topics you have never even considered before. 

Start off by listening to the episode Holdout; “Around 2005, a Seattle neighborhood called Ballard started to see unprecedented growth. Condominiums and apartment buildings were sprouting up all over in a community which had previously been made up of mostly single family homes and small businesses. Around this time, developers offered an elderly woman named Edith Macefield $750,000 dollars for her small house, which was appraised at around $120,000. They wanted to build a shopping mall on the block where Macefield had lived for the last 50 years. Macefield turned down the money. Developers went forward with the shopping mall anyway. The mall enveloped her house on three sides.” 

4. Criminal

Criminal reports true crime stories that go beyond the murders and police reports of CSI. The stories instead focus on “people who’ve done wrong, been wronged, or gotten caught somewhere in the middle.”

Start off by listening to the episode Pappy; “When it comes to the bourbon Pappy Van Winkle, it doesn’t matter who you are or how much money you have — you can’t get it unless you’re exceptionally lucky or willing to break the law. The Pappy frenzy has law enforcement, bartenders, and even the Van Winkle family themselves wringing their hands.”

5. StoryCorps

StoryCorps is a unique podcast on this list, as the stories are conversations recorded at recording stations around the country that anyone can partake in. 

Start off by listening to Ollie Cantos, and then-14-year-old triplets Leo, Nick and Steven Argel talk about growing up blind.

6. RadioLab

RadioLab explores every curiosity in life in depth. They find a way to make the most obscure topics extremely interesting.

Start off by listening to the episode I Hart K-Pop; while extreme nosiness into the lives of celebrities is the norm in the United States, celebrity is completely different in South Korea. “A global juggernaut, K-Pop garners billions in sales and millions of fans hanging on every note, watching K-pop idols synchronize and strut. And that fame rests on a fantasy, K-pop stars have to be chaste and pure, but also … available. Until recently, Korean music agencies and K-pop fans held their pop stars to a strict set of rules designed to keep that fantasy alive. That is, until Dispatch showed up.”

7. Modern Love

An essay-focused podcast that is “based on The New York Times’ popular series of weekly reader-submitted essays. Exploring the joys and tribulations of love, Modern Love: The Podcast adds new dimension to the popular New York Times column, with readings by notable personalities and updates from the essayists themselves.”

Start off by listening to the episode A Millennial’s Guide to Kissing; “Emmy Rossum reads a story about a 12-hour relationship. On an airplane.” The original essay was written by a college student. 

Listen for inspiration but do not feel constrained by these examples. Continue listening to podcasts and find some of your favorites. There are thousands of podcasts available on iTunes, Soundcloud and independent websites. 

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