Best Podcasts 2018
18 Best Podcasts of 2018
12.31.18 | Podcasting | By: Jon Street
It’s hard to believe yet another year is in the books and we flip the page from 2018 to 2019. As we close out 2018 it’s a great time to reflect on the past year, remember the highlights (and sometimes the lowlights) and review everything that 2018 has brought us. The idea of remembering the last year and looking forward to the new one is something we’ve become accustomed to really. We usually adapt this concept to reviewing our finances, health or personal goals. But why stop there? Taking a step back we can also implement this approach with something like podcasting. As podcasting has continued to gain traction in 2018 and we look forward to seeing what 2019 brings, it’s a great time to look back and reflect on everything that 2018 has offered podcastdom as we settle in for another 12 months of podcast goodness. While 2018 offered new seasons of already top podcasts, it also provided us with some new and exciting shows to earmark as fan-favorites. With this in mind let’s review the best podcasts in 2018 for you to plug into to (or perhaps revisit) as we await what 2019 has to offer.
Life in 2018 often has some measure of keeping a watchful eye on global events, especially around things like terrorism and other things that can impact our livelihood. It’s hard to turn on the news without at least some mention of these things. As such the idea of terrorism has naturally spilled over into the podcasting world as listeners are offered bite-size pieces into this reality through unique insider-perspectives. One such podcast that touched on this topic is the 2018 hit Caliphate. As if the name wasn’t enough to clue you in, the theme revolves around terrorism. So what’s it all about? “In the war on terror, who is it that we’re really fighting? “Caliphate” follows Rukmini Callimachi, who covers terrorism for The New York Times, on her quest to understand ISIS. This series includes disturbing language and scenes of graphic violence.” Part of The New York Times family of podcasts, this series has become a chart-topper as it digs deep into some often under-publicized ideas like ISIS Recruitment and who ISIS is appealing their theology to, what happens to a new recruit at The Arrival of their training camps and much more. In Caliphate, host Rukmini Callimachi offers listeners an inside look at what ISIS is really all about as she speaks with a former ISIS member, uncovering the jaw-dropping details of the network. And checking in at only 12 episodes the podcast is easily bingeable through your favorite podcast directory.
Another podcast that slashed its way onto the scene in 2018 was the comic giant Marvel’s hit performing arts masterpiece Wolverine: The Long Night. In partnership with Stitcher, this scripted podcast is an exciting new addition to the Marvel and X-Men franchise. “Following a string of mysterious deaths in Burns, Alaska, Special Agents Sally Pierce and Tad Marshall arrive to investigate. They soon find there’s more going on than meets the eye. The first scripted podcast from Marvel, starring Celia Keenan-Bolger and Ato Essandoh as Agents Pierce and Marshall, with Richard Armitage as Wolverine. Also featuring Scott Adsit, Bob Balaban, Zoe Chao, Andrew Keenan-Bolger, and Brian Stokes Mitchell.“ The podcast premiered in September with episodes like A Thousand Ways To Die In Alaska, Goodnight Nobody, Underground, Hunters and Into the Woods. You’re sure to be hooked, so after knocking out the series premiere episodes, be sure to check out the preview of Season 2 which is slated for 2019 release.
Another intriguing episodic true crime podcast that topped the charts throughout 2018 is the infamously popular Criminal. Criminal is an award-winning and highly publicized podcast about crime which is known for its captivating sound design and enthralling writing style which seem to bring it to life in a way many podcasts do not. It offers, “Stories of people who’ve done wrong, been wronged, or gotten caught somewhere in the middle. Not so much the “if it bleeds, it leads,” kind of crime. Something a little more complex.” Part of the Radiotopia family, Criminal covers bizarre and often misunderstood tales of crime and punishment. It has been noted as, “A true crime podcast that understands crime as something sociological, historical, even anthropological – that crime is a function of people, time, and place.” For newcomers, the Criminal crew recommends starting with episodes like In Plain Sight, Money Tree, 695BGK and Animal Instincts. If you’re a true crime fan, you’ll regret passing this by.
