It’s 10:30 pm on a Tuesday night and I’m doing laps around my block, smoking a cigarette, listening hard. The feral cats are comfortable approaching me by now. I’m pretty sure my neighbors think I’m crazy. I’ve stopped reading books or watching TV, and I’ve spent the hours between 6 pm and 12am pacing the lightless streets of Oakland. I’m in charge of the Quartz awards for best podcasts of 2017. And I’m listening to every damn one.
Maybe this wasn’t necessary, but I’m a completist who can’t bear the idea of having missed something amazing. Also, there are more great podcasts today than any one person can possible keep up with. Even if you’re a dedicated narrative-audiophile, you likely overlooked one or two (or 10) excellent shows in 2017.
After listening to audio episodes about everything from Afrofuturism to McDonald’s french fries, I can say that podcasting has been a diligent student; it’s taken and developed its own essential character out of some of the best aspects of radio, feature reporting, newspapers, and television. Thankfully, it’s also become a platform that is far more diverse than any of its influences, available and welcoming to a range of voices that extend well beyond traditional media.
With the help of some of my colleagues at Quartz, I’ve compiled a list of the best shows and individual episodes that aired the past year. We considered any show with new, original episodes that aired in 2017—whether the podcast itself was new, or a veteran of the airwaves.