The 15 best podcasts to wrap your ears around

31 Dec 2015

We tend to binge-watch a lot of TV at this time of year, but if you want to give your eyes a break, maybe you should check out these 15 amazing podcasts.

While much of the data out there is US-based, you have to admit that the fact that one-third of the entire US population has listened to at least one podcast is pretty impressive and, at least anecdotally, you should know a number of people who actively listen to them on a daily basis.

So, if you haven’t a breeze with what to listen to or where to begin, or you just need some inspiration, why not try these absolute gems.

Ones for STEM geeks

No Such Thing as a Fish

No Such Thing as a Fish comes to us from the research team of hit TV show QI. These are the men and women who make Stephen Fry – and now Sandi Toksvig, who will be taking the reins in upcoming seasons – look smart.

The podcast, which airs weekly, is led by Dan Schreiber, and features various members of the QI Elves. Over the course of an hour, the team members detail their favourite facts from the preceding seven days.

A great source of random general knowledge, this podcast will ensure you’re a hit with your friends during pub quiz season.

Recommended for: The type of person who loves repeating bizarre facts at parties.


Invisibilia is a show about human behaviour – described as being about the invisible forces that control human behaviour, such as ideas, beliefs and emotions.

The show, from NPR in the US, is co-hosted by Lulu Miller and Alix Spiegel and interweaves narrative storytelling with scientific research that aims to make you see your own life differently.

The show’s first season this year was a major hit, with it being named as one of iTunes best podcasts of 2015, as well as being listed among the best journalism of 2015 by the Columbia Journalism Review.

Recommended for: Lovers of all thing popular psychology.

Comedy spectaculars

The Joe Rogan Experience

UFC fans will know him as one of the biggest voices in the game, others in the US will know him as a stand-up comedian, but what he is increasingly known for is his rather long podcast, the Joe Rogan Experience.

What makes the show so approachable is the wide-ranging number of guests he has on. While famous comedians and UFC stars are regular guests on the show, he also gets some of the brightest minds in the media, science, technology and psychology in to talk about the cool stuff they work in.

Having already surpassed the 700-episode mark, Rogan seems unrelenting in his effort to get podcasts up, even going so far as to record one on a plane journey, all while getting his guests to talk as openly as they would in a bar.

Recommended for: Literally anyone, unless you happen to not like Rogan himself.

Uhh Yeah Dude

Describing itself as “a weekly roundup of America through the eyes of two American-Americans,” this hour-long podcast is basically a recording of the conversations between Jonathan Larroquette (son of the actor John Larroquette) and Seth Romatelli (a guy who had a cameo in the Britney Spears film, Crossroads).

While there is no rigid structure to the episodes, most of the time they spend looking at the bizarre stories they see in the news that week or discussing their own answers to letters received by newspapers’ advice columns.

The show has been going nearly 10 years now, which, in podcasting terms, puts them as one of the early podcast pioneers, particularly comedy podcasts.

Recommended for: People fed up with comedy interview podcasts

Serialised documentaries


Quite possibly the year’s most talked about podcast, Serial had listeners on the edge of their seats as host Sarah Koenig took us on her incredibly gripping journey examining a real-life murder.

Week by week, Serial delved into the case of Adnan Syed, who was convicted of the murder of his ex-girlfriend Hae Min Lee in 2000, when he was still a teenager.

Downloaded more than 76m times, Serial’s first season had people the world over questioning this conviction and now, as Syed is preparing to return to court, the podcast has moved on to another enigmatic story about a US soldier who was imprisoned by the Taliban for almost five years.

Check out the website to listen back to series one or dive straight into series two.

Recommended for: Investigative journalism aficionados on the go.


Radiolab is the greatest podcast you could possibly subscribe to. Hands down.

Covering a range of topics loosely relating to science – sometimes delving into CRISPR, other times chemical warfare, better still chatting about buttons – Jad Abumrad and Robert Krulwich wrap incredibly interesting stories up with clever music, fine editing and, mainly, a wonderfully light-hearted tone.

Recommended for: People with a fascination for excellently-made documentaries.

Pop culture

Talk Salad and Scrambled Eggs

The beauty of podcasting is that you or anyone you know can make a podcast about absolutely anything you want and, if there’s an audience for it, you can make a successful podcast.

This was the case for film director Kevin Smith and TV writer and Nerdist podcaster Matt Mira, who decided that what they really wanted to do was talk about the legendary TV sitcom, Frasier.

While the premise of the podcast is to do their own audio commentaries two episodes at a time, the two tend to veer off in totally different directions from comic books to Terminator and even the history of sitcoms on US TV.

The meat of the conversations is still about Frasier though, and they have already managed to interview members of the writing team and stars of the show, revealing some pretty cool details about it.

Recommended for: Obviously Frasier fans, but also sitcom lovers in general.

U Talkin’ U2 to Me?