4. Ear Hustle
There’s no doubt that true crime genre of podcasting has skyrocketed in popularity over the last few years. This list is living proof of that. It seems like every time you blink a new story, case or adaptation is being released. While most of these podcasts cover the gruesome discoveries, unbelievable cover-ups or jaw-dropping details of the unbelievable, we rarely give a second thought to those involved in the crimes after justice is served. One podcast has changed that in a unique way. “Ear Hustle brings you stories of life inside prison, shared and produced by those living it. The podcast is a partnership between Nigel Poor, a Bay Area visual artist, and Earlonne Woods, currently incarcerated at San Quentin State Prison, and was co-founded with fellow inmate Antwan Williams. The team works in San Quentin’s media lab to produce stories that are sometimes difficult, often funny, and always honest, offering a nuanced view of people living within the American prison system. Ear Hustle was the winner of Radiotopia’s Podquest contest in 2016, chosen from more than 1500 international entries. Radiotopia from PRX is a curated network of extraordinary, cutting-edge podcasts.” Ear Hustle released in 2017 but is currently on its third season. Favorite episodes include Cellies, Misguided Loyalty, Bittersweet, Looking Out and The SHU. The podcast gives a unique and engaging look at what happens behind the closed doors of prisons.
Now here’s another 2018 top podcast that has had tremendous influence in podcasting. Few podcasts in the true crime genre have has as much impact and helped to shape the future of the genre as much as Up and Vanished. As the makers share, “What started as an experiment to explore a story turned into a mission for the truth.“ Hosted by Payne Lindsey and produced by the Tenderfoot TV crew, Up and Vanished is a true crime podcast that has dedicated itself to unpacking a different case in each of their 2 seasons. Season 1 focused on the 2005 disappearance of Tara Grinstead whose case file was the largest in the Georgia Bureau of Investigation’s history, with no arrests in 11 years. Due to the podcasts’ investigative journalism, in February 2017 the GBI arrested two suspects for Grinstead’s murder. The recently released Season 2 now focuses on the case of Kristal Anne Reisinger who, on July 13, 2016, reportedly disappeared from Crestone, Colorado. She has not been seen since. After 2 years with no arrests, Saguache County Sheriff’s Office is no longer treating Kristal’s disappearance as a missing persons case, but rather suspected foul play. What makes this podcast so special is the high-quality production they focus on while enabling the investigative journalism to weave an engaging storyline. With over 250,000,000 downloads for season 1 alone, as well as a frequented and respectable appearance in iTunes’ New & Noteworthy, you’re sure to find something worth listening to again and again.
If you’re a fan of storytelling style podcasts then you will want to add this next podcast to your shortlist. This American Life is a storytelling podcast with a reputable name and loyal cult following. And with good reason. To be fair, This American Life is not new to the podcast world in 2018, rather they have a long track record and history, tracing their origin back to 1995. Amazingly though they are always ranking in the top 5-10 podcasts in the major directories, earning them a place in our best of list. So what’s all the hype about? “This American Life is a weekly public radio program and podcast. Each week we choose a theme and put together different kinds of stories on that theme. Mostly we do journalism, but an entertaining kind of journalism that’s built around the plot. In other words, stories! Our favorite sorts of stories have compelling people at the center of them, funny moments, big feelings, surprising plot twists, and interesting ideas. Like little movies for radio.” Notoriously hosted by Ira Glass, be sure to check out top 2018 listened episodes like How I Read It, The Not-So-Great Unknown, 81 Words and Little War on the Prairie. Be sure to tune in to see what all the hype is about!
7. The Daily
For all the news junkies out there (you know who you are), it’s time to tune in. Another podcast that has consistently topped the charts of News & Politics throughout 2018 is The Daily. Poignantly titled, this podcast is another in the podcast family from news gurus The New York Times and offers daily insights and soundbites into the daily comings and goings of major news events. Just like this podcast, we’ll get straight to the point. “This is what the news should sound like. The biggest stories of our time, told by the best journalists in the world. Hosted by Michael Barbaro. Twenty minutes a day, five days a week, ready by 6 a.m.” Being a daily show which covers a broad variety of topics, every day offers a bit of a new spin on current breaking news headlines. Highlights of their 2018 coverage included The Ethics of Genetically Editing Babies, Why U.S. Bombs are Falling in Yemen, The State of the Midterms (and the Country) to name just a few. This will no doubt become a favorite source for your news download!
