Podcasts for Your Brain

Buffalo Exchange HQ Podcasts blog header

By Joe Carrel, Buffalo Exchange HQ

Whether it’s speakers, headphones or earbuds, we all find ways to score that much-needed soundwave fix. But as much as I love music, sometimes you just want to mix things up. Thank goodness for podcasts.

Lately, I’ve been looking beyond the scores of purely-entertainment options and seeking out those that provide a little more to chew on. So let’s check out some podcasts that’ll make that light bulb above your noggin shine a little brighter.

SNACKS (episodes under a half hour)

How to Do Everything – Hopping to a new topic every few minutes, the hosts attempt to answer any question listeners can muster – with ample amounts of freewheeling banter.

Innovation Now – Intriguing stories of rising technologies and the folks behind them – all in 90 seconds.

Hidden Brain – Uses storytelling with a scientific angle to explore why we behave the way we do.

Planet Money – Unravels the ways economics affects us, in an unintimidating style.

Grammar Girl: Quick and Dirty Tips for Better Writing – The title sums it up perfectly.

The Memory Palace – Remarkable, brief yet vivid tales of the past.

MODTV Fashion Video Podcast – Your bingeable backstage pass to the heavy hitters of the fashion world.

Science and Creativity – Hones in on the creativity at the heart of scientific discovery.

Lore – Takes creepy stories from real life and uncovers the history behind them.

Note to Self – Focuses on retaining one’s humanity in a world of rapidly advancing technology.

Song Exploder – Asks musicians to break down how a particular song was made. Simple premise, fascinating results.

The Story Collider – Personal stories… that just happen to involve science.

Unexplained – Delves into intriguing real life events that seem to defy explanation.

The Way I Heard ItTV personality Mike Rowe succinctly relays tales of people we only thought we knew.

99% Invisible – Takes a fresh-eyed look at the design & architecture we often take for granted.

Flash Forward – Each episode poses a futuristic “what if?” and attempts to figure out how that future would actually unfold.

Talking Cars – Automotive reviews and tips from Consumer Reports’ car testing staff.

Death, Sex & Money – Interviews that go where most stop, delving into the big questions that make up who we are.

Imaginary Worlds – While it is about science fiction & fantasy, it sidesteps simple fandom and concentrates on the questions behind why these genres continue to engage our collective imagination.

APPETIZERS (in the 30-45 minute range)

All Songs Considered – Plays new music from both established artists and up-and-comers.

You Must Remember This – History-infused tales from the golden age of Hollywood.

Stuff You Should Know – Take a topic – any topic – and, considering they’ve been podcasting since ’08, chances are they’ve done an episode on it.

Myths and Legends – Intriguing tales from folklore told for a modern audience. The fact that it sticks to the original, pre-“evolved over time” versions make the stories both familiar and refreshingly new.

Freakonomics – Its unique angles into the mysteries of day to day life give insight into how we quirky humans fit in.

Surprisingly Awesome – The hosts (one being director Adam McKay) fearlessly tackle the most boring subjects they can think of and, through interviews, research and wiles, wind up convincing us that these topics are actually “surprisingly awesome.”

IF YOU’RE A BIBLIOPHILE: there are several podcasts worth trying, including Books on the Nightstand, All the Books!, and the longer (hour-ish) Book Riot – The Podcast and Literary Disco.

What’s the Point – From Nate Silver’s stat-based site FiveThirtyEight, this podcast focuses on how data is shaping our lives.

Studio 360 – There are many, many podcasts devoted to pop culture, but if you like yours with a hearty dose of the arts, this is for you.

Stuff You Missed in History Class – Why does it seem that all of the truly interesting history falls between the cracks of text book education? Luckily, this show fills in those cracks nicely.

Here’s the Thing – with Alec Baldwin – While this is a straight-up interview show, the fact that it’s hosted by a celebrity questioning other celebrities gives it a unique flavor. That, and Alec Baldwin is a national treasure.

Reply All – The fact that its own iTunes description is simply “a show about the internet” gives it the leeway to explore all sorts of interesting topics.

Radiolab – While the episode runtimes vary, the quality does not. Science and culture intermix in fascinating stories that not only pique one’s interest, but reward it.

ENTREES (over 45 minutes)

TED Radio Hour – If you are familiar with the uber-intriguing TED Talks (smart people giving brief, passionate talks about great ideas) you’ll love this intelligent mashup of interviews and TED Talk clips that spotlight one particular subject each episode.

Another Round – The relaxed, bourbon-enhanced banter of these ladies slides from the ridiculous to the astute, but consistently leaves you smiling.

StarTalk Radio – Rock star of the astrophysicist world Neil deGrasse Tyson guides you through comedy-injected discussions about science and the cosmos.

IF YOU’RE A FOODIE: The Splendid Table and America’s Test Kitchen will keep you hungry for more.

On Being – Interviews people from varied fields (science, theology, arts, education) about life’s most meaningful questions and how we can more wisely view our world.

The History Chicks – Each episode dives deep into the life of a famous woman from history.

The Tim Ferris Show – Interviews world-class achievers of all types to find out what tips and tricks they use to perform their best.

IF YOU’RE INTO POLITICS: there are interview-with-politician podcasts The Axe Files & Off Message and discussion shows like Slate’s Political Gabfest. My current favorite, “Keepin’ it 1600,” is hosted by a pair former Obama speech writers who keep things informal yet smart.

Fresh Air – Host Terry Gross touches upon important issues as she conducts insightful interviews with people of note.

Tough Girl Podcast – Inspiring talks with women who’ve overcome fierce challenges.

Filmspotting – Thoughtful, in-depth film discussions are balanced with fun top five lists and hilarious “massacre theatre” acting.  A weekly reminder of how movies can still manage to reflect who we are and who we aspire to be.

IF YOU’RE INTO INTERESTING STORIES (and who isn’t?): check out Snap Judgment, The Moth Podcast, and king of the podcast hill, This American Life.

No, these podcasts are not 100% educational; they wisely know that a spoonful of entertainment helps the knowledge go down. The important thing is that our curiosity is sparked. So whether it’s through your speakers, headphones or earbuds, here’s hoping we all find ways to tune into that curiosity.