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How Radiolab is made
September 22, 2011 11:42 AM   Subscribe

Ira Glass talks about how RadioLab is made, and why it's so different from everything else.
posted by garlic (89 comments total) 28 users marked this as a favorite

 
I marvel at Radiolab when I hear it. I feel jealous.

Ira...please, please, PLEASE don't ever stick all those distracting sound effects in This American Life. I would stop listening to it immediately.

There is a reason why many of us can't listen to Radiolab without gritting our teeth. I feel like Radiolab's sound effects are akin to a sitcom laugh track.
posted by The ____ of Justice at 11:48 AM on September 22, 2011 [27 favorites]


Funny, I was just talking about Ira Glass and Radiolab. Ira Glass was just interviewed in the Oberlin Review. He mentions Radiolab (specifically Abumrad, also an Obie).
posted by rosswald at 11:51 AM on September 22, 2011 [1 favorite]


I saw radiolab live at UCLA w/ Zoe Keating. Zoe was really good, the animation (live projection was good) ...

radiolab itself... is the most chronically annoying NPR show out there. How many interruptions and sound effects can you put in a radio show. It wasn't quite so bad live, but man, it's like listening to an infomercial.

They do interesting topics, but it grates on my nerves for some reason. Like early MTV camerawork.
posted by nutate at 11:51 AM on September 22, 2011 [5 favorites]


I don't mind the sound effects in Radiolab, they're interesting and they make it sound like nothing else. I know instantly when I'm listening to a Radiolab episode, which is more then I can say for most of NPR/PRI's stuff.

What I don't like about Radiolab is how the show seems to assume I'm much, much dumber then I am. It's vaguely patronizing.
posted by The Whelk at 11:51 AM on September 22, 2011 [8 favorites]


I feel like those sound effects are intended to make the program more like an old-time radio show, adding depth to the emptiness of lone voices. But I don't think it's necessary, because you're listening for the stories told in voices, not in effects.
posted by filthy light thief at 11:52 AM on September 22, 2011


I find it odd that Ira likes Radiolab. I always felt that if Christopher Guest and Michael McKean wanted to do a Spinal Tap-esque send-up of NPR in general, and TAL in particular, they couldn't do a finer job than Radiolab already does.
posted by jbickers at 11:53 AM on September 22, 2011 [6 favorites]


Radiolab's Annoying Sound Effects > Ira Glass's Smugness

Yeah, that's right, I'll take Radiolab over This American Life. Put that in your pipe and smoke it.
posted by Mister Fabulous at 11:53 AM on September 22, 2011 [16 favorites]


There is a reason why many of us can't listen to Radiolab without gritting our teeth.

For me it's the dialogue. It jumps all over the place, it's distracting, colloquial, and obnoxious. I feel like I'm listening in to somebody's teleconference, and that "somebody" is sixteen.

This crap:

Second young woman: And then he saw the label ‘please send back to Laura Buxton’ and he was like ‘Oh my god.’

There’s an irregular sort of drum hit and a low note begins underneath what’s said next.

Robert: Why? Why’d he say ‘Oh my god’?

Jad: Okay so check this out. Remember how I told you the first girl who sent the balloon was ten?

Robert sort of grunts: Yeah.

Jad: The second girl? Who received it?

Second girl: Ten years old.

Jad: SHE’S ten.

Robert (cautiously): Ooookay.

The low hum underneath their conversation is getting louder and more insistent.

Jad: No wait; there’s more.

Robert: Better be.

Jad: Remember I told you the first girl’s name was Laura Buxton.

Robert: Yeah.

posted by Stagger Lee at 11:54 AM on September 22, 2011 [16 favorites]


I much prefer Wiretap...=)
posted by stenseng at 11:55 AM on September 22, 2011 [5 favorites]


You guys pretty much summed up for me my two main problems with Radiolab. Noise and the patronizing Q&A.

I don't know if Jad and Robert purposefully dumb down their questions for a broader audience, or if they are just sort of "off" in the way they approach a topic. A lot of times Radiolab actually has had me YELLING at my stereo because they'd make conclusions that seemed extremely amateurish, or lacking common sense. Perhaps they were trying to make a topic seem even more interesting or spookier or wilder than it actually was...who knows. I have NEVER once felt like that listening to This American Life. I always got the sense Team TAL's median IQ > Team Radiolab's median IQ by a mile. Sorry, but I gotta say it.

What’s striking is the ambition of all this. Jad and Robert seem to be inventing their effects and techniques as they go. I’m a hack in comparison. Everyone else is too.

I seriously want to bang my head against a wall over this quote.

