About a decade ago, shortly after my daughter was born, I developed my own private ritual: Whenever I needed a pick-me-up from the intense demands of new motherhood, I’d turn on the parenting podcast The Shortest Longest Time. During a period that could often feel isolating, it was comforting to hear other people’s stories about the highs and lows of parenthood — funny stories, heart-wrenching stories, sweet stories, stories that surprised me or made me think.
That podcast accompanied me through many long, dark nights with multiple feedings. It kept me amused during excruciatingly boring stroller walks around and around the block. It even drowned out the cries of my daughter when we were attempting to sleep-train her. I’d never been much of a podcast person before, but soon enough, I was branching out into all kinds of new shows, from science to true crime to news.
The one problem: I had no one to talk to about the things I was hearing and learning. This new audio world was occupying nearly all my free time, but podcasting hadn’t yet reached the level of popularity it enjoys today, and my good friends — all bookworms and consumers of pop culture — weren’t plugged in.
A podcast club: like a book club, only there’s no paper in sight. The same wine and cheese; the same sitting around a table sharing insights and questions.
So when an acquaintance invited me to be in the podcast club she was starting, I was thrilled. Over time, as my daughter has grown and my listening tastes have expanded, this club has become my new cherished ritual — less private, but just as (and perhaps more) fulfilling.
A podcast club: like a book club, only there’s no paper in sight. The same wine and cheese; the same sitting around a table sharing insights and questions. Once a month, we gather in someone’s basement to discuss a new series or a single episode we just heard. Sometimes we even listen to short segments together and do an on-the-spot analysis.
Around the world, there are a number of similar groups — some homegrown, and others thanks to Adela Mizrahi, a communications specialist in Chicago. Mizrahi started the Podcast Brunch Club in 2015, after she’d spent several lonely months recovering from surgery and listening to podcasts to pass the time. Initially, it was just her and a few local friends; when she posted a note on Facebook about a year later asking if anyone in other cities would be interested in starting chapters of their own, the response was immediate. Today, the Podcast Brunch Club has 66 chapters worldwide, each meeting monthly to discuss a podcast playlist Mizrahi curates around a certain theme, from artificial intelligence to heartache to wanderlust.
For many people, the appeal of a podcast club is its relative convenience: all the intellectual and social elements of a book club but with material that’s significantly easier to fit into a busy schedule. “I’m a slow reader, and so even when friends would invite me to book clubs, I’d say no because I knew I’d never finish it in time,” Mizrahi says. But a podcast episode — or even a whole season — can be consumed while you’re cleaning, exercising, driving, or otherwise going about your daily life.
Catherine Saint Louis, a podcast editor for Neon Hum Media, formed her Brooklyn-based podcast club — the same one I’m in — because it scratched an itch she couldn’t satisfy elsewhere.
“Podcast listening can be so lonely,” she says. “With books, you can turn to Goodreads or something, but where can you do that with podcasts?” Saint Louis adds that podcasts are an easy point of commonality around which to build new connections. “Because of the way many podcasts are delivered, week by week, discussing them is almost like the water-cooler days of the past, when everyone was glued to the same one TV show and ready to talk about it the next day,” she says.
Because the world of podcasts is still smaller than the world of books, there’s fun to be had in connecting the dots between similar shows.
When the pace of life feels especially hectic, those discussions provide a welcome excuse to pause and connect with people, says Rebecca Seidel, a podcast producer and podcast club host in New York City. “It’s been an incredible way to build community in this huge city. We don’t have lots of excuses these days to sit in a living room with a bunch of people and just dig into a single topic,” she says. “It’s a refreshing way to spend an afternoon or evening, and it reminds me why I grew to love podcasts in the first place.”
For me, there’s one more aspect of being in a podcast club that’s especially enjoyable. Because the world of podcasts is still smaller than the world of books, there’s fun to be had in connecting the dots between similar shows or playing the game of “if you like this, you might also like this.”
If an in-person club feels like too much commitment, there are other ways to get in on the community of podcast diehards. The New York Times runs a flourishing virtual podcast club on Facebook. It’s open to the public and features a weekly discussion, usually on just one or two episodes of a series. For certain podcasts, devoted fans have turned the Facebook pages into thriving discussion boards unto themselves. For example, the Facebook page for Ologies — a podcast that takes a deep dive into a different skinny slice of science in each episode — has become a place for listeners to post their own fascinating science factoids and questions. The Bodies podcast Facebook group is one part podcast club, one part health mystery forum, where people struggling with health issues ask for guidance or advice from fellow health and wellness sleuths.
If you’re inspired to start a podcast club of your own, keep in mind that just like with book clubs, it’s good to have a bit of structure. I appreciate that Saint Louis spearheads the email process of picking the next month’s meeting date and episode or series to discuss. The rest of us vote on it and then simply show up, snacks and drinks in hand.
Be open to the suggestions for new shows, too, since one of the limitations in the podcasting world right now is a “discovery problem,” as Saint Louis puts it: Podcasts are not as shareable as they could be, so finding new things is not as intuitive as, say, following a recommendations algorithm to get into a new musical artist. (There’s no Google for podcasts, alas.) “Part of what makes a podcast club so great is that it gives you access to people with different tastes,” Saint Louis says, “so you can get exposed to things you might not ordinarily seek out on your own.” And even the listening experiences you would seek out on your own, as I’ve learned, are that much richer when shared.