Hi reddit, my name is Jad Abumrad, I'm the host and creator of Radiolab and I'm here with Robert Krulwich, just to my right. There are people with laptops, dogs running around. We're confused but excited and ready for your questions. I'll be doing the typing, since I grew up in an era when people learned to type quickly. Robert says he can type fast too, so perhaps I'll let him on. Anyhow. You can hear us on Public Radio stations around the country or on our podcast, Radiolab. We are also here to talk about our new live show tour, Apocalyptical, should you want to talk about it. We'll be stopping at 20 cities in the fall. Looking forward to answering your questions!


edit - we've heard the site commenting is lagging a little bit, so we're going through everyone's questions now and responding - you should be able to see them soon, so keep those questions coming!

additional edit - hey everyone, we've really enjoyed answering questions! this has been a blast. we're sorry we couldn't get to all the questions, but we'll definitely be coming back and answering a few more. a thousand thanks to everyone who stopped by!

Comments: 1472 • Responses: 38  • Date: 

mathofinsects454 karma

In the tape-piece that starts the show, the woman who says the 'and' in "...and NPR," seems to be saying "anj-" I'm always curious what that little phoneme was taken from. "And Jad Abumrad"? "Angina is very painful"? "'Angie' is my favorite Rolling Stones song"? Please tell me...

rnumur165 karma

"andj NPR"

weareradiolab190 karma

we are secret admirers of the letter J. (though Jad is not secret about his J-o-phelia. That is why we'll soon be calling Dogs Jdogs. And blogs Blogjs.

annmwhite340 karma

Did you expect the backlash from the Yellow Rain episode? Did that change how you conduct interviews or respond to listeners?

weareradiolab285 karma

It was a painful experience to be sure. We got a lot of criticism, we deserved much of that criticism, and we apologized on the website and the podcast. One of the things we learned from that experience, and our main point of that entire hour, was that there are often multiple truths in a a story and sometimes the emotional truths are the most powerful.

bmovie280 karma

Hey guys, I love the show. I've noticed (at least it seems to me), as the seasons have progressed, the episodes have focused less and less on topics related to science (sleep, who am I), and more and more on "slice-of-life"/narrative (are you sure, bliss) types of stories. Was this a conscious decision, or is it just hard to come up with so many cool science stories?

weareradiolab249 karma

I'm not sure we make the distinction you're making. And if you look at the past few months, you see: a couple stories on particle physics, an extended treatment of epigenetics, a long story on prenatal ethics. In other words, science. but we've never claimed to be just a science show. We're interested in a lot of things, just like you. And anyway, science and scientists share the world we all share, fight for resources, suffer, compete, cheat. In a broad sense, all that is science too.

gotfoundout187 karma

Robert, you are probably my sister's favorite radio person ever, and today is the very day of her birth. Her name is Chelsea. It would be awesome if you could wish her a happy birthday!

PS, we both love Radiolab a ton, and I've kind of got the hots for Jad. So Jad, don't feel left out! :)

DeepWoods124 karma

Hey guys! Love the podcasts. Is it possible that with all of the sounds and music that are in each podcast, to have the artist information posted with the podcast? I always end up loving some of the music clips during the show but am left without a source! That would be amazing...

weareradiolab132 karma

Theoretically...yes. The problem is that so often, when I use a bit of someone else's music in the show, it's been bent and twisted and torqued in so many ways that it's unrecognizable. and we're always so down to the wire with our deadlines that we never have time to reflect and make that list. but you're right, we should.

someBrad91 karma

As a long-time lover of the show who has listened to every podcast you’ve ever published and brought up things I’ve learned in the show in conversation dozens of times, I have been troubled by your response to the Jonah Lehrer situation.

As far as I can tell, the only response to the accusation and later admission of plagiarism has been a couple of blog posts, one of which was very supportive of Lehrer and the other was a short note about corrections.

Why haven’t you discussed this situation on the show? As commenters to your blog have noted, it’s not like there isn’t a model for the right way to handle something like this (TAL re: Mike Daisey).

One critical thing that’s not clear is whether or not you’d allow Lehrer to contribute to a future show. If the answer is yes, we deserve to know the rationale behind that decision. And if the answer is no, we deserve to know if you stand by every story he’s contributed to in the past.

weareradiolab208 karma

We absolutely stand by everything he's ever contributed to the show. Because of his situation, we've triple checked everything he said.

As for whether we'll have him on again: It's complicated. But what it comes down to for him, and for anyone, is...for what topic? If he's the best person to talk to, then yes.

Likening the situation to Mike Daisey is comparing apples and oranges. He didn't lie to us. Mike lied to TAL.

