North by Northwestern presents: The Podcast Curriculum. There are no grades, no midterms and no finals; it's just podcasts. Below you will find a series of "classes" that each cater to a specific genre of podcast. We'll introduce you to the culture of the medium, the basics of the form and provide tons of examples along the way. Dig around as much as you want; the best way to do well in these courses, after all, is to participate.

Pick a course:

101Intro to Podcasts

Hey there! Welcome to Podcasts 101, and welcome to the introductory course of NBN’s Podcast Curriculum. We’re excited to have you.

Now, you might be thinking any number of things: What is a podcast? How do I find one? Is there one that I would like? When do I listen to podcasts? Those are all good questions, and throughout this series, we will answer just about all of them.

Think of a podcast like a radio show that you can download and take with you. At their core, a pod is an Internet-hosted program made available to download in MP3 format. Podcasts usually come in episodes, and they are usually pure audio (although, some video podcasts do exist). 

Based off of that, you might think that podcasts are all news-based or lecture-based, and a lot of them are, but as the medium has grown, the topics have become more and more diverse. As you will see throughout the rest of our Curriculum, there are podcasts about everything. Movies, music, politics, technology, even knitting and paranormal activity! Some podcasts are only a few minutes long (you can listen to them while walking to class) and others can run for an hour (better for the treadmill at SPAC). The format brings a terrific amount of flexibility and accessibility. Beginners can plug into something easy and bite-sized (or byte-sized — heh), and people looking to go in-depth can almost certainly find an expert going on for hours about their favorite subjects.

This is a perfect medium for the Northwestern student. Knowledge is currency at our university, and what better way to become an expert at something than to hear other experts break it down for you? As you explore the rest of the classes in NBN’s Podcast Curriculum, you will be exposed to more links and resources for podcast consumption than you may have ever had before. There is something here for you, and if for whatever reason there is not, our final class gives you the means to find that podcast you are sure to download — we promise.

So go and explore the other courses we have to offer. This is as comprehensive as your current major, but we guarantee there is none of the homework. Good luck!

110Most Popular Podcasts

If you're intrigued by the idea of podcasts but have no idea where to start, this course is for you. These podcasts are both accessible and endlessly fascinating - good demonstrations of the form's strengths.


The best description I've ever heard of Radiolab comes from a sophomore year TA: it's two guys investigating answers to the questions you only ask when you're high. Seriously: which animal can see the most colors? Is anyone purely evil? Why don't we just kill all the mosquitoes? All these and more "blunt-hitting" questions have been taken up at one time or another by Jad Abumrad and Robert Krulwich. Abumrad and Krulwich make a complementary buddy-cop team: Abumrad the the young guy hungry for answers, Krulwich the grizzled veteran NPR reporter. They have different perspectives and interests that play off each other in interesting ways. Thankfully, they both share an insatiable desire to probe the world's deepest truths (good, evil, time) via extremely specific questions you might never ask otherwise.

Like the best candy bars, Radiolab episodes come in two sizes. "Shorts" often take about 20-30 minutes to tell a single, interesting story ("why did so many movies used to feature quicksand?") while longer episodes compile multiple stories around a big one-word theme like "Loops." Radiolab is both insanely fun and educational in the best way. If my TA using it in a discussion section wasn't a big enough example of that, The Atlantic's Conor Friedersdorf calling it "the most innovative work being done in journalism" should.

WTF with Marc Maron

As a good little Medilldo, many of my favorite podcasts are the ones experimenting with journalistic storytelling. Another, more popular use of the form, however, is one-on-one in-depth interviewing. These days, everyone from Gilbert Gottfried to Bret Easton Ellis has a personal podcast where they interview peers or role models. The platonic ideal of this genre is still Marc Maron's WTF podcast, now five years old. Maron is a veteran stand-up comedian who never achieved much mainstream success, but boy is he good at probing people's souls. His guests range from comedians like Louis C.K. to musicians like John Darnielle. They come into Maron's garage and talk about their deepest fears and dreams. Each interview is long and intense but ultimately cathartic, full of world-weary wisdom. It's the podcast equivalent of a Sun Kil Moon album, and it's awesome.

Planet Money

Yes, NPR does have many of the best podcasts, thank you for asking. There's an NPR podcast for almost every subject, but Planet Money is one of the best, providing bite-sized chunks of economic enlightenment. When most of us see the word "economics," we are stricken with flashbacks to barely passing freshman year Macro, but Planet Money tackles its subject in terms of the tangible impact it has on our lives. One recent episode, for example, explores the question every harried Orgo student has asked themselves in line at Beck's: why are textbooks so goddamn expensive? Each episode is focused, informative and short enough to fit inside a walk to Tech. Like Radiolab, Planet Money also experiments with different methods of storytelling, such as making a T-shirt to follow the economic path of clothes creation.

