15 Podcasts That Will Make You Smarter

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September 28th, 2009 in Entertainment

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One of the more underrated benefits of the internet era has been access to quality radio style programming at any time of the day or night. Just like DVRs have freed us from having to adhere to rigid television program schedules, podcasting has enabled us to carry excellent radio with us for listening at any time. I struggle with not having enough hours in the day to listen to it all, because there is truly so much quality out there. Here are 15 podcasts in particular that will make you a smarter, more well rounded, and better informed person. Enjoy, and let us know what we missed in the comments!

15. EconTalk


Duration: Roughly an hour

Hosted by professor Russel Roberts, EconTalk is the number one podcast for economics. With “clear and thoughtful conversations about economics”, the show brings the theory behind economics to situations and subjects that a wide variety of people can relate to. The show is usually a one on one discussion between Roberts and another guest.

Check out EconTalk HERE.

14. The Naked Scientists


Duration: 60 mins

The Naked Scientists is an interactive podcast covering topical science news stories as well as answering audience questions. The show has featured several distinguished guests such as Alec Jeffreys (the discoverer of DNA fingerprints) and James D. Watson (the co-discoverer of DNA structure). The Naked Scientists have won several awards during their run, including the European Podcast Award.

Check out The Naked Scientists HERE.

13. Common Sense with Dan Carlin


Duration: Roughly 1 Hour

Dan Carlin is one of those people that has the amazing ability to present all side of an argument but remain non-partisan while doing so. Common Sense takes no prisoners, making all aspects of government and politics fair game for Carlin’s quick witted criticism. Known lovingly as “George Costanza on steroids”, Carlin’s podcast will keep you on your toes and your brain in shape!

Check out Common Sense with Dan Carlin HERE.

12. The Writer’s Block


Duration: 30 Mins

This weekly reading series is targeted mainly at 25-40 year olds, appealing to young, intelligent, edgy listeners. Distributed through NPR, The Writer’s Block features stories, essays and poetry by all kinds of authors, and all kinds of genres, from non-fiction to plays!

Check out The Writer’s Block HERE.

11. The Skeptics’ Guide to the Universe


Duration: 60 Mins

The Skeptics’ Guide to the Universe is a podcast hosted by Steven Novella and his panel of “skeptical rogues”. The podcast discusses myths, conspiracy theories, pseudoscience and paranormal discoveries with a certain level of disbelief and, well, skepticism. Novella and his colleagues have been instrumental in debating with anti-vaccine activists, “homeopathy practitioners” and those who debate the connection between HIV and AIDS.

Check out The Skeptics’ Guide to the Universe HERE.

10. Wait Wait… Don’t Tell Me!


Duration: 60 Mins

This hour long “quiz game show” is hosted by playwright and actor, Peter Sagal. Every week, three panelists are chosen to compete on the show. Listeners are also encouraged to participate by phone or email, sometimes being chosen as contestants themselves. Prizes for winning often include Carl Kasell recording voicemail on contestants home machines!

Check out Wait Wait… Don’t Tell Me! HERE.

9. The Sound of Young America


Duration: 30 Mins

Based in Los Angeles, The Sound of Young America is hosted by Jesse Thorn, who spends segments interviewing popular arts and cultural personalities. Guests have included Art Spiegelman, David Cross, Patton Oswalt and even Ira Glass. The Sound of Young America got it’s start as a college station back in 2000 and made the jump to podcast form in 2004. The show has been mentioned in TIME Magazine and Salon.com, who said, “If you’ve never heard of The Sound of Young America, The Sound of Young America is the greatest radio show you’ve never heard of”. Well, now you don’t have an excuse, you’ve heard of it, now you just have to listen to it!

Check out The Sound of Young America HERE.

8. Keith and The Girl Comedy Talk Show


Duration: Roughly an Hour

Keith and the Girl is one of the most popular comedy podcasts to hit the airwaves in the past 5 years. Hosted by couple Keith Malley and his singer girlfriend Chemda Khalili, the show features the pair discussing the daily adventures of their lives as well as current events. The show has over 50,000 listeners and has been ranked in the Top Ten Podcasts by Podcast Alley.

