Race for the Prize–The Flaming Lips
Ira Glass is a great radio producer. If you’ve never heard This American Life, stop lying to me. And that’s why listening to him pick up on what makes Radiolab such a great show means so much. He first points out that Radiolab does all the right things to make the listener not feel like he/she is in a classroom, like every other science show you’ve ever heard of:
Take the opening of their show on the mathematics of random chance, stochasticity. The first aesthetic choice Jad and Robert make is that they don’t say you’re about to listen to a show about math or science. They don’t use the word stochasticity. They know those things would be a serious turn off for lots of people. In doing this, Jad and Robert sidestep most of the conventions of a normal science show – hell, of most normal broadcast journalism. I think our fellow public broadcasters do lots of accidentally counterproductive things without thinking twice, things that prevent lots of people from connecting with their work. On the very fine PBS science show Nova, the narration is that chipper TV style that says: “I’m talking to you in a big official voice. I’m talking to you like a grownup who’s teaching you something.” They accidentally make it feel like school. Radiolab avoids that entirely. I love science, but never watch Nova, because of the old-fashioned aesthetics. Nova can be corny. But I never miss Radiolab.
The result of keeping mum on this particular point? Rob Walker, writing in the New York Times, admitted something I experienced myself: “I heard several episodes of Radiolab before I figured out that it was supposed to be about science. I thought the ‘lab’ part of the title referred to experimentation with the medium.”
So now, the real question is: why can’t Radiolab pump out a show a week like This American Life!!!