Listening, Ottawa, April 2015
Listening, Ottawa, April 2015

Who needs cable, YouTube, streaming, 3D movies and all the fancy technological stuff when you can just listen to the radio? Yes, paying attention to voices feels strangely old-fashioned. But it’s cheap, convenient and terribly addictive.

I love to listen to something when I go from point A to point B, and a couple of years ago, I decided to give radio another chance. Not the annoying radio stations with their preformatted playlists and ten-minute commercial breaks—I turned to podcasts.

I installed an app on my phone (I use TuneIn Radio on Android but there are many other free options) and started to look for good stories.

Over the years, I became addicted to a few shows, that I highly recommend. So here are 5 great podcasts you should listen to right now!

TED Radio Hour

TED is a global set of conferences run by the private non-profit Sapling Foundation, under the slogan “Ideas Worth Spreading.” Today, there are over 1,900 talks available on thousands of topics—“TED” stands for “technology, entertainment and design,” but there are also talks on business, science, current issues, etc. If conference talks are your idea of hell, please think again. These one-hour-long discussions will certainly inspire you and teach you something. It’s like listening to your favourite teacher—jokes included!

Start with…


Serial is probably the most addictive podcast I have ever listened to, mostly because it tells one true story and it’s very easy to start playing detective along with the staff. The first completed season deals with a fascinating criminal case: in 1999, Hae Min Lee, a high school senior in Baltimore County, Maryland, disappeared. A month later, her body turned up in a city park. She’d been strangled. Her 17-year-old ex-boyfriend, Adnan Syed, was arrested for the crime—he has been in prison ever since. The case against him was largely based on the story of one witness, Adnan’s friend Jay, who testified that he helped Adnan bury Hae’s body. But Adnan has always maintained he had nothing to do with Hae’s death. Journalist Sarah Koenig investigates, discovers new evidence, talks with Adnan Syed in jail and tries to figure out what really happened. This is a real case, with real people—people you can identify yourself with. So… did he do it or not?

Start with…

This American Life

This podcast features stories of people coming to terms with being in serious trouble. Follow the salespeople at a car dealership as they are trying to meet their monthly sale goal, cops who are dealing with prejudices and tough crowds or artists struggling in the infotainment industry. This is a very American perspective on life, which makes things even more interesting for the rest of us!

Start with…

Planet Money

Yes, economic issues can be entertaining, especially if you wonder how casinos attract people, what would happen if you get kidnapped or how an airline can be the fastest-growing yet the least popular airline in America.

Start with…

Affaires sensibles (in French)

Bonus, for French speakers, I recently rediscovered France Inter and I’m addicted to Affaire sensibles, a podcast that explores past criminal cases, legal and political affairs and historical moments. Many of them took place in the 1980s and 1990s and feature original soundbites and interviews. Fabrice Drouelle is an amazing storyteller!

Start with…

Do you listen to podcasts? Anything to recommend?

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  1. Bianca May 1, 2015 at 9:55 am

    Absolutely brilliant, thanks for sharing!

    1. Zhu May 1, 2015 at 4:24 pm

      You’re very welcome!

  2. Christine May 1, 2015 at 8:25 pm

    I really like Marc Maron’s podcast, WTF. He a stand-up comedian who is also a great interviewer.

    1. Zhu May 1, 2015 at 10:51 pm

      Thank you for this! Downloading right now… 🙂

  3. Alan May 2, 2015 at 1:23 pm

    Thanks for sharing! I never knew about these radio shows.

    I used to do a lot of travelling as a sales rep and CBC radio kept me entertained with interviews and stories.

    I grew up in rural Saskatchewan and a battery powered radio was a big part of our entertainment. We did have a movie theatre but that was only for Saturday night. The weekly movie was considered such an important event that everyone sang “God Save the Queen” and “Oh Canada” at the end of the show.

