In the ever-expanding world of podcasts, listeners pick from a buffet of options for audio feasting. There’s no shortage of well-crafted conversation, such as Mitch Joel’s Six Pixels of Separation, but there’s also plenty to choose from if you crave clever editing and innovative structure.
There are the big names, of course—the scientific soundscape of Radiolab and the gold-standard storytelling of This American Life. But go beyond the “top downloads,” and you’ll find plenty to pique your interest, whether you’re looking for fresh listening material or want creative inspiration for crafting your own podcast.
Any serialized form of entertainment needs a hook, but not every podcast has the natural intensity of, say, true crime to provide it. Codebreaker maintains reader interest in a couple of ways. First, each season has a simple theme that crosses over episodes. Season one poses a question, “Is it evil?” and applies it to everything from internet porn to the dark web. Season two asks, “Can it save us?” and dives deep into voice recognition technology, how technology affects borders and refugees, and more. The reporting is thorough, often harrowing, and the resulting episodes offer a hefty mix of entertainment and, as the hosts notes, even dread.
The other hook: The team embeds a code into each episode. Astute listeners can unlock the next episode through this code, then the next, to binge-listen. Listening becomes something more than a passive experience.
The Dinner Party Download
Does it have some straightforward interviews? Yes. But what sets The Dinner Party Download apart is the overarching structure, based around staples from the typical dinner party. Each episode kicks off with an icebreaker joke from one of the guests—often cheesy, but always a punchy way to get things started. Guests take turns making small talk through stories. Hosts reveal historical facts—like the history of the doughnut—and ask bartenders to make a drink based on them. Want to know how famous musicians would craft a party playlist? You’ll get that in each episode. If you want ideas on an inventive podcast structure that still features conversation as the centerpiece, this is well worth a listen.
Tell Me Something I Don’t Know
You probably associate “recorded live in front of a studio audience” with TV, but live podcasts are out there. One of the most inventive (perhaps unsurprisingly) comes from the creators of Freakonomics. Tell Me Something I Don’t Know is a game show/talk show/roundtable hybrid. Each episode has a theme—Wordz, for example, has guests from Hearst Magazines and the New York Times. Audience members serve as contestants and share fascinating facts, then get questioned by the celebrity guests. There’s a fact-checker on hand to make sure everything is on the up and up. It’s a fun format, and there are as many laughs as there are learning moments. But make no mistake: You’ll learn something.