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When it comes to podcasts, we're all ears. These 23 shows make commutes go by quicker.

23 Podcasts for Kicking Up Your Commute | CarMax

Are you a daily commuter? Depending on where you live, your commute can be short, or it can be long. Plus, traffic patterns can play havoc with your travel time, no matter where you’re headed. During these drives, it’s always handy to have a ready list of recommended podcasts — short, downloadable audio programs you can listen to when you want — to help make your commutes more tolerable.

Check out this list of 23 intriguing podcasts, listed below in no particular order. You can listen to some of these in one short sitting; others last several hours, though the storytelling’s so good that you’ll lose track of the time (and your commute). You can also check out our most popular cars for commuting in our ultimate guide to commuting, which is full of ideas for making the best of your drives to and from work in the city where you live. 

01

StarTalk Radio

StarTalk is hosted by astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson, and each weekly episode features comedians, scientists, and celebrities who have a lively discussion with Neil about the intersection of science and pop culture. The podcast does a magnificent job of breaking down complicated scientific subjects into fun and digestible explanations that anybody can enjoy.  Here’s what the StarTalk team says about the podcast:

The best episode for new listeners to start with?

"The Future of Humanity, with Elon Musk." Not only is it our most popular episode, but in addition to Elon Musk, it’s got Neil deGrasse Tyson as host, Bill Nye the Science Guy as a guest, and our fan favorite, co-host Chuck Nice. It’s the episode where Elon now famously told Neil why he fears artificial intelligence, and why he worries that if we were ever visited by aliens we’d end up as their pets. Plus, they talk about the problems with flying cars, and Elon offers Neil a better solution to vehicular congestion, so it’s perfect for listening to on four wheels.

Inspiration for creating your favorite episodes?

With eight seasons of podcasts, favorite episodes are tough, but StarTalk’s Director of Operations, Jeff Simons, has picked an episode that’s another top fan favorite: "A Conversation with Edward Snowden, Part 1." Here’s what Jeff says about the episode:

“Neil went into the interview not sure about how he felt about Snowden, who was currently in hiding in Russia and whom Neil interviewed exclusively via a telepresence robot that wheeled itself into his office at the Hayden Planetarium. But the opportunity to talk to an expert in encryption and privacy was too tempting, especially one who was a card-carrying geek like Neil. That’s why we did the show. It’s my favorite episode, though, because they are both such self-proclaimed geeks, and in diving into the subjects they love, they may have come up with a very plausible explanation as to why aliens haven’t communicated with us yet. As a result of the cross-pollination of their two different areas of expertise, Neil and Edward Snowden actually came up with the idea that alien civilizations may in fact be transmitting messages, but that we can’t distinguish those communications from the noise of the cosmic microwave background radiation because advanced societies always compress and encrypt their communications.”

Special insights you think listeners should take away?

StarTalk started with a basic premise: that science is everywhere, it’s more important than ever, and it’s for everyone, not just for scientists. Rather than being another show where the host is a celebrity, and the scientists are guests, StarTalk flips the formula. The scientist is the host, and the celebrity guests help everyone see how anyone can have a love of science, and you don’t need to be a scientist to have a “geek underbelly.” Most of our episodes also have a comic co-host, to make sure that the science never gets too heavy, and to keep the conversation lively and accessible to everyone.
02

Strangers

Strangers is a storytelling podcast about exploring our shared humanity and discovering who we are, as individuals and a society. Each episode is hosted by Lea Thau and features true stories that cover everything from the people we meet and the connections we create, to the heartbreaks we suffer and the random acts of kindness we discover. If you want to get in touch with your inner self, then this is a great podcast for you. Here’s what Lea says about Strangers:

The best episode for new listeners to start with?

"The Son, The Goddess, and Leopoldo." It’s got a bit of everything — humor and heart and good storytelling, and it’s on the clean side.

Inspiration for creating your favorite episodes?

I also personally adore the two stories in this broadcast special we created — two of my all-time favorite stories.

Any special insights for listeners to take away?

Strangers features true, intimate stories from people’s lives. When evaluating a story, we ask: is it unique, is it gripping, and does it move us? If the answers is yes, we start a long process of getting to know the people we profile and establishing trust with them. For many people — I’ve found — it’s easier to confide in a stranger than to fully drop the facade with friends and loved ones, and to our initial surprise, people have proved remarkably willing to talk about things they've never shared with anyone before.

