The innovative show portends a post-Internet revival of production values, minus the pretension to authority.
Nothing on the dial sounds quite like WNYC's Radiolab. Jad Abumrad and Robert Krulwich's science-heavy show foregrounds complex and fascinating production values as well as buddy-comedy banter that leads listeners on the path to enlightenment. After an incredibly successful few years, 'the Radiolab effect' has begun to influence the next generation of great radio producers, reports Julia Barton at Nieman Storyboard. She spoke with Julie Shapiro, the artistic director of the wonderful Third Coast International Audio Festival, and Roman Mars, who produces the 99% Invisible podcast and helped judge the festival this year. Both have heard hundreds of radio pieces from up-and-comers.
It turns out that replicating the show's production values is difficult, but its approach to knowledge and storytelling are easier to incorporate.
[T]hey are hearing another trademark of the show, its conversational style. You'd think, since the talk radio format is mostly talk, that this would be a given. But radio evolved in the age of oratory, when a stentorian delivery helped pierce the broadcast static, and that's what listeners still expect.
In the age of HD and earbuds, though, producers are finding they can sound more like themselves. "Radiolab" co-hosts Jad Abumrad and Robert Krulwich break down complicated stories through a relaxed Socratic dialogue, an approach that's also been popularized by NPR's "Planet Money" and APM's "Freakonomics."
Barton's suggests that our 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. Abumrad and Krulwich aren't coming from on high, but right there with the listener adventuring through the story.