201Comedy Podcasts

Podcasting has proven to be an invaluable boon to the comedy world in many ways; it provides a cheap, easy platform for both improv and standup performance, and its lack of restrictions and censorship really lets the artists shine through, unfiltered. Below are three accessible essentials to help introduce any NU noobie to the vast, eclectic world of comedy podcasting: 

Comedy Bang Bang: The Podcast

Ever enjoyed a show at Shanley featuring some of NU’s fantastic improv groups like Titanic Players, Mee-Ow or ODB? Well then, you can’t miss Comedy Bang Bang: The Podcast. Widely considered to be the “gold standard” of comedy podcasts, CBB is hosted by Mr. Show alum Scott Aukerman, who invites cavalcades of colorful performers every week for hours of improvised fun. Whether interviewing big-name actors like Jon Hamm or simply sitting down to chat with recurring characters like Paul F. Tompkins and Lauren Lapkus, Aukerman is always a whip-smart and generous host.

The Andy Daly Podcast Pilot Project

Fans of CBB and NU improv should also be sure to check out The Andy Daly Podcast Pilot Project, a limited run mini-series co-hosted by Andy Daly and Matt Gourley on the Earwolf Network. For the show, Daly, a podcast pro and one of the best improvisers working today, takes some of his more infamous CBB and Superego characters and dedicates individual episodes to their surprisingly rich, twisted backstories. Gourley is a consistently game co-host, and great guests like Maria Bamford and Jason Mantzoukas make each episode feel fresh and dynamic.

You Made It Weird

Comedy Forum junkies itching to check out something more on the standup side of things should give a listen to Pete Holmes’ You Made it Weird, one of the more illuminating interview podcasts this side of WTF with Marc Maron. A fantastic standup himself, Holmes uses his fuzzy, often gratingly loud persona to get guests to open up about themselves, their history and the inner workings of the art form. True to its title, You Made It Weird delves into great detail about everything you never knew you wanted to know about your favorite performers.

202Sports Podcasts

Podcasts 202: Intermediate Sports Podcasts will take you through the sporting world with all of the fan-favorite hosts. They combine sports and pop culture like few can, making these essential for any podcast buff.

Pardon the Interruption

Here at Northwestern, the sports podcast conversation starts and ends with the two heavyweights: Pardon the Interruption and Mike and Mike. The former, hosted by Michael Wilbon (Medill ’80) and Tony Kornheiser, puts sports into perspective through the conversations between the two hosts, a refreshing change of pace from the sensationalistic sports stories we are used to reading. Their banter is second to none (except maybe Mike and Mike), they keep things interesting without resorting to wild speculation and reckless reporting, and they definitely deserve their 30-minute time slot on ESPN.

This debate-style show features the two hosts arguing over national headlines and pop culture. But, my favorite part isn't actually a part of the debate. At the end of the show, they bring in a third party to fact-check all the stats and names that they drop throughout the show. It's actually extremely impressive how few mistakes they make, but the ones they do make are often hilarious.

Mike and Mike

Mike and Mike, meanwhile, is hosted by Mike Greenberg (Medill ’89) and Mike Golic and airs from 6-10 a.m. ET on ESPN2, ESPN Radio, and every weekday morning. It might seem long, but the arguments that stem from Golic, the former defensive lineman, and Greenberg, the sports fanatic, make the show interesting for the entire four hours. Filling four hours of content every day is a daunting task, even for the most accomplished of podcasters. These guys do it with ease and it is easy to turn them on to start your day. Common knowledge would say that four hours of listening to two guys talk about various sports-related issues would get old, but they keep it fresh morning after morning. They do this with guest commentators and even current athletes, bringing different perspectives to each show.

The Podcat

Finally, a more local pod is hosted by “Mr. Cat,” Dave Eanet. From humble beginnings working with WNUR as a student, Eanet is the “Voice of the Wildcats” and became one of the most respected radio hosts in the area. He hosts the Northwestern Wildcat sports podcast Podcat on 720 WGN in Chicago. His endless knowledge of Northwestern sports is awe-inspiring. This year marks the 25th consecutive football season that he has been on the radio as the voice of the Wildcats.

203Pop Culture Podcasts

Keeping tabs on essential movies, music and T.V. can seem like a handful if you're not looking – or listening – in the right places. Below are three awesome pop-culture-centric pods to help catch you up: 

How Did This Get Made?

