The 39 best podcasts you need to listen to right now

The RadioTimes.com team recommends their favourite podcasts - from politics to comedy to real life stories

What are the most informative podcasts?

Guardian Audio Long Reads

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Do you struggle to find time to sit down and read proper, in-depth journalism? There is a solution! You can listen to it instead. For 30 or 40 minutes at a time, a voice actor reads out a long feature from The Guardian. So you can go for a run while learning about the brutal world of sheep fighting in Algeria, or clean the kitchen as you find out more about the weird world of obsolete oil rigs. The quality of each article is extremely high.

No Such Thing as a Fish

You like QI, right? Well, the people that craft the BBC’s Quite Interesting panel show, the QI elves, also record their own podcast. And it’s filled with even more strange truths than its TV parent. Starting each show with an unusual fact unearthed by an elf (for instance, kangaroos have three vaginas), the others chime in with their own related facts (did you know there are 600 men with two penises in the world?) alongside jokes worthy of the finest QI panellists.

Inside Science

Dr Adam Rutherford

You don’t have to be a rocket scientist to appreciate this Radio 4 show, now available in podcast form. Dr Adam Rutherford and a collection of guest presenters will guide you through the big scientific stories and questions of the day. To give you just a taste: listeners can hear all about coral reefs, mosquito sounds, gene editing, chimp kin recognition, and nuclear lightning.

Freakonomics

After a few episodes you’ll make that sudden realisation: economics isn’t actually boring. Made by the duo behind the best-selling Freakonomics books (Steven Levitt and Stephen Dubner), this streamlined podcast uses data to discover “the hidden side of everything”. And they always succeed, whether investigating how to win classic board games, how to close the gender pay gap, why we still use cash, or even why drunk walking is considerably more dangerous than drunk driving.

Tell Me Something I Don’t Know

Freakonomics fan? Then listen to the game show podcast produced by the same people. Fronted by Freakonomics host Stephen Dubner, each episode – recorded live in front of an audience – invites guests to take to the stage and tell everyone something they don’t know. The guest is then grilled by a panel of experts (and, in some cases, by the real-time fact-checker), which leads to more interesting nuggets, mind-boggling questions and plenty of laughter. Just think of it as really witty, really smart dinner-party conversation.

In Our Time

Melvyn Bragg, In Our Time

When Melvyn Bragg launched Radio 4’s In Our Time back in 1998, he could hardly know that it would one day become an extremely popular podcast. Fans can now explore the history of ideas by downloading the radio discussion programme, which explores such diverse topics as the Highland Clearances, Cephalopods, Feathered Dinosaurs, The Egyptian Book of the Dead, and Roger Bacon.

The Boring Talks Podcast

The Boring Talks Podcast is pretty much what it says in the title. Each episode of this new BBC podcast is a talk by someone with an unnatural interest in a subject that on the face of it should be boring. Their passion and enthusiasm for that subject makes it impossible for it to be dull. Ever wanted to know more about, yellow lines, international wooden palette sizes or the Argos Catalogue? No? Do yourself a favour and subscribe to the Boring Talks…


What are the best true crime podcasts?

Casefile True Crime

The problem with too many true crime podcasts? An overdose of sensationalism. This Australian series doesn’t do that. By narrating chilling real-life events across hours with an emphasis on chilling facts over speculative hyperbole, Casefile is a masterclass in storytelling. Even if you’re familiar with the Shannon Matthews kidnapping, Jonestown massacre or Moors murders, this podcast’s attention to detail makes these terrifying stories worth revisiting.

Dirty John

Just when 59-year-old Debra thought she would never find true love, she laid eyes on John Meehan. With his muscle-rippled physique, natural charm and loving nature, she thought her chance at a happy relationship had finally come. It hadn’t. John Meehan, serial confidence trickster, was about to put her – and her family – in extreme danger. This podcast tells the horrifying true crime tale through interviews with the story’s main players and victims.

Serial

Serial podcast

Serial arguably broke podcasts into the mainstream. Series one – which reconstructed the case against Baltimore local Adnan Syed, convicted as a teenager of his girlfriend’s murder – topped iTunes for weeks and developed a loyal following who hung off host Sarah Koenig’s every word. Donations quickly funded a second season, this time investigating the charges of desertion made against US soldier Bowe Bergdahl – including an interview with a member of the Taliban. With its meticulous reporting and compelling stories, when it comes to investigative podcasts Serial is the gold standard.

S-Town

Sure, it’s produced by the team behind critically lauded and top-downloaded true crime show Serial, but this podcast is very different in tone from its predecessor. Although wrapped in the same beautiful sound design as Serial, S-Town offers a more intimate and subdued podcast that investigates the mysterious life of John B McLemore. It’s a touching tale of the endlessly charismatic clock-maker and his enigmatic life in Woodstock, Alabama – otherwise known as S***town.


What are the best storytelling podcasts?

Missing Richard Simmons

Richard Simmons Portrait Session

Richard Simmons. He’s the flamboyant American fitness guru and talk show darling who made millions from weight-loss videos and TV appearances over three decades. But on February 15, 2014, he vanished. Without warning, Richard Simmons shut off his closest friends and has not made a single public appearance since. Why? This podcast digs towards the surprising – and downright bizarre – truth.

The Moth

We all have stories to tell – some embarrassing, some heart breaking, some downright fascinating. The Moth celebrates the best of them, working with ordinary people to craft their tales before they stand-up and narrate them in front of live audiences around the world. Each story is recorded and bundled up with others in hour-long themed collections that can have you enthralled, laughing and tearing-up all at once.

Butterfly Effect

In the heady early years of the internet in the late 90s, an enterprising teenager called Fabian had an idea: to give the world free online porn. But what are the consequences of the rise of PornHub? Over seven episodes, Jon Ronson takes us on a journey into “porn world” – where he discovers that the fallout has been very strange indeed.

Heaven’s Gate

Heaven's Gate Leader Marshall Herff Applewhite

In 1997, a group of 39 cult followers took their own lives in a mass suicide, hoping to reach the “next level” and join an extraterrestrial spacecraft. But why? This podcast tries to make sense of one of America’s strangest cults, starting at the very beginning and tracing the story of Heaven’s Gate all the way through to its tragic end.

Ear Hustle

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Told by those living through it first-hand, this series serves up raw stories of life inside a US prison. Specifically, San Quentin State Prison where inmates have produced their own podcast exploring issues of race, cellmates, fashion, isolation and even pets. Sometimes funny, often touching, yet always compelling, Ear Hustle is a unique guide to the reality of those locked up.