Robert Krulwich and Jad Abumrad at the 2010 Peabody Awards

Radiolab is a radio program and podcast produced by WNYC, a public radio station based in New York City, and broadcast on more than 570 public radio stations in the United States.[1] The show has earned many industry awards for its "imaginative use of radio" including a National Academies Communication Award[2] and two Peabody Awards.[3][4]

Radiolab was founded by Jad Abumrad in 2002, and evolved into its current form by Abumrad with co-host Robert Krulwich and executive producer Ellen Horne[5][6][7].[8] As of 2023, Radiolab is hosted by Latif Nasser and Lulu Miller[5].[9][10]

Radiolab
GenreLong-form journalism
Running time30–60 minutes
Country of originUnited States
Home stationWNYC
SyndicatesWNYC Show Distribution
Hosted by
Created by
Produced by
  • Simon Adler
  • Jeremy S. Bloom
  • Becca Bressler
  • Rachael Cusick
  • David Gebel
  • Sindhu Gnanasambandan
  • Maria Paz Gutiérrez
  • Dylan Keefe
  • Matt Kielty
  • Annie McEwen
  • Alexandria Neason
  • Sarah Qari
  • Arianne Wack
  • Pat Walters
  • Molly Webster
Executive producer(s)
  • Ellen Horne (formerly)
  • Suzie Lechtenberg
Senior editor(s)Soren Wheeler
Recording studioNew York, NY
Original release2002
Websitewww.radiolab.org

The show focuses on topics of a scientific, philosophical, and political nature. The show attempts to approach broad, difficult topics such as "time" and "morality" in an accessible and light-hearted manner and with a distinctive audio production style.

History

The original version of Radiolab was a three-hour weekly show on New York City radio station WNYC's AM signal. Abumrad, then a freelancer for WNYC, produced and hosted the show, which presented documentary radio work in an original style.[6] Dean Cappello, then chief content officer of WNYC Radio told The New York Times that it was conceived, back in 2002, as a space for experimentation and also as a way to fill a "blank space" on the station’s Sunday-night schedule.[6]

These early themed episodes were not necessarily science-related, but tackled issues such as the death penalty, religious fundamentalism and politics in Africa and the Middle East

In 2003, Abumrad was given a freelance assignment by WNYC to interview ABC News science reporter Robert Krulwich and the two men discovered they had a lot in common: both were alumni of Oberlin College (though 25 years apart), and both had worked at WBAI before moving on to WNYC and NPR.[7][6] They became fast friends and began collaborating as co-hosts on experimental radio pieces — initially outside of Radiolab. In 2003, they sent their first piece to radio producer Ira Glass for a proposed Flag Day episode of This American Life.[6] The 2-minute piece, which never aired on This American Life, was included in the 2008 Radiolab episode “Jad and Robert: The Early Years.”[7] In the episode Abumrad and Krulwich interview Glass, and ask him his recollection of the piece. "It was horrible", Glass said. In an interview with Abumrad and Krulwich, Glass said: "I never would have put the two of you together on anything again… It's just amazing that you were able to put together such a wonderful program after that."[7]

In 2003, Abumrad was joined on Radiolab by Executive Producer Ellen Horne, who Abumrad credits with breathing life into the show.[11] They began evolving the show into its current form,[12][13][14] and by January 2004, Radiolab had become an hour-long, science-themed program characterized by Abumrad's unique sound design style. The program, at that time, was still considered experimental.[14] In June 2004, Robert Krulwich appeared as a "guest host" on an episode titled "Time."[15] By the following episode ("Space", aired two weeks later), they were co-hosts. In 2005, the program had its first official season, with five episodes, on WNYC.[6][16] The program gained national distribution soon after. Live shows were first introduced in 2008.[17]

Initially distributed nationally by NPR, WNYC began distributing the show in 2015. The change was noticeably marked by the omission of NPR's name in the show's opening audio sequence after the tagline, "You're listening to Radiolab...from WNYC."[18]

Horne left RadioLab in 2015,[5] and Krulwich retired from his role as co-host in February 2020.[8] In September of the same year, Lulu Miller and Latif Nasser were named co-hosts, succeeding Krulwich.[19] In January 2022, Abumrad announced his retirement from Radiolab, handing over the reins to co-hosts Miller and Nasser.[20]

Format

Each episode of RadioLab is one hour long and tackles various philosophical and scientific topics. Each episode is elaborately stylized. For instance, thematic—and often dissonant and atonal—music accompanies much of the commentary. In an April 2011 interview with The New York Times, Abumrad explained the choice in music: "I put a lot of jaggedy sounds, little plurps and things, strange staccato, percussive things."[6] In addition, previously recorded interview segments are interspersed in the show's live dialogue, adding a layered, call-and-response effect to the questions posed by the hosts. These recordings are often unedited and the interviewee's asides appear in the final product. In the same New York Times interview, Abumrad said, "You're trying to capture the rhythms and the movements, the messiness of the actual experience.... It sounds like life."[6] And unlike traditional journalism, in which the reader is given only access to the final article, not the interview, Abumrad added that Radiolab's process is more transparent.

The episode credits are generally read by people who were interviewed or featured on the show, rather than by the hosts, while the program credits are read by listeners.

As of June 15, 2009, the podcast offers full, hour-long episodes on a regular schedule with a variable number of podcasts in between "that follow some detour or left turn, explore music we love, take you to live events, and generally try to shake up your universe".[21] These extra podcasts, referred to as "Shorts", are occasionally combined into full-length compilation episodes.