If you’ve ever been out for drinks with an RTVF major, he's sure to have name-dropped some must-see “so-bad-they’re-good” movies like The Room and Birdemic: Shock and Terror. Anyone looking to delve deeper into the rich backlog of horrible classics should drop in on an episode of How Did This Get Made?, hosted by Paul Scheer, Jason Mantzoukas and June Diane Raphael. Beyond tearing down Hollywood fiascos like Green Lantern, Mantzoukas, Scheer and Raphael exude a crackling, manic energy best manifested through their live shows, where audiences participate in the terrible movie takedowns.

Doug Loves Movies

For a further RTVF fix, you can’t really go wrong with Doug Loves Movies, stoner comedian Doug Benson’s live panel show centered around a series of fun movie-themed games. The good-natured vibes of this pod and its host consistently net some of the best talent in comedy along with occasional A-listers like Chris Evans and Seth Rogen. Benson’s great talent is letting his guests dominate the discussion and shape the character of a given show; taping in front of a live audience only adds to the infectious energy. 

U Talkin' U2 to Me?

And I’d be remiss not to mention one of the Internet's most meme-worthy new pods: U Talkin’ U2 To Me?, a comprehensive and encyclopedic retrospective on the band U2, co-hosted by Comedy Bang Bang’s Scott Aukerman and Parks and Recreation star Adam Scott. It’s been awhile since two hosts were as in tune with each others’ humor and insight as Scott and Scott are, and students who aren’t fans of U2 shouldn’t be perturbed by the show’s title: Large segments are devoted to a plethora of other retro music acts that are sure to impress even your pickiest Bienen friends. It doesn’t hurt that any U2 analysis is consistently on point.

210News/Politics Podcasts

Extra! Extra! Hear all about it! Sifting through online articles on Twitter and Facebook isn’t the only way to find your news. After some intense digging, NBN found podcasts centered on news and politics that you can listen to on your walk to class or during your walk of shame.

Global News, BBC World Service

If you’re a news junkie or need help cramming for current events quizzes, check out Global News produced by BBC World Service. Only 30 minutes long, the podcast summarizes international stories produced in the past 24 hours. Producers of the show present interviews and news highlights from around the world. Gathering soundbites and translations from correspondents in Cairo, Iran, Pakistan, Ukraine, Mali and more, Global News provides eyewitness news to its audience right from the location of a crisis or event. Recent stories include a segment on the Ebola outbreak and the reopening of the Picasso Museum. Known for its objectivity in reporting, BBC World Service is a credible source for world news. Students in a political science course may consider subscribing to the podcast as a way to become knowledgeable about world matters and begin their journey to becoming a global citizen.

Anderson Cooper 360 Daily (Video)

From TV to podcast, get ready for some Andy. If you’re into a sexy man reporting your news, then Anderson Cooper 360 Daily is a podcast just for you. With a Flynn Rider-like smoulder and striking blue eyes, Cooper displays world news through a short and steamy broadcast. Around 10 minutes in length, these podcasts provide the audience with “high-speed highlights” through the use of audio and visuals. For example, in an Oct. 25 podcast, Cooper covers breaking news of a high school shooting near Seattle and Ebola quarantines in New York and New Jersey. The podcasts adhere to the style of general CNN broadcasts, using only pieces of segments shown on TV. Any college student interested in keeping up with world news, and has just 10 minutes to spare, should subscribe to Anderson Cooper 360 Daily.

Common Sense with Dan Carlin

Have a thing for grumpy, middle-aged men? Tired of all the partisan politics and congressional stalemate? Common Sense with Dan Carlin is a popular podcast that looks at politics through the lens of an independent. Carlin analyzes current events intellectually, but with a crapload of cynicism. Common Sense with Dan Carlin is great for those students who are frustrated with the growing power of the federal government and the growing power of money in politics. And if you find yourself vomiting while watching Fox News, then Carlin’s bitter tone will sound like Michael Buble’s voice during the wintertime: smooth and much-needed. Any political science major or any independent should definitely subscribe to the podcast as it provides a fresh perspective on American politics and U.S. foreign policy. Some of his podcasts include in-depth analysis of the situation in the Middle East, Obamacare and NSA spying. 

220Technology Podcasts

“Technology” can be a hard word to define – in our networked, always online world it encompasses nearly every aspect of our society. But within the fuzzy boundaries of “technology” there a number of great podcasts about the future and how it affects our lives.