Anyways, thanks for posting this interview (despite the fact I find it maddening.)
posted by The ____ of Justice at 11:59 AM on September 22, 2011 [2 favorites]


wiretap: "Part monologue and part telephone conversation, WireTap ushers you into the endearingly odd, funny universe of Jonathan [Goldstein]'s friends and family."
posted by garlic at 12:01 PM on September 22, 2011 [1 favorite]


Well I for one think that Radiolab is, among other things, beautiful art. Beep boop pfoooooooooooooooooooooooooooo
posted by timshel at 12:07 PM on September 22, 2011 [5 favorites]


Unapologetic lover of RadioLab, sound effects and all. Love The Moth (great curation) and Re:Sound, Snap Judgment is still hit or miss sometimes. Lover of old school TAL (when they were still interviewing people who weren't "the same old cast of characters"...you know, just regular people) and TAL's Planet Money collaborations. But Jonathan Goldstein's whining makes me want to pour acid in my ears. My God. Not only boring as hell, but annoying to boot.
posted by jeanmari at 12:07 PM on September 22, 2011 [1 favorite]


Sorry dudes, Radiolab kicks ass. They use a broad spectrum of sounds beyond the human voice to create audio collage that enhance the storytelling. Yes, they keep the level of discourse pretty low, but that's a choice to be in conversation with a much larger audience. It's like how newspapers obviously suck because they limit themselves to a tenth-grade vocabulary, right?

If it's not your thing, that's fine, but it is a masterfully crafted show.
posted by kaibutsu at 12:08 PM on September 22, 2011 [10 favorites]


Wow, I'm rather surprised at all the MetaFilter hate disdain for Radiolab. I personally adore the show, and think I've listened to every episode in their archive. The dumbing-down, as I see it, is just establishing a baseline for telling the story and expanding the ideas.
posted by slogger at 12:12 PM on September 22, 2011 [4 favorites]


But damn, Jad and Robert really do have faces made for radio.
posted by slogger at 12:14 PM on September 22, 2011


I commented a bit on why I think Radiolab is great over in the MacArthur thread.

It's interesting to keep in mind that in his previous life, Jad was a composer of electronic and contemporary music, went to Oberlin, made a lot of sound art, which has influenced a lot of the production of Radiolab. I think it's fantastic, personally. He isn't out to make TAL: Science Edition. He's doing his own thing that mixes various sound media with great stories, fastidious research, and great guests.

Nor is he out to make a show that caters to the choir. It's important to keep in mind that Radiolab's success is in part due to its wide appeal and its ability to draw in people of all ages and backgrounds into interesting scientific but relevant issues.

I mean, haters gonna hate. But Radiolab is, for the most part, damn good radio.
posted by Lutoslawski at 12:14 PM on September 22, 2011 [6 favorites]


I can't believe everyone is complaining about Radiolab's sound effects after last weeks TAL. I had to rip my headphones out a couple times when they put that horrible whining in to make you suffer like the guy that lost his hearing.

But I love them both.
posted by lumpenprole at 12:15 PM on September 22, 2011 [2 favorites]


Reading this thread you'd think Radiolab had fart noises and record scratches every fifteen seconds. I think they generally do a fantastic job of keeping things more or less quiet when someone's saying something substantive and breaking it up with some wildly inventive sound work at appropriate intervals. You could write an essay just on the editing in that show -- how they always include the sound of the door whenever Jad's meeting someone at their office, how totally effortless the interviews seem, like you're hearing two old friends talking over a beer. Even the minor interstitial stuff sounds like it took days to put together.

And simplifying difficult concepts to be both understandable and interesting to a mass audience isn't "dumbing down." It's one of the hardest things an educator can do.
posted by theodolite at 12:19 PM on September 22, 2011 [11 favorites]


Philip Glass > Stereolab.
posted by Brocktoon at 12:25 PM on September 22, 2011 [4 favorites]


I just counted and I'm currently listening to 23 podcasts regularly right now; that number is always between 20 and 30. I wouldn't miss Radiolab if they quit doing it, but I think that it's just sort of hard to do a science radio show. Can anyone name a better science-oriented podcast than Radiolab? I'd be happy to give it any suggestions a try, but I'm not sure they exist, and I like to keep a well-rounded podcast stable, so I'm stuck with it. (I feel like I made this exact comment about Radiolab on Metafilter once before).
posted by Kwine at 12:27 PM on September 22, 2011 [1 favorite]


I call Radiolab "the baby waker".
posted by the young rope-rider at 12:31 PM on September 22, 2011


Kwine -- WBEZ produces a short science show/podcast called Clever Apes. I wouldn't say it's better than RadioLab, but I like it too.
posted by garlic at 12:31 PM on September 22, 2011


Reading this thread you'd think Radiolab had fart noises and record scratches every fifteen seconds.

Well it does.
posted by asockpuppet at 12:33 PM on September 22, 2011 [3 favorites]


Wow, I've just started listening to both these shows recently and I'm shocked by some peoples' reactions. I really enjoy the weird editing and conversational style of Radiolab; TAL is great and all, but it's nice that people are trying to tell stories in ways that are unique to radio. So many radio shows would work just as well if you read them on paper. Radiolab manages to add some texture and makes use of the medium.
posted by auto-correct at 12:33 PM on September 22, 2011


For those of you who didn't bother to read the piece but jumped in to vent your hatred for the sound editing once again:

A word about the music. Jad’s an Oberlin-trained composer so he’s always either writing the music to fit the stories on his show, the way a composer writes a film score, or he adapts other people’s music so well you can’t tell it wasn’t custom made. No other public radio show has this.

