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Best NPR podcasts: Fresh Air, Planet Money, TED Radio Hour, and more!
NPR podcasts might not have the same level of prestige as BBC podcasts from across the pond, but there are still a number of great shows from the American non-profit media organization. Some, like the longstanding interview show Fresh Air, are simple adaptations of radio programs, while others are brand new programs for the growing podcast format.
Read also: Best podcasts to fill your feed in 2020
You might expect NPR podcasts to be news and education-focused, but there are also shows about pop culture, comedy, true crime, and more. Without further ado, here are our picks for the best NPR podcasts currently available!
Best NPR podcasts
Note: For whatever reason, NPR podcasts on Spotify are only available in the US. Listeners from other regions can still access the podcasts on the official NPR One app or any other popular podcast app.
Length: 50 minutes
Let’s kick off the list with one of the most famous podcasts on the NPR network: Fresh Air. This interview program started its run back in 1975, and regularly gets big-name guests — from pop-culture celebrities to politicians to experts in a variety of fields. Unlike other interview podcasts, host Terry Gross is able to bring out the best in any guest, and she’s well-known as one of the best interviewers around.
Wait Wait… Don’t Tell Me!
Topic: News, Comedy, Game show
Length: 60 minutes
If you like keeping up with what’s going on in the world but hate listening to the news, Wait Wait… Don’t Tell Me! is the perfect NPR podcast for you. Recorded live in front of a studio audience, it’s a weekly quiz show about news and other curious goings-on around the world. Panelists are almost exclusively comedians and humorists, which leads to a much funnier take on otherwise dry news stories.
TED Radio Hour
Length: 60 minutes
TED Talks give the world’s leading experts a chance to spread their insights and ideas to a wider audience, and NPR’s TED Radio Hour podcast packages those talks in a nice, easily-digestible format. Each hour-long episode is centered around a specific topic, pulling clips from the extensive library of TED Talks. To add even to the original speeches, the speakers are often brought back to answer a few questions or give updates on their research and ideas.
Topic: Economics, Business
Frequency: Twice weekly
Length: 20-30 minutes
Planet Money began in 2008 to cover the major financial crisis that lead to economic turmoil around the globe. More than a decade later, it’s one of NPR’s best and most popular podcasts. It breaks down complex financial topics, from big to small, in a way that any layman can easily understand. If you just can’t get enough Planet Money, the same team also produces a short, daily podcast called The Indicator from Planet Money.
Tiny Desk Concerts
Frequency: Thrice weekly
Length: 10-20 minutes
NPR’s Tiny Desk Concerts are better known on YouTube, but each concert is also available as an audio (or video) podcast. For the uninitiated, it’s a series of incredibly intimate concerts from some of the biggest names in the music industry. Three full episodes are released each week, making it a great way to discover new artists. To find even more new music, check out another NPR music podcast called All Songs Considered.
Frequency: Twice monthly (seasonal)
Length: 30-45 minutes
Rough Translation is one of the most international podcasts from NPR. It seeks to give context to US issues and draw new insights by exploring similar issues in other parts of the world. From what it means to be black in Brazil to what it means to be a mom in Japan, each episode brings a refreshingly new perspective to well-trodden topics and themes in American media.
Topic: News, History
Length: 30-60 minutes
Throughline is a fairly new NPR podcast that tries to explain current headlines by diving into the past. It’s not exactly a pure history podcast, but it does rewind the clock to provide much-needed historical context to modern issues. If you want to not just follow the news but also understand it, this is the perfect podcast for you.
How I Built This
Topic: Business, Interview
Length: 45-90 minutes
How I Built This is another popular NPR interview podcast like Fresh Air, but this time the interviewees are all successful entrepreneurs. The founders of Dell computers, Wikipedia, FUBU, Yelp, and more have been featured on the podcast. Unlike similar podcasts (I’m looking at you, Tim Ferriss), host Guy Raz gives guests ample time to speak and tell their own story.
Topic: Science, Narrative
Frequency: Bi-weekly (seasonal)
Length: 30-60 minutes
Invisibilia uses a mix of Serial-like narratives and scientific explainers to show the “invisible things” (Invisibilia in Latin) that drive our behavior. The result is an often emotional and always entertaining journey into the human experience. For a similar but more scientific approach, check out fellow NPR podcast Hidden Brain.
Topic: True crime
Length: 30-60 minutes
White Lies is NPR’s first shot at a real true crime podcast, and it truly knocked it out of the park. It’s centered around a 1965 murder in Alabama, and hosts Chip Brantley and Andrew Beck Grace spent four years retracing old leads and digging up new ones. In the process, they uncover incredible secrets and racism that America still struggles with today.
NPR podcasts — Honorable mentions
- Embedded — This is another deep-dive podcast, with host Kelly McEvers digging up tidbits of information about current news stories that other outlets simply don’t take the time to cover. It’s informative, interesting, and surprisingly intimate.
- Code Switch — Code Switch started off as a blog, but since 2016 it’s been NPR’s leading race and culture podcast. If you’re looking for a different perspective on the news than you’d find on most traditional media platforms, this is the place to get it.
- StoryCorps — This completely unscripted podcast is unlike anything else out there. In it, two people sit down to have a deep conversation about the issues most important to them. Guests come from all walks of life, giving a voice to those that are so seldom heard.
- Pop Culture Happy Hour — Sometimes you want to forget about the news and just talk entertainment, which is where NPR’s Pop Culture Happy Hour comes in. It’s a twice-weekly conversation about the latest movies, television, books, and music.
That’s it for a few of our favorite NPR podcasts available right now. Did we miss any of your favorites? Let us know in the comments below!