Jad Abumrad: The Sound of Radiolab
Radiolab is one of the most distinctive sounding shows in the radio and podcast world. In this episode, creator and co-host of the show Jad Abumrad talks about how he uses music as a metaphor to explore abstract topics like what a manta shrimp sees when it looks at a rainbow, why it’s important to drop into the story mid-stream, why he deliberately disrespects the boundary between sound effects and music, and how he aspires to tell complex stories without words.
Radiolab, produced by WNYC for US public radio, sounds unlike any other show on the radio. Using a unique combination of music, sound design, and voice, the show explores big topics of a scientific and philosophical nature. Unafraid to attack weighty subjects like the nature of time and the way animals perceive color, Radiolab founder and host Jad Abumrad draws on his background in experimental music composition to use music and sound effects that paint images and build a compelling listening experience for the show’s audience.
Over more than a decade, Radiolab has won numerous awards, including the National Academies Communication Award and the coveted Peabody Award. It has become one of the most successful podcasts available, and it is designed and mixed to be experienced through a great-quality sound system.
Abumrad, who received a MacArthur "genius" grant in 2011, says about the unique sound of the show: "If I do my job right, I can use words and sounds that are like words, or somewhere between words and music, to create images in your head. They're so immediate and undeniable that literally those images will just pop into your head. But those images don't exist. You have to paint them, so I'm starting the process and you're finishing it. It's like I hand you the paintbrush and you finish the painting."