Abumrad is a musician first and foremost. He does a lot of experimental stuff and is fascinated by the concept of language as music. Just to underscore that point, he made a show helpfully titled Musical Language. Half the point of the show is to give him a chance to play with the audio of his interviews and various effects to make a piece that is simultaneously informative and musical in structure. He sees value in doing this, and he is right to do so.

Now, it's fine if you don't like how he does it, or if you think he lacks talent there, because it's stupid to argue taste, but the one thing I do not get about this community is how eager people are to complain about how the show doesn't sound like every other talk radio show or podcast out there. They're doing something that's literally never been done before, and the peanut gallery appears to be enraged by it.
posted by middleclasstool at 12:34 PM on September 22, 2011 [3 favorites]


They're doing something that's literally never been done before,

So did The Shaggs and they sucked, too. Unique != good.
posted by asockpuppet at 12:37 PM on September 22, 2011 [1 favorite]


Kwine: Quirks & Quarks? Pretty much the opposite of Radiolab -- no themed episodes or metaphysical tangents, no sound effects, just a bunch of interviews with scientists about some-interesting-thing-they-did-recently.
posted by We had a deal, Kyle at 12:39 PM on September 22, 2011 [2 favorites]


Gah, forgot to close that tag.
posted by We had a deal, Kyle at 12:40 PM on September 22, 2011


Jeez, I'm glad the RadioLab fans finally started showing up; I was getting worried there. To me, RadioLab is exhilarating: the pacing, the editing, the playfulness (including the sound effects, including Jad's sound effects). It sparkles like no other show on TV or radio.
posted by underthehat at 12:45 PM on September 22, 2011 [1 favorite]


I think Radiolab is a brilliant piece of art, and all you haters can suck it.
posted by empath at 12:46 PM on September 22, 2011 [8 favorites]


I had to rip my headphones out a couple times when they put that horrible whining in to make you suffer like the guy that lost his hearing.

Yeah, my first thought when I heard that segment was "oh, shit, the TAL guys are going to turn into RadioLab, now I'm going to have to find a new thing to listen to." It wasn't just the sound effects; the way they edited the dialogue was just as radiolab-esque: compressing his long story about his doctors by overlapping a bunch of miscellaneous phrases; and the long, meandering, repetitive conversation with his daughter: yes, we get it, she can't hear the pitch that he hears all the time. Fascinating. But you said that already. Three times now. Move on.

I'm sure RadioLab is awesome and brilliant, but it's not my cup of tea. I find all the ear candy distracting.
posted by ook at 12:53 PM on September 22, 2011 [3 favorites]


he made a show helpfully titled Musical Language.

That was the first show I heard, and it hooked me. Sometimes it sounds so strangely....sometimes it sounds so strangely...

Still haunts me. Incredible.
posted by Lutoslawski at 12:56 PM on September 22, 2011 [2 favorites]


So much black and white in the comments here. Radioloab is often wonderful in both topic and execution, but sometimes they turn the sound effects up to "11" while giving the content short-shrift, which annoys me. TAL frequently makes me cry (in a good way) but often wanders far from its interviews-with-interesting-nobodies roots, scoring some hits and some big whiffs on those excursions. But damn, I'm glad to have BOTH of them when I'm facing my commute.
posted by dust of the stars at 12:59 PM on September 22, 2011 [2 favorites]


I'd like to qualify my opinion by saying that one of my favorite bands is The Books, which is basically what Radiolab would be if the sound effects:content ratio went vertically asymptotic.
posted by theodolite at 1:04 PM on September 22, 2011 [3 favorites]


From the article: And the banter has an aesthetic of its own. Most journalism in our country lacks the sense of joyous discovery one gets in Radiolab. There’s none of the enthusiastic “Yes!” “No!” “Yes!” “You heard me right!” “Get outta here!”

I get that this irritates some people, but I find the banter really does help tell the story.
posted by auto-correct at 1:08 PM on September 22, 2011 [2 favorites]


Ira Gershwin > Radiohead
posted by Slarty Bartfast at 1:09 PM on September 22, 2011 [2 favorites]


Metafilter: I get that this irritates some people, but I find the banter really does help tell the story.

posted by Slarty Bartfast at 1:10 PM on September 22, 2011 [1 favorite]


But you said that already. Three times now. Move on.

One might hope MetaFilter would take the same approach when it came to discussing RadioLab apart from its sound design! (Except way more than three. Way, way more.)
posted by gladly at 1:17 PM on September 22, 2011 [1 favorite]


The article goes into a lot of detail. If people want to gripe, would you please gripe about some of the many points made in TFA?
posted by Anything at 1:18 PM on September 22, 2011


But damn, Jad and Robert really do have faces made for radio.

Jad. Robert.

I don't know what your metric for beauty is, but from my perspective, Jad is genuinely striking, and Robert's face has enormous, wonderful character to it. You're entitled to your opinion, of course, but, from my perspective, it seems like you interrupted a discussion about the actual content of the show in order to mock two men's appearance with an awesomely stale joke.
posted by Bunny Ultramod at 1:22 PM on September 22, 2011 [2 favorites]


So did The Shaggs and they sucked, too.