Slowly, they open up about their deepest fears, joys, insecurities, and dreams, and share what really happened when the story went down. In real life, we rarely make time to go so deep with one another, but on Strangers our goal is to present epic, entertaining stories that are like empathy shots in your arm, demonstrating that there are many different ways to live, but also that we remain connected by universal, human themes that transcend cultural and social divides. "Stories to make us strangers-no-more," we call them.
03

Codebreaker

Codebreaker explores technology and how our lives intertwine with it through the lens of a single question. The first season asked, “Is it Evil?” and the current season asks, “Can it Save Us?” The hosts Ben Johnson and Clare Toeniskoetter approach each episode with humor and an awe-inspiring vibrance. If you feel like doing some codebreaking yourself, within each episode is a code to unlock the next episode immediately instead of waiting for its weekly release date.  Here’s what the Codebreaker team says about the show:

The best episode for new listeners to start with?

Listeners can really start anywhere – each episode of Codebreaker takes on one topic, but since they’re programmed in seasons, Season 2, Episode 1, "Voice Recognition," is a good place to begin.

04

Song Exploder

Song Exploder host Hrishikesh Hirway offers an incredible podcast for music lovers. He interviews popular musicians and asks them to break down their songs and describe their creative process for the recording. If you’ve ever wanted to peer into the brains of your favorite musicians, this is the podcast for you. Hrishikesh says this about Song Exploder:

The best episode for new listeners to start with?

How about the "Game of Thrones theme" episode? It turns out the theme for Game of Thrones reflects the plot of the show in lots of hidden ways. From the choice of instruments to changes in key, composer Ramin Djawadi revealed how his music incorporates narrative ideas from the series. In addition to getting stuck in your head for days, there's a lot hidden under the surface in the theme song.

Inspiration for creating your favorite episode?

All of the episodes of Song Exploder were inspired by two things that you rarely get to hear with music. First, the sound of the instruments on their own is beautiful, and listening to them like that, in isolation, is like getting to taste the individual ingredients and spices in your favorite dish. It lets you recognize and appreciate them in a much deeper way when they all come together. Secondly, it's easy to feel like songs arrive in the world as these perfectly constructed artifacts that an artist created out of thin air when they had a big idea. But most of the time, a song is the result of a series of small, creative decisions. Song Exploder shows how the creative process is also a matter of problem-solving and perseverance. 

Special insights you think listeners should take away?

The first and most obvious thing I'd like is for people to hear a song in a new way after listening to an episode. I hope the listening experience feels like it opened up for them. And on a deeper level, I hope that they feel inspired about their own creativity, and that — regardless of medium — they want to harness that feeling and go out and make something.
05

Stuff You Missed in History Class

Did you ever daydream in history class and miss out on a few lectures? Don’t worry, because in Stuff You Missed in History Class, cohosts Holly Frey and Tracy Wilson teach you about hidden, cool, or weird events in history.  Tracy has this to say about the show:

The best episode for new listeners to start with?

A good episode for new listeners to start with is "Butter v. Margarine." It's simultaneously lighthearted and upbeat, and also gets into some fascinating legal territory, including Supreme Court arguments.

Inspiration for creating your favorite episodes?

Each of us typically takes the lead on one of the two episodes we record each week, and episodes are best when that researcher is truly absorbed in the material. As examples, for Holly, the "Haunted Mansion" episodes are all the product of a deep love for the Disney attraction and the Imagineers who worked on it. Tracy tends to get most excited about the topics that are unexpectedly odd, such as the many-centuries-long tradition of English and French monarchs purportedly curing scrofula.

Special insights you think listeners should take away?

The key to remember is that history happened not just on battlefields or in seats of government. History is, and always has been, happening everywhere, all the time, to every person.

06

Heavyweight

Life is an interesting journey for each of us and it can get heavy faster than a bolt of lightning. Heavyweight host Jonathan Goldstein explores these burdensome moments and reminds us through gripping personal stories that it’s okay to forgive, to laugh, and to love.  Here’s what he says about Heavyweight:

The best episode for new listeners to start with?

People seem to really enjoy the episode "Gregor" because of how funny and surprising it is, and how there's a special guest appearance from Moby. And they also like "Julia" because of how relatable an experience teenage bullying is and how its effects echo through the years.

Inspiration for creating your favorite episodes?

My favorite episode deals with reuniting my father and his brother, both in their eighties, who hadn't spoken in 40 years. It was very personally gratifying to bring these two cranky old men together for what might possibly be their last chance to reconcile.

Special insights you think listeners should take away?

I hope it encourages listeners to feel that it's never too late to resolve their own "heavyweights."

