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Top 10 Podcasts Worth Checking Out

Welcome to Issue No. 2 of Listicles, the feature that presents Top 10, Top 5, Top 3, Top 100 or Top 1,000,000 of whatever it is you want to know about. Email your Listicle suggestions to johnagliata@gmail.com.

I remember precisely where I was when I became a podcast addict, and I’m not proud of it.

Clad in camo from head to toe, I’d gone out into the woods near my Central Missourah home to hunt squirrels. This isn’t because I hate squirrels. I don’t have any particularly strong emotion toward squirrels, though having attended Drake University — where the squirrels are legendarily aggressive — I have a deep respect for the little varmints.

I also was bored and in need of a hobby.

So there I sat, back against a tree, looking very much like a poor man’s Rambo, listening with one ear for that telltale rustle in the trees while the other took in through an earbud the soothing voice of Sarah Koenig and the Serial podcast. This groundbreaking venture shared the details of the allegedly wrongful conviction of Adnan Syed in the murder of Hae Min Lee.

I was hooked. Since then, I’ve listened to a kazillion hours of podcasts. Yes, a kazillion.

Recently, I took steps to curb my addiction. I deleted from my Spotify podcast list about 35 series I’d either already listened to or determined I never would. What’s left is a healthy list making up a variety of genres, and from them I’ve selected my Top 10 that you might want to check out. Or don’t. I’m not your boss. You do you.

As always, these lists are merely the writer’s opinions and are meant to stir up passionate debate and acts of violence from people who disagree with his take. Submit your favorite podcasts that I should check out to johnagliata@gmail.com or leave them in the comments below.


No. 10: Dan Carlin’s Hardcore History

Now that I’ve lost 75% of the would-be readers of this Listicle because I started it with a freaking history podcast, I’ll let the remaining losers know about this amazing show that brings major world events to life. Dan Carlin dives deep — and I mean deep — into more familiar topics such as the rise of the Japanese empire and World War I and lesser known historical stops such as the Celtic Holocaust and the Persian Empire.

And I absolutely cannot overstate the word deep. Each episode can be as long as three hours-plus. and each topic can have as many as four or five episodes. If you pay attention, you’re going to know the crap out of World War I.

If you have an interest in history, you probably already know about this podcast. If you don’t, you should check it out. Carlin is a great narrator and reliable researcher.


No. 9: Criminal

I’d put this on my list simply because of Phoebe Judge’s voice. If after listening to just one episode you can’t imagine yourself in some hippie coffee joint sipping a latte with her while she regales you with stories of obscure true crime, well, you’re not trying.

Criminal is a tight and entertaining podcast with episodes of lesser-known crimes throughout history. She’s a great narrator and seems to be having genuine fun doing her thing.


No. 8: Hello From The Magic Tavern

Meet Arnie. He fell through a dimensional portal behind a Burger King into the fantastical land of Foon. He’s still getting a slight wifi signal from the Burger King, so he uploads a weekly podcast from the tavern The Vermilion Minotaur, where he interviews wizards, monsters and other adventurers. Alongside him are Chunt, a shapeshifter and Usidore, a wizard on a quest to defeat the Dark Lord.

Yes, it’s incredibly geeky. Yes, you’re a nerd if you listen to it. Yes, it’s funny. Usidore’s intro alone is enough to keep you entertained. And the episodes featuring Flower are absolutely hilarious.

If you’re into Lord of the Rings, DnD or Game of Thrones, check it out.


No. 7: Truth & Justice

Originally a Serial spinoff to continue the investigation into the aforementioned Adnan Syed situation, Truth & Justice has become a force to exonerate the wrongfully convicted. Hosted by Bob Ruff, a former firefighter who is incredibly jacked, the podcast is responsible for freeing at least two wrongfully convicted men. His case selection is careful and responsible, and he’s not afraid to bail if, during the course of his investigation, he finds more evidence leading toward his subject’s guilt.

If you’re looking for a place to jump in, start with Edward Ates case.


No. 6: The Adventure Zone

If the presence of a history podcast and The Magic Tavern aren’t enough to convince you I’m a nerd, this one’ll do it for sure. The Adventure Zone is based on the theory that you’ll listen to other people play Dungeons and Dragons. And hey, I do.

