10 of the Most Popular Podcasts and What You Can Learn From Them
The podcasting world is really exploding in the past few years. In fact, the top podcast publisher saw over 150 million total downloads in December 2019 alone. While this kind of statistic is straightforward, however, measuring what makes a show successful or popular can be subjective and hard to reproduce.
That’s where some heavy research and lots of time spent listening to podcasts can come in handy. Fortunately, here at SecondLineThemes, we love podcasts. So we’ve explored what’s out there and making waves, so you can learn from some of the best in the business.
In this article, we’ll highlight ten of the longest-running and most popular podcasts. Along the way, we’ll introduce some best practices you can start implementing with your own podcast right away. Let’s get started!
Podcast Rankings and How We Chose the ‘Best’
Ranking podcasts can be tough for a number of reasons. Not only are there many styles and genres, but not everyone uses the same podcast platforms. This can make it difficult to track rankings and popularity.
However, there are several places to get reliable podcast data. Podtrac provides a solid baseline for publishing data across the industry. Plus, iTunes’ podcast charts and Chartable provide real-time rankings in various categories based on downloads from several publishers.
Our list highlights podcasts that are both long-running and consistently popular, based on a combination of data from multiple sources. Keep in mind that you won’t see popular daily news podcasts featured, because we’ve focused on shows that are episodic and serialized.
The 10 Most Popular Podcasts (By Longevity and Popularity) and What You Can Learn From Them
To build our list, we combined data from iTunes Charts, a variety of year-end round-ups (such as The Atlantic’s top 50 list), and data from Chartable. We also looked at some historical data, as well as charts from Top Podcast. The result is ten podcasts we’d recommend checking out.
1. Crime Junkie
- Structure: Weekly, 30 to 60 minutes, two hosts
- Impact and Awards: Often number one in the true crime category on Apple Podcasts and other platforms
- Episodes: 117 episodes, and launched in December 2017
Consistency is key for most podcast listeners. Crime Junkies has over 100,000 reviews on Apple Podcasts. The level of detail and research that goes into each episode pays off, based on this podcast’s success.
Reviews often highlight True Crime Garage as a ‘male-focused alternative’ to some of the other popular crime podcasts hosted by women. It’s a few guys sitting in a garage, drinking some beers and talking about old crime cases.
- Structure: Long-form, weekly, two hosts
- Impact and Awards: Has been in the top five overall and most-shared lists on Stitcher for the last eight months
- Episodes: 367 episodes, and began in 2015
Not only are the hosts appealing to listeners who love crime stories, but there are also lots of laughs. This is another in a long line of crime podcasts that successfully portray dark topics in an entertaining way.
This show features one host who is also a stand-up comedian. This means you can count on a laugh to go with some compelling true crime stories.
- Structure: Weekly, with two hosts
- Impact and Awards: Regularly in the Apple and Spotify Podcasts top ten lists
- Episodes: 374 episodes since launching in January 2016
Podcast listeners really love true crime. My Favorite Murder is no exception. The twist with this show is the comedic value and energy the hosts bring to the genre.
- Structure: One hour, weekly, two friends with no guests
- Impact and Awards: Currently not ranked in the top ten of any lists, but certain episodes have ranked in the top tiers consistently
- Episodes: 769 episodes since February 2006
This show’s longevity and appeal are often attributed to the hosts’ friendly accessibility and connection to the audience.
5. ID10T (Formerly The Nerdist)
ID1oT is a great example of a niche podcast that focused on ‘nerd culture’ and gained a solid following because of it. The host has a lot of name recognition, and is able to draw in lots of interesting guests.
- Structure: Weekly, interview-style, approximately an hour in length
- Impact and Awards: Early acclaim as The Nerdist gained the show a ranking on Rolling Stone’s Best Podcast of the Moment list, although it has since dropped in overall rankings
- Episodes: 1,044 episodes after launching in February 2010 as The Nerdist
An engaging website has helped this show stay connected with listeners. This was especially true throughout a major rebranding of the podcast.
