“This is 99% Invisible. I’m Roman Mars.” These words bring me joy. Actual joy. They’re the opening lines of my favourite podcast, 99% Invisible. And when I hear them, I know that the next 15-20 minutes are going to be great; engaging, moving, funny, intriguing. They’ll make me think, smile, and often laugh out loud (sometimes even on the DART or the street).
The Saturday before last, Ben and I went to a talk and live podcast performance (part of the Sounds Alive audio festival) hosted by Roman Mars, the creator 99% Invisible. If you’re not familiar, the show describes itself as “a tiny radio show about design, architecture and the 99% invisible activity that shapes our world.”
The subject matters vary wildly from week to week, but they make for consistently fascinating listening. I stick ‘em on walking to work, or sometimes Ben and I will listen to one when we’re cooking. It got me thinking about other podcasts, so I thought I’d round up some of my faves.
99% Invisible. I’ve already gushed about it, but episodes really worth a listen include Cover Story, Hacking Ikea, Skyjacking, UTBAPH, Duplitecture, and Holdout.
Strangers. Featuring true stories, some heart-breaking, some uplifting, Lea Thau’s podcast shines light on both how lives can change over time – beyond what you could ever imagine – and those pivotal split-second moments that instantly transform everything. Favourite episodes include Midnight In Mexico, Two Men and a Baby (I cried at this one), The Long Shadow, and Little Orphan Edie.
Sawbones. Upbeat, funny, and always packed with amazing medical trivia, Sawbones is “a marital tour of misguided medicine.” Presented by Sydnee and Justin McElroy (the former a doctor, the latter one of Ben’s favourite games journalists), it tours all the weird, wonderful, and sometimes just plain mad ways that we’ve tried to fix and cure people. Try Vaccines, Self-Experimentation, Phrenology, and Headaches.
The Dinner Party Download. Also super upbeat, this weekly culture show features big name celeb guests (Mel Brooks and Daniel Radcliffe are recents) and aims to help you “win” your dinner party by feeding you cool trivia, history, and even a cocktail recipe with a side of history. Fun to listen to while cooking up dinner.
Song Exploder. Confession: I’ve only listened to one episode of this. But it was so freakin’ good I had to include it. The idea behind the podcast is genius – take a song, and get the creator to deconstruct it, and explain how it all came together. Their first episode was about none other than one of my favourite songs, The Postal Service’s District Sleeps Alone Tonight. I won’t spoil it for you, but I was super surprised at where some sounds came from.
Radio Diaries: I’ve just started listening to this, and I’m totally hooked. Like 99%, it’s got great sound design, really immersive, and truly incredible stories. Check out The Long Shadow of Forrest Carter and The Gospel Ranger, both amazing.