Radiolab Finds an Awaiting Audience

One of the most marvelous if not miraculous things that has happened on the internet over the past few years has been the resurgence of radio in the forms of podcasts. Many have predicted that the internet - and before that television and everything in between - would kill radio altogether. But, as the New York Times' David Pogue says, old media don't often "die" as much as they splinter off into something else. That seems to be the case since college students and young adults are listening to and excited about podcasts like "Radiolab" without worry that they're stuck with an old form of broadcasting that has been passed by. Most symbolic of this shift is NPR's dropping of the "Radio" from its name earlier this year, representative of how it has changed in form and forged a new identity and audience.

But Radiolab's hosts Jad Abumrad and Robert Krulwich were ahead of their time in this area. Back in 2006, a Washington Post profile about the show revealed:

"Radio Lab" seeks to tell stories of cosmology, neuroscience and anthropology in a language new to broadcasting. Krulwich brings his affinity for sound effects, dramatizations and a narrative style reminiscent of great children's literature together with Abumrad's experiments in manipulating recorded speech to emphasize ideas and to break through media clutter.

They worked under a larger WNYC project to embrace online media that year to raise more money, build better facilities, and to increase its Web presence as a source for interesting, educational, and lively programming. I was fortunate enough last week to attend a live taping of Radiolab's latest topic: symmetry. About 100 of us filled the Greene Space WNYC event space to watch two men discuss science, psychology, mythology, and everything else under the sun.

If a radio show taping doesn't sound intriguing, you've never listened to Radiolab. What surprised me most was how scripted and thought-out the hosts' material was, yet they still coming across on the air as spontaneous and natural. The advantage to seeing it live was that we could better experience the sights (pictures on a wall projector and other physical props they brought along) and sounds (musical interludes) of the show. It offered another dimension to Radiolab's multimedia focus and commitment.

We also witnessed how the show gets made; Abumrad's Apple computer is programmed ahead of time with precisely-timed starts and stops that allows for pre-packaged and live comments to weave together effortlessly. Even their silences were planned to give time for the hosts consider and think about the ideas at hand.

During the 100-minute event, Abumrad and Krulwich showed how symmetry plays into all kinds of disciplines, and shared their findings from speaking to doctors, researchers, and scientists about explaining why people and the world are the way they are. They offered some science-based conclusions, but more so they continued the conversation about how we all connect.