I'm going to disagree with you on that one as well.
posted by Bunny Ultramod at 1:22 PM on September 22, 2011 [1 favorite]


The thing about "faces made for radio"? YOU TAKE THAT BACK dear lord do I have a crush on Jad in every way possible.

You can keep Robert though, ugh. Never like his take on things; maybe that's why I love Jad so much, because in contrast...
posted by ifjuly at 1:25 PM on September 22, 2011


The story about the boy who didn't have language made me cry, and so did the one about the jaguars and the man with the stutter. And when the one woman tried explaining what it was like when she lost her sense of "I" and formal language, how the world had a beautiful immediacy she had forgotten since childhood, it really resonated with me because I still remember the distinct change in how the world felt to me before and after really "getting" abstract language, learning to read.
posted by ifjuly at 1:28 PM on September 22, 2011


And the thing about how music is more visceral and why people are universally so headscratchingly adamant about whether a song is good or bad, that it's physical, touch from a distance, made a lot of sense to me too and helped put me at peace (I was already leaning this way as I grew older) about irreconcilable differences in music taste, how they don't matter a whit on an intellectual level to me.
posted by ifjuly at 1:31 PM on September 22, 2011


I loved too even as they said that about music's physicality, they also mentioned how you can warp yourself, adapt and learn to love what initially hurts your brain/ears. That felt super true, I have conversations all the time with folks about which bands "taught" us to listen better, cracked open the world to us with repeated listening/training (for my husband it was Sonic Youth, for me it was His Name Is Alive and My Bloody Valentine and Red House Painters; later, for both of us it was stuff like This Heat).
posted by ifjuly at 1:34 PM on September 22, 2011


I enjoy Radiolab, but I agree with many of the people here about it being annoying. Ira Glass even pointed out as a feature the thing I find to be such a bug: they lay down this extremely over-engineered soundtrack of music and sfx, and then overlay it with this "unprofessional" conversational tone.

I get what they're doing, and why it works for Ira, but the "unscripted" stuff can just bug the shit out of me. Because even before I read the Ira Glass piece, it was apparent that they obviously put a metric shit-ton of work into the production of this show. So it doesn't make sense for the back-and-forth between Jad and Robert to be so thrown together unless it was on purpose.

And when you realize that, then it becomes kind of bullshit. The kind of bullshit you see when somebody like Glenn Beck does a PSA about the importance of staying in school, and dresses up in hip-hop clothes. Even if the message is a good one, I'm just not buying its "aww shucks" vibe.
posted by nushustu at 1:42 PM on September 22, 2011 [1 favorite]


It's not so much the sound effects, but Radio lab cannot stop with diversions. Talking over interviews to summarize what the person is saying, talking over and interrupting each other (and of course sound effects doing the same). Are we supposed to believe it's unscripted? It's just really annoying and it's too much about the format and too little about the subject.

The best podcast is "The Moth". Single story, single point of view.
Then "This American Life" with some editorializing, summarization and truth stretching.
Then it's RadioLab, where it's (personally for me) really hard to listen to.
posted by Napierzaza at 1:47 PM on September 22, 2011


1. Add underscores to dialogue just like they do in Serious Drama on TV and the movies.
2. ???
3. Profit! Sell tote bags!
posted by ardgedee at 2:00 PM on September 22, 2011


> Can anyone name a better science-oriented podcast than Radiolab?

Science Friday! (Actually, they occasionally touch on topics that draws out callers who believe in the black helicopters and then it can get unlistenable, but mostly I love Science Friday.)
posted by ardgedee at 2:03 PM on September 22, 2011


The thing that makes Radiolab one of my favorites is the sheer joy that's apparent in every episode and short. Jad and Robert clearly enjoy the hell out of what they're doing. And even if the dialogue in the show comes off as fake and scripted joy to some people, that doesn't change the fact that it comes from a place of genuine enthusiasm.

I really want to like TAL, but I'm thisclose to dropping it. The best counter-example I can give is the recent amusement park episode. Ira introduced it as a happy episode, and it started out that way with the games guy. That act ended on a sad, thoughtful note that I still appreciated. But the third act was so depressing and neurotic that I almost turned it off halfway through. Same thing with the heart story they just told this weekend.

I had to give up on The Moth entirely for the same reason. Planet Money, on the other hand, can deliver some dire news, but the hosts clearly love economics, so I love the show. Same goes for The Wire, A Song of Ice and Fire, etc. If I can feel the creator's passion for the subject, I tend to enjoy it, even if it's depressing as hell. For whatever reason, TAL just falls flat for me.
posted by natabat at 2:07 PM on September 22, 2011 [1 favorite]


There's always strength in numbers when it comes to putting things in a box.
posted by Cerulean at 2:08 PM on September 22, 2011


Here's one of my favourite Radiolab short episodes, about a fake bus stop in a German care home that 'catches' wandering elderly Alzheimer's patients by providing them with a familiar visual and environmental cue to react to (they 'wait for the bus' instead of disappearing out of the gate. Listen to it and tell me the sound design isn't a critical part of how good a piece of radio it is. I love Radiolab and you can take their zingy sound effects and often genuinely affecting presentation of incredible thoughts and ideas from my cold, dead hands.
posted by Happy Dave at 2:17 PM on September 22, 2011 [2 favorites]


Another Radiolab fan here. I also love the enthusiasm and banter.

