Every week, This American Life picks a theme. It could be something as seemingly simple as having a pen pal; or something as mysterious as secret identities. It then shares stories from ordinary Americans that explore just how extraordinary life can be. Also, Ira Glass has a voice that could melt butter.
In the official iTunes Podcasts app, TAL will only show the latest episode, so if you're new and you want to get more, you'll have to either pick up the official TAL app or use a third-party podcasting app. Our favourite, for both iOS and Android, is Shifty Jelly's Pocket Casts.
There's a lot of weird stuff that happens in the world. Mysterious Universe finds that weird stuff and shares it with the world -- whether it be physical phenomena, social, or something completely unexplained in the paranormal camp.
Mysteries Abound is surprisingly good. It was created by educator Paul Harrop -- AKA Paulrex -- after listening to the Mysterious Universe podcast. Paulrex, however, decided he wanted to do a podcast about mysteries grounded in tangibility rather than the paranormal. Each episode, he finds a number of stories around the web and reads them out in his delightfully slow, measured cadence, sharing what he has found interesting.
Everyone has a story to tell, but the signal often gets lost in the noise. The Moth, created by novelist and poet George Dawes Green, is about reviving the oral tradition — the art and craft of storytelling. Every guest has something fascinating to impart. We don't think we've heard a boring story yet.
If you like something perhaps a little dirtier, Risk does something similar to The Moth. However, it's a little more on the gritty side. Hosted by Kevin Allison, the show gets guests to bare their deepest, darkest, uncensored souls.
Like Risk! and The Moth, The Story Collider features guests, sharing their own short, real-life stories with the world. The difference? All The Story Collider's guests tell stories that somehow revolve around science, and the profound differences it has made in their lives.
Community creator Dan Harmon is a strange chap. His fallout with Community star Chevy Chase, prompting Harmon's departure from his own show, is legendary. Harmontown is his live podcast, featuring a variety of guests -- but also a frank and revealing insight into Harmon himself.
You're using the internet right now… along with millions of people around the world. It's become integral to how we live -- how we learn, how we consume media, how we shop, how we find news, how we communicate. And hidden among all that business are stories -- stories about humans, the internet and the intersection between the two. These are those stories.
If the true crime aspect of Serial is what interested you, Criminal is a podcast all about true crime. Each bite-sized episode -- running at around 15 minutes -- features the story of a crime: a victim, a criminal or someone who simply got caught up in the events, being in the wrong place at the wrong time.
Neil deGrasse Tyson, director of the Hayden Planetarium, considers his most important role to be that of an educator -- and, to that end, his talks delve into some pretty deep space concepts while remaining entertaining and, above all, accessible. With co-host comedian Eugene Mirman, he explores topics that explore time and space in relation to pop culture. It does get a bit off-topic at times, so if you find that annoying, maybe look into deGrasse Tyson's audiobooks instead.
Interested in history? Every episode, hosts Tracy V. Wilson and Holly Frey will explore an event, person or phenomenon from history; sometimes obscure, sometimes not so obscure. Each episode is a fascinating, yet relatively light and fluffy, piece of the past, which can stand alone or act as a springboard for further research if the topic whets your fancy.
This podcast has ended, but there are still 179 episodes (plus addenda, bringing the number up to 191), totalling around 72 hours, to get through, making it quite a comprehensive and enjoyable episodic history of the Roman Empire, from its mythic founding, compared with the archaeological evidence, to the decline and fall. It's the work of Mike Duncan, who has such a deep love of Roman history that he created the podcast in his spare time. He has since moved on to a podcast about history's greatest political revolutions -- called, simply, Revolutions.
For a more general look at history -- actually, a much more general look at history -- political commentator Dan Carlin not only discusses events; he also dissects, analyses and contextualises them in often unexpected and fascinating ways. Can't get enough Dan Carlin? His other podcast, Common Sense, is all about current events.
Have a yeearning for all things science? Science ... sort of is a team of seven scientists talking, unsurprisingly, about science. Sort of. That is, it's science -- and then things that are sort of science-ish -- and then things that want to be science. And it's all tremendous fun.
Science, culture, human behaviour: each episode of WNYC's Radiolab concentrates on a different theme, exploring the way our world works and making you a little bit smarter every week. There's also a great episode -- I love this episode -- about the importance of emotions and the role they play in decision making.
Before there was television, there were radio plays -- a format that, while yet extant, has fallen mostly by the wayside. The Truth presents a series of riveting radio plays (they call them "movies for your ears"), performed by an accomplished team of audio thespians.
Also, if you love the talkie pictures, do check out the review podcast Doug Loves Movies.