For an altogether different type of podcast, look no further than The Joe Rogan Experience. If you haven’t at least heard of this podcast, then you are very likely out of touch with podcasting as a whole as this podcast is regularly topping the Comedy genre not to mention a nearly daily guest on the Top Episodes category. The reality is, if you sign in to the Apple Podcasts platform, Joe Rogan is sure to be lurking just a click away. So what’s this podcast all about? “The Joe Rogan Experience podcast is a long-form conversation hosted by comedian Joe Rogan with friends and guests that have included comedians, actors, musicians, MMA fighters, authors, artists, and beyond.” Aside from being the host of the podcast, Joe is known for being a “Stand up comic, mixed martial arts fanatic [and] psychedelic adventurer.” The podcast features over 1,200 episodes of entertaining goodness and provides it’s loyal listeners a broad array of content. Top 2018 episodes included interviews with Elon Musk (this one is a special treat), holistic medicine guru Dr. Andrew Weil, sleep and dream expert Professor Matthew Walker and popular author and cosmologist Neil deGrasse Tyson. Many of the episodes clock in around 3 hours, so you may have to carve out a good part of your day to tune in. But trust me. It’s worth it.
This next podcast offers much more than just great podcast artwork. The Invisibilia podcast is a chart-topping entry from the NPR (National Public Radio) podcast network. In many ways, it seems like everything NPR touches is gold, and this podcast is no exception. “Invisibilia is Latin for “the invisible things.” We explore the invisible forces that shape human behavior — things like ideas, beliefs, assumptions and emotions. The show is co-hosted by two of NPR’s award-winning journalists — Alix Spiegel and Hanna Rosin — who have roots at This American Life and The Atlantic.” And it’s engaging as it sounds. “We weave incredible human stories with fascinating new psychological and brain science, in the hopes that after listening, you will come to see new possibilities for how to think, behave and live. Invisibilia has explored whether our thoughts are related to our inner wishes, our fears and how they shape our actions, and our need for belonging and how it shapes our identity and fuels our emotions over a lifetime. We investigate ways everyday objects can shape our worldviews, the effects we have on each other’s well-being, and the various lenses we don.” With roughly 45 episodes in all (12 of which from 2018), be sure to check out favorite episodes like I, I, I. Him, What Was Not Said, The Pattern Problem and Everything Good. Don’t let this one pass you by.
10. Pod Save America
Another politically-minded podcast that created waves (and a sea of avid fans) in 2018 was the hit Pod Save America. In this podcast, “Four former aides to President Obama — Jon Favreau, Dan Pfeiffer, Jon Lovett, and Tommy Vietor — are joined by journalists, politicians, comedians, and activists for a freewheeling conversation about politics, the press and the challenges posed by the Trump presidency.” Though the podcast was inaugurated in January 2017 it gained considerable traction in 2018 as it regularly appeared as a leader in the Apple News & Politics genre. In partnership with Crooked Media, the podcast offered favored episodes like Crime after crime, Pollercoaster and many more. Be on the lookout as the PSA team aims to continue providing listeners “A political podcast for people not yet ready to give up or go insane” in 2019. The 2019 release details are still to come.
11. Still Processing
If you’re looking for a podcast with its pulse on modern society and culture then be sure to check out the 2018 fan favorite Still Processing. This podcast is another top hit from The New York Times brand podcasts and consistently found its way into the top of the food chain. The podcast originally dropped in 2016 but has offered listeners more regular content over 2018. In this podcast, we “Step inside the confession booth of Wesley Morris and Jenna Wortham, two culture writers for The New York Times. They devour TV, movies, art, music and the internet to find the things that move them — to tears, awe and anger. Still Processing is where they try to understand the pleasures and pathologies of America in 2018.” Top 2018 episodes included We Talk BeyChella, We Sink Our Claws Into “Black Panther” with Ta-Nehisi Coates, We R-E-S-P-E-C-T Aretha Franklin and We Got Goop’d.