Also: I usually listen to the podcasts in very quiet places (the woods around our homestead, highways at night), so the sound effects help create a soundscape which opens out into those big silences.

And: teaching podcasting, Radiolab is a useful example of high-end production. I play it off of simpler, voice-only podcasts for contrast (Memory Palace, In Our Time, Norman Centuries).
posted by doctornemo at 2:32 PM on September 22, 2011 [3 favorites]


I love Radiolab AND TAL. Geez, people.
posted by Nattie at 2:47 PM on September 22, 2011 [2 favorites]


Happy Dave--that's probably one of the better Radiolabs I've heard. Very little Jad and Robert, the sounds are more integrated, less cartoony.

Usually what I hear is this, like the episode of Words. GREAT TOPIC, but I was constantly annoyed with the production and Jad and Robert's intrusions. My reactions while listening to this are in bold.



SUSAN SCHALLER: I was indeed riding a bicycle to high school. And a catering truck hit me and I was put in the hospital with a concussion. I was seventeen years old. And the concussion is bad enough that it slowed my brain enough that I couldn't read. And so naturally I couldn't go to school.

[Sound of a car crash...seriously guys? seriously?]

JAD ABUMRAD: Which sucked for her.

[Shut up, Jad!]

SUSAN SCHALLER: At seventeen I was very much a nerd and I was bored out of my mind.

ROBERT KRULWICH: So imagine Susan sitting there in the hospital. One day one of her friends…

SUSAN SCHALLER: A friend of mine who was just a little older and had graduated the semester before me suggested going to the nearby university and crashing classes—

ROBERT KRULWICH: Now wait a second why would you go—if your brain was working slowly why wouldn’t you go swimming?

[Shut up, Robert!]

posted by The ____ of Justice at 3:02 PM on September 22, 2011 [1 favorite]


And that's just the first couple of seconds into the broadcast...
posted by The ____ of Justice at 3:04 PM on September 22, 2011


I've never listened to Radiolab. But it can't be more annoying than Ira Glass.
posted by Trurl at 3:15 PM on September 22, 2011 [1 favorite]


It's like an entire web community woke up on the wrong side of the bed. Geez,guys.
posted by GilloD at 3:23 PM on September 22, 2011


Re: faces for radio... My mental image of Jad is pretty much the Dean from the TV show Community. I picture Robert as the comics store guy from The Simpsons, but with a full beard and gapped front teeth. I far prefer my image of them and simply refuse to believe they look any different. Love the show, but the audio effects put me off at first. The show about stochasticity and randomness is especially awesome, listen to it at once if you haven't yet.

If you like Radiolab, you might also like Stuff You Should Know. (Even if their show about acupuncture was a bit too woo-friendly for my taste.)

If you really like TAL and need more like it, try the Memory Palace. It's the most twee thing I've ever heard but good god so entertaining. The show puts together stories from history and tells them in a really sweet narrative style. Highly rec'd.
posted by wowbobwow at 3:44 PM on September 22, 2011


I found a job working in the backroom of a large retailer at the toward the end of fall, and for the last 2 months I have been listening non-stop to Radiolab and This American Life, at a rate of about 7 episodes per shift. Originally, I had the goal of going through all 400 + episodes of This American Life, but there was an episode where an excerpt from Radiolab was used, and I had such a strong inclination to listen to that show instead, because of how well it was able to hook my interest and keep it in comparison to the other pieces on This American Life. Sure, there are times when the conversation between Jad and Rob (Robert especially) are frustrating because of how simple and conversational it is, but I think it's because I work alone in a large backroom that I enjoy their conversation. The informality of their banter is kind of like discovering something new and exciting with an old friend you know well, which sometimes occurs on This American Life on the more personal pieces, but I guess is more of what I'm looking for in a radio show. Compared to Ira's tendency to stall the tension in an interview where all I want to know is what happens next, I highly prefer Jad and Rob's personality to Ira matter-of-factness.

A bigger problem I've found in This American Life is their propensity to repeat the same background music over and over again. It may be because I'm a person who enjoys being sentimental and getting engaged into stories, but when a song is played over and over again during certain parts of the story, you get the feeling that "this is the song for when something is perplexing", or "this is the song for when you really like to cry." It's sort of ruined the magic of a lot of the stories that have shown up on This American Life, and is the primary reason that I'm just about to give up on listening to every single episode of This American Life, a process that I'm one fourth through already.
posted by weewooweewoo at 3:58 PM on September 22, 2011 [3 favorites]


you get the feeling that "this is the song for when something is perplexing"

OH GOD YES. Also the "this is the wryly amusing" music.