07

StartUp

StartUp gives an intimate look at what building a business from scratch is truly like. The first season follows the host, Alex Bloomberg, as he tries co-creating his own company, Gimlet Media. The second season dives into creating a dating company, and the current season explores one business per episode. If you’re interested in the ins and outs of running a small business, StartUp is an unbeatable podcast choice. 

08

Ross Tucker Football Podcast

Football fans know the name Ross Tucker. He played in the NFL for seven years, and he hosts the morning show for SiriusXM NFL Radio. In his own podcast, Ross explores the league, its teams, and its players and coaches with perspectives only an insider can offer. Nearly every episode gives unique insights and takeaways about the NFL and the people who shape it. 

09

This American Life

This American Life, hosted by Ira Glass, is probably the best known radio show and podcast around. The program is an incredible, unflinching look into life. The show explores all of life, from funny moments to tragic losses and everything in between. 

10

You Must Remember This

Hollywood wasn’t always glitz and glam, and You Must Remember This tells the long-forgotten stories about Hollywood’s first century. This storytelling podcast is created and narrated by Karina Longworth, who uses terrific storytelling techniques to showcase a heavily-researched narrative that explores the true stories behind Hollywood’s legendary myths and scandals. 

11

99% Invisible

The world has secrets hiding in plain sight that change our lives every day, and 99% Invisible producer Roman Mars points them out in a weekly exploration of design and architecture. Roman dives into captivating discussions of the power and process behind the world around us. Here’s what Roman says about 99% Invisible.

The best episode for new listeners to start with?

A good place to start would be with these core episodes including the award-winning "Structural Integrity," a suspenseful story of near-disaster averted thanks to a student project, some luck, and fortunate timing. We also have a helpful list of staff favorites.

Inspiration for creating your favorite episode?

We love producing pieces at the intersection of everyday design and creative thinking. David Weinberg pitched and reported one of our classic favorites, "Guerrilla Public Service." It tells the story of an unusually functional art project designed to help everyday drivers in Los Angeles —  definitely one to listen to while commuting to or from work.

Special insights you think listeners can take away from this podcast?

Small and incremental design solutions can have big impacts for everyday users. Sometimes, too, it's up to citizens to step in and make a difference — so keep your eye out for opportunities to both understand and improve the built environments around you.

12

Criminal

Criminal is a story-driven podcast about crime that strays from the "if it bleeds, it leads” formula, and offers compelling and complex stories of criminals, victims, and folks who are caught somewhere in the middle. Here’s what Criminal co-creator Lauren Spohrer says about the show.

The best episode for new listeners to start with?

Episode 51: "Money Tree"

Inspiration for creating your favorite episode?

We have a lot of favorites, but the inspiration for our very first episode was host Phoebe Judge's interest in owl attacks. Owls attack humans more than you might think. We're led by our curiosity — only taking on stories that surprise us.

Special insights you think listeners should take away?

Every episode is different. We cover all kinds of crime from unusual angles — think Venus Fly Trap Black Market, Philadelphia body snatchers in 1895, or a K-9 love triangle. Some episodes are funny, some are tragic, but all will change how you think about the world around you.

13

Filmspotting

If you’re a film buff who loves in-depth reviews, top five lists, and captivating interviews, Filmspotting will be your favorite new podcast. Co-host Adam Kempenaar has this to say about Filmspotting:

The best episode for new listeners to start with?

I'd probably single out #600 w/ Chuck Klosterman: "Top 5 Movies Future Historians Will Remember."

It was a big milestone show for us, and with a great guest in writer and cultural critic Chuck Klosterman. Chuck was one of those dream guests for me as a big fan of his books including "Sex, Drugs and Cocoa Puffs" and "Killing Yourself to Live." Indiewire named it one of the 50 best podcast episodes of 2016.

Special insights you think listeners should take away?

In terms of other insights, we really are one of the longest running podcasts, having started early into podcast's infancy, back in March 2005. We were also the first podcast to be picked up by terrestrial radio. We are broadcast twice a week on WBEZ, Chicago's NPR affiliate.

14

Hang Time

Hang Time gives an excellent weekly breakdown of NBA news, analysis, and commentary from the staff at NBA.com. The show is hosted by Sekou Smith and Lang Whitaker, and it features guests from around the NBA and the people who cover the league. Here’s what Sekou says about Hang Time:

The best episode for new listeners to start with?

Let’s go with this MVP discussion with Nathaniel Friedman for our best, to start with.

Inspiration for creating your favorite episode?

Our inspiration was the broader MVP conversation that's been going on all season. We wanted to take a deep dive with someone who has a totally different perspective on the race and examine what the award means in a larger context for these guys' careers beyond just this season. Being named Most Valuable Player completely alters the scope of a career.

