Best Gimlet Podcasts: The Must-Listens That Lured in a $200 Million Offer

It's a banner year for podcasts. 

Digital media may have lost nearly 2,100 jobs over the last few weeks, according to one count by Business Insider, but there’s at least one corner of the market that’s still thriving: Radio. We’re living through a podcast golden age, folks, which continues to reach new heights.

Spotify announced on Wednesdsay that it has acquired podcast startup superstar, Gimlet Media, in a deal rumored to have cost roughly $230 million. Anchor, which provides tools for recording and publishing podcasts, was also snapped up by the music streaming giant, who has pledged to spend upwards of $500 million to establish a podcast empire. With Gimlet under their umbrella, a podcast network that boast listeners from more than 190 countries and more than seven million downloads a month, Spotify is instantly a digital audio powerhouse.

Founded in 2014 by Alex Blumberg, a This American Life producer and Planet Money co-founder, and Matthew Lieber, a WNYC producer, Gimlet Media launched with its first show, StartUp, which chronicled just how the hell Blumberg and Lieber created their podcast startup in the first place. Now in its ninth season, StartUp helped establish the style guide for Gimlet shows: conversational storytelling, tempering the back-and-forth chattiness we’ve come to expect from podcasts with actual reporting. These peaks behind the curtain create a sense of transparency, too, that inspires a sense of trust.

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While Gimlet started off with their signature mix of narrative reporting, it's expanded into radio dramas, talk, and children's programming. 

Gimlet Media hit the market just as discussions around podcast integration was beginning to enter the conversation. Super-fans were beginning to emerge. The new iOS had its own “Podcasts” button. And Blumberg and Lieber were inspired to create a for-profit audio model inspired by the public radio concept of “Freemium” — make something mostly for free, while dangling exclusive premium content for a cost.

Every show produced by Gimlet pretty routinely hits it out of the park. The startup’s leadership has developed a highly curated portfolio of shows that span across genres, from serialized documentaries to audio fiction, episodic cultural commentary to long-form investigative reporting. But these are some of our favorite pods, which undoubtedly helped rocket Gimlet to the top of the industry.

5. The Habitat

“The true story of a fake planet” - that’s the premise for producer Lynn Levy’s serialized documentary, which gave recorders to the six participants in NASA’s imitation Mars experiment, and asked them to keep audio diaries for the year they spent tucked inside a geodesic dome on top of a volcano on an isolated Hawaiian island. As the year unfolds, and social dynamics emerge, you’re drawn deep into the drama that inevitably erupts — and you’re left wondering, if this really is our future, if we really do head to Mars, how would you fare?

4. The Nod

Hosted by Brittany Luse and Eric Eddings, this aurally lush show celebrates the Black cultural mosaic of the United States, from an oral history of “Knuck If You Buck” to a chest-tightening, heartbreaking, “Don’t listen to this on the train unless you’re okay being racked with sobs in public” story about a teenage girl’s obsession with “Black Sims.”

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The Habitat tells the story about an experiment to see how humans will hold up in extremely confined conditions. 

3. Heavyweight

Now in its fourth season, Jonathan Goldstein’s genre-bending serial capitalizes on a universally human feeling: regret. Goldstein “goes back to the moment everything changed,” spending an entire episode wading through the aftermath of one person’s inciting incident. It sounds dark, sure, but Goldstein is a li’l radio prince, routinely razzing his subjects, needling his friends and proudly reciting declarative sentences like, “I’m the garbage.”

2. Science Vs.

Host Wendy Zukerman finds the stories within the facts in her serialized fact checking series, which seeks out the science behind modern trends, fads and fiercely-held opinions. Zukerman has unpacked everything from essential oils to detox teas, abortion stigma and the debate around circumcision. Each episode is accompanied by a whole list of references, for those who need to know even more.

1. Reply All

Arguably the most well-known podcast to have come from Gimlet Media, Reply All, hosted by PJ Vogt and Alex Goldman (and frequently guest-starring Gimlet co-founder Alex Blumberg), dives deep into the internet’s darkest, weirdest corners. Frequent listeners have come to love the Yes Yes No game, which unpacks endlessly cryptic tweets, and the antagonistic banter between PJ and Alex. Also, they devoted most of an episode to the origins of Gritty. For that alone I’m a fan.