“A two-time Peabody Award-winner, Radiolab is an investigation told through sounds and stories, and centered around one big idea. In the Radiolab world, information sounds like music and science and culture collide. Hosted by Jad Abumrad and Robert Krulwich, the show is designed for listeners who demand skepticism, but appreciate wonder.”
Radiolab, an NPR radioshow, is amongst those select few podcasts that have permeated the podcast-culture / mainstream-culture divide, and not undeservedly. Hosts Jad, Robert, and their team of producers troll the depths of scientific literature--or, at least, scientific literature as presented by science journalists--so that that you don’t have to. And for what they are, they do a pretty good job. Radiolab takes an almost formulaic approach to each episode where they’ll present a topic that, on the surface, seems to be pretty straightforward, and then they’ll dive a whole lot deeper in order to truly explore the given topic, surprise you, and probably even change your mind. I’ve learned of countless scientific theories, hypotheses, and technological tidbits that I fear I’d otherwise never have encountered had I left this podcast unsubscribed. While Radiolab isn’t always science-centric, the best episodes generally are science-related.
What’s more, Radiolab is one of the original shows that got me into podcasting in the first place (and I advise you would-be podcast evangelizers to use it similarly: it’s a great starting place for people new to the medium), and so it will always hold a special place in my heart for that. But for all that, there’s something irritating, something that’s hard to put my finger on, in almost every single episode. Is it the tone of the hosts? Maybe. It often seems like they get too caught up in their roles. Jad typically plays the younger, excited-to-learn and eager-to-embrace host, while Robert plays the stodgy, seemingly-liberal-yet-actually-conservative traditionalist who hides behind a skepticism that’s actually just stubbornness. I like Jad and Robert. I really do. But Robert really gets under my skin sometimes. He strikes me as the typical “Back in my day, things were better” type, without reflecting on the cognitive bias that the Golden Age Fallacy entails. Alright, that’s enough. I’ll rag on Robert no more as, for all that, he does play an important role in the show. The silver-lining of his role is perhaps in that you can use Robert as a stand-in for your tedious uncle and gain the upperhand in debate, as you now have your uncle’s playbook in the form of Robert’s commentary.
Which is kind of what Radiolab is all about--gently exposing people to new, often scary ideas and developments and helping them understand that it’ll all probably be alright in the end. We’ll still be human beings, despite our growing entanglement with technology. This experiment will continue. It’ll all be the same, only different. Probably.
Of the typically-high quality expected of NPR, Radiolab truly focuses on the medium of pure audio to weave a cohesive story. Music, sound bytes, and sound effects are all artistically employed to further the narrative.
One of the few weak points in the show. If Radiolab is exploring a topic that you simply find uninteresting, that’s pretty much that. It won’t be an episode you'll want to listen to. That said, I’ve gone into some episodes whose topic I had a low expectation of and come out properly mollified, as the hosts did more than their job in educating me and the rest of the listeners.
I think I covered this pretty significantly in my review.
Highly dependent upon the particular episode you’re listening to. But when it's good, it's really good.
As science and technology continue to progress at what seems to be an exponential, J-curve speed, this show can only become more and more relevant. Stay subscribed.
Overall Score: 7.9/10
- Antibodies Part 1: CRISPR
- Shorts: 9-Volt Nirvana
- Shorts: Neither Confirm Nor Deny
If you like this podcast, you’ll probably like:
- 99% Invisible
- Note to Self