Special insights you think listeners should take away?

The special insight for listeners to take away from our show is the NBA is the best sports league in the world.

15

Happier with Gretchen Rubin

Happiness is a fleeting emotion, and Gretchen Rubin wants you to experience more of it. Gretchen is the author of The Happiness Project and Better Than Before, and in Happier, she gives practical, manageable, and personal advice about happiness and good habits to live a thoughtful, loving, and happy life. Gretchen says this about Happier:

The best episode for new listeners to start with?

Our second anniversary episode, which includes highlights from the previous year.

Inspiration for creating your favorite episode?

My favorite episode is still #10. Every time I visit my sister and co-host Elizabeth, I help her clean up her clutter. In this episode, you hear us in the process of tackling her closet.

Special insights you think listeners should take away?

To be happier, it’s important that we think about what’s true for us. We can build a happy life only on the foundation of our own nature, our own interests, and our own values. We can accept ourselves, and expect more from ourselves. In the Happier podcast, we identify strategies and tips for helping people to create lives that are happier, healthier, more productive, and more creative.

16

Love and Radio

Nick van der Kolk’s Love and Radio lets you hear what humanity is all about. He tackles our shared human experience with narratives and impressive in-depth interviews that span an extensive range of subjects, from rogue taxidermists to an artist who gives away her life savings every night. The podcast’s insights and stories can be fascinating, heartwarming, and harrowing. There’s really nothing else quite like it. Here’s what Nick says about Love and Radio

The best episode for new listeners to start with?

Far and away the piece that resonates with the most listeners is "The Living Room," but that’s just the tip of the iceberg.

Inspiration for creating your favorite episode?

I re-watched the movie Goodfellas while working on the episode "Fix," and tried to capture a little of the energy and arc of that film.

Special insights you think listeners should take away?

Radio/podcasting doesn’t have to be a didactic medium that tells you what to think. Love and Radio never does that.
17

Love Me

Craving love is the most common theme that binds us, so why is it one of the most challenging things to get right? Love Me is a podcast that answers this question by exploring how messy human connections can be when it comes to love. Love Me dives into relationships through personal stories and fun fictional narratives and appeals to something in each of us. Here’s what the Love Me team says about the podcast.

The best episode for new listeners to start with?

Episode 1: "At A Loss For Words"

Inspiration for creating your favorite episode?

Our first episode was inspired by our own experiences with miscommunication when it comes to relationships. It can be so hard to properly convey what you mean and understand what someone else means — even when you speak the same language — but what about when you don't share a language? This episode explores everything from how to fall in love through Google Translate, to how two robots navigate a tumultuous romance.

Special insights you think listeners should take away

The story that host Lu Olkowski shares at the beginning of this episode, about no longer feeling able to say "I love you" to her mother, was the story that landed her the gig as the Love Me host!

18

Stuff You Should Know

In Stuff You Should Know, co-hosts Josh Clark and Chuck Bryant explore the answers to odd questions about incredibly complex subjects. If you enjoy witty banter and learning about everything from whether you can die from a broken heart to what the deal is with Baby Boomers, this podcast is perfect for you. Stuff You Should Know dives into complicated topics and simplifies the answers so you can understand the basics. Here’s what Chuck has to say about the podcast:

The best episode for new listeners?

"Southerners Aren’t Lazy and Dumb, They Just Had Hookworm "

Inspiration for creating your favorite episodes?

The Muppets episode is a personal and fan favorite and the inspiration came from our sheer love of The Muppet Show as kids, and respect and admiration for Jim Henson as adults. We loved doing this one so much we later did a stand-alone episode about Henson himself. 

Special insights you think listeners should take away?

We take a lot of pride in the fact that we can take a complex topic and break it down in a way that a listener can have a basic understanding of it, and have a few laughs along the way. Each show gives us a chance to learn, and we like to pass that quest for knowledge along to the audience.

19

Switched on Pop

Switched on Pop is a podcast about the making and meaning of popular music. The show is hosted by musicologist Nate Sloan and songwriter Charlie Harding. The musical duo dissects pop songs and figures out why certain songs become hits and what that says about our culture. 

The best episode for new listeners to start with?

"Episode 10: Taylor Swift’s Beethovian Blank Space"

Inspiration for creating your favorite episode?

Every episode starts with a top 40 melody, riff, or lyric that catches our ear. From there a song unfolds in ways that aren’t obvious to first-time listeners. For example, in Tove Lo’s “Cool Girl,” we first heard a wavering synth line that suggested we were listening to an untrustworthy narrator. On the surface, the song appeared to be a "cool girl" party anthem. But when we followed the music, the song revealed itself to be a powerful feminist manifesto. 

