If you're anything like us, your Thanksgiving plans either entail a lot of traveling or a lot of cooking. Or both. Our favorite companion for these activities? Listening to a podcast.
Actually, it's our favorite companion for almost any activity — including working out post-turkey, taking a break from awkward conversation with distant relatives, even noshing on Thanksgiving leftovers. Just pull up one of these episodes, pop in your earbuds, and let the sounds of our favorite shows wash over you.
This list includes a whole bunch of brand-new episodes, as well as some older ones that we're just now discovering. It also includes our favorite Nashville Public Radio podcast episodes of the year.
What is a podcast, you ask? They're audio shows that are available online, instead of (or sometimes in addition to) on the radio. They're completely free to listen to. Below, we provide the links to hear each episode on a web browser, but you can search for them on any podcasting app.
Apple Podcasts is the standard app that comes on an iPhone. If you have an Android, you can search for the episode on Google Podcasts, Google Play Music, Stitcher, RadioPublic, Overcast or others.
This American Life, “The Impossible Dream”
My fangirl crush on Zoe Chace (formerly of Planet Money) amped up after this episode came out. Chace follows U.S. Senator Jeff Flake for four months as he attempts to get a DACA bill passed in Congress — an immigration idea both parties generally like. He ends up failing over and over, largely because of unpredictability from the White House. I learned more about how government works from this one hour of audio than I did from a semester of political science in college. —Emily Siner
Levar Burton Reads, "Sea Girls"
For those of a certain age, I don’t have to explain why having the man behind Reading Rainbow presenting short stories is both exciting and calming. For everyone else — a beloved sci-fi actor and children’s show star curates a playlist of stories by a diverse group of authors and delivers them in a well-paced, audiobook style format. One of my favorites is a short story from “Big Fish” author Daniel Wallace about mermaids and the awkward emotional mazes that trap teenagers. Every sentence is essential. Double dad bonus: My teenage son, who is not exactly a podcast fan, requests this for long drives. —Jason Moon Wilkins
Nashville Public Radio podcast: Versify, "A Woman And A Dragon"
I've played some sort of role in most episodes of Versify — sometimes as an editor and sometimes just making sure it gets published on time. So it was really something when I heard this for the first time, and it stopped me in my tracks and haunted me for days. The episode tells the story of Linda Ragsdale, a woman from Tennessee who took a trip years ago to Mumbai as part of a meditation pilgramage. She happened to find herself in the middle of one of the worst terrorist attacks in India's history. Ragsdale is such a vivid storyteller, and in this two-part series, she walks us through terror, trauma, healing and ultimately peace. And her story is captured beautifully in the end by poet Amelia Edelman. —Mack Linebaugh
Code Switch, "Throw Some Respeck On My Name"
This Code Switch episode is one of my favorite of all times! The episode discusses the life of Miss Mary Hamilton and the Supreme Court case Hamilton v. Alabama. Thanks to Miss Hamilton, the courts cannot address black witnesses differently than white ones. She fought for African-Americans to be addressed as Mr., Miss, or Mrs., instead of just by their first names. When she was arrested at a Lebanon, Tennessee, rally and the mayor visited at her jail cell, he addressed the women in the cell by their first names. Miss Hamilton tells him that she’s Miss Hamilton and “if you don’t know how to speak to a lady, get out of my cell.” —Sergio Martínez-Beltrán
Wooden Overcoats, "Tinker, Tailor, Undertaker"
If you have a somewhat dark sense of humor and you're looking for something different that will have you laughing out loud, then this British radio drama-style podcast will put the Fun in Funerals. Seriously, that's the slogan of antihero Rudyard Funn's funeral home in a small coastal village. Now having to compete with a flashy newcomer, Rudyard is constantly in over his head. The townspeople of Piffling Vale are on display in this episode where there is a thief on the village council, and Rudyard is on the case. —Colleen Phelps
Nashville Public Radio podcast: Curious Nashville, “How One Man Created A Peace Sign Visible From The Sky”
Our latest episode is also a nice gateway into Curious Nashville, which answers the most interesting questions sent in by our listeners. In investigating why there’s a gigantic peace sign cut into the forest next to Nashville’s airport, we also get to meet a fascinating local man — part prankster, part philosopher. —Tony Gonzalez