Check out Keith and The Girl HERE.

7. NewsPod


Duration: 35 Mins

This daily program presents highlights from other BBC news programs, including BBC Radio 1, BBC Radio 5, BBC Asian Network and many more. NewsPod brings the quickest news updates with a wide variety of topics and informed speakers.

Check out NewsPod HERE.

6. All in the Mind


Duration: 30 Mins

All in the Mind host Natasha Mitchell presents one of the most unique podcasts, delving deeply into the human mind, brain and behavior. Topics include depression, addiction, consciousness and free will. This podcast brings educated, although unexpected, voices and themes to challenge the listener to take a closer look at the mind.

Check out All in the Mind HERE.

5. Material World


Duration: Roughly an hour

Each week on Material World, scientists discuss and describe their work and projects. The program is split into two sections, spending 15 minutes on each topic, and interviewing scientists and engineers. Although this is one of the most scientifically informative podcasts, it’s only downfall lies in the abundance of cheesy science jokes and puns.

Check out Material World HERE.

4. The Dave Ramsey Show Podcast


Duration: 3 Hours

The Dave Ramsey Show is a self-syndicated program that takes live calls regarding personal finance. Ramsey offers step by step guidance to listeners experiencing financial difficulties. The defining factor between Ramsey’s show, and other financial podcasts, is Ramsey’s willingness to take more than just the mathematical/statistical aspects into account. Ramsey relates to his audience through a spiritual and emotional connection, making him more like a friend or mentor than just a financial adviser. There are many roads to financial security and stability, but listening to Ramsey’s common sense proclamations is a great motivation for keeping on track to anyone who struggled with debt or their finances.

Check out The Dave Ramsey Show HERE

3. TED Talks


Duration: Varies

TED talks is one of those rare shows that spans a large quantity of topics, without sacrificing the quality of discussion. This series of lectures features some of the best concepts (“ideas worth spreading”) as well as amazing speakers. Former U.S. President Bill Clinton, U.K. Prime Minister Gordon Brown, Jane Goodall, Al Gore and Bill Gates have all been noted speakers. By April of 2009, the talks had been heard over 100 Million times by over 15 million people.

Check out TED Talks HERE.

2. NPR Intelligence Squared


Duration: 60 mins

This NPR podcast brings an “Oxford-style debating to America”, your basic motion, one moderator and 3 on 3 debating. NPR markets this podcast toward a wide range of people, it’s discussions including American religions, Hollywood, and even terrorist organizations. The topics are timed with world events, but this podcast tends to shine a light on events you might not be hearing about on the nightly news.

Check out NPR Intelligence Squared HERE.

1. This American Life


Duration: 60 Minutes

This hour long program, hosted by Ira Glass, is a journalistic non-fiction program, featuring essays, memoirs, short fiction and much more. The show, which first aired on the radio in 1995, is one of the most listened podcasts of our generation. The show’s incredible value was recently on display when it tackled the housing crisis and economic collapse with two episodes entitled “The Giant Pool of Money” and “The Giant Pool of Money Part 2″. TAL excels at taking the esoteric and making them understandable – relatable even – to the average Joe. Each week’s episode tackles one issue or topic in a variety of ways, ensuring that you will come away each week with a deeper understanding of the world.

Check out This American Life HERE.

  • 1

    Vintage Krug States

    September 28th, 2009 at 4:14 pm

    These are some great suggestions, will definetly be adding a few of these to my lists of things I try to get passionate about listening to online.

  • 2

    Quail States

    September 28th, 2009 at 9:00 pm

    I’d like to add some of my favorites: ‘Selected Shorts’ found at NPR, a 1 hr podcast with great actors reading some great short stories; ‘The Moth’ found at TheMoth.org, a 15 to 40 minute podcast that showcases people telling true stories in front of a live audience and without notes — truly some memorable pieces.

