It’s not an easy task to find the most downloaded podcasts of all time so we’ve compiled a go-to list which will save you a heap of time sorting the wheat from the chaff!
It was way back in 2005 that Apple launched the first podcasts on iTunes. It was also the year that the word “podcast” was voted Oxford Dictionary’s word of the year. Things have changed a lot since the early days and according to Apple, there are now more than 525,000 active shows with 18.5 million episodes in more than 100 different languages.
As the number (and quality) of podcasts increased, so has the number of fans. In 2014, 7 billion podcasts were downloaded, fast forward to 2017, and the number has climbed to 13.7 billion downloads of episodes & streams in a single year!
According to Apple, there are roughly 550,000 podcast shows, a number which was released by Apple at WWDC 2018.
Some Interesting stats
- 50% of all homes are fans of podcasts
- 64% of the population of America understand the term “podcast”
- 50% of all US homes are podcast fans (Nielsen, Aug 2017)
- 44% of the US population have listened to at least one podcast
- 26% of them listen at least once every month
- 17% listen to them weekly
- 56% of the listeners are Men
- 49% of listening is at home and 22% listen in a car
- 19% of podcast fans increase the speed of the audio
This American Life
This American Life is a weekly radio program that is listened to by over 2 million fans with another 2.5 million downloading the weekly podcast.
Hosted by the excellent Ira Glass, This American Life highlights different stories the majority of which are true / partly true) about average, every day folks in the US. Each week, they choose a theme and cleverly put together all kinds of different stories related to that topic. Some fans call the podcasts “little movies for radio.”
If you’re a virgin to the show, you could begin with the list of episodes that the host Ira Glass put together called “New to This American Life?” They’ve been on the air since 1995 and have an incredible archive of more than 600 episodes. The show is produced in collaboration with WBEZ Chicago and delivered to stations by PRX, Public Radio Exchange.back to menu ↑
Stuff You Should Know
Next in our list of the most downloaded podcasts of all time answers every question you’ve never thought of asking. How Stuff Works offers great how-to guides on everything from diets to cryptocurrencies. Each episode has plenty of valuable information with loads of fun facts on a variety of topics that affect all of us.
How do marathons work? Was there a real Robin Hood? Presenters Josh Clark and Chuck Bryant have a fantastic rapport as they explore all of the Stuff You Should Know on everything from homelessness to dinosaurs in this awesome podcast from HowStuffWorks.com.
There are so many interesting facts I have learned from our podcasts but here are a few: LEGO is the world’s largest manufacturer of rubber tires (they are just very small); in New York in the 1890s, about 200,000 horses were in use and each one produced about 25 pounds of poop a day; it takes about 100,000 years for a photon to make it from the core of the sun to the surface and about 8 minutes from the surface to the Earth; Louis Braille was just 15 when he developed his system for a raised alphabet – I could go on.Josh Clark (Co-host)
I would have to add to Josh’s list with these facts: that real zombies exist in Haiti, that there is one tribe in the world that practices the lost art of head shrinking, and that castle steps were built in varying heights to confuse attackers who ascended them.Charles (Chuck) Bryant (Co-host)
The Stuff You Should Know podcast is broadcast every Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday and is available for free on the iTunes Store. The show is downloaded over 1 million times every week and can always be found in the iTunes Top 10 podcast rankings. It is quite rightly one of the most downloaded podcasts in the world.back to menu ↑
Radiolab from WNYC Studios
Produced by WNYC, Radiolab is a public radio station based in New York City which is broadcast on radio stations. The incredibly entertaining show is nationally syndicated and is offered as a podcast.
Hosted by the light-hearted Jad Abumrad and Robert Krulwich, the show talks about a large variety of subjects but mainly deals with matters relating to science and philosophy.
The excellent hosts cover some huge topics such as “time” and “morality” but don’t let that put you off, it’s done in such a way that it makes difficult topics easy to understand and it’s all done with a healthy dose of humor.
Hosted by Jad Abumrad and Robert Krulwich, this radio show weaves stories and science into sound and music-rich documentaries.
Radiolab has received many accolades over the years including a 2007 National Academies Communication Award, two Peabody Awards in 2010 and 2014 and Abumrad received the MacArthur grant in 2011.
The Radiolab podcast is difficult to sum up but let’s just say it’s a documentary told with music and stories, and focused on one main idea. You could also say that the show is aimed at listeners who are skeptical but still have an open mind and can appreciate wonder.back to menu ↑
NPR also present the Planet Money podcast which focuses on issues concerning money and the global economy.
This hugely popular podcast will definitely add to your economic knowledge. Episodes include everything you need to know about the economic world with commentators from the world of finance to the richest of the rich.
