The best thing about podcasts is that you can listen to them while you’re doing other things: Dishes, going for a jog, coloring, and especially, driving. But there are so many podcasts these days that it’s officially impossible to keep up. There are new ones debuting all the time, and it’s hard to know whether they deserve a spot in your feed.
Every week, we highlight new and returning podcasts we couldn’t put down. Whether you’re looking for the latest and greatest or you’re just dipping your toe into the vast ocean of podcasts, we’ll find you something worth listening to. This week, we’ve got podcasts covering science controversies, an attention-seeking serial killer, an author’s death sentence, and some of the originators of punk.
True Crime podcast
Why should I listen? The podcast goes far beyond the 2007 movie and casts doubts on whether a commonly named suspect actually committed the murders.
How many episodes are there and how long are they? There will eventually be 15 episodes total, and they all run between 30 and 40 minutes.
Describe it in one word: Grisly.
In 2017, the internet had a grand old time with the marketing for The Snowman, a movie (based on a good book series) about a murderer who, like so many of his ilk, enjoyed taunting the police. The same was true of the very real Zodiac Killer. While he seems to fit many of the serial killer tropes, this still-unknown murderer was active before the term serial killer was widely used. He started sending letters and ciphers to newspapers in 1969, making literary references and chilling threats to take out a busful of children.
The podcast’s first season, Atlanta Monster, was at its strongest in showcasing voices who could provide context around the murders. With Zodiac, narrator Matt Frederick leads listeners through interviews with journalists, amateur researchers, and victims’ family members. Though hearing the Zodiac’s own words from his letters is probably the most disturbing part of the podcast, there’s something unsettling about people’s obsession with the case as well. One victim’s husband compares having to discuss her murder to reopening a scabbed-over wound.
Why should I listen? It’s the perfect counterweight to the “musicians should stay out of politics” argument.
How many episodes are there and how long are they? There will be eight episodes (only three are out now), between 30 and 45 minutes long.
Describe it in one word: Boisterous.
“The Clash are the kind of garage band who should be returned to the garage immediately, preferably with the engine running,” music journalist Charles Shaar Murray wrote in 1976. To be fair, they had a bassist who didn’t know how to play and wrote the notes on his instrument. By the time I was in middle school, though, you could hear “Rock the Casbah” on the same radio station that would play “Come on Eileen.” What happened in the intervening years is told in the new podcast Stay Free: The Story of The Clash. ”
Public Enemy’s Chuck D may not seem like a natural choice to host a journey into punk’s past, but it’s actually a perfect fit. In 1986, Def Jam’s Bill Stephney wanted to make the then-DJ into a “hip-hop version of [Clash lead vocalist] Joe Strummer.” The singer and lyricist made music that meant something to ‘70s London teens who had a lot of anger and anxiety. (“It’s almost as if punk fans came before the punk bands,” critic Caroline Coon says in the first episode.) Through footage and interviews, Chuck D zig-zags through the lives of the band members and those around them, connecting the dots between Chuck Berry, reggae, the Sex Pistols, and the Ramones and the sound that would eventually become The Clash. It’s a legacy that still reverberates today through Rancid, Ted Leo, and any number of punk-rock bands, but one that also influenced U2 and Rage Against the Machine.
Science and Medicine podcast
Why should I listen? So there’s some scientific method to your madness.
How many episodes are there and how long are they? Depending on the season, there are between 11 and 15 episodes, all around 30 minutes.
Describe it in one word: Pun-ctilious.
Is coffee actually good for you? Should you spend the extra money to buy organic fruit? Can you really be hypnotized? Chances are when you debate these issues with your friends, you use a lot of anecdotes and mention vaguely recalled headlines about scientific studies. (At least, that’s how I argue.) Science Vs is a podcast that can help you get some facts (remember those?) to go with your many opinions. The show digs into the research, analyzing peer-reviewed studies and clinical trials. Then they track down experts and ask them to help interpret some of the biggest scientific controversies around.
Host Wendy Zukerman is a woman after my own pun-loving heart. (In an episode on essential oils, she asked if “they make any scents.”) The show’s sixth season debuted March 14, and some of the topics they cover include emotional support animals, the health effects of alcohol, and a toenail collection. Guess you’ll have to listen to figure out what that last one is all about.
Why should I listen? Thirty years later, the argument over free speech and work that’s considered blasphemous or offensive hasn’t exactly gone away.
How many episodes are there and how long are they? At between 13 and 17 minutes each, you can zip through Fatwa’s 10 episodes in no time.
Describe it in one word: Provocative.
In 2003, I was steps away from Salman Rushdie as he walked through an auditorium at the University of Michigan to discuss the Royal Shakespeare Company’s play based on his novel Midnight’s Children. This was well before his divorce from Padma Lakshmi, before his awkward social media encounters, before an appearance on Curb Your Enthusiasm — but only a few years after he’d come out of hiding. That day, the audience seemed excited but a little on edge.
In 1989, Ayatollah Khomeini issued a fatwa against Rushdie, who had just published The Satanic Verses. Killings and attempted murders followed. Fatwa’s hosts Chloe Hadjimatheou and Mobeen Azhar speak with a variety of people caught up in the aftermath, including a British Muslim man who became radicalized in the wake of the Rushdie Affair. One former Penguin employee only gives his first name, as the fatwa still hasn’t been lifted and it included those who helped publish the book.
Need more options? Check out our list of the best podcasts of all time.