    I just listened to “This American Life” and I thought that it was funny that some Americans find it creepy and disturbing that Canadians can pass for Americans and live amongst them without their knowing it I am Canadian and American so I find it a strange thing to be concerned about.

    1. Zhu May 2, 2015 at 8:21 pm

      I grew up in the 1980s and 1990s in France and radio was huuuge back then. Before Mitterrand, radio was control by the state and it was heavily censored. Then came private radios and we were huge fan. I think I learned everything I needed to know (or didn’t need to…) about sex during late-night radio talk show. 🙂

  4. Alan May 3, 2015 at 9:29 pm

    I found it strange that the French of all people would put up with state control and censorship of radio. It doesn’t fit with liberté, égalité, fraternité or at least my idea of the French being rebels. It sounds more in keeping with the old pre-revolution slogan of “la Nation, la Loi, le Roi”

    Thanks to Wiki I looked it up.

    6 November 1922 (eight days before the BBC): Radiola, the first French private radio transmitter, begins regular broadcasts but from 1940 to 1981 there were no private broadcasters. It is odd that private radio didn’t come back right away after the war.

    1. Zhu May 3, 2015 at 10:11 pm

      I was listening to an Affaires sensibles podcast about this today. Don’t forget that when De Gaulle and then Giscard d’Estaing was in power, France was still very much under censorship. It was a different world back then, different times. In the late 1970s, pirate radios started to appear here and there and police raids in their offices were common, including when Mitterrand, then a candidate, participated to a pirate radio program.

  5. Melanie May 4, 2015 at 3:01 pm

    I LOVED Serial. I was in total withdrawal when it ended. I hear there is now a second season. Time to get back into it, I think. Thanks for the other suggestions!

    1. Zhu May 4, 2015 at 10:49 pm

      I was hooked too! I stumbled upon it early April and I managed to not check out the outcome online because I wanted to follow the normal progress of the story. It’s such an intriguing case…

  6. Gagan May 8, 2015 at 5:23 am


    You know Zhu, I am a big fan of podcasts, I travel for work and everyday I spend about 1.5 hours in our office bus (two years ago it was over 3 hours) so when all this started I wanted to use this time. So I used to read mostly however later I started with the podcasts. Although I used them to work on my French; I finished one series by Michel Thomas and about 80 lessons of Coffee Break French, c’etait formidable 🙂

    These days I am subscribed to “News in Slow French” it is not just a podcast, it has more options but it is based on the same thing. Of course you won’t need it but check it out for the brilliance of it.

    Thanks for these suggestions. I am going to check out ‘The American Life’ (lucky me, on their website the latest podcast is about ‘Who’s Canadian’, that’ll be interesting 🙂

    I will check out Affaire Sensibles as well, lets see if I can understand what is being said.


    P.S. I missed out on your last three posts, catching up today 🙂

    1. Zhu May 8, 2015 at 12:01 pm

      Coffee Break is awesome, I used it for Spanish 🙂

      The French used in Affaires sensibles may be hard to understand, especially from a vocabulary point of view. That said, it is “perfect” French, very literary. Just don’t get frustrated if you don’t understand anything… it’s normal!

      French love documentary and comedy. I used to watch “Envoyé spécial” on Youtube with my students.

  7. Christiane May 10, 2015 at 11:17 am

    I never tried to listen to podcasts but i want to try them during this road trip. I used to watch Thi American Life on tv back in the States and i loved it. Thanks for the tip for Tunein Radio !!! I want to see if i can get my Baltimore radio shows on it ( not like there is anything wrong witn Canadian radios)

    1. Zhu May 10, 2015 at 4:48 pm

      I’m sure you will be able to find your show, they even have French shows!

      1. Christiane May 16, 2015 at 4:56 am

        I checked…could not find the specific D.C. show i used to listen. But on brighter side, i love the app !! So much shows !!

        1. Zhu May 16, 2015 at 10:01 pm

          Oh, sorry 🙁

  8. Pingback: 3 Awesome Podcasts for your Back-to-Work Commute

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