12. Fresh Air
For a hit podcast focused on the arts look no further than Fresh Air, another podcast offering from none other than NPR. “Fresh Air with Terry Gross, the Peabody Award-winning weekday magazine of contemporary arts and issues, is one of public radio’s most popular programs. Each week, nearly 5 million people listen to the show’s intimate conversations broadcast on more than 624 NPR stations across the country, as well as in Europe on the World Radio Network. In 2015, Fresh Air was the No. 1 most downloaded podcast on iTunes. Though Fresh Air has been categorized as a “talk show,” it hardly fits the mold. Its 1994 Peabody Award citation credits Fresh Air with “probing questions, revelatory interviews and unusual insights.” And a variety of top publications count Gross among the country’s leading interviewers. The show gives interviews as much time as needed, and complements them with comments from well-known critics and commentators. Fresh Air is produced at WHYY-FM in Philadelphia and broadcast nationally by NPR.” With special guests like Bruce Springsteen and Jonah Hill as well as other top episodes like Emily Blunt On ‘Mary Poppins Returns’ and Bradley Cooper on ‘A Star Is Born’ listeners will get an inside glimpse into the world of the arts and those are moving and shaking.
13. The Habitat
While many of this past year’s top podcasts touched on themes like current events, politics and entertainment, 2018 also offered some well-loved podcasts that were…well out of this world. Literally. The Habitat, a podcast from the podcast pioneer Gimlet Media offered earthlings 11 riveting episodes of engaging, binge-worthy goodness. Want to know more? “On a remote mountain in Hawaii, there’s a fake planet Mars. Six volunteers are secluded in an imitation Mars habitat where they will work as imitation astronauts for one very real year. The goal: to help NASA understand what life might be like on the red planet—and plan for the day when the dress rehearsals are over, and we blast off for real. Host Lynn Levy has been chronicling this experiment from the moment the crew set foot in their habitat, communicating with them through audio diaries that detail their discoveries, their frustrations, and their evolving and devolving relationships with each other. From those diaries, Gimlet Media has crafted an addictive serialized documentary: the true story of a fake planet.” Yeah. Whoa. The podcast was featured in the Science & Medicine category and is an easy listen. Be sure to kick things off by previewing the trailer episode to see what all the hype is about. It’s easy to see why this podcast…rocketed..to the top.
14. Slow Burn
Ok, now here’s one for you. If you’re looking for a podcast that covers both Society & Culture as well as History then you’ll want to be sure to add Slow Burn to your shortlist. Here’s the scoop. “Even recent history is rich with surprising subplots, strange details, and forgotten characters. On Slow Burn, Leon Neyfakh excavates the strange subplots and forgotten characters of recent political history—and finds surprising parallels to the present. Season 1 captured what it was like to live through Watergate; Season 2 does the same with the saga of Bill Clinton’s impeachment.” Released in partnership with Slate, this show took the podcast world by storm and gained a long list of avid listeners along the way. Season 2 of the podcast featured a combination of 8 standard episodes, special features and Slow Burn Live content.
15. Keep It!
Few podcasts can have multiple recurring hosts and pull it off well. But some can. And the 2018 hit Keep It! is one such podcast. A podcast from Crooked Media and boasting 3 beloved hosts which offer their take on Society & Culture in this weekly podcast, committed fans are given an entertaining spin on life in 2018. Simply put it’s, “A show about pop culture, politics, and what happens when they smack into each other at alarming speed.” And it’s as entertaining as it sounds. What’s on the menu? “Movies! Music! Terrible tweets by celebrities trying to seem engaged while bragging about their latest project! This show has it all. Ira Madison III, culture critic and columnist, is joined each week by comedians, journalists, actors, musicians, activists, politicians and more for a conversation at the intersection of pop culture and politics at a time when we’re all obsessing over both.” Weekly Wednesday releases make this a great break from the potentially dull start to your week. Favorite episodes included Kanye Don’t Impress Me Much, Crimes of the Hart, Leave Oprah alone! and HBeyCU. Check it out!
