A is for Audible

One of the heavy hitters in the world of podcasts, Audible is a paid-for platform which increasingly generates its own content. Hits so far have included Jon Ronson’s The Last Days Of August. Proving themselves ahead of the curve where podcasts are concerned, Amazon bought Audible for $300 million in 2008. Smart move.

B is for binge

The best way to consume a podcast, though if you’re one of those early adopters who’s onto something fast then you’ll have to wait as the weekly or bi-weekly episodes are made, edited and uploaded. If not, download a whole series at once.

C is for Crouch

That’s Peter Crouch (footballer, from London) not Barty Crouch Jr. (Death Eater, from Harry Potter). The former striker has been co-hosting That Peter Crouch Podcast for two years now and it has proved remarkably successful. Amiable beanpole talks entertaining nonsense about the Beautiful Game: what’s not to like?

D is for Daily Source Code

Launched in 2004, the year British journalist Ben Hammersley invented the portmanteau word ‘podcast’, this is one of the earliest podcasts and was hosted by former MTV VJ and internet entrepreneur Adam Curry, aka The Podfather. Each showed ended with the exhortation: “Live your life with passion – and, as long as it lasts, enjoy your freedom”.

E is for Ears

Most podcast fans listen through headphones, often high-end ones, making the world of the podcast an exciting blank canvas for sound designers and audio technicians. Innovative dramas such as Homecoming (see H) use this to their benefit by stitching their plots together entirely from “found” sources (e.g. interviews recorded on dictaphones, phone calls, radio broadcasts), adding endless texture to the sound collage.

F is for Free

Not all podcasts come without a fee but there are plenty of high-quality examples where all you’re asked to give is a moment of your time to listen to an advert or two. Some don’t even have that stipulation. An obvious example is the raft of podcasts offered by the BBC. Highlights from its archive would include Tunnel 49 (derring-do under the Berlin Wall), Have You Heard George’s Podcast (hosted by George The Poet) and Forest 404 (dystopian sci-fi with an environmental theme).

G is for Gimlet Media

An American platform providing high-quality podcasts and the go-to place for gripping fictional serials such as The Horror Of Dolores Roach and Motherhacker, which features Alan Cumming.

H is for Homecoming

An all-star cast of Catherine Keener, David Schwimmer and Oscar Isaac starred in this gripping psychological thriller about a secret government research centre. But it was when it was picked up by Amazon to be remade for TV starring Julia Roberts – Julia Roberts! – that the potential of the podcast as a source for adaptable stories was fully realised.

I is for iTunes

Another great source of free podcasts, ranked by subject and popularity. Want to know the latest from the world of e-sports, haute cuisine or mindfulness? It’s all here.

J is for Joan And Jericha

Joan Damry (played by comedian Julia Davis) and Jericha Domain (Vicki Pepperdine) are the agony aunts from hell in Dear Joan And Jericha, a funny, silly and very rude podcast recorded in Davis’s kitchen. What they don’t know about or psycho-genital counselling isn’t worth knowing. Truly the Derek and Clive of podcasting.

K is for Koenig, Sarah

An American journalist and broadcaster, Koenig is responsible for 2014’s Serial, probably the most downloaded podcast of all time. If you’re seriously into podcasts, this is probably the reason why. If you’re not, start here with her gripping investigation into the 1999 murder of high school student Hae Min Lee and the evidence that convicted her alleged killer, ex-boyfriend Adnan Syed.

L is for Limetown

A sort of podcast version of The X-Files concerning the apparent disappearance of 300 people from a neuro-research facility in America, this is another fictional podcast which was given the small screen treatment, this time by Facebook and starring Jessica Biel.

M is for Murder

One of the most popular genres of podcast is true crime and if you were to list the 10 most water cooler-y podcasts out there at least half of them would belong in it. Highlights include Teacher’s Pet, Last Podcast On The Left, West Cork, Serial and S-Town (see S, below).

N is for Night Vale

Night Vale is a desert town in the American south-west and the subject of Welcome To Night Vale, which purports to be extracts and snippets from the town’s local radio station but is actually one of the longest-running (and weirdest) podcasts out there. Night Vale isn’t real, you see, a good thing under the circumstances. If you like your storytelling upside down and back to front, this is the one for you.

O is for Off Menu

Everyone loves to eat, right? Comedian Ed Gamble and James Acaster do and in this podcast they invite chefs and celebrities (sometimes they’re one and the same thing) into their fantasy restaurant to chat and cook up their fantasy meal. Recent guests have includes Noah Schapp (Will in Stranger Things), two-starred Michelin chef Simon Rogan and Armando Iannucci.

P is for Podtrac

Charting the popularity and proliferation of podcasts is US company Podtrac, whose figures show (among other things) that the world’s most popular podcast is (probably) The Daily, produced by the New York Times, and that podcast downloads in the US are up 25% this year. Can’t imagine why …

Q is for Queer

From The Book Of Queer Prophets (in which Jeanette Winterson and others talk about reconciling homosexuality with religious faith) to Queer Confessions (what it says on the tin), LGBTQ+ concerns are well represented on Planet Podcast. Whether you want serious, political, instructional, funny or just plain down and dirty it’s all here in a veritable rainbow of content.

R is for Relax

Stress and anxiety are commonplace, especially at the moment, but there’s a podcast for that. In fact there are dozens. Try Happy Place, hosted by Fearne Cotton, Owning It: The Anxiety Podcast, or Phone A Friend, in which pop star George Ezra and musician and YouTuber Ollie MN talk candidly about mental health issues during lockdown.

S is for S-Town

In 2017 the producers of Serial released this podcast about the bizarre goings-on in an Alabama town. Two months and 40 million downloads later it was well on its way to becoming another landmark production in the history of podcasts.

T is for The Terrace

The Terrace podcast started life in 2007 after a bunch of students at Edinburgh’s Napier University came together to gibber on amusingly about Scottish football and record the results. Nothing much has changed except that the ace podcast has now also spawned an equally ace TV show, A View From The Terrace, by a country mile the best thing BBC Scotland has produced. The podcast is still produced twice weekly and is never slow to point out the preposterous in our national game.

U is for User-generated

Podcasting is a so-called horizontal media, so consumers can very easily become producers and some of the real pearls on Planet Podcast often just come from the interplay between people who know each other well (see T, above). If you can make your pals laugh round your kitchen table, chances are you can have your listeners chuckling too.

V is for Virus

You know which one. For your hourly/daily/weekly update there’s a host of podcasts available, though among the more popular (and reputable) ones are BBC pair The Coronavirus Diaries (weekly) and Coronavirus Global Update (daily) and, from American broadcasters ABC and CNN, Coronavirus: Fact Vs. Fiction and the snappily-titled Coronacast.

W is for Wondery

Another top podcast platform, this is where you’ll find such gems as Joe Exotic: Tiger King, which delves deeper into the weird world of the hit Netflix documentary series, as well as true crime faves like Dirty John, Over My Dead Body and Young Charlie, which explores the early years of a certain Charles Manson.

X is for X

As in Sincerely X, a podcast published under the aegis of the TED brand in which anonymous contributors air ideas that are either too controversial or risky for them to put their names too. Episodes include testimonies from a trans man, a sociopath, a neo-natal nurse – and a preacher who no longer believes in Hell.

Y is for Yawn

Well, nobody said all podcasts were worth listening to. But if you have the opposite problem and can’t get to sleep, see Z.

Z is for Zzzz

Any insomniacs out there are advised to try Sleepy, a podcast in which baritone Otis Gray tells bedtime stories in as boring a voice as you can imagine.