It seems to me that TAL used to have more interesting interstitial music -- didn't they get the Mekons in a few times, or am I imagining having heard that? -- but now they've settled into a very fixed template.
posted by We had a deal, Kyle at 4:05 PM on September 22, 2011 [2 favorites]


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posted by Zerowensboring at 4:14 PM on September 22, 2011


Srsly tho, I was just bitching yesterday to a friend that that Jad chap getting a MacArthur grant sends him all the wrong signals, and is sure to doom his program, which is not without its merits, to become ever more aNnOyInG. All that hyperkinetic editing--it makes me mad! At the same time, I love Aphex Twin above almost all else. So go figger...
posted by Zerowensboring at 4:19 PM on September 22, 2011


and furthermore! He used a monome onstage, which was nice... until it was made clear that it was like a soundboard a la morning radio.

Speaking of, have the radiolab guys ever gone on howard stern. That would be a calamity.

Either way, at its best, these shows aren't about the hosts, they're about stories and those are usually good.

I really like unfictional on kcrw at the moment.
posted by nutate at 4:49 PM on September 22, 2011


It's like an episode of Bill Nye the Science Guy which is really great if you are ten. It is interesting that they use complex editing to add silly effects rather than add more actual content.
posted by JJ86 at 4:55 PM on September 22, 2011


Welcome, everyone, to The Internet, where people love the things you hate and hate the things you love.
posted by Aizkolari at 5:36 PM on September 22, 2011 [1 favorite]


I love that there's an outlet using radio in the way I grew up loving it—with sound, not "effects," as a part of the storytelling. I've been wearing headphones since the very first time my dad clamped a set of enormous leather-padded AKG K240s on my head with a coiled umbilical connecting me to the stereo, and I wish more people valued sound in this way. I grew up in a house where TV was about as accessible as Romanian abortions, and my media refuge was in music, particularly of the sonically rich, aural storytelling variety, and in radio drama, where the images were more vivid than anything CGI's ever shown me, and that love of sweet, sweet sonic landscapes is one of those essential core elements in my being.

I have to admit that Jad's style is not quite my cup of tea at times, and there are moments when I'm listening that I just get irritated that he went for something literal, loud, or too familiar where something subtle would be better. Sometimes, I know that's my own prejudices showing, as I tend to go for the slow, the droning, and the atmospheric over the "hey, listen to me!" sound, and sometimes I think I'm correctly pointing out a detail that could be better, but nevertheless, the fact that it's there, doing its thing, is wonderful.

Sound is completely devalued in our eyeball-centric media jungle, alas, and it's a crime that all these amazing tools for stunning, adventurous, brain-opening sound design get employed primarily to produce nothing but the same old tiresome walla-walla, easy bumpers, and standard stings for hack movie directors. My hat's off to anyone who does it with their kind of enthusiasm, because doing it awkwardly is very often a precursor for doing it brilliantly.
posted by sonascope at 5:57 PM on September 22, 2011 [2 favorites]


It really surprises me how people's tolerance for different sort of artists doing different sort of things well in TV and movies doesn't translate to public radio. TAL is wonderful; RadioLab is wonderful; Wiretap is wonderful; Memory Palace is wonderful and Science Friday is wonderful. I'm glad each of them is in my life, for totally different reasons. And, that's okay, because the medium isn't one kind of message.
posted by Apropos of Something at 6:09 PM on September 22, 2011 [2 favorites]


my problem with radiolab, in a word: krulwich.

just go away, please.
posted by fingers_of_fire at 6:27 PM on September 22, 2011 [1 favorite]


Radiolab could be a great show if they would just let the interviewees speak instead of having Jad or Robert speak over them and summarize instead.
posted by The Bishop of Turkey at 7:13 PM on September 22, 2011 [1 favorite]


I'll be blunt. The vitriol in this thread is disheartening. Step back and, imagine for a moment, a world in which excellent public radio broadcasts, offered in multiple formats, for free are simply dismissed based on the complaints espoused in this discussion.

Even if it is not to your liking, valuing the quality of the subject matter and dedication to the craft is the polite and right thing to do.

I mean, I believe a world with these programs is significantly better served than without. Can we not think of the bigger picture?
posted by purephase at 9:12 PM on September 22, 2011 [5 favorites]


I like TAL just fine. I would like it better if someone edited out all of Ira Glass. I agree the sfx are overdone on Radiolab...like a bad laugh track on a worse sitcom.

With that said, what makes me happiest is there hasn't been a single mention of OK GO in this thread

Wait a minute. Goddamit
posted by timsteil at 9:42 PM on September 22, 2011


This thread has a face for radio.
posted by obscurator at 10:22 PM on September 22, 2011 [3 favorites]


I used to be annoyed by Radiolab's sound effects and patronizing narration ("Why do you think the sky is blue? We're not sure either! Let's ask an adult!"), but now I'm at peace because I realized Radiolab is actually a kids' show, where all of that wacky stuff makes perfect sense. The real problem is adults who don't realize this.
posted by qxntpqbbbqxl at 10:24 PM on September 22, 2011 [2 favorites]


qxntpqbbbqxl: Radiolab is actually a kids' show, where all of that wacky stuff makes perfect sense. The real problem is adults who don't realize this.

