Though broadcast partners Adam Curry and Dave Winer are often credited with pioneering podcasting in 2004, it wasn’t until the 2010s that the audio format began to take on a life of its own. After decades of radio declining in influence due to television and other mass media, aural entertainment came back with a vengeance in the form of comedy, true crime, and even original dramas. Have a look—and listen—to 11 of the most compelling podcasts of the past decade.
1. You Must Remember This (2014-Present)
Old Hollywood meets new media in this fascinating deep dive into some of the film industry’s most compelling and sordid stories, including the fate of Marilyn Monroe, Charles Manson, and, more recently, Disney’s controversial 1946 film Song of the South. Host Karina Longworth’s fascination with her subjects and meticulous research comes through with every episode.
2. Welcome to Night Vale (2012-Present)
While most podcasts offer commentary and other non-fiction entertainment, some take up the baton of presenting the kind of audio drama that was so prevalent in the early part of the 20th century. Onetime playwrights Joseph Fink and Jeffrey Cranor created the fictional town of Night Vale, where conspiracy theories often ring true and listeners enjoy a sprawling cast of eccentric characters—think of it as Twin Peaks without the Lynchian visual flourishes. A sister podcast, Alice Isn’t Dead, details a truck driver’s search for her missing wife.
3. S-Town (2017)
Over the course of seven episodes, S-Town introduces listeners to the peculiar exploits of a man known initially as John B., a disgruntled resident of a small Alabama town. Murder, hidden fortune, and twists follow.
4. Gastropod (2014-Present)
Food meets science in this entertaining mash-up of gastronomic headlines and a closer look at what we put into our bodies. Co-hosts Cynthia Graber and Nicola Twilley bring their journalistic expertise to everything from calories to the dirty secret of strawberries.
5. Comedy Bang! Bang! (2009-Present)
There is probably no podcast genre bigger or harder to sift through than comedy, and what you find funny will depend largely on your sensibilities. But it’s hard to dismiss the genius of Comedy Bang! Bang!, in which host Scott Aukerman professes to have a straightforward interview with a revolving seat of comedians who are playing ludicrous characters and improvising even more ludicrous answers. Perfect for those times when you need to hear a character named Martin Sheffield Lickley (Drew Tarver) relate horrible familial mishaps before bursting into song. It’s weird, and weirdly great.
6. Missing Richard Simmons (2017)
Some listeners believed Dan Taberski’s obsession with locating a reclusive Richard Simmons, who had dropped out of the public eye, bordered on harassment—that Simmons was free to retreat to a private life after spending decades helping devotees achieve their weight-loss goals. What’s undeniable is that Missing Richard Simmons took the relatively low stakes of tracking Simmons and married it with the suspense of a true-crime drama, with Taberski shuffling closer to—and further from—the truth behind Simmons's "disappearance" during its six fascinating episodes.
7. Lore (2015-Present)
Some of history’s darker tales get the campfire treatment in host Aaron Mahnke’s Lore, which looks for the truth behind the headlines. The result is a historically accurate series of spooky narratives that often sound like something Vincent Price might have recited, from World’s Fair serial killer H.H. Holmes to grave robbers.
8. The Joe Rogan Experience (2009-Present)
Stand-up comedian and former Fear Factor host Rogan headlines a freewheeling—and often chemically enhanced—discussion with a laundry list of thinkers, entertainers, and innovators, from Elon Musk to Neil deGrasse Tyson to Bernie Sanders. The conversations, which often last hours, are free from over-the-air broadcast regulations, allowing Rogan to let his talks take hallucinatory turns. It’s now the second most popular podcast on iTunes.
9. Serial (2014-Present)
Podcasting took a significant leap forward with host Sarah Koenig’s Serial, which came from the brain trust behind This American Life and offered a compelling look at Adnan Syed, a Maryland teenager accused of killing his girlfriend, Hae Min Lee, in 1999. Syed’s ferocious protests of his innocence and the show’s dogged search for the truth became the genre’s first example of must-listen programming.
10. Blank Check with Griffin & David (2015-Present)
So many podcasts have a preoccupation with movies, particularly ones that were met with a mixed reception, but few hosts are as thorough in their film postmortems as Griffin Newman and David Sims, who spend multiple episodes analyzing the deficiencies of everything from 1999’s Star Wars: Episode I: The Phantom Menace to 2006’s Lady in the Water. The blank check of the title refers to the show’s continuing focus on directors who have a hit and then get a pass to make anything they want. As Griffin and David observe, a little oversight never hurt anyone.
11. Reply All (2014-Present)
It was inevitable that a podcast would eventually turn its attention to the internet, creating a snake-eating-its-tail scenario. But Alex Goldman and PJ Vogt aren’t content to point out some of the web’s blunders for the sake of a joke. They take a magnifying glass to everything from physician Instagram accounts to the world of domain name squabbles with a devotion usually reserved for matters of greater global importance. Then again, exposing the plague of robocalls might be worthy of Pulitzer recognition.