JustOneLaoWai86 karma

Ira Glass did an AMA and threw some serious love your way, saying that Radiolab practically created "a new aesthetic." His piece on Transom about what makes your show so great (http://transom.org/?p=20139) is incredibly well written and about as high praise as anyone could ever get! Seems only fair to return the favor.

What do you like about This American Life and how has that show influenced the production and storytelling behind Radiolab?

weareradiolab133 karma

RK: First off, Ira's show was, is, and has continued to be, a generation-definer. So many people who have become cultural icons, David Sadaris, Dave Eggers, Dan Savage, Sarah Vowell, and on and on and on, took big bows on his show...and the thing is, he noticed them early. That's a rare skill -- to display a generation as it's blossoming. That's one thing Ira did.

But then there are his editing skils...Like Jad, (but unlike Jad) he has created a mood, a tone that is distinct, artful, and very him. It's a subtle, subtle skill...(Jad is wondering what that means...it means two very sharp minds have created to very distinctly sharp sounds) Anyway, there's all that, and then there's the journalism, the breakthroughs in explanatory economic reporting, the investigative pieces about the Georgia judge, the Chicago guns...It's an amazing achievement, TAL is...and it's definitely our constant inspiration.

JA: Everything RK just said. I'm consistently envious of TAL. I still diagram TAL stories to better understand story structure. Just an amazing show. Hard to summarize.

zooeyandfranny78 karma

What is your favorite piece you've ever done that didn't air?

weareradiolab402 karma

We don't have pieces that never air. We have pieces that haven't aired yet.

That'd be like giving up on your child. You cruel person.

Mis-shapes69 karma

What's the weirdest, most astonishing story you guys have covered since starting Radiolab?

weareradiolab206 karma

JA: Finding Emilie. That story haunts me.

RK: Bringing a beam of light to a complete halt. And then moving it. That was boggling of mind.

SoulIsTheAnswer69 karma


first of all your show is one of the best things in this universe. Although scientifically speaking I can't be sure can I? Well it's a hypotheses, that needs some research I guess.

Anyway... I've listened to most of the episodes multiple times, and I'm sure one of the reasons why is the great music and sound, which brings me to my question:

Are you guys planing on ever releasing a Radiolab Soundtrack? I know you already had a special Album for your colour episode, but I'm talking about a soundtrack with a wider variety of music, representing the wide range of themes of Radiolab ideally intermixed with original music from Jad.

Thank you!

weareradiolab118 karma

Thank you for that question. I'll pay you later.
Short answer: yes. We (or at least I) fantasize about starting a Radiolab record label.

RK: the difficulty being that my cuts will mostly star Mary Martin and Ethel Merman.

JA: sigh

L0rdSnow61 karma

Any chance we will see a TVLab someday?

weareradiolab107 karma

Perhaps. But it wouldn't be a simple TV translation of Radiolab. That would probably fail and be embarrassing for everyone involved. But maybe a TV show that breaks the rules in some ways we haven't yet imagined.

RyanFBaby51 karma

Hey Jad and Rob!

Absolutely love your podcast, when i discovered it a few years ago, we listened to it everyday at work for hours, made work so much more enjoyable, so thank you for that.

I also saw your live show last year i think at the Brooklyn Academy of Music which was mesmerizing. A couple of questions for you both:

  1. How do you guys pick each topic?

  2. Has there been any topics that you started to delve into but actually never found enough answers too and had to give up on?

weareradiolab72 karma

On number 2: Can't think of one specifically, but we do put stories on the shelf from time to time. Sometimes a story is a great story but it doesn't make friends easily. And sometimes the fun ones take not months but years to confess themselves. In year 1, you think "too complicated." In year 2, you think "i don't care anymore." In year 3, you suddenly think Oh! and out it comes. Year 4, regret.

denowak35 karma

How are the end credits actually produced? Do you guys call the people and ask them to read off of a script? Or do you ask them to do it in a later date? Do all of them follow through?

Also, Jad, do you ever get annoyed by how many times people during the end credits pronounce your last name incorrectly?

weareradiolab66 karma

For the credits, we send our guests a list of names, that's all. And I don't mind people mispronouncing my name. Actually, I need it to feel normal.

dragonite111534 karma

After all of these past several years of Radiolab, what is the one thing you have come to appreciate about life most, from the show

weareradiolab125 karma

JA: that the truth of a person or a story or a moment is never simple

RK: the duet. this is the first time I've talked my stories in tandem with another person. and the music of it, the surprise of it, and the thrill of it never lessens.

JA: amen Brother K

Luneowl34 karma

Have you ever been surprised by the reactions of the audience to your live shows as compared to your radio/podcasts?

Looking forward to seeing you here in Denver in November!

weareradiolab80 karma

RK: well, our audiences in the live shows are alive, as in physically present. so surprises do happen. one time in st lake city, i started talking about a particular fountain that i had just seen and liked and the audience got instantly chilly. turned out, it was a church financed high end shopping center that had pissed everybody off, but how would you know that?