The podcast features the Family McElroy … father, Clint, and brothers Justin, Travis and Griffin. Season 1 is particularly masterful, chronicling the adventures of Taako (pronounced Taco), Merle and Magnus.

The Adventure Zone spawned a number of worthwhile knockoff DnD podcast, including the appropriately named Not Another DnD Podcast, which also is worth a listen.

Roll them dice, boys and girls.


No. 5: Mega

Mega is a fabulously satirical podcast taking a good, hard and well-deserved look at modern evangelical Christian church culture. Told through the travails of suburban Indiana mom Halle LaBont and youth pastor Gray Hass, Mega is simply funny. The duo interviews a member of the church staff and community of the fictional (but oh-so-familiar) Twin Hills Community Church … a “mega church with a tiny family feel.”

It is, in a word, hilarious … if you don’t take Christianity too seriously. Listen for any amount of time and you’ll start understanding what Clay Mason Bannerman, my son Day and the dysfunction of the modern mega church is all about.


No. 4: Timesuck

Comedian Dan Cummins enlightens you weekly from the Suck Dungeon with stories of true crime, cults and strange phenomena around the world, with the occasional sprinkle of a Steve Irwin, Betty White and Edward Snowden thrown in.

It’s crass, full of profanity and uproariously hilarious. A good podcast indoctrinates you into its own language, and Cummins does that in abundance. I’m actually hoping Whipple one day becomes a real thing.

If you’re looking for a good place to start, check out the episode on the Menendez Brothers or the one Dante’s Inferno.

A great thing about this podcast is that Dan Cummins has so much trouble reading his own words, his stammering and stumbles have become part of the shtick. Listen at your own peril and do your best to avoid the Cummins Law.


No. 3: Heavyweight

Those who know me know I consider myself a storyteller at heart. Because of that, I appreciate those who do it better than I do. Jonathan Goldstein is a masterful storyteller, and Heavyweight is based on a Quantum Leap-style premise of helping people go back to explore old hurts and pains with the hope of resolving them.

The stories themselves are often incredibly touching and emotional, and Goldstein and crew handle them with professionalism and care. It’s not hard for me to believe that this is Jonathan Goldstein, that he’s a dude who cares.

My only complaint with this awesome podcast is how few the episodes are because his storytelling leaves me wanting more, but if you’re a newbie, you’ve got a good library on which to feast before you’re all caught up.


No. 2: Last Podcast on the Left

Marcus, Henry and Ben bring a weekly dose of weird and insanity, delving into the world of true crime, cryptids, UFOs, ghosts and the occasional cult. Be prepared for tons of NSFW content that will leave you in stitches, and if you ever have a chance to see the boys do their thing live, do it.

If you’re easily offended, LPOTL isn’t for you. After all, the signoff to each episode starts with Henry shouting “Hail Satan!” But once you understand where that comes from, it makes sense and works.

You might not think it’s possible to find humor in the serial killing of dozens of people by a psychopath, but the point is to disarm these monsters by pointing out the absurdity in their lives. So go ahead … laugh. It’s OK.


No. 1: The Tony Kornheiser Show

Most people who know Tony Kornheiser know him from the ESPN show Pardon The Interruption. The Tony Kornheiser Show is something PTI-adjacent, with more humor plus a whole lot of old-rich-guy complaining.

Tony, like today’s Jonathan Goldstein, is primarily a storyteller. For years he plied his trade as a newspaper journalist with The Washington Post. We listen to Tony because he’s old, because he’s rich, because he likes to complain and because he’s still one of the best damn interviewers out there.

Fans of the pod are known as Littles, and there’s a whole community surrounding them. There are even events, like Jinglefest and Summer of Littles, which I attended with my son last weekend.

It’ll take you awhile to understand the secret language and know what things like two bathrobe situations, heated toilet seats, Johnnie Walker Blue, eating over the kitchen sink, Baskin-Robbins coffee (excuse me, cauffee) ice cream and large-curd cottage cheese are all about, but the more you learn, the more special you’ll feel.

La Cheeserie!


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