Special insights you think listeners should take away?

Underneath every pop song there’s a hidden story that can be found deep within in the music. 

20

The Allusionist

Words are powerful, and there’s a story behind every idiom and unique phrase. The Allusionist explores these tales through linguistic adventures with Helen Zaltzman. Helen dives into the history, meaning, and usage of words and tells their stories in a way that’s riveting to her listeners. A quest for nerdy knowledge is rarely this much fun. Here are Helen’s insights for The Allusionist:

The best episode for new listeners to start with?

"41. Getting Toasty" or "42. The Key part I: Rosetta."

"Getting Toasty": Like a lot of people, I'm intrigued by Antarctica. I found a linguistics-related excuse to learn more about it and I spoke with two women who were working at the South Pole throughout the winter. 

"Rosetta": This episode aims to uncover the purposes of an ancient linguist artifact, the Rosetta Stone, and a futuristic version of it, the Rosetta Disk. 

Inspiration for creating your favorite episodes?

"48. Winterval." I remembered the media outcry over Winterval in the late 90s and the word kept cropping up in the years since. I thought, "I'll track down the guy who coined the word and it'll be a funny story about a festive blunder." But when I did speak to him, the story turned out to be so much more than that, and incredibly resonant with our political present. 

Special insights you think listeners should take away?

People assume the show is going to boss them around about their grammar, but pedantry is not my intention at all. The more I learn about language, the more open I become to other people's use of it. In fact, what drives my investigations of how language works, and how humans communicate, is empathy. 

21

The Fantasy Footballers

The Fantasy Footballers wants to be your main source for Fantasy Football information, and the expert trio of Andy Holloway, Jason Moore, and Mike "The Fantasy Hitman" Wright make a podcast so compelling that it’s hard to want any other source. The three hosts offer astute analysis, strong opinions and banter, and match-winning advice that will give you an edge over your NFL-loving friends and colleagues. Here’s what they told us about their podcast.

The best episode for new listeners to start with?

It’s not too easy to give an episode to start with since our podcast is all time-sensitive with the NFL. I’d recommend users go to TheFantasyFootballers.com so they can always find the most recent episode, as well as subscribing on iTunes which they can do through the site.  

Special insights you think listeners should take away?

Listeners can count on our show for high quality production values, accurate info, and an entertaining podcast. We take a holistic approach to fantasy football and work to blend entertainment and high-quality fantasy advice. Fantasy football is more than stat sheets and excel docs. It’s about strategy, league formation and communication, trading strategies, and draft day. It’s about winning the mental game, reading between the lines, finding the diamonds in the rough, and mocking your friends while you succeed. 

22

The Longest Shortest Time

In The Longest Shortest Time, Hillary Frank explores parenting as it really is. But you don’t need to be a parent to enjoy this show. The podcast shares stories, insights, and surprises that come with raising kids as well as the absurd experiences childbearing brings. The stories are humanistic, bold, and sometimes even daring. And every episode leaves you better off for listening to it. Here are Hillary’s recommendations for The Longest Shortest Time.

The best episode for new listeners to start with?

#60 "The Accidental Gay Parents"

Inspiration for creating this episode: Trystan is one of the many listeners who wrote to us, wanting to share his story. We loved how his story expands our idea of what a family looks like.

Special insights you think listeners should take away?

Family is about more than a biological relationship, and adoption can be an arduous process, especially for LGBTQ couples. This episode is part of an ongoing series about Trystan's family. Other "Accidental Gay Parents" episodes are #62#80, and #81.

23

We Have Concerns

What subjects make you really think about your place in the world and how you interact with your surroundings? In We Have Concerns, comedic co-hosts Jeff Cannata and Anthony Carboni tackle topics of that nature, and talk about the personal and philosophical concerns they find with and about everyday things. The dynamic duo picks a topic from science, philosophy, anthropology, or current events, and talks about what it might mean. The episodes are hilarious and insightful. Here’s what Jeff has to say about We Have Concerns.

The best episode for new listeners to start with?

There are several fun episodes that would be a great start:

Special insights you think listeners should take away?

The concept of our show is that we take listeners’ suggestions for topics. So in each episode, we thank the listener who suggested the story we’re discussing. We’re inspired by the weird, interesting, and otherwise overlooked oddities in the news and we discuss them. It's all about figuring out what science, anthropology, psychology, and nature discoveries mean to us, unpacking the existential dread hidden within, and creating humor out of that process. We hope people learn something — and laugh while they're learning.