Serial, "Pleas Baby Pleas"
The newest season of Serial is a little harder to get into than the first two, which were driven by such gripping narratives. In Season 3, the team embeds in the Cleveland courthouse, and the stories reveal the madness of the mundane. I'd recommend Episode 5, "Pleas Baby Pleas," which exposes how everyone in the legal system is discouraged from taking a case to trial — even when a defendant may be innocent. —Blake Farmer
WTF, "D.L. Hughley"
I recently discovered the Paris Review podcast — great writers reading other great writers, from the magazine's rich archives. But since I was raised on a steady diet of stand-up, I'm opting for comic relief: the original podcaster, Marc Maron, and his show WTF. This month he had a great conversation with comic D.L. Hughley, who always offers a candid reflection on racism in America. There's also a recent, surprising episode with actress and podcaster Anna Faris, who manages to provoke the provocateur by peeling back the curtain of what drives celebrity interviewers. —Natasha Senjanovic
Household Names, "Basically Starbucks"
This podcast is really fun and dives into names we hear all the time but may not realize they have interesting backgrounds. It's definitely a lot lighter than more news-heavy podcasts, which is why I love listening to it on long car rides. This episode is hilarious, it's about the origin of the Pumpkin Space Latte and being associated with the term "basic." Why are people who drink PSLs considered to be basic, when the drink is actually pretty complicated? —Shalina Chatlani
Nashville Public Radio podcast: Movers & Thinkers, “What Is Love?”
In my three-plus years of hosting Movers & Thinkers, I’ve learned a lot about many different fields from my dozens of fascinating guests. But this episode, by far, is the one I reference the most in my everyday life. I talked with three guests about the intricacies of falling in and out of love. Relationship therapist Jeannie Ingram’s insights into what attracts us to specific people and not others were especially relevant. —Emily Siner
Latino USA, "Spanish as a First Language"
Growing up, my mom always told me that speaking both Spanish and English would open doors. And I honestly think it has. But being bilingual also means that you have to grow a thick skin and tolerate those who take offense when I speak Spanish or when I say my name the right way. So, how do you handle bilingualism when you have kids in the U.S.? Do you teach them Spanish and tell them to be proud? Do you tell them to speak it only at home? Or do you secretly hope they never want to learn how to speak it? This Latino USA episode explores those questions through the lenses of two siblings who have completely different relationships to the Spanish language. —Sergio Martínez-Beltrán
In The Dark, Episode 7
As much as us reporters would like you to think we're living a real life version of All The Presidents Men, reporting makes for very dull action — it's not unlike watching paint dry, with the occasional door shut in your face. That’s why this episode of In The Dark, APM Reports' investigative podcast about a quadruple murder and the man sentenced to death for the crime, isn't just mind-blowing reporting but also a feat of good storytelling. We hang on to host Madeleine Baran's every word as she tells us the obsessive and mind-numbing lengths her team went through to uncover systemic discrimination in jury selection by one Louisiana district attorney over more than two decades of cases. Drop everything and go binge listen to the entire season post haste. —Meribah Knight
Limetown, "What We Know"
I’ll admit that after days of being neck deep in the news, I’m usually not looking for journalism when I pull up podcasts. But one of my favorite narrative fiction series does feature a dose of journalism. Limetown focuses on an alternate universe NPR reporter caught up in a conspiracy surrounding the complete disappearance of a fictional Tennessee town. Well acted, well written and perfect for road trips. New season just came out but Episode 1 is the hook. A TV version staring sometimes-Leipers Fork resident Jessica Biel is in the works. Locally sourced bonus: The author is from East Tennessee. —Jason Moon Wilkins
Nashville Public Radio podcast: Keeping Score, "Christopher Rouse"
Keeping Score is a backstage pass to classical music in Nashville. Pulitzer Prize- and multiple Grammy-winning composer Christopher Rouse breaks down his fifth symphony and the process of creating a symphony through commission in this interview. He also tells a hilarious story of accidentally plagiarizing another composer, all layered in with the Nashville Symphony's performance of his piece. —Colleen Phelps