Stuff You Should Know (SYSK) came about through the work of two former senior editors at How Stuff Works. These hosts deliver an interesting discussion with exceptional production quality, without coming across as know-it-alls.
- Structure: Tri-weekly, 20 to 60 minutes, two hosts
- Impact and Awards: SYSK has consistently ranked in the top ten on many publisher charts, and has won several awards including a Webby
- Episodes: 1,476 episodes since launching in April 2008
Many reviews of SYSK note the level of research that goes into each show as a key reason to listen.
Much of The Joe Rogan Experience show’s success can be attributed to the fact that Rogan was a known celebrity prior to making the show.
- Structure: Long-form, discussion, and guest interviews
- Impact and Awards: Frequently in one of the top four spots on Apple Podcasts and other podcast charts
- Episodes: 1,612 episodes, and begun in December 2009
The prolific nature of this show’s production schedule guarantees that listeners don’t have to wait long to get another dose. Rogan is also known to record shows that are more than three hours long, which means that listeners never lack for content.
- Structure: Weekly, three-hours, with a host, a panel, and call-in participation
- Impact and Awards: In the top ten tech podcasts on Stitcher, but ranks a little lower on iTunes
- Episodes: 1,664 episodes, beginning in January 2004
Engaging with its audience via phoned-in questions is a key to success for this three-hour show. Panel discussions with experts and personalities in the technology world also draw a faithful audience.
This is a good example of a show that’s really just two friends talking and being silly. Too Beautiful to Live has a humble appeal that feels like you’re just hanging out with friends.
- Structure: Daily, two hosts, current events and humor
- Impact and Awards: While not often at the top of the charts, it is a popular and prolific podcast
- Episodes: 3,085 episodes, beginning in September 2009
Reviewers say they feel at home with the hosts, and that it’s easy to jump in and listen at any time.
Producing a daily podcast can be grueling, but it’s paid off for Keith and The Girl. Recognized as a pioneer and still going strong, this is favorite show for many.
- Structure: Live shows, approximately one hour, Sunday through Thursday
- Impact and Awards: Currently not at the top, but has collected many awards (including being inducted into the Podcasting Hall of Fame in 2018)
- Episodes: 3,221 episodes, started in March 2005
Audience interaction has been a big driver for this show. That’s a key factor in its high download numbers and listener counts.
Bonus: The Longest-Running Podcast and How You Can Duplicate Its Success
Arguably the longest-running podcast, This American Life (TAL), debuted in November of 1995:
While this show started before the advent of modern podcast technology, you can access and download episodes from 1995 onward. There are 640 episodes attributed to the show over that time period. While it’s not the most prolific podcast on this list, it definitely carries many accolades.
You can count on TAL being in the top ten of just about any podcast chart available. Its main focus is on journalistic non-fiction. What many have tried to mimic is the show’s ability to tell a compelling story, and apply journalistic practices to create an engaging plot.
Additionally, TAL has a reputation for being willing to experiment with style. The show is also known for inviting listeners in through its website to help create the memorable stories it’s known for.
While murder and comedy tend to dominate the podcast charts, there are some best podcast practices that can be applied to any genre. If you’re working on improving your podcast or starting a new one, the podcasts listed above demonstrate plenty of strategies that can help you set a new bar for your show.
Understanding your audience is one part of the puzzle. However, if your show is not produced well, that can be a problem for listeners who are looking for a compelling auditory experience. On the other hand, if you’re worried about a lack of interesting guests – don’t be. Many of the shows on our list never feature them.
Some of the best shows also keep their listeners engaged through a dedicated podcast website. We see that in most of the successful podcasts, and so it’s recommended to all podcasts to have a dedicated website with a custom domain. Podcasters often choose from multiple platforms like WordPress, Squarespace, Wix or Podcastpage.io. Here at SecondLineThemes, we make it easy to create an outstanding online experience for your followers with our professional podcast themes for WordPress!