12 Podcasts With the Best Listener CommunitiesReading Time: 6 minutes
Sometimes podcast listeners are fans. Sometimes they’re family.
Some podcasts have fans, and some podcasts have super fans. A show has to be really great to entice its listeners to join its Patreon and subreddit, buy its merch and attend its live events. These are fans who self-identify as members of the podcast’s community, taking on names like ‘Thought Leaders,’ ‘Spoon Nation,’ or ‘Zeitgang.’ Sometimes, there’s are even wedding bills. Read on to learn more about some of the best communities that have formed around beloved podcasts, and let me know which ones I missed.
The Daily Zeitgeist, launched by Cracked founder Jack O’Brien and Miles Gray, is a more than daily show (‘trending’ episodes are released in the evening to cover thing popping off on social media) that dives into America’s shared consciousness and examines whatever happens to have taken hold of our attention that day—from Ukraine war updates, to the weird thing Rudy Guiliani just did, to the newest Taco Bell menu item. Jack and Miles are hilarious and smart and they always have a funny guest on to help try to make sense of it all. Listeners call themselves the ‘Zeitgang,‘ and for every episode write custom jingles for Jack and Miles. (They’re really, really good.) The Zeitgang also comes together in a thriving Discord community, using channels to discuss episodes and basically everything else.
The first time you listen to Who? Weekly, which promises to tell you ‘everything you need to know about the celebrities you don’t,’ you might feel out of place. That’s because it’s a show with such a strong community they’ve invented their own language and inside jokes. There’s an entire weekly segment dedicated to figuring out what Rita Ora is up to, and twice a week, listeners call in using the same greeting (‘Hello Lindsey Bobby‘) and sign off (‘showing hole.’) And I’m going to let you in on a little secret…the community endlessly says ‘crunch crunch’ because Lindsey Bobby were so tickled by Bebe Rexha’s Lay’s Potato Chips spon-con that has her biting down on some chips making a very exaggerated ‘crunch crunch’ noise in the middle of a song. (Watch it, it’s wild.) This is a community that fully gets the somewhat strange concept of the show, feels invested enough to participate in it, and knows how to interact in a way that feels almost cult-like. (But in a good way!)
On My Brother, My Brother and Me, Justin, Travis, and Griffin McElroy have been answering listener questions submitted or found online since 2010, and their community has grown and grown. Diehard fans buy the brothers’ books and pay to see them live, and about 78,000 of them are part of a subreddit that convenes to debate every single episode. The brothers have built an empire, hosting other shows that are now siblings in the McElroy podcasting family, including The Adventure Zone, Sawbones, and more. Along with the listener questions, which they answer in ways both silly and practical, there are enough recurring segments to make you dizzy: ‘The Money Zone,’ ‘Minion Quotes,’ ‘Munch Squad,’ ‘Haunted Doll Watch,’ ‘Sad Libs,’ ‘Celebrity Wines, Why Not?,’ ‘Play Along At Home,’ ‘Work of Fart,’ etc.
You’re Wrong About is a show that takes a fresh look at accepted historical wisdom to point out the way media has twisted the facts, and it has gained a loyal following because it trusts that listeners are smart enough to engage with mainstream thinking in a critical way. The subreddit has more than 12,000 members, but more impressively, there are more than 20,000 people in its Patreon. You’re Wrong About has defined a genre of shows that aim to analyze and recontextualize the past, and listeners know a good You’re Wrong About topic is when they encounter it. Host Sarah Marshall treats listeners like family, and is protective of their sensibilities, their ethics, and their comfort. She is looking out for misunderstood people in history, and her listeners feel like they’re being looked after too.
Nancy debuted in 2017, hosted by Kathy Tu and Tobin Low. Exploring the LGBTQ experience, Kathy and Tobin crafted memorable pieces about kids doing drag, The L Word, and more. The was groundbreaking, in that they were young Asian Americans podcasting in a place dominated by white voices. WNYC chose not to renew the show back in 2020, citing an inability to grow its numbers, but the Facebook group, Friends of Nancy lives on. It has almost 5K members who were brought together by a beautiful, connective show that made people feel seen and heard. (As a parting gift when the show ended, Kathy and Tobin created The Big Queer Podcast List to help their followers find other queer-friendly shows.)
