Podcasts may be the new radio, but listening to these downloadable shows requires more effort than just twisting a dial. The rewards, however, are much richer: the latest in politics and culture, interviews with your favorite celebrities, serial dramas, and comedy aplenty. All of this programming is available for free; just install an app on your phone and download the shows you want to hear. So rich is the abundance of great podcasts and apps, diving in can be overwhelming. So we’ve done the dirty work—here’s a guide to help get you started.
First, you’ll need to pick a podcast player. Here are four suggestions that will get you in the door and straight to listening.
If you have an iPhone, this app comes built into your phone. It might not have the biggest feature set, but it offers a quick and easy way to jump into the world of podcasts. It lacks the more powerful features found in other players like “voice boost” (which is great for listening in loud environments like a subway train or an airplane) and the ability to skip silence in a podcast. However, you can stream and download shows, skip ahead or rewind in 15 second intervals, and set your favorite shows to download automatically as soon as a new episode is released. Free
Google Play Music
If you’re on Android, Google’s music streaming app, which comes preinstalled on your phone, also supports podcasts. Like Apple’s Podcasts app, Google Play takes a simplistic approach to podcasts. It lets you subscribe to podcasts, download episodes, and skip and rewind during playback, but that’s about it. However, there’s also a version of the app that runs in the web browser, so you can listen from your computer when you’re at your desk and save your phone’s battery. Free
Spotify’s mainly known as a music streaming service, but in 2015, the company added support for podcasts. Again, you’ll just get the basics, but that’s enough to get you started. If you’re a regular Spotify user already, this option gives you a podcast player with a familiar interface. As a bonus, you can flip between podcast episodes and your usual songs and playlists, so you never have to switch apps to listen to something different. There are a couple caveats, though: Spotify hand-picks which podcasts are allowed on its platform, so it may not have everything you’re looking for, and without a premium subscription you’ll have to listen to ads between episodes. Free
If you want the full podcast experience, Pocket Casts is for you. Unlike the above options, it goes well beyond the basics. You can quickly see new episodes available for download, keep track of your unlistened episodes, set custom skip/rewind intervals to jump past ads or catch something you missed, and turn on voice boosting and silence trimming for an improved listening experience. If you take organization seriously, its episode filters can sort episodes to your heart’s content based on a handful of different variables. On top of all that, Pocket Casts rocks a colorful design that makes everything pop. Well worth the $4, and for an additional $10 you can access all your favorite podcasts from any web browser. $4
Overcast is often considered the gold standard of iOS podcast apps, and for good reason. The clean interface is easy to thumb and swipe around in. It also has the advanced features like voice boost and silence trimming. Overcast supports playlists, so you can make lists of your favorite episodes, or a list of podcasts you want to listen to on a long trip. It’ll notify you of new episodes for your favorite shows, and if you’re low on storage you can set limits for how many episodes the app will download for offline listening. These features are all free, but for $10 per year you’ll be able to remove ads, upload your own audio files to Overcast’s servers, and change the color of the icon on your home screen, if you’re into that. Free, with premium features for $10/year
Now Find Something to Listen to
Every podcast app has a section filled with recommended shows you can browse. Start there. Some apps have better suggestions than others, but at least you’ll be able to find a few things you might like. When you find a show you’re sure you’ll enjoy, subscribe to it—this adds the title to your list of favorites in the app. If you want, you can set up your app to download each new episodes as soon as it’s released. Most apps will also let you listen to an episode of any podcast without subscribing, so test out as many shows as you want. No pressure!
You should definitely listen to WIRED’s Gadget Lab podcast. We’d also recommend you give these podcasts a try: Serial, Fresh Air from NPR (which offers all of its shows as podcasts), Longform, S-Town, and Reply All.