JA: live audiences always surprise me. just the mere fact that people are actually there in the hall when we step out on to stage. that they showed up. that's always surprising.

splendidtree23 karma

Hi Robert and Jad Ah-bum... A-boom... Abumarade? (Only joking. Sorry everyone butchers it.)

A year ago I heard my first Radiolab podcast and I was instantly hooked. I downloaded and listened to every single podcast and short you put up and I have had to go back and listen to some again while I wait for new ones. To me, your podcast holds, like, the top three spots of all time podcasts it's so great. I recommend it to everyone I know.

With a sufficiently brown nose, my question: has there been an instance where you thought Radiolab wouldn't be popular, where you thought it was close to being canceled, or had a disagreement that threatened its life? Or has it always been sex, drugs, and rock and roll for the Radiolab crew? Bonus question: What's the endgame?

weareradiolab52 karma

Pretty much yes to all questions. Double yes to the sex drugs rock n roll. Too many yesses? Yes to that too. Actually, in all honesty, we never thought this show would go anywhere. In fact, the first time we went on the air, replacing Fresh Air for a week, the audience came at us with a level of unbridled rage that still gives us the chills, when we care to reminisce, which is never.

WooHoo1119 karma

Can you please come to Philadelphia?

weareradiolab44 karma

we were there last year and Demetri almost got into a fight with someone in the audience. you're a rough bunch.

kidding. we'll be back soon.

jrvansant18 karma

Do either of you read Richard Powers? His novels, especially The Echo Maker, Galatea 2.2, and The Gold Bug Variations, discuss similar topics in similar ways as you do on RadioLab; I was wondering if he's influenced your work. Cheers!

weareradiolab19 karma

Neither of us have read him. Sounds interesting though. We'll get on that.

krispykrackers18 karma

Hi guys! Huge fan of the show, thank you for the many many hours of entertainment!

One of my favorite episodes was "The Bad Show", it was the first one I listened to and got me hooked instantly. I really like the darker episodes, I find them fascinating.

My question is, what sort of topics are your favorites to research and connect? Do you stay away from certain subjects?

weareradiolab37 karma

Until recently, we've avoided topical subjects, because our shows have a long shelf life, and we like it that way. But then a few weeks ago we did a supreme court show. Increasingly, the stories that we (or should say I...Jad here speaking) like researching and reporting are the ones where a situation leads you to a place of no easy answers. Robert? RK: Me too.

ohitsmika17 karma

I went to your show at UC Berkeley last year and it was amazing! How much time and preparation went into your last tour? Please come to UC Riverside for your next tour!

weareradiolab27 karma

We rehearsed with Pilobolus for a few days in the Armory and came out with a rough architecture. Actually, the show you saw, in Berkeley, that was the first one, and we hadn't even finished setting the lighting cues and we'd never done a complete runthrough of that show. We were all kinda terrified. Anyhow, we got through it and then spent the next 9 months editing the show in front of our audience.

turbojeebus17 karma

Hey guys! Was there ever a subject that you guys ever wanted to cover that ended up being too taboo or controversial to air? Thanks. I LOVE you guys. You make me look like a genius at parties.

weareradiolab31 karma

Actually that's the secret reason for this program. Neither of us have ever been good at parties. So the show was invented to give both of us a "party boost." One mention of quantum foam and we're gold.

bgrrr16 karma

What's are the components to a great science story? It seems you guys are always trying to evoke a sense of wonder in whatever you're reporting. Evoking that sense can't be easy for all topics, I imagine.

Also, do you accept pitches? Is so, how do you sort through them?

weareradiolab29 karma

Hard question to answer succinctly. I guess the key is that the puzzle, question or conflict should hold our attention. That's really the only valid criteria in the end...is this something that you hear and can't turn away from?

Rebeccalorraine8615 karma

Hi Jad and Robert! I've been a listener for several years now, LOVE the show! How do you decide what to talk about on the show? Also, which Radiolab episode is your favorite?

weareradiolab36 karma

We just talk. And then we edit that and do it again. And then we edit THAT and do it again. And again.

cirqueyoolar13 karma

Firstly, Radiolab is glorious.

Secondly: It is not uncommon for the two of you to have a disagreement, typically a minor one, about a topic being discussed. Are these disagreements always based off of your actual opinions, or are they ever created for the purpose of better illustrating both sides of a story?

weareradiolab22 karma

RK: Mostly they're pretty authentic disagreements. Jad something which doesn't go far enough or goes too far and I bark. But to be fair, there is an artistry to this and sometimes he makes bark short, then bark long, bark high and then bark low. Then he chooses the best bark.