16. Pardon My Take
Sports fans we’ve found a favorite and it’s time to start cheering. This next podcast will no doubt have you coming back for your Monday, Wednesday and Friday sports fixes. Pardon My Take is a sports podcast staple and has gained quite the following over the last year. “On “Pardon My Take,” Big Cat & PFT Commenter deliver the loudest and most correct sports takes in the history of the spoken word. Daily topics, guests, and an inability to tell what the hosts might be doing will make this your new favorite sports talk show. This is a podcast that will without a doubt change your life for the better-guaranteed, or your money back. *Pretend a reggaeton air horn is going off right now*.” A podcast from Barstool Sports this podcast not only offers new content 3 times weekly but gives the listeners killer conversations with some of sports biggest names. This is much more than just a few dedicated (or outspoken) fans offering their personal thoughts (or rants) on the wide world of sports but touches on trending topics and ropes in conversations with the likes of Ricky Williams, UFC’s Dana White and Shark Tank’s Daymond John. Top listened episodes as of late include appearances from skating legend Tony Hawk, sportscaster Ryen Russillo and Jaguars QB Blake Bortles. Like many other trending podcasts, episodes tend to be a little lengthy, so be sure to plan accordingly.
Celebrities and podcasts seem to be something steadily growing in popularity. This is no doubt met with mixed emotions. I mean, if there’s one group of people who don’t need any more limelight, celebrities are it. Right? But that’s painting with broad brush strokes. Some celeb pods are a great listen and are pretty entertaining. Enter actor Dax Shepherd and his podcast Armchair Expert. Rather than stealing his thunder, here’s his take on it. “Hi, I’m Dax Shepard, and I love talking to people. I am endlessly fascinated by the messiness of being human, and I find people who are vulnerable and honest about their struggles and shortcomings to be incredibly sexy. I invite you to join me as I explore other people’s stories. We will celebrate, above all, the challenges and setbacks that ultimately lead to growth and betterment.
What qualifies me for such an endeavor? More than a decade of sobriety, a degree in Anthropology and four years of improv training. I will attempt to discover human “truths” without any laboratory work, clinical trials or data collection. I will be, in the great tradition of 16th-century scientists, an Armchair Expert.” This podcast offers weekly releases and welcomes conversations with guests like actress Kristen Bell (who also just happens to be Dax’s wife), Ashton Kutcher and everyone’s favorite Ellen Degeneres just to name a few. Each episode is a refreshingly candid talk with the guest of choice. Top episodes include convos with actress Mila Kunis, the iconic Jimmy Kimmel, Dax’s fellow Parenthood star Lauren Graham and comedic actor Seth Rogen. Spend some time with the Armchair Expert and you won’t be sorry!
For another podcast that gained some great traction this last year, check out Without Warning. Another chart-topper in the true crime genre, this podcast is a refreshing take on true crime. It can be said that all podcasters are committed to their craft and many in the true crime space are passionate about their work. Without Warning host Sheila Wysocki is a clear example of this. “After solving her former roommate’s murder, a case that had gone cold for more than 25 years, Sheila devoted herself to detective work completely, founding the non-profit Without Warning: Fight Back. She uses this as an outlet for advocating for victims of crime.” The first season of the podcast is dedicated to investigating the still-unsolved Lauren Agee case, where 21-year-old Lauren was found dead in a lake while camping with friends. This podcast has gained incredible traction and was featured in iTunes’ New & Noteworthy and genre top charts. Be sure to check out the trailer episode to learn more.
Best Podcasts 2018 Takeaway
And there you have it. Eighteen of 2018’s most welcomed and beloved podcasts. Maybe these are new to you. If so, I’d encourage you to take some time and dig in to see what all of the hype is about and why these are so rave-worthy. Maybe you checked them out before. How about giving them a second spin? Why not kick off 2019 by kicking off with the best of 2018? Have some additions to our list or got some feedback you’d like for us to hear? If you want to talk to our team to pick our brains on this idea, we’d love to hear from you. Feel free to check out our site, drop us an email or set up a call with a team member.
By: Jon Street
As the Production Manager at Resonate Recordings, Jon leads the production team and ensures that all our podcasters have everything needed to release consistent high-quality episodes. Jon and his family are from West Palm Beach, Florida and now live in Simpsonville, KY.