Crimetown, “Stop the Robberies, Enjoy Safe Streets”
I’ve never been more excited for the arrival of a show than when Crimetown announced its second season would zero in on Detroit. The opening episode tells the unbelievable story of 16 fatal shootings by a special 1970s Detroit police task force, and the unlikely crime lab technician who raised the alarm. Plus, Crimetown has landed the absolute best theme song in podcasting. —Tony Gonzalez
Ear Hustle, “The Row”
How do prisoners that are sentenced to death find meaning in life? Ear Hustle, a show produced inside California’s San Quentin State Prison, crafted a thought-provoking episode from conversations with several Death Row inmates. It’s a great example of how the show masters a blend of serious and lighthearted: Despite the heavy topics in episodes like this one, listening is not a chore. —Emily Siner
Nashville Public Radio podcast: Neighbors, "The Dog Trap"
I never thought 30-something me would be deeply invested in a story about skateboarding, but creating this two-part series had me all in. It’s about Joel Rice, a writer type who wanted nothing more than to be a professional skateboarder when he was a kid, but a traumatic encounter in high school left him scarred and feeling ostracized from the skating community. As an adult, he made a career out of writing about skateboarding and got offered the chance to ghost-write the memoir of one of his childhood skating heroes, Christian Hosoi. What unfolded next was the most “in the moment” dramatic story I’ve ever told. —Jakob Lewis
Classics for Kids, "What's a Rondo?"
If you're traveling with kids, a little blurb about a concept in classical music, or a composer's life can be a nice distraction. Kids love patterns, so this episode which explains the musical form known as a Rondo will be especially satisfying. —Colleen Phelps
ZigZag, "What Is Fact-Checking?"
Manoush Zamorodi and producer Jen Poyant left WNYC's Note to Self last year to found a new company and a new podcast. Zigzag is in its second season of examining topical issues, including political fact-checking, with the founder of Politifact, Bill Adair. —Natasha Senjanovic
Nashville Public Radio podcast: The Promise, “Part 4: The Great Divide”
We’re proud of The Promise. Meribah Knight put a year of blood, sweat, toil and tears into telling the stories of the people who live in East Nashville’s James A. Cayce Homes. But, in my opinion, this episode, in which Big Man builds a connection with a wealthier neighbor, stands above the rest. I won’t say what happens. I will say it’s a kick in the gut. It's a reminder that no one — no matter their situation — is exempt from the threat of violence. —Chas Sisk
Code Switch, "Twenty-First Century Blackface"
I loved this episode from Code Switch because it put in context some of my experiences when I lived in Brazil. I remember eating in restaurants and seeing comedy shows with people wearing blackface all the time, and I wondered how this was still happening. Turns out, it's a huge part of Latin American culture. And this Code Switch episode is a great explainer on it. Plus, the sound for it is really great. Hearing diverse voices makes the episode really interesting. —Shalina Chatlani
Lost Notes, “The Strange Journey of the Dirtiest Song Never Written”
I thought I knew the legend of “Louie, Louie,” and how it triggered an FBI investigation into the distorted lyrics. But no. This sound-rich telling is packed with details and emotion, and expertly uses different recordings of the song to explain its origins, rhythms, and meaning. The podcast is produced by a public radio station in Los Angeles. —Tony Gonzalez
WTF, "D.L. Hughley"
I recently discovered the Paris Review podcast — great writers reading other great writers, from the magazine's rich archives. But since I was raised on a steady diet of stand-up, I'm opting for comic relief. There's the original podcaster, Marc Maron, and his show WTF. This month he had a great conversation with comic D.L. Hughley, who always offers a candid reflection on racism in America. There's also a recent, surprising episode with actress and podcaster Anna Faris, who manages to provoke the provocateur by peeling back the curtain of what drives celebrity interviewers.
This American Life, "Before The Next One"
This is hard to listen to, but "Before the Next One" from This American Life tells the school shooting story from several unexpected angles, starting with an intimate debriefing from teachers at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. You get to see the pitfalls as schools desperately to prepare for what can feel inevitable. —Blake Farmer