If you’re looking for a comprehensive and encyclopedic compendium of all things U2, do not turn to Earwolf’s U Talkin’ U2 To Me.

However, if you want laugh-out-loud 90-minute improvised comedy peppered with references to Ireland’s biggest rock band, tune in.

You may learn a thing or two about U2 – like their names and what instruments they play – but hosts Scott Aukerman (host of Comedy Bang Bang on TV and podcast) and Adam Scott (star of Parks and Recreation) cater to all tastes, packing each episode with alternative podcasts such as I Love Films, I Love ‘I Love Films’, Talkin’ ’bout Money, and Stain’d Glass.

Recommended for: Fans of U2 and improv comedy vehicles driven by the great Scott Aukerman.


Dan Carlin’s Hardcore History

It’s almost unfair to call this a podcast as it’s more a giant audiobook that looks at major historical events from a fresh angle.

Despite describing himself as a history enthusiast rather than a historian, Dan Carlin crams dozens of books on a topic into each episode, which can go for up to four hours in length, on everything from the harrowing personal stories on the western front of WWI, to the bizarre millennial preachers of Germany during the reformation.

Seemingly never pausing for breath, Carlin weaves together these incredible stories for hours of audio gold, and is often cited by other podcasters as their own favourite podcast to listen to.

Recommended for: People who want to hear about historical events from a totally new angle.

Irish History Podcast

Doing exactly what it says on the tin, the Irish History Podcast is basically Fin Dwyer taking us through some famous, and some not so famous, times in Ireland’s history.

Kicking things off in the 9th century, Dwyer takes us through the Middle Ages, with Vikings raging and Brian Boru rising soon after.

What’s great about the podcast is twofold: First, Dwyer’s voice carries you through most of the episodes with ease, second, there are so many instances, when listening, that you think ‘that’s not how I thought it happened’. This is especially true when dealing with Brian Boru, it must be said.

Listen to the show’s first episode by clicking here.

Recommended for: People who want to hear about Irish history that isn’t just about Easter 1916.

Irish interest


The 738am podcast is an informal conversational show featuring people from the world of arts, entertainment, literature and media in Ireland and  beyond.

The show is hosted by writer and broadcaster Andrew Mangan and it won the Best Podcast award at this year’s Irish Web Awards.

Currently on its 50th episode, previous guests on the podcast have included comedians Dara O’Briain and Tara Flynn, author Louise O’Neill and director Lenny Abrahamson.

Click here to hear Mangan’s recent interview with comedian Alison Spittle.

Recommended for: People who fancy some easy listening and hearing interesting Irish people talk about a range of subjects.

The Irish Times Women’s Podcast

Though a latecomer, having been launched in September, iTunes named the Irish Times Women’s Podcast Best New Irish Podcast of 2015.

The weekly podcast, produced by Roísín Ingle and presented by Kathy Sheridan, is a response to the documented lack of women’s voices on air in Irish radio and has featured comedian Maeve Higgins, writer Margaret Atwood, actor Julie Walters and more.

A magazine-style show, the podcast covers topics of interest and relevance to women’s lives – which is pretty much everything.

Recommended for: People who would like to hear some impressive women talking about their careers and more.

An Irishman Abroad

Comedian Jarlath Regan has landed on a wonderful formula, chatting with famous Irish people abroad and, well, just letting it flow.

Featuring anyone from Graham Linehan to Terry Wogan, Lisa Hannigan to Rory O’Neill, guests appear on the back of key roles in entertainment, media, sport, science, music and beyond, each discussing their life and shared experience of moving abroad.

Recommended for: Anyone with an interest in, well, famous Irish people.

Weird and wonderful

Mysterious Universe

The world is full of weird and wonderful things, many of which remain unexplained, despite our best efforts to put scientific reasoning to them.

Of course, 99.99pc of the time there is a reason behind everything, although we don’t know it yet, but it’s fun to speculate and think of all the weird and wacky reasons behind things.

That’s where the Australian team at Mysterious Universe comes in, with its rather funny take on things from UFOs to alternate dimensions all thrown in.

Of course, some might find their belief in the existence of ghosts and past-life experiences a little bit eyebrow-raising, but topics like the real science behind what was believed to be magic is downright fascinating.

Recommended for: Those who want to believe, à la X-Files.

Welcome to Night Vale

Welcome to Night Vale is at the weirder end of the podcast spectrum. Under the guise of a small-town radio show broadcast from the fictional southwestern US desert town of Night Vale, Welcome to Night Vale features news, announcements and ads – and a healthy dose of strange activities.

Welcome to Night Vale was created by Joseph Fink and Jeffrey Cranor, and features Cecil Baldwin as the host of Night Vale Radio. Guest stars sometimes come on board as secondary characters.

The individual episodes, which are typically released twice a month, do stand alone to a large extent, but certain plot arcs can develop over time.

Recommended for: Grown-up Scooby Doo fans.

Woman listening to podcasts image via Shutterstock