The Accidental Tech Podcast

Too often technology podcasts fall into the same repetitive format: two guys (they’re almost always men) talking into a microphone for an hour and a half every week. But ATP has perfected the form and is enjoyable week by week; thriving off strong conversation and smart, engaging hosts who talk about the merits of different monitors and chips, doing deep-dives on operating systems, or discussing the merits of different programming languages. The Talk Show with John Gruber is another great weekly discussion about Apple and design (but also often about baseball and cocktails).

For more, check out the offerings of podcast networks like 5by5, RelayFM and MobileNations.


Ben Thompson and James Allworth do a great job exploring business aspects of technology. Other shows like On the Media and New Tech City focus on the social side of new innovations. If you are interested in video gaming, Isometric is a weekly riot that even non-gamers can find enjoyable.

Benjamen Walker’s Theory of Everything

If you are up for something sometimes experimental and weird, Benjamen Walker’s Theory of Everything is an amazingly well produced show about new technology that “connects the dots in a hyper-connected world”. One week it's an inteview with a researcher from Microsoft, the next its a fictional story about what would happen if we had the technology to record the voices in our head. It's a bit hard to describe, but it’s really good.

230Literary/Storytelling Podcasts

Bogged down by dense readings from course packs? Here are three podcasts with some old-fashioned storytelling, from the everyday to the highbrow.

The Moth

The rules of The Moth are simple: the story must be true, you can’t use notes and you’ve got to start in the action. What began as a group of friends telling stories on a porch – where moths would fly through a hole in the screen, attracted by the light – is now a weekly podcast, radio show and traveling performance that has collected over 10,000 stories since George Dawes Green founded it in 1997. The stories are honest and authentic, exposing vulnerabilities and crossing barriers. A real person and a real story seems simple, but it’s incredibly powerful.

This American Life

With around one million downloads per episode, This American Life ranks near the top of the Most Popular list each week. The show features a collection of stories with the same theme, usually true stories of everyday people. Ira Glass hosts the show, but music and the voices of the people involved in the story weave into the narrative to make for an engaging listen. Like The Moth, the stories are universal, and This American Life holds appeal for anyone looking for entertainment. A spin-off, Serial, recently launched as well. It follows a nonfiction story over the course of a season and looks to be very promising.

Selected Shorts

If formal storytelling more your thing, Selected Shorts is an access point for both new and classic short stories. Various actors read the pieces live at Symphony Space in New York City, with hosts that often include writers and literary producers. The radio show began in 1985 and the podcast regularly has 300,000 downloads for an episode. Similar to the other two podcasts in this class, each of the hour-long weekly broadcasts features several pieces around a theme. With this format, you can know the ins and outs of classic stories without having to take out an Evanston Public Library card.

240History Podcasts

Anyone who says history is boring hasn't listened to a good history podcast. This class is out to change that – we'll explore some captivating podcasts, on a wide variety of historic events and eras. 

In Our Time

BBC’s In Our Time with Melvyn Bragg, an Oxford graduate who is part of an impressive number of prestigious societies in Britain, is a long-running radio show-turned-podcast that has an archive dating back to when many current Northwestern students hadn’t even started kindergarten. Presented as discussing the “history of ideas,” In Our Time covers everything from gravitational waves to free will. Each episode is a discussion with the host along with a group of experts on the week’s topic. This expansive podcast has enough topics that anybody, of any major, will be able to find something they are interested in.


Revolutions is a podcast from Mike Duncan about political upheavals throughout history. Revolutions is the new podcast from the man who did The History of Rome, another pod so widely well-regarded that some call it the grandfather of history podcasts. A well-written script with loads of information, packed into the same amount of time as a TV sitcom, means this podcast is a great option for people without much time – essentially, the entire Northwestern student body. Revolutions covers a lot of history by focusing on dramatic moments that brought the world to where it is today.

The History of England

My dad always said that if he was on Jeopardy!, he might do well, unless one of the topics that came up was the English monarchy. Well, Dad, I’ve got just the solution for you. Yet another very creatively titled podcast, The History of England from David Crowther is a podcast detailing everything about our former motherland. The host is fairly entertaining, and the material, despite what feelings the history of England might generally evoke, is very interesting. This is, however, possibly the most in-depth of these three pods, so it may be more interesting for those who already have a passion for history (in the same vein, an honorable mention goes to Dan Carlin's Hardcore History – the episodes run long, but the production quality and Carlin's charming way of storytelling make for an excellent, if very long, product).

301Podcast Apps

The podcast app that comes with your iPhone is fine – it’ll get the job done for a casual podcast listener. But you’ve made it to PODCASTS301 and may be searching for an app with a few more features. Even better, a bunch of these are made by independent app developers so downloading them supports the indie app community!


