Now in its 6th Year, RadioLab is Still the Greatest Podcast on Air

radiolab wnycIn February of 2005, WNYC – New York City’s main NPR station, launched its first episode of Radiolab with Jad Abumrad. OK, actually the first episode was months earlier. Abumrod had actually produced numerous Radiolab-like segments since joining NPR in 2002, many on Kurt Andersen’s amazing, long-running Studio 360 program.

The most recent episode is titled “Words“:

Radiolab is a workshop in the aural experience – it is, at its core, a program that explores the essence of radio, from story arc to research to interview to post-production and mixdown. Any given episode will surprise you in its clarity, weirdness, and attention to detail. My first reaction to listening — I became a regular listener to the podcast (you can subscribe here for RSS, xml, or iTunes) in 2005 — was amazement at how much effort, creativity, and likely attempts at perfectionism went into the editing and remixing of the audio. An hourlong Radiolab is without fail a stimulating and thought provoking experience, rooted in the great voices, delivery, and smartypants adeptness of hosts Jad Abumrod and Robert Krulwitch.

My love affair with this program is capped by how well it uses the latest technology – since the early days of podcasting, Radiolab has been made available in multiple formats for download and streaming as well as across many NPR member stations nationwide. We’ve come to expect this from NPR programming since the grand ol’ days of RealAudio streams. But this show stands apart in that it takes the story and the sound and the experience to extreme levels, show after show.

I don’t have a TV nor do I care to watch one. I listen to programs like this. Stock up your music-playing receptacle with multiple episodes from the archives before your next road trip and you will not be disappointed. Even P Diddy listens to Radiolab twice.

One of my all-time favorites is “Numbers” (mp3:

Other faves include Memory and Forgetting (mp3). Listen to the segment below on amnesia and Musicophilia with Oliver Sacks:

Finally, music… Musical Language (mp3) just reading the first graf of the show notes is mesmerizing as it is:

What is music? How does it work? Why does it move us? Why are some people better at it than others? In this hour, we examine the line between language and music, how the brain processes sound, and we meet a composer who uses computers to capture the musical DNA of dead composers in order to create new work. We also re-imagine the disastrous 1913 debut of Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring…through the lens of modern neurology.

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R.I.P. Studs Terkel

studs terkelOne of the greatest radio voices of all time, pioneering storyteller Louis “Studs” Terkel died today. He was 96. What he gave to journalism and radio storytelling has everything to do with my addiction to podcasts, public radio and journalism of the people for the people and to the people.

It goes without saying that Terkel’s unique traveling interview style, best illustrated on 1963’s “This Train” is the model for great audio and visual storytelling of today. While riding the train from Chicago to the civil rights march in Washington D.C., Terkel gathered the voices of anger, joy and ultimately optimism from people of all ages making that historic trip. Just listen to part one of “This Train” below and, suddenly, you won’t think This American Life is the most revolutionary program to hit radio.

Studs was a Chicago guy but his stories had a purely American bent, touching on difficult matters of importance and celebrating life coast to coast. I’m sorry that he will not be around to see Barack Obama become president, although he discussed as much with a Huffington Post scribe in the days before his passing. I’m also sad that the Cubs couldn’t pull it out this year for Terkel and other Cubs fans who’ve waited the better part of 100 years to see a championship.

Studs Terkel was an activist until his dying days, playing a prominent role challenging AT&T’s corroboration in releasing records to the National Security Agency in 2006.

I hope to locate the full audio of this amazing piece to post later. For now, here’s the first 50 minutes of “This Train.”

Video and more below:

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Best Use of Metallica’s ‘One’ in a Public Radio Story


Photo by Daniella Zalcman under CC license.

“Chronically Homeless See New Woes in New Orleans”, by Joseph Shapiro.

I heard it this morning around 3:15 a.m. when I flipped over my Zune and tuned to NPR after being awoken by violent sounds from a movie playing too loud in the next room. These are the stories that actually play three times here on the West Coast, where morning edition begins at 2 a.m. and in some cases, runs — or rather loops — until 9. When I lived in Chicago I thought it was cool to hear the BBC after getting home on a late night, but now, in LA, we’ve got tomorrow’s news at 2 a.m.

(The unfortunate consequences for an NPR junkie like myself are that Renee Montagne’s voice begins to randomly say “good morning” while your sleep and, at times I find I secretly wish a lengthy spell of laryngitis on the likes of Steve Julian. Sorry Steve, you’re not as annoying as Larry Mantle, just speak a bit faster if you could.)

OK, I digress. The point of this post is to highlight this great clip from another excellent Morning Edition piece from New Orleans. NPR had the best coverage during the Katrina disaster and they continue to document the aftermath better than anyone — check their Katrina & Recovery page.

In this particular story, in spite of the vivid and blighted landscape I was aurally transported to at 3:15 a.m., it totally made my day to hear 38-year-old Benjamin Parnell, a blind New Orleanian, laughing and — longing for his guitar — belting out the ever-powerful machine-gun lyrical climax of Metallica’s “One” a capella:”Landmine has taken my sight/Taken my speech/Taken my hearing/Taken my arms/Taken my legs/Taken my soul/Left me with life in hell…

The kicker, NPR followed through in providing the gritty, heavy metal context. Kudos to reporter Joseph Shapiro and his producer(s). Listen to the excerpt below. You can read / listen to the entire piece here.