Best new podcasts

The best new podcasts to listen to on your daily commute

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 two into the vast ocean of podcasts, we’ll find you something worth listening to. This week, we’ve got podcasts about a politician’s downfall, the war on drugs, immigration issues, and creative inspiration.

Culture podcast

How to Be American

best new podcasts to listen during your drive how be american podcast tenement museum

Why should I listen? American immigration laws have been convoluted and exclusionary since the first federal law was passed in 1882, the Chinese Exclusion Act.

How many episodes are there and how long are they? The six episodes, which are between 24 and 40 minutes, are released bi-weekly.   

Describe it in one word: Familiar.  

Stepping into the Tenement Museum is like emerging from a time machine that’s transported you to late 19th century New York City. Tenements were cramped, dark buildings that housed many of the city’s immigrants as they struggled to make new lives in an unfamiliar country. The museum’s new podcast, How to Be American, is about stories of multi-directional impact — both how America shaped its newcomers and how they changed their new home.

Host Brendan Murphy works at the museum and helps you visualize the spaces he describes, down to the smell of spaghetti resting on a gingham-draped table. The whole second episode is about food, specifically pizza. The Italian import morphed from its original form because American flour and other ingredients, like pepperoni, were just different. To bring the tale into the current century, Murphy speaks with  Scarr Pimentel, a Dominican-American pizzeria owner who grew up in the city eating pizza from Theo’s, which had Greek owners.  

Culture podcast

Start with This

best new podcasts to listen during your drive jeffrey cranor and joseph fink 2 credit nina subin
Nina Subin

Why should I listen? Your one-person play isn’t going to write itself.  

How many episodes are there and how long are they? The first half-hour episode was released on March 22.    

Describe it in one word: Motivating.

A podcast about making podcasts? It’s podcasts all the way down! It’s actually more about the creative side of making a podcast, so many of the discussions can apply to songwriting, word writing, and other such projects that you have on your dare-to-dream list. That means there’s no list of podcast equipment, for example.

Welcome to Night Vale’s Joseph Fink and Jeffrey Cranor host the show, which mostly consists of the two of them musing on the creative process. Each episode has a theme, like collaboration or limitations. At the end of the episode, you have two assignments: Something to consume and something to create. The idea is to push you from contemplation into action, even if your effort ultimately ends up buried under a stack of New Yorker magazines. Fink and Cranor insist it’s not a waste to do these little exercises; it’s how anyone gets better at a skill. In fact, in the first episode they say the word “practice” more than Allen Iverson. (There it is. The only sports reference I’ll ever make.)   

News and politics podcast

The Uncertain Hour

Uncertain Hour Podcast

Why should I listen? You’ll be better equipped to argue with your opinionated relatives next Thanksgiving.  

How many episodes are there and how long are they? Season 1 was six episodes, and season 2 had eight. The first episode of season 3 dropped March 21. As Clark points out, they’re more like uncertain 45-minutes than full hours.   

Describe it in one word: Comprehensive.    

There are probably a lot of topics that instantly flood you with emotion and associations that when you start to debate them, you realize you probably don’t actually know all that much about them. The Uncertain Hour is about those issues. The first two seasons were about welfare and red tape. Season three uses a bag of crack cocaine that George H. W. Bush held up during a speech in the Oval Office to explore America’s drug policies.

Host Krissy Clark is the kind of reporter who can make finding a decades-old jar of peanut butter in an archives box seem like she’s just uncovered an artifact Indiana Jones would say belongs in a museum. She also talks to other reporters and historians, as well as people who were involved in the events, such as Bush’s speechwriters. Come for the historical context, stay for Clark casually committing federal crimes involving cherry tarts.

News and politics

Public Official A

Public Official A Podcast

Why should I listen? Donald Trump has pondered pardoning Rod Blagojevich, the former governor of Illinois who was taped by the FBI, impeached, and put in federal prison.  

How many episodes are there and how long are they? This is a six-episode series, with each one running between half an hour and 45 minutes.    

Describe it in one word: [Expletive]  

To Jon Stewart circa 2009, the name Rod Blagojevich was fun to say. In Illinois, the politician’s name was mud. Blagojevich had run for governor in 2002 promising not to follow in the footsteps of the previous administration. In 2011, Blagojevich would join another former governor, George Ryan, in federal prison. The intervening years would include allegations of pay-to-play, haggling to replace Barack Obama’s Senate seat after he became president, and a media blitz (including a run on Celebrity Apprentice) after he was indicted on corruption charges.

I was living in Chicago when all this went down, so I knew how angry my neighbors were. They can likely still recite Blagojevich’s line about Obama’s seat. (“I’ve got this thing and it’s f**king golden, and I’m just not giving it up for f**king nothing.”) But asking my Pacific Northwest friends about it now, they don’t know much (or anything) beyond The Daily Show bits. In Public Official A WBEZ’s Dave McKinney recounts Blagojevich’s rise and fall and talks with his wife, Patti, who’s doing everything she can to catch the ear of Donald Trump to get a pardon. McKinney sees parallels between Blagojevich and his former reality TV boss.

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