NPR radio is the staple of work commutes across the country. The public network has turned into a force in pop culture, and it's enjoying success in the 21st century thanks to its embrace of podcasts. If you can hear it on the radio, you can probably find it in iTunes.
But with so many NPR podcasts out there, how do you whittle down the list so you at least have enough hours in the day to listen to the ones you want? How do you make sure you’re getting a good mix of the latest news and the latest…everything else?
Here are our top five NPR podcast recommendations.
Daily news podcasts are all the rage these days. The New York Times has The Daily, Slate has 90 Seconds With Slate, and NPR has Up First. The idea is to start your morning with news’ biggest headlines, usually in 20 minutes or less. Most daily news podcasts tackle the same sorts of topics, and you can make your decision based on the format and hosts. Up First has the same sort of cadence you’d expect from an NPR show, and its three hosts are a nice change from the single-host formats other shows have. If you’re already used to filling your commute with the soothing voices of NPR talking heads, Up First is a great addition to the rotation and it’s why we included it in our roundup of best news podcasts).
If you have any interest in public radio, you’ve heard of the NPR Fresh Air podcast. At the very least, you’ve heard of its host, Terry Gross. The show has been around since 1975 and on NPR since 1985, so it'ssuccessful pivot to podcast isn't surprising. (It was the most downloaded podcast on iTunes in 2016, according to Apple.) Gross isn’t afraid to ask the hard questions in interviews, and even though there’s an emphasis on art and culture, you’ll still find Taylor Swift reviews and talks with the creators of Stranger Things. If you’re any sort of NPR fan you probably listen to Fresh Air religiously — and if you don’t, it’s still a great place to start 40 years in.
Usually, talking about finances has one of two results: glazing over with boredom, or becoming petrified with fear. The NPR podcast Planet Money does the seemingly impossible in making economics and personal finance fun and interesting. Get answers to questions like: Why is Walmart engineering its own strain of pickle? What’s the Eddie Murphy Rule? And what happens when a podcast buys 100 barrels of oil? Planet Money is energetic about the topics it talks about, and it’s infectious. If you’ve ever wanted to learn about what makes modern markets tick but keep falling asleep when you try, Planet Money is a good change of pace.
Like your podcast topics a little more…abstract? What about a podcast that focuses on all of the unseen forces in our lives? Like what happens when we can’t feel fear, how people live with synesthesia, and “whether our closeness with computers is changing us as a species.” If you’ve never known how to formulate thoughts on frames of reference or what makes a good road trip, Invisibilia is a podcast unlike most others out there.
The last few years have been pretty rough when it comes to topics like race and identity. It’s pushed a lot of people toward introspection, while other people have chosen to ignore huge recent shifts in society. It can be a hard topic to face and tackle, but Code Switch can help. The podcast is oftentimes an eye-opening experience into an unfamiliar world. Whether it’s talking about rallies or advertising, the world needs more podcasts like Code Switch right now.
There are literally dozens of podcasts between NPR and its local affiliates. Don’t believe me? Check out their podcast directory. From Car Talk to Wait Wait…Don’t Tell Me, from Money Talking to 2 Dope Queens, from Hidden Brain to Note To Self, you’re bound to find something you enjoy — as long as what you enjoy is an informative, entertaining podcast.