Podcasts give us a great way to learn more about a particular topic, engross ourselves in a compelling story, or laugh along with our favorite celebs or murder mystery lovers. And, they’re easily accessible. You can listen in your car, on your phone and computer, or on any digital assistant you may have.
And, people were definitely listening to podcasts this year.
2018 was a big year for podcasts, with an estimated 525,000 active shows and over 18.5 MILLION episodes listened to by about 44% of the population.
Podcasts are a hot topic in my home – my husband even has a T-shirt broadcasting his favorite podcast: Are You Talking R.E.M. Re: Me? And I religiously listen to my favorite Bachelor/Bachelorette recap podcast: Here to Make Friends (I won’t judge your podcast preferences if you don’t judge mine).
So, what were the top podcasts this year?* And what should you start listening to if you haven’t already? Let’s explore some categories.
Top 5 Business Podcasts
Looking for podcasts to inspire you in your professional life? Then the Business podcast category is for you! These five podcasts feature professionals from a range of industries interviewing experts, sharing their expertise, and aiming to help business professionals in their daily lives.
Who wants to be a millionaire? If it’s you, then you might want to subscribe to this podcast. The Dave Ramsey Show was the fourth most downloaded podcast of 2017 and continued its run in 2018. Dave Ramsey is a financial expert and best-selling author. On his podcast, he answers questions about investing, retiring, debt, insurance, and marriage. Basically, if you want to learn how to budget your money or get answers to your financial questions, Dave’s show is for you.
What reviewers say: “This great podcast is an excellent example of just what is needed today. Straight forward, practical and sound advice, mixed in with humor and/or sympathy, with just the right dose of sarcasm.”
Top episode: The Millionaire Strategy that Works
Are you interested in the economy and what's really going on? Do you wish someone could explain it to you in a way that you'd not only understand but enjoy? Then Planet Money by NPR is for you. This podcast has won some serious awards, including the Edward R. Murrow Award in 2017 for their investigation into Wells Fargo. They've also done some crazy things like bought 100 barrels of crude oil to follow it from the ground to a gas tank.
What reviewers say: "ALWAYS entertaining and educational. They have this masterful way of explaining things not too dumbed down but not too high level. Awesome, awesome show."
Top episode: The Wells Fargo Hustle
Do you want to know how some of the world’s best-known companies came to be? This NPR podcast dives into just that. Guy Raz, a journalist and correspondent, interviews the people behind your favorite businesses like Lyft, Rent the Runway, Whole Foods, and many more.
What reviewers say: “How I Built This gives great insight into some of the most creative minds that have shaped the world as we know it. It takes a direct look at how the products as we know and love came to be. The episodes are not too long and keep the reader intrigued for the duration of the episode.”
Top episode: Instagram: Kevin Systrom & Mike Krieger
If you've ever heard of the 4-Hour Workweek, you've probably heard of Tim Ferriss. Tim Ferriss is an author, entrepreneur, and "experimenter." In each episode of his podcast, he analyzes a top performer from an industry and outlines the tools, tricks, and tactics that you can use to hopefully replicate their amazing work. He's interviewed people like LeBron James, Edward Norton, and Tony Robbins.
What reviewers say: "Pick any of these and start listening. You will most likely find actionable habits that can improve your life. Not just business or investing."
Top episode: Q&A With Tim — On Happiness, Dating, Depressive Episodes, and Much More
Want to hear a podcast hosted by someone known as “the Tony Robbins for women?” Then best-selling author and CEO Rachel Hollis’s RISE podcast is for you. In this podcast, Rachel talks to business leaders that provide listeners with the tools to help them change their lives. And, if you like what you hear, you can listen to Rachel’s relationship podcast with her husband, RISE Together.
What reviewers say: “Rachel is my spirit animal! Her positivity is so infectious. I find that when I am able to listen to her podcasts during my workday I go home supercharged, upbeat and ready to enjoy time with my family.”
Top episode: How to Set Yourself Up for Success
Top 3 Storytelling Podcasts
As humans, we’re drawn to stories. And podcasts present a great avenue for storytelling. So, sit back and check out three popular storytelling or serial podcasts.