Thrilling Adventure Hour got its beginnings as a minimalist stage production, with a group of actors performing the parts of radio segments in the style of old-time radio programming, with a cast of returning and ongoing characters. All podcasts are sketches written for the live stage show, and the empire has also expanded to include comic books. Thrilling Adventure Hour will be finishing up in April 2015, but the podcast has an extensive back catalogue for fans.
In the American west, there's a small town called Night Vale — a very strange sort of town. There are noises, sightings and disappearances. The Night Vale podcast is a fictional radio show from a fictional town where all is not quite as peaceful as it seems… or maybe, just maybe, our host isn't as entirely truthful as one would hope.
Mr Show may have gone the way of the dodo, but writer and actor Scott Aukerman has been working on a few bits and pieces over the years, including Between Two Ferns, finally founding the Earwolf network and getting his own show. Comedy Bang Bang features famous guests (such as Sarah Silverman, John Hamm, Zach Galifianakis, Gillian Jacobs, Kristen Schaal ... oh, heck, there are way too many to list them all), songs, skits and challenges.
Like all things nerdy? So does actor and comedian Chris Hardwick, along with co-hosts Jonah Ray and Matt Mira. They talk science, comics, games, science fiction, action figures and comedy -- if it's nerdy, it will be there, along with a bunch of special guests, from Karen Gillan to Guillermo del Toro.
Politics doesn't have to be dusty, dry and dull, as demonstrated here by British comedians John Oliver and Andy Zaltzman, who take on the weird world of global news. (But mostly the US and the UK, which is a little bit bollocks, but, whatever, we Aussies are used to it. No, really. Given our current political climate, most of us would probably prefer to stay out of the global spotlight.)
Have you ever sat down to watch a movie, only to find yourself wondering how on Earth someone thought it was a good idea… never mind ponied up the time and money to make it? Paul Scheer, Jason Mantzoukas and June Diane Raphael found themselves in that position so often, they decided to make a podcast about it. It's like MST3K for your ears.
As we move through the world, there's a lot we don't notice about the way we interact with it; yet someone, somewhere, had to have designed the buildings we enter, the footpaths we walk along, the handrails we grab, the cutlery we use, the buses we take. 99% Invisible by Roman Mars gets you thinking about just how much design impacts our lives, even when we don't even see it.
Not everyone cares for philosophy; after all, thinking is hard, and there are so many dead men with so many different strange ideas. Philosophers David Edmonds and Nigel Warburton want to remove that stigma, and have created a clear and accessible podcast featuring some of the world's top philosophers, getting you to think on a variety of bite-sized topics, understanding some of the key concepts of philosophy.
If you're after something a little more casual, A Partially Examined Life is by four (sometimes five) guys who used to study philosophy. Each session, they introduce one of the big philosophical questions and have a talk about it, like people relaxing with a beer and pondering the imponderables of life.
Everything has a secret. Just like in their books, 'Freakonomics' and 'SuperFreakonomics', Steven Levitt and Stephen Dubner explore the world's dark side, from how your name can affect your life to the dodgy tactics of estate agents to taxes.
What's great about Skeptoid is that it's about two things: learning about cool stuff, and stripping myths away to leave the facts. Episodes discuss current events and how they're being reported in the news, as well as phenomena and past events, and how their legends have expanded past the point of believability. The website also has all the transcripts in text format, for those who prefer reading over listening.
Do you like the supernatural, the paranormal and quackery, and debunking them with the power of science? Neurologist Dr Steven Novella hosts a panel of well-known critical thinkers, including co-founder and vice president of the New England Skeptical Society Robert Novella; Skepchick founder Rebecca Watson; Connecticut Chapter chairman for The New England Skeptical Society Evan Bernstein; and skeptical activist Jay Novella.
Even today, there is such a stigma about mental illness. It's not a comfortable topic of discussion -- and yet, at any given point, around 20 to 25 percent of the population are living with mental illness. Comedian Paul Gilmartin hosts guests from the creative industries, discussing how mental illness can affect your life in a funny, engaging and enlightening series of interviews.
CNET has an extensive list of podcasts of our very own, from Brian Cooley's look at future trends, to the Crave with Stephen Beacham, to the 404 with Jeff Bakalar and Justin Wu. We also have teams in the UK and Australia talking about stuff that happens in parts of the world that aren't America. They exist, and we are in them.
There are a lot of podcasts out there in the world. This list is by no means comprehensive, although I hope it has at least something for everyone. If you didn't find something you fancy, though, Stitcher is a streaming radio and podcast service, and it lists the top 100 podcasts people are listening to, with categories on the right if you'd like to drill down to your specific interests.