Overcast is the newest entry to the podcast app field and it comes with a few key features. Smart Speed “dynamically shortens silences in talk shows” so you can listen to more podcasts, faster. Voice Boost does some algorithmic tinkering on the audio files to make podcasts that are a bit harder to hear, well, less hard to hear. And Overcast has some cool playlist features to help you organize all those podcast you listen to. It’s free on the app store with a $4.99 in-app purchase to unlock some of those extra features.


Castro is a beautifully designed, more minimal approach to a podcast app. This app is beautiful. Your shows are displayed in a timeline which makes it easy to find the shows you want. Like Overcast, Castro also has controls for adjusting playback speed and setting a sleep timer. It’s $3.99 on the app store. For an app that works on Android and iOS, check out PocketCasts.


Downcast has both an iOS and an Mac app which means that all of your podcasts sync across platforms; if you see yourself listening to shows while sitting at a desk and also while walking down Sheridan, you should consider this app. It has smart playlists, adjustable playback speeds, and the ability to stream episodes without downloading them. The iOS app is $2.99 and the Mac app is $9.99.

310Niche Podcasts

Congratulations! You’ve made it this far. Welcome to 310: Niche Podcasts. Now that you’ve experienced the basics, it’s time to find yourself a podcast fit for any aspect of your life. If you have an eccentric hobby or love for a topic that you seriously believe no one else loves too, there’s more than likely a podcast for it.

The Paranormal Podcast

Do you love talking about, thinking about and watching things about ghosts and the paranormal? Then the Paranormal Podcast is perfect for you. Jim Harold has spent the past few years building up great connections with people all over the world who are experts on all aspects of the paranormal. Don’t believe in it? Well give this podcast a listen and it might convert you. If you’re still not into the hauntings and Ouija boards, try Coast to Coast Radio, they feature things like aliens and dream predictions and hunting for the Loch Ness monster. Or you might try Mysterious Universe, which brings a critical thinking and scientific approach to the paranormal.

Save Jiu Jitsu 

Host Rafael Lovato Jr. says Save Jiu Jitsu is dedicated to keeping Jiu Jitsu “grounded in what it was truly about, cultivating the warrior spirit.” For the Jiu Jitsu fanatic, this is perfect. They discuss things from rule changes to the “essence” of Jiu Jitsu to what blue belts are up to these days. If you’re not into walking to SPAC to run on a treadmill for two miles before quitting, getting involved in martial arts could be a great way to stay active! Not into Jiu Jitsu but like the idea of taking a class to stay fit? Well there are podcasts for things like yoga (Yoga Today) and boxing (Sneak Punch's Learn Boxing). And hey, Northwestern still offers free classes and clubs for both of these things, so there’s nothing holding you back from trying!

Never Not Knitting

Knitting is not just for old grandmas; there are plenty of young adults that indulge in the calming and productive hobby of knitting (which might be needed during midterms, am I right?). At Never Not Knitting, host Alana talks about the funny stories, great yarns, patterns and tips she’s come across in her knitting community. And if you’re into a little more spin on the whole knitting thing (and like bagpipes), follow Knitting Pipeline where host Paula combines her love of knitting and playing the bagpipes in an unconventional combination of topics. So you’re into crochet, they have a podcast for that too, because Yarn Craft covers all things to do with yarn, including crochet.

Start Cooking 

Did you run off to school without learning how to cook, and now you live off campus with a stove and oven that you use to store spare shoes? Have no fear! You are not alone! Kathy Maister of Start Cooking posts one to three minute podcasts showing you the basics of cooking so you can actually get use out of your appliances. If you know the basics and are looking for an intermediate source, try Cooking with the Moms, or if you did P-Wild and want to reminisce on the lovely time you spent outdoors, listen to Cooking Everything Outdoors.

399Finding a Podcast

There are podcasts about everything. Every week I listen to a few podcasts about Doctor Who, about certain programming topics, and about cooking. Podcasts are diverse as your interests. And just because we didn’t mention a podcast here, doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist.

There are great sites like Podcast Thing which interview people about their favorite podcasts. I’ve discovered a number of great podcasts. Apps like NPR One provide a personalized, curated, infinitely-long playlist of public media shows, some of the best podcasts around. Or scour the iTunes top podcasts and dig down to the more specific categories to find something that fits your interests.

The best piece of advice I can give about finding a podcast is find the online community of people who love what you love and ask around. There are so many great podcasts; you’re bound to find one you love.