DartBird12 karma

I love your use of music to explain other things (colour for instance). Are you musicians yourselves?

weareradiolab43 karma

JA: yup. studied music for years and years and secretly I think I'm still doing it.

RK: Yup. Sung in the shower for years and years. Got wet, but hey, that's what we artists have to do, sometimes. Soap helped.

TheImprobable12 karma

First off, I love both of you and your show. Jad, as a Lebanese man involved in multimedia storytelling, you are an inspiration.

I just recently finished a Radiolab binge, and after listening to all the shows back-to-back, i couldn't help but notice some commonalities in the stories (in Words, how certain words open up meaning and different areas of the mind, and in Colors, how the word for blue affects peoples ability to "see" blue). Any thoughts about a show that looks at the "spaces in-between," how certain things may be connected without us knowing or how we may find meaning in things that may not connected, a la Baader-Meinhof Phenomenon? I've always been interested in finding a commonality code to things, or a look at the inherent "dark-matter" we can't notice that may hold things together.

Also, if I have a story or topic that may interest you, what would be the best way to be a part of Radiolab (submission or volunteer work for stories)?

Keep it up, and keep the curiosity alive!

weareradiolab24 karma

You point to something we talk about a lot. The hidden connections between seemingly unrelated phenomenon. As for the similarities, well that's because this is two people doing it together and every friendship has colors and moods that repeat from time to time.

If you wanna send us story ideas (and please do), hit us at [email protected]

blunatic12 karma

First of all, I love you guys. You make science and life topics approachable and understandable while also being incredibly engaging and thought provoking.

Having said that, I know you guys have covered a multitude of topics and themes. Which would you say are your personal favorite episodes?

weareradiolab26 karma

Rk: I like "Stress" mostly because I love Robert Sapolsky. Though anything with Strogatz in it is better than anything without him.

JA: I can't say I have a favorite. I go through cycles of loving and hating them all.

Sexy_Sasquatch10 karma

Thanks for your fantastic podcast, it's great to know you'll bring the show on tour soon.

What is your writing and recording schedule like? Can you describe the process of bringing together on of your shows, from the brainstorming to the execution of the podcast. Thanks!

weareradiolab20 karma

We brainstorm and bat ideas around as a group, starting at our Friday editorial meetings but really at any time of the day of night, we'll be emailing eachother ideas and thoughts. Studio sessions happen a couple times a week, and generally consist of Robert and I improvising for hours just to get a line that works. It's a kind of torture, really. But a giggle one.

DebonaireSloth9 karma

Do you mostly find your stories or do the stories find you?

weareradiolab14 karma

It'd be nice if stories found us. but no. we chase stories and they often outrun us. the longer we do this show, the more time we spend chasing.

ballthyrm8 karma

What subject you would really like to approach but can't because it is on public radio (if any) ?

I am french , do you think your program is missing on other culture , and other wonders around the world , does the geography play a role in what you put on air ?

weareradiolab33 karma

Happy Albino Nazis Beating Up Kittens

Actually, we do spend a surprising amount of time talking about pedophilia at editorial meetings.

jalepenoface5 karma

First off, thanks guys, for all that you do. Incredibly entertaining and almost meditative. Listening to Radiolab is a very valuable part of my day. Your show has quite literally sparked new friendships and mended old ones. I bought tickets to your show in Austin a few hours ago, I'm looking forward to it!

If you didn't know how old you were, how old would you be? What's in Radiolab's future? More tours? Less episodes? What's your (both Jad and Robert) singular most rewarding experience during your years creating Radiolab?

Thanks again!

weareradiolab12 karma

RK: I'm 27. But strangely, I can remember specific things about President Eisenhower.

JA: Not sure what that means K, but I'm 27 too. In the future? Probably more tours. Really the goal would to keep doing the show but never the same each time.

tweiss844 karma

What is your favorite wavelength of the electromagnetic spectrum and why?

weareradiolab5 karma

blue. can't get enough of those peaks and troughs when the waves go by

philond4 karma

Any plans on doing international shows? Coming over to Europe, maybe? Also, how can foreign listeners support the show?

Finally, I love your work!

weareradiolab9 karma

rk: It's a little bit amazing to us that people far, far from our studio have found us...in places like Argentina and China and Norway. Once we get used to the fact that they're out there, it would indeed be fun to meet them. We are right now planning a Slavic, Arabic and Hindi version of our show and as soon as we've gotten the grammar down, we'll let everybody know.

kleinstar3 karma

Robert, no disrespect but what's it like being a sidekick? Can you compare it to any other famous sidekicks - are you more of a Robin or a Sancho Panza?

weareradiolab4 karma

Honestly I don't feel very sidekicky. It's true, Jad is at my side, but there's more punching than kicking. And he is on the side of me.