  • 3

    Codswallop States

    September 29th, 2009 at 8:30 am

    “Just like DVRs have freed us…”? “One of the most unique”? Maybe you should have included Grammar Girl somewhere on the list.

  • 4

    Patrice Blain States

    September 29th, 2009 at 9:33 am

    Check out ‘Stuff You Should Know’
    Chuck Bryant and Josh ask and answer every week some bizarre and interesting questions of our time.

  • 5

    Chadams States

    September 29th, 2009 at 10:05 am

    I highly recommend “Radio Lab” (radiolab.org) by WNYC. A fantastic Show/Podcast with high production values and a playfully interesting cast. I actually re-listen to them from time to time.

  • 6

    Tron States

    September 29th, 2009 at 10:35 am

    Melvyn Bragg’s In Our Time podcast on BBC Radio 4 definitely belongs on this list. It is a “History of Ideas” show which I find very enlightening and interesting.

  • 7

    Liz McCarty States

    September 29th, 2009 at 11:15 am

    All of these podcasts are fabulous, but you’ve forgotten my absolutely favorite: Radiolab! Produced by WNYC, Radiolab is Jad Abumrad and Robert Krulwich conducting conversational explorations into subjects that are a blend of science, philosophy, spirituality, and sociology. They jam a ton of information into each hour, speaking with experts in their fields, but the format is conversational and often really funny. You’ll find yourself replaying old episodes, quoting it all the time, and begging your friends to listen. My current favorite episodes are Laughter, Emergence, Memory & Forgetting, and Musical Language. (And I swear they didn’t pay me to write this – um, I’m just kind of a slavering fanatic about this show.)

  • 8

    Kevin States

    September 29th, 2009 at 12:05 pm

    I am surprised that Brian Dunning’s Skeptoid did not make the list, though I do agree that Dave Ramsey’s podcast is way underrated…that man changed our family’s finances inside-out and for the better.

  • 9

    Anthony States

    September 29th, 2009 at 12:26 pm

    I think RadioLab deserves at least an honorable mention on this list. One of the more thought provoking podcasts out there.

  • 10

    Nathan States

    September 29th, 2009 at 12:54 pm

    This is a wonderful list. I have been an avid listener of TAL for years.

    Dan Carlin is great. I will note he also has a “Hardcore History” podcast that is phenomenal.

    Dave Ramsey is a must.

    Thanks for posting this.


  • 11

    N.Andrews States

    September 29th, 2009 at 12:59 pm

    Great List.

    TAL is the best radio on the planet.

    Dan Carlin is great. He also has a podcast called “Hardcore History” which is fantastic.

    Dave Ramsey is a must listen.

    I’ll check out the rest.


  • 12

    Kris States

    September 29th, 2009 at 1:09 pm

  • 13

    Ryan McG States

    September 29th, 2009 at 1:48 pm

    Great suggestions all across the board. I’d also like to suggest NPR’s Radio Lab for consideration, though it may be a bit Science-Lite compared to some of the others.

    I’d also like to suggest that you include a field for the frequency with which the podcast updates. That might help listeners decide whether they want to get involved.

  • 14

    zedsmith States

    September 29th, 2009 at 2:41 pm

    Some podcasts I would add to the list:

    The economist
    The New Yorker
    TVO Search Engine
    TVO Big Ideas
    Philosophy Bites
    PRI Selected Shorts
    PRI To the Best of our Knowedge
    Slate Daily podcast

  • 15


    September 29th, 2009 at 3:43 pm

    Keith and The Girl is the best podcast ever made, and I’m glad it is on this list. Seriously, this podcast has practically raised my I.Q. I have never loved radio-style programming more than I do now thanks to Keith and The Girl. So glad they made this list.