Reception and Awards

Radiolab has been widely acclaimed among listeners and critics alike for its imaginative format and original use of sound design[22].[6] It has been hailed, along with This American Life, as one of the most innovative shows on American radio.[22]

As of January 2023, Radiolab has earned 13 podcast industry award nominations, including 7 wins, including the 2013 People's Choice Podcast Award for Best Science and Medicine Podcast and the 2015 People's Choice Podcast Award for Best Produced Podcast.[23][24] Radiolab was also awarded for the Shorty Award for Best Podcast.[25]

Radiolab has also won two Peabody Awards for broadcast excellence.[3][4] The first Peabody was awarded to the show overall, and the second was awarded for the episode titled "60 Words" (aired on April 18, 2014) garnered a second Peabody Award for Radiolab.[26][27]

Radiolab also received a 2007 National Academies Communication Award "for their imaginative use of radio to make science accessible to broad audiences".[2] The program has received two Peabody Awards; first in 2010 and again in 2014.[28][27]

In 2011, Abumrad received the MacArthur grant, in recognition of his work with RadioLab. [29]

In a 2007–2008 study by Multimedia Research (sponsored by the National Science Foundation), it was determined that over 95 percent of listeners reported that the science-based material featured on Radiolab was accessible.[clarification needed] Additionally, upwards of 80 percent of listeners reported that the program's pace was exciting, and over 80 percent reported that the layering of interviews was engaging.[30]

Controversy

On September 24, 2012, in a podcast titled "The Fact of the Matter", the program ran a segment about the yellow rain incidents in Laos and surrounding countries in the 1970s. Included in the story was an interview with Hmong veteran and refugee Eng Yang, with his niece Kao Kalia Yang serving as translator. After hearing the segment, Kao Kalia Yang and others complained that her uncle's viewpoints had been dismissed or edited out, that interviewer Robert Krulwich had treated them callously, and that the overall approach to the story had been racist. The complaints prompted several rounds of allegation, apology, rebuttal, and edits to the podcast, as well as commentary in various sources such as the public radio newspaper Current.[31][32]

On August 12, 2017, Radiolab removed an episode titled "Truth Trolls" about the attacks on LaBeouf, Rönkkö & Turner's HEWILLNOTDIVIDE.US art project by trolls.[33][34] The program had been criticized for appearing to condone the actions of extremist groups, with Turner condemning the reporting as "abhorrent and irresponsible" for describing the vandalism and harassment they had been subjected to as "a really encouraging story" and "comforting."[33] Abumrad issued an apology for giving the impression that they "essentially condoned some pretty despicable ideology and behavior,"[34] while WNYC stated that they supported Radiolab's decision to remove the podcast, adding that "Radiolab unambiguously rejects the beliefs and actions of the trolls, and deeply regrets doing anything that would imply differently."[35]

Radiolab live

In spring 2011, Krulwich and Abumrad took the show on a live, national tour, selling out in cities such as New York, Seattle, and Los Angeles.[36]

Episode 3 of Season 12, titled "Apocalyptical – Live from the Paramount in Seattle", was recorded at one of the live show tour locations that Radiolab performed. Unlike most shows, this show was recorded both visually and auditorily, and can be viewed on their official website.[37] The tour covered 21 cities and primarily focused on a speculative fringe theory regarding the Cretaceous–Paleogene extinction event that has not been published in a peer-reviewed journal. The fundamental new idea surrounding this theory is that when a large asteroid impacted the Earth, the asteroid driving into the ground caused the rock to become heated so extremely that it became gaseous. This "rock-gas" was then ejected outside the Earth's atmosphere and into space. The rock-gas, after cooling into many tiny glass particles, was pulled back in by Earth's gravity. The majority of this "glass-rain" burned up in the Earth's atmosphere upon re-entry, causing the Earth's atmosphere to become superheated, killing most of the species living on the surface of the Earth within a matter of hours. The episode did not include any discussion of the problems with the theory or that it has not been published in a peer-reviewed journal.

More Perfect

In June 2016, Radiolab launched their first "spinoff series" entitled More Perfect.[38][39] The series examines controversial and historic cases in the Supreme Court of the United States.[40][41] The show's title comes from the preamble of the United States Constitution which begins "We the People, in order to form a more perfect Union".[38][42] The team working on the podcast became interested in the topic after studying an adoption case related to the Indian Child Welfare Act.[43]

The show's first season launched on June 1, 2016, and ran for eight episodes.[44][45] The second season returned on September 30, 2017, and aired nine episodes.[46] The show's third season began on September 18, 2018, and ran for nine episodes.

The show relaunched on May 11, 2023, hosted by Julia Longoria (former host of The Experiment, a co-production of WNYC Studios and The Atlantic, and one of the original More Perfect producers), with a 12-part season.[47]

Since then, More Perfect has not aired any more episodes, although reruns are still occasionally posted in the Radiolab feed.

References

  1. ^ "Radiolab". Radiolab. NYPR. Retrieved June 13, 2023.
  2. ^ a b "'In Search Of Memory' Wins 2007 Best Book Award From The National Academies; WNYC's Radio Lab And Writer Carl Zimmer Also Awarded Top Prizes". The National Academies Office of News and Public Information. Archived from the original on August 7, 2016. Retrieved April 26, 2010.
  3. ^ a b "The Peabody Awards". www.peabodyawards.com. Archived from the original on April 16, 2015. Retrieved February 24, 2017.
  4. ^ a b 70th Annual Peabody Awards Archived September 13, 2014, at the Wayback Machine, May 2011.
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