Forever 35 launched in 2018, when Facebook was still really big, and many loyal listeners ran to Facebook Groups to connect with each other to connect and discuss specific episodes. Since then, the Groups have expanded to include book clubs and places for people to talk peloton, divorce, living in Boston, being plus-sized, and more. After more than a thousand episodes, the show is alive and well, but Doree and Kate have created a community so much bigger than themselves, it will undoubtedly outlive the podcast.
Mike Schubert is the maker of so many beloved shows, it’s hard to choose one standout community. He makes Potterless (Mike reads Harry Potter for the first time), The Newest Olympian (Mike reads the Percy Jackson series for the first time,) and my personal favorite, Meddling Adults (Mike and guests compete to solve children’s mysteries from Encyclopedia Brown, Scooby Doo, and more for charity), and all have a great fans. His subreddit for Potterless has more than 5,000 subscribers, and The Last Olympian subreddit has more than 2,000 people in it. Mike knows his listeners well, in return they are invested in his work and obsess over every single episode he drops.
When Normal Gossip debuted, the podcast world went nuts. Listeners felt blessed to hear Kelsey McKinney go through, in detail, a bit of low-stakes gossip with an interesting guest. The magic of the show is Kelsey’s slow storytelling style—with each twist and turn, she asks her guest, ‘what would you do next?’ The content is perfectly primed for community discussion—which takes the form of Reddit comments (the subreddit has more than 8,000 members) that delve into every story. Listeners debate their own takes, deciding who was to blame, how they would have responded to the messy situations, and poring tiny details about the show’s production and release schedule.
Doughboys is a show beloved enough to attract huge numbers to their live events (They have almost 12,000 Patreon subscribers, and Graphtreon estimates they pull in $32K – $80K a month, so join up if you want first dibs on tickets). Members of the ‘Spoon Nation’ are dedicated enough to submit sound drops that hosts Mike Mitchell and Nick Wiger can use to introduce every single episode. Inside jokes abound, and episodes are as much freewheeling conversations as restaurant reviews, making the show feel as cozy as hanging at a friend’s house. For these folks, spotting Mitch and Nick at Taco Bell would qualify as a major celebrity encounter.
Every podcast with a strong community has a special name for its listeners. Van Lathan and Rachel Lindsay, of Higher Learning, call their fans ‘Thought Warriors.’ That’s also the name of their 6,000-strong Reddit community, where people flock to discuss specific episodes and hot takes from the hosts. Their YouTube channel is another hub for listeners to convene: With 38.6K subscribers, its videos often get tens of thousands of views, and each generates another bucket of comments and conversations. Van and Rachel have created a community of people who don’t just sit back and listen—they can’t keep their mouths shut.
Sports podcasts are famous for having strong communities, particularly the ones that cover soccer. Each club has its own vibrant fanbase, but so as not to get demolished in the comments of this post for choosing, say, ArsenalVision when I know that some of you are Manchester United fans, I’ll point you all to Men in Blazers, home of the largest soccer-focused media company in North America. The show covers the sport year round, focusing on Premier League, Champions League, the US National Teams, NWSL, and other top leagues around the globe. They have 289,000 Instagram followers and 296,300 followers on Twitter, and this is where real conversations (and arguments) happen. Soccer fans are nuts about their sport, and listeners of soccer podcasts are nuts about Men in Blazers.
5-4, the podcast about ‘how much the Supreme Court sucks,‘ has a unique way of connecting with fans: Along with a Patreon, they also have a Slack channel that is tight-knit. There were about 40 frequent posters on Slack—and two of them started dating. Eventually the hosts noticed during a Patreon Zoom that both were in the same little Zoom window, and later discovered they were engaged to be married. In some of these podcast communities, love really conquers all!
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