  • 16

    Steve Brown States

    September 29th, 2009 at 3:46 pm

    Another vote for RadioLab – consistently smart and engaging. As good as anything in the radio/podcast world

  • 17

    nic States

    September 29th, 2009 at 5:25 pm

    I would also add DigitalCampus…its a look at the intersection of museums, libraries and higher education…its an exceptional hour, but only available once a month.

  • 18


    September 29th, 2009 at 8:24 pm

    Excellent List! I have to add the following “do not miss” podcasts.

    Radiolab – WNYC —- My personal favorite

    The Clark Howard Show

    All of the “howstuffworks” podcasts (there are like 5 or 6 of them)

  • 19

    artbot States

    September 30th, 2009 at 1:07 am

    How you could include the mildly amusing but repetitive “Wait Wait…”, and not The Bugle is beyond me. John Oliver (from The Daily Show) and Andy Zaltzman rip apart the news headlines to towering comic effect. Like an extended (and even funnier) Daily Show on steroids.


    I was disappointed to see that #1 was TAL. It’s good, but often hit or miss, and Ira Glass’s smugness is annoying. Though they *have* done some really stellar episodes.

  • 20

    Jordan States

    September 30th, 2009 at 8:23 am

    Keith and the Girl will make you smarter? Seriously? Nothing against Keith and Chemda, but KATG does not belong on this list.

  • 21

    ryan States

    September 30th, 2009 at 9:30 am

    HIGHLY recommend The Skeptic’s Guide to the Universe. By far my favorite podcast!

  • 22

    Tamas Lorincz States

    September 30th, 2009 at 10:25 am

    Great post
    Thanks, I’ll definitely subscribe to some of them. I just wanted to mention a couple of my favourites, all available from iTunes store:

    The History of Rome – absolutely fantastic podcast from the birth to the decline. The series is already in the first century BCE but all older episodes are available on the author’s blog.

    Like Zedsmith above, I’d also recommend Philosophy Bites with Nigel Warburton, an absolute intellectual delight. (His Open University series is also available in iTunes U, it’s fantastic)

    Also in philosophy: Alan Sanders Philosophy Zone from ABC Radio National is fascinating, relevant.

    I am so glad that Common Sense with Dan Carling is on your list, and like N. Andrews above, I’d warmly recommend his thoroughly researched and original Hardcore History. The last three episodes on the Ostfront gave me the goosebumps.

    Posdcasts and iTunesU lectures have become my main listening entertainment on the commute and in the gym, relegating an old love, music to the second place.
    Thanks again for the great post.

  • 23

    Barb States

    September 30th, 2009 at 1:25 pm

    Fantastic list. I have been a This American Life fan for quite awhile. In fact, I listen to Ira’s podcast while my 5 year old daughter is at her gymnastics class. I am able to do something just for me while still getting credit with my daughter for paying attention to her. Quail – I just found The Moth a few months ago and am hooked. Looks like other commenters have additional worthwhile suggestions.

  • 24

    CW States

    September 30th, 2009 at 1:26 pm

    AstronomyCast (very extensive back catalog that will make you 1000 times more knowledgable about the universe – in layman’s terms)

    If you like SGU, you’ll like ‘QuackCast’ as well

    BBC4 Friday Night Comedy (a rundown of news by comedians – cycles through two different shows), might not make you smarter … but will increase your wit!

  • 25

    Evil Eye States

    September 30th, 2009 at 1:27 pm

    I love the list, but I also have a few that are missing.

    Astronomycast (with Dr. Pamela Gay & Fraser Cain )
    Are We Alone? (with Seth Shostak )
    Geologic Podcast (comedy mixed with intelligence )
    Star Talk (with Neil DeGrasse Tyson & Lynn Koplitz )
    Little Atoms
    Earth & Environmental Systems Podcast (with Christian Shorey – The entire Universe from bang to now)
    WNYC’s Radiolab

    ….lots more.. but well.. we all only have so much time.