Nailed it. I adore Radiolab for exactly this reason. It is so much FUN.

JJ86: It's like an episode of Bill Nye the Science Guy which is really great if you are ten.

Or, say, 30. (But hey, I make my living writing ukulele-and-kazoo theme songs for Spongebob video games, so I'm probably not welcome at the Refined Grown-ups' table anyway.)
posted by jake at 3:51 AM on September 23, 2011 [2 favorites]


Quirks and Quarks and The Science Show are both great, but they have never come close to transporting me the way that Radiolab has. Science communication does not normally threaten to make you cry in public places.
posted by fFish at 4:56 AM on September 23, 2011


Seems like every Radiolab post devolves into joyless ranting about sound-editing.

I enjoy Radiolab, and I enjoy This American Life. I have no problem with Radiolab's conceit of each show being a progression from ignorance (feigned/otherwise) to knowledge, and I think the kinetic sound editing makes the show immersive in that discovery process. Even when it's shooting below my level, I tend to think, "Oh, this segment is going to be about [this thing I already know about]? Allow me to recline and relive the experience of discovering this for the first time."

Incidentally, I've met Jad and Robert in person, and they're incredibly nice and sincere people. Jad happens to look like Roberto Bolaño, which he was not aware of until I showed him a picture on my phone. Unsurprisingly, he responded with the same enthusiasm he repackages for broadcast.


Anyways, love whatever you love. I hope Radiolab does a show about Internet communities and uses a slide-whistle at the end of every sentence when they talk about Mefi. That'll show you.
posted by sixacross at 5:25 AM on September 23, 2011 [3 favorites]


I'm overtired due to my five month old child have a poor nights' sleep last night, so I'm sure this is an over-reaction and was already said much more pleasantly upthread, but...

I'm sick and tired of people whose entire contribution consists of shitting on the topic at hand. You don't like it? Go create something yourself instead of standing in judgment over someone else's art.

Sure, everyone's entitled to an opinion, but the need to spout some snide asshole-ish remark just because they think they're so clever and snarky and the current topic isn't worth their time or thought is incredibly annoying.

My blood sugar is low. I need lunch.
posted by papercake at 9:17 AM on September 23, 2011


Radiolab is really good in that it is not only educational programming, it is also entertaining. It is preserving an art form that is otherwise mostly dead. I understand if you don't like the style or content, but there are so many reasons to appreciate it even if there are particular things about it you don't like.
posted by archivist at 9:26 AM on September 23, 2011


As an example of how Radiolab makes the complex manageable, listen to Jad's talk at MaxFunCon in 2010, starting around 3:00. The first clip is pretty dense; that's a lot of information for anyone to wrangle. I'm a microbiologist, and, to fully understand what she said, I'd need to listen to that unedited clip a few times. I can't imagine that the typical podcast listener is either A) a trained scientist or B) willing to rewind a podcast 3 times over and over again throughout an episode.

Following Jad's edits, however, everything is easy. He builds an audio hallmark for each gene and calls back to that to highlight the researcher's point. It's over the top and cheesy, but that's the point: it's easy! You have to remember that, just because you understand how DNA polymerase works, the average WNYC listener needs a crash course on the purpose of gene expression, let alone a specific enzyme.

Radiolab does a great job of assuming that everything must be explained, because if one piece of the puzzle is missing, then their whole show could fall apart. So, while I occasionally find myself saying "I get it, move on", I dig that repetition is a powerful tool for teaching, and by repeating simple stuff, that means people can learn.

Shouting down Radiolab seems like an argument to keep science inaccessible. That may be the cold, hard truth, but that's not going to win anyone's attention or curiosity. But once you lose that, people rely on superstition and religion, because that science stuff is "too hard" or "too boring." So, it may seem dumb and beep-boopy, but those beeps and boops keep science relevant. I love that.
posted by Turkey Glue at 10:46 AM on September 23, 2011 [9 favorites]


Did somebody ask for science podcasts? I guess I gotta finally register on MetaFilter! Here are the main ones that I know about and that I think are worth mentioning. Whether any of them are better than Radio Lab really depends on what you're looking for.

BBC Discovery
This show is top notch, and it amazes me that it took me so long to find it. The format tends to be a typical public radio documentary style. Sometimes it will present something like a lecture. I appreciate that it spends a half hour dwelling on a single topic. Unfortunately, the full archive is not available for download.

CBC Ideas
Sometimes it’s about science. Whether it is about science or not, I find I have to pick & choose which episodes I really care to listen to. The show can be absolutely fantastic, but sometimes it’s really off in la-la land. Each episode dwells on a topic for an hour, which is really what I want. They’re funny about which episodes they put into the podcast feed. I’ve found many great episodes were not in the feed and I had to dig the mp3s out of my browser cache. Fans of Radio Lab would probably enjoy the excellent two-part series Ocean Mind for starters (not that it especially resembles Radio Lab).

Science and the City from the New York Academy of Sciences
I’m just starting to get into this show--and liking it. The format is a real grab bag of stuff; it tends to be a lecture or on-stage conversation among experts/interesting people.