Don’t think that this podcast is dull though! The stories feel like meeting with a smart friend at the local bar and having a humorous chat about money.
Planet Money was originally started in September 6, 2008, to report on the global financial crisis of 2008 / 2009 and hosts to date include Stacey Vanek Smith, Kenny Malone, Ailsa Chang, Jacob Goldstein, Noel King, Karen Duffin, and Cardiff Garcia.
Podcasts vary in length from 6 – 30 minutes and include some huge topics. Each episode is a stand-alone piece featuring academics, business high-flyers and also regular members of the American public.back to menu ↑
The Joe Rogan Experience
Joe Rogan is a versatile guy, he’s a stand-up comedian, U.F.C. commentator, entrepreneur and podcast host. Rogan is a conversationalist. He is also is a marijuana lover, a keen hunter and part of the lesser-known “Eat What You Kill” group.
Joe started his career in 1988 around the Boston area before moving to New York City in the early 90’s. After relocating to L.A in 1994, he worked as an actor before going on to become one of the main commentators of the UFC.
Joe launched his podcast in 2009 and it has gone on to become one of the most popular podcasts in the world. The podcasts are sometimes hilarious and at times very serious, but one thing is guaranteed, they are always incredibly interesting.
The J.R.E podcast consists of long-form conversation featuring interviews with all manner of guests. On his show, Joe chats to his guests about current affairs, politics, philosophy, comedy, health and a host of other fascinating subjects.
Previous guests on the show include Roseanne Barr, Elon Musk, Neil deGrasse Tyson, Macaulay Culkin and Bill Burr to name but a few.
With over 1,100 episodes (as of October 2018) the podcast was awarded “Best Comedy Podcast” on iTunes for its hugely entertaining conversations and definitely deserves to be one of the most downloaded podcasts of all time.back to menu ↑
Founded by the brilliant Chris Hardwick, Nerdist consists of the Nerdist Podcast Network, Nerdist News, and also Nerdist Presents. The Nerdist features news, videos, and reviews of games, movies and sometimes comic books.
The Nerdist Podcast is a weekly show “about what it really means to be a nerd”. It’s hosted by Chris Hardwick and he’s often joined by Jonah Ray and Matt Mira. The podcasts usually last an hour and often include fascinating conversations with famous entertainers (sometimes in their own homes).
In February 2018, the podcast was re-branded to ID10T with Chris Hardwick. The premise of the show remains the same with Hardwick, Mira, and Ray as the hosts and Levine serving as producer. The phrase “ID10T” comes from the slang term for a computer error which has been caused by a human mistake.
Previous guests include Drew Carey, Benedict Cumberbatch, Sarah Silverman, Hilary Swank, Jared Leto, and The Muppets! The podcast was ranked #7 in Rolling Stone’s “10 Best Comedy Podcasts of the Moment” (published in May 2014).back to menu ↑
Hosted by Terry Gross, NPR’s podcast has interviews and conversations about trending news topics.
Fresh Air is a great podcast to increase your awareness and knowledge about a whole range of current issues from the arenas of music, movies, and politics. One of Fresh Air’s main strengths is the intimate and in-depth interviews with prominent figures from the arts, entertainment, culture, and journalism.
The Fresh Air podcast is broadcast on National Public Radio from stations across the US and has been doing so since 1985 with its production being based in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. The show has been syndicated to over 600 stations and has racked up nearly 5 million listeners. You can see the show live on weekdays at 12:00 noon (ET).
In 2016, Fresh Air was the most-downloaded podcast on iTunes. In the same year, Terry Gross received the National Humanities Medal from President Barack Obama:
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For her artful probing of the human experience. Her patient, persistent questioning in thousands of interviews over four decades has pushed public figures to reveal personal motivations behind extraordinary lives—revealing simple truths that affirm our common humanity.Barack Obama
Serial is another podcast from the makers of This American Life. The show is hosted by Sarah Koenig in which she tells one story (a true story) over the course of a whole season.
As of June 2017, the podcast was downloaded an incredible total of 175 million times, making a new world record. The podcast is a mix of investigative journalism and non-fiction storytelling but be warned: it’s very addictive! It has won a huge number of awards including the first-ever Peabody awarded in 2015 for a podcast.
The stories are riveting with intricate plots and fully-developed characters. There are heaps of twists & turns and even Sarah herself doesn’t know where the story will go until she gets there! As the podcast are ongoing stories, it’s important to begin with Episode 1. Sarah describing the show said:
Serial is about the basics: love and death and justice and truth. All these big, big things. This is not an original idea. Maybe in podcast form it is, and trying to do it as a documentary story is really, really hard. But trying to do it as a serial, this is as old as Dickens.Sarah Koenig