  • 26

    Guy States

    September 30th, 2009 at 1:44 pm

    I have two more suggestions:

    The Thomas Jefferson Hour — Scholar Clay Jenkinsen portrays the third U.S. president. The podcast’s host engages “Jefferson” to educate the audience on American history and to interpret current events through a Jeffersonian lens. Recent topics include Jefferson’s animosity toward Alexander Hamilton and his views on foreign policy.

    The Washington Institute Podcast – Talks, lectures, and Q&A’s given at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. Experts on Middle Eastern history and politics give specific recommendations for U.S. foreign policy. Recent topics include Israeli-Palestinian economic cooperation and the Iranian nuclear threat.

  • 27

    Mommabear68 States

    September 30th, 2009 at 7:29 pm

    The History of Rome became a starting point for my current interest in history. How Stuff Works has two great pod casts, How Stuff Works and The Stuff you Missed in History Class. Itunes provides all of these for my listening and learning pleasure.

  • 28

    Travis States

    September 30th, 2009 at 8:57 pm

    I’m a big fan of NPR already, but the one you have listed as #1 looks pretty cool too. The skeptics guide also looks good, but it’s hard enough to find time just for NPR!

  • 29


    October 1st, 2009 at 8:43 am

    I am appalled that Keith and the Girl made this list. Their show is the worst kind of lowest-common-denominator insult humor that does nothing whatsoever to educate their audience. If you’re making a list of podcasts that will teach you about ridicule and fart jokes, then yes, please include this show. But with all the genuinely intelligent, hard-hitting, thought-provoking programming available today, it is a real shame that you wasted a spot on them.

    On another note, many of these shows are actually radio shows that include a podcast-version. While this is wonderful, there are also many podcasts that are independent, artistic and progressive that are underrepresented here, and everywhere, which tends to happen with the more off-beat and envelope-pushing programming. A few that come to mind are:

    Look Around You (video, artistic, avant garde)
    Soccergirl, Incorporated (artistic, original music, fiction, current events, comedy)
    The Dawn and Drew Show (comedy)
    Viking Youth Power Hour (philosophy, literature, history)

    As for radio shows with podcast versions, I highly recommend In Our Time, an academic show on many topics with guests that are preeminent in their fields.

  • 30

    Amit States

    October 1st, 2009 at 5:22 pm

    “Market Place” on NPR is also one of the most informative radio about US / world Economics and finances, Wall Street and more. The subject may sound boring to lot of people but the way information is presented is easy to understand even to layman. It is 20 min per day with information packed radio program. I definitely recommend this radio to everybody over 15 years old.

  • 31

    Meyrick Jones States

    October 2nd, 2009 at 11:40 pm

    While, unsurprisingly, somewhat America centric an excellent list nonetheless. Here are a few others I would have included, perhaps making a top thirty rather than fifteen. Any such list should include, in my not so humble opinion, the following ten:

    1. The Scientific America podcast and Sci Am 60 Second Science;
    2. Digital Planet, BBC World Service;
    3. from Our Own Correspondent, BBC Radio Four and World Service;
    4. In Our Time, BBC Radio Four:
    5. NPR: Science Friday;
    6. PRI’s The World, BBC/PRI/WGBH numerous pc’s my particular favourite is the Technology Podcast:
    7. Stephen Fry’s Podgrams, infrequent but superb;
    8. Skeptoid with Brian Dunning, 10-15mins of myth busting genius;
    9. Sceptics Guide to the Universe 5X5, five minutes of condensed knowledge;
    10. Dan Carling’s Hardcore History, if you like Common Sense you’ll love these and learn a lot!

  • 32

    CCC States

    October 3rd, 2009 at 12:29 am

    Definitely agree that Dave Ramsey should be high on the list. Would like to see Greg Koukl’s ‘Stand to Reason’ podcast added there. Koukl’s expert grasp of ethics, values and philosophy are a must listen IMHO. Find it here: http://www.str.org/

  • 33

    EC States

    October 3rd, 2009 at 12:07 pm

    I think Radio Lab should be on this list!

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