I mean, is it cheating that the name of this podcast essentially matches the category? If you haven’t listened to Serial, chances are that you’ve heard about it. Serial’s first season was a cultural phenomenon, following the story of Adnan Syed, a young man who was arrested for the murder of his ex-girlfriend in Baltimore in 1999. Sarah Koenig, a journalist for NPR, takes a deep dive into a true story each season – looking at all the facts and angles. Season three launched in September, so you have three fully-fleshed stories to hear.
What reviewers say: “I have to say, this is one of the most engrossing stories I’ve ever had the pleasure of being at the edge of my seat for. I need to know what comes next!”
Top episode: The Alibi (Season 1)
You may have recognized this name from the drama that aired on Bravo and garnered actress Connie Britton a Golden Globe award nomination. But, it originated as an investigative podcast from the Los Angeles Times following the true story of Debra Newell and her new love interest, John. You’ll have to listen to the podcast to find out what happens, but it’s a really interesting (and terrifying) story that’s well-told by host Christopher Goffard.
What reviewers say: “I couldn't stop listening...this had me on edge the entire time – and the ending!! Wow... what a crazy horrible, yet amazing story.”
Top episode: The Real Thing
Listen, we’re a little biased, but this podcast from USA TODAY is fascinating. It tells the true stories of how power works in urban America, and season one starts out in Chicago in 1999 revolving around a landfill (of all things). The story grows and evolves in ways you can’t imagine, and you’ll be on the edge of your seat. You can also follow along with the interactive website created to dive deeper into the story here.
What reviewers say: “This podcast does an excellent job of connecting the dots between government corruption, structural racism, and the construction of our cities.”
Top episode: Six Stories
Top 3 Comedy/Entertainment Podcasts
Now that we’ve got your intellectual side covered with business and storytelling podcasts, it’s time to highlight some podcasts that are just for fun. You might learn some things from these podcasts – like how not to get murdered – but at the end of the day, their goal is to make you laugh and entertain you. And really, what could be better?
This podcast features actor Dax Shepard having conversations with his friends and fellow actors in the industry. I personally love this podcast – I’ve learned interesting tidbits from celebs I like, and the way Dax is able to flow from light and funny topics to things that get a little deeper is really interesting. I would suggest giving this one a listen if you want to learn more about the entertainment industry, funny stories about your favorite actors, and more.
What reviewers say: “I love this podcast. I struggle finding others that compare to this one because it’s so interesting. Love the people he has on and how they tell their stories. It’s not just about the person’s career, it’s getting to know them on a deeper basis.”
Top episode: Kristen Bell (duh)
If you’re into true crime but also laughing, then you should check out this podcast (if you haven’t already). I’ve personally been recommended this one countless times, but as someone who’s terrified of true crime, I’ve stayed away. However, I did listen to an episode for the sake of research, and I have to say it’s hilarious. Stand-up comedian Karen Kilgariff and television writer Georgia Hardstark take a deep dive into the true crime stories you know or wish you didn’t know, and tell listeners to “Stay sexy and don’t get murdered.”
What reviewers say: “Do you love crime and morbidity but fancy yourself a nonetheless upbeat and amusing, well-adjusted human? You’ve come to the right place! Perfect hosts – engaging and charismatic – and interesting subject matter. Like high tea at a morgue!”
Top episode: My Firstest Murder
Are you obsessed with The Office? Do you ever wish you could have been a fly on the wall during the filming of your favorite episodes? If so, Office Ladies is for you. Jenna Fischer (aka Pam) and Angela Kinsey (aka Angela - but from The Office) rewatch an episode every week and spill behind-the-scenes secrets every super fan wants to know. This recently premiered, so there aren't a ton of new episodes, but it's worth the wait.
What reviewers say: "Not only is it fun hearing these two best friends talk for an hour, but those best friends are Pam and "Angela." Behind-the-scenes secrets about the pilot are priceless. I will eagerly await this podcast for the laughs, heartwarming friendship, and information about one of the best shows in American TV history."
Top episode: The Pilot
We hope you enjoyed our roundup of top podcasts that you should be listening to! I know I’m adding a few of these to my list to inspire, educate, and entertain me in the new year. And, the great thing about podcasts is that there are endless options, so you can find something that aligns with your specific industry or interests to get you through your morning commute, keep you company while you’re doing chores, or help you zone in during your workday.
*Top podcasts sourced from Apple Podcasts Charts on Chartable the week of 10/21/19 with some editorial additions.