I've been thinking a lot this week about podcasts that do community right. The shows that have nestled into my personal rotation. When I listen to their voices, I can feel that I'm not listening alone. I know there are other fans out there just like me. Not only because they tell me so, but because they actively bring listener stories to the surface.
Their platforms are really just a conduit to the human experience more broadly.
In studying how these hosts create community, it occurs to me they have three things in common: they solicit listener contributions, allow for connection through anonymity, and whether or not they give advice directly, make listeners feel less alone in seeking answers to their most burning life questions.
So, here's my personal top three:
"Death, Sex and Money" with Anna Sale. Produced by WNYC Studios, this interview-style podcast has been going strong since 2014. Its secret? Digging deep into conversations "often left out of polite conversation," the show team solicits stories from both celebrities and everyday people on questions like, what does it mean to be crippled by student loans? How do we grieve? What happens to a marriage after an affair? Anna regularly invites her listeners to become "members" through monthly donations, invites listeners to share their own stories through e-mail or voicemail, and solicits their help in developing resources for the community writ large. See for example this crowdsourced "Death Sex & Money Break Up Survival Kit."
"Savage Lovecast" with Dan Savage. What started as a written advice column in 1991 became a weekly "call-in advice" podcast by 2006 and "ranks consistently in the top ten Sexuality podcasts on Apple podcasts." The entire show revolves around listener voicemails from genuine but anonymous callers asking the questions they can't (or won't) anywhere else: is this kink even normal? Why didn't she return my call? Or, how do I handle coming out to my ultra conservative family? Subscribers to his show gain access to a Magnum edition of the show, available as a private RSS feed, featuring no ads and extended interviews, along with occasional access to exclusive Zoom calls and livestreams.
"Beautiful Anonymous" with Chris Gethard. No host is a better champion of mental health issues or therapy than this guy. Each episode features one hour-long phone call with an anonymous guest selected at random from thousands of call-ins each week. Chris may be a regular guy, but he's a fabulous steward of emotional conversations, making each session a bit like eavesdropping on a private therapy session. Callers open up on topics like escaping from a cult, voting for Trump, or becoming a monk. The Facebook group for the show has over 30,000 members who discuss and comment on episodes after they air. Many share their own stories while eagerly waiting their own chance to make it on air. Chris makes them feel "part of" with ongoing shoutouts to the community at the top of each episode — whether he spoke with someone online or met them on a live tour.
And with that, I'm off to catch up on my weekly episodes!
What's in your rotation? What podcast do you call “home”?
Until next time,