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Tuesday, January 17, 2012

The Atlantic on How Radiolab Is "Changing the Sound of the Radio"

Posted by Alison Hallett on Tue, Jan 17, 2012 at 12:14 PM

Recently on Twitter, the One True B!x commented that he wished he could listen to Radiolab's content without the "highly annoying storytelling style," an opinion I think a lot of people share. But I actually really like the show's conversational format—it's a constant reminder of the limitations of reporting, that history is made up of loads of peoples' different perspectives all jumbled together. Plus, the integration of sounds and music is really impressive. The Atlantic's Alex Madrigal feels the same way, and he takes it a step further with a piece today about how Radiolab is "changing the sound of the radio":


[O]ur cultural expectations of radio — funneled through different technological listening devices — are changing. It may be broadcast over traditional airwaves, but it's webby. It feels interactive and interrogative rather than narrowly investigative. [Jad] Abumrad and [Robert] Krulwich aren't coming from on high, but right there with the listener adventuring through the story.

Radiolab is actually post-blog and post-livestream. It's not aping the oratory of old or the raggedness of the new. It's a hybrid that takes lessons from the past, recent and deep.

I'm not sure I buy this "Radiolab is shifting the paradigm" stuff—the show's been around for a while, after all, and I think these observations about storytelling style equally apply to This American Life (did everyone listen to the Mike Daisey episode, BTW?). But it is interesting to consider lines of influence in the podcasting boom—the Memory Palace can feel at times like a little slice of Radiolab, for example.

My ulterior motive for posting about Radiolab is this: If you haven't listened to their Patient Zero episode—which explores the story of Typhoid Mary, follows the AIDS virus to its source, and traces the surprisingly tragic history of the high-five—go do it. It is an incredible piece of research and storytelling.

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