ABC Science Show
This is a really great program. I don’t have it in my feed because I’m already flush with podcasts, and the format that spends about 10 minutes per topic usually doesn’t sate me. Also, all of the talk about global warming tired me out. While it’s certainly important, this choir member is ready for some different preaching. I’ll occasionally pick and choose interesting segments to download and listen to. When they did a full-hour show about Christmas Island I was in heaven. The fact that they’ve rebroadcast pieces and whole episodes of Radio Lab has generated some controversy that really mirrors this thread, and host Robin Williams seems to take the haters head on.

CBC Quirks and Quarks
Seems to be the same kind of format as ABC Science Show, for which reason I haven’t gotten into listening to many episodes. What I heard was definitely good stuff, so if the format suits you then go for it.

ABC All in the Mind
Often has really great material (always something to do with the brain), although I can give a pass on a lot of the episodes. The host interviews one or more experts for half hour episodes that are almost always on a single topic.

ABC Philosopher’s Zone
I really like this show. Sometimes it has to do with science. Sometimes it’s excellent, and other times it’s about some bizarre and impenetrable 20th century French philosopher. The host interviews one or more experts for half hour episodes that are almost always on a single topic.

Astronomy Cast
I was elated to discover this show, and started listening from episode 1. Now that I’ve caught up to the current episodes, I’m wondering if I’ve outgrown it. The format is almost always Frasier Caine feeding questions to Pamela Gay, and she responds with wonderfully detailed explanations. The choice of topics couldn’t be better, and I’ve learned a *lot* about astronomy and space exploration from this show. However, I wonder if maybe it’s time to bring in more experts to provide the material for the show. Lately they’ve spent a lot of time on the history of astronomy. While I certainly want to hear all I can about the history of Astronomy, I feel like Pamela is veering too far outside her domain of knowledge and it can be embarrassing.

BBC In Our Time
You guys already know about this show. It’s great, and a large chunk of the episodes are about science.

The Infinite Monkey Cage
Britain's blend of Radio Lab with Wait Wait Don't Tell Me? I think this show is fun and sometimes provocative, but I predict a lot of people would find it irritating. It helps if you also know Brian Cox from TV.

Wisconsin Public Radio: To the Best of our Knowledge
This show is only sometimes focused on science. Each hour-long episode is about a single topic, and the roster of reporters do 15-minute-or-so segments interviewing a particular expert relating to the topic. I tend to like the show a lot, but they sometimes dive into some kooky topics.

Exploration
Host Michio Kaku does some detailed interviews with experts for an hour (maybe two segments per show). I found the format of the show and Dr. Kaku’s style not so much to my liking, and never got into this show. YMMV.

Meet the Scientist
Carl Zimmer does long interviews with microbiologists. While you gotta love the Zimmer, he tends to disappear in these interviews. I enjoyed a few episodes, but I found this show to be usually too technical for me to enjoy or really understand. The show has been discontinued.

BBC Material World
I no longer listen to this half hour show. When I was listening, the format was to divide the show into two segments with a different story each segment. The host did a rapid-fire interview with experts on each story which never left me very satisfied.

Nature Podcast
If your beef with Radio Lab is that it’s too dumbed down, then this should be the polar opposite that you’re looking for. I believe the format is to do 5- or 10-minute interviews with the authors of the latest articles in Nature. It’s science in the raw, and after listening to several episodes, I decided I preferred the dumbing down and slick storytelling you get from Radio Lab.
posted by polecat at 11:50 AM on September 23, 2011 [19 favorites]


Good picks, I listen to most of those. You should check out the Jodcast too.

I'd rather be waterboarded than listen to Radiolab.
posted by the cuban at 12:51 PM on September 23, 2011


Polecat: You could probably get away with collecting those into a front page post, no problem...
posted by kaibutsu at 12:55 PM on September 23, 2011


If you don't polecat, I probably will.
posted by garlic at 1:15 PM on September 23, 2011


Thanks for the props! I guess I won't be able to make a FPP for a week, so you're welcome to make one before then. Maybe with a link back would be nice? I'll consider doing it myself...although it seems like a lot to cram into one post.
posted by polecat at 2:32 PM on September 23, 2011


Radiolab is to science what Chuck E. Cheese is to Pizza
posted by silkyd at 5:58 PM on September 23, 2011 [1 favorite]


Metafilter: It's like an entire web community woke up on the wrong side of the bed.

Welcome, everyone, to The Internet, Metafilter, where people love the things you hate and hate the things you love.

Metafilter: people whose entire contribution consists of shitting on the topic at hand

Many of you are going to die very early stress-related deaths; how do you live such angry lives?

Also:

I'd rather be waterboarded than listen to Radiolab.

Really? Really? That's what I thought.
posted by Lutoslawski at 11:30 AM on September 24, 2011


Just wanted to pop in and say thanks to polecat for all the great suggestions and especially the commentary on each podcast, I've been working crazy hours lately and haven't made it back to this thread though it's now been dead for a week I see.
posted by Kwine at 5:30 PM on October 1, 2011


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