Radiolab’s presenters Jad Abumrad and Robert Kurlwich took the world by storm with their science-oriented podcast Radiolab. The show has been running since 2002 and has had 15 series of five to 10 episodes, each between 30 minutes and an hour. So that’s a whole lot of listening.
The show features many heavy topics and can be hard to get into for those podcast fans that are used to listening to a new show in chronological order. To help these kinds of listeners, we’ve done the heavy lifting of finding the top six episodes of the podcast that offers a great starting point for new Radiolab listeners. Episodes are divided by topic, o have a look and try to find one that captivates you.
Table of Contents
Top Eleven Radiolab Podcasts
The original episode about Crispr aired on June 6th, 2015. To save you all of the scientific jargon about what Crispr is, it essentially boils down to a method with which humans can rewrite DNA sequences. Kurlwich and Abumrad spend some time in the episode expanding on just what Crispr is and manage to explain what is a ludicrously complicated topic in an easy-to-understand way.
Following that, the two talk at length about the technology’s actual applications, which proves to be captivating listening. This ranges to everything from the resurrection of the actual rewriting of human and animal DNA. The episode also dives into how Crispr is already being used, which gets expanded upon in an updated episode on the topic that was released in 2017. It has been three years since then, so hopefully, we get another update sometime soon.
An update of this episode ran in season 15.
We go all the way back to May 24th, 2007, for this one. The concept of sleep is one we are all familiar with to some degree, and most of us are curious about it somewhat, although most never seek out the answers to the questions they have, partly because those answers don’t yet exist.
This episode hopes to provide you with the answers that do exist and bring you deeper into the concept of sleep as a whole. Given such exciting subject material, it’s no wonder this episode is such a captivating listen. It features interviews with industry-leading experts on the topic, so you know you’re getting quality information.
Broadcasting on May 21st, 2012, Colors is a bit of an oddball when it comes to Radiolab episodes. Rather than being presented in Radiolab’s usual format, this episode features its topics delivered in a narrative stylization instead of a scientific one. It is a mixture of science and art.
Kurlwich and Abumrad consider the topic from multiple lenses. The questions they dive into range from the obvious to the abstract, making for genuinely captivating listening. One notable example of how the episode is presented in a narrative format is when the two put forward the story of a sea creature that sees color differently from humans. Ultimately, the story boils down to how dogs see color, but the presentation makes it much more engaging.
From October 8th, 2010, this episode touches on everything, well, cities. The presenters dive into just how cities work on multiple scales, from the large and extravagant to the tiny and obscure details. The two have done some serious research into what makes cities tick for this episode, and it shows.
However, it’s not all stats and numbers. The episode features a discussion about the similarities between the world’s most prosperous cities, as well as entertaining anecdotes and stories about unusual cities that have popped up over the course of history.
One such story is about a small town with a coal mine firing blazing beneath it for over 50 years. There are interviews with city dwellers, which is a nice change of pace from the usual scientific guests that appear on the show. The whole episode is backed by a low city-scape soundtrack, a testament to the level of production and care that goes into the podcast.
Blame is an episode driven much more by emotion rather than intellect, which aired on September 12th, 2013. The episode features three stories, each of which is designed to help you understand the moral and emotional aspect of blame and present you with technologies that can help us collectively understand the concept of blame.
One of the punchier aspects of the episode comes with the discussion of two felons. A guest reporter appears on the show to share a gut-wrenching story about the relationship between a murderer and the father of the murdered girl. The story discusses how both parties came to understand the crime and is an emotional climax on a very noteworthy episode.
Airing on July 27th, 2017, this episode is the newest one on this list and is particularly topical even in 2020. The episode largely deals with the concept of fake news, but in particular, focuses on the technology developed by Adobe known as Adobe Voco. The software is essentially Photoshop for voice and allows people to create fake videos of people saying things they actually haven’t.
Kurlwich and Abumrad get their hands on the program for the episode. The two concluded that while the technology is certainly impressive, the moral, ethical, and security questions that it raises are seriously concerning.
This episode was rebroadcast in November 2019.
23 Weeks 6 Days
Airing April 30, 2013, this episode is about Kelly Benham and Tom French. They went through a lot to conceive a baby. Many attempts and some technology finally helped to make it successful.
At 20 weeks Kelly starts bleeding, cramping, and having contractions. The doctors were having a hard time finding a way to stop it all. They finally were able to find a medication that stopped the contractions. They advised Kelly and Tom they needed to make it 4 more weeks. 24 weeks is believed to be the theoretical minimum for a fetus to be considered viable (able to breathe on its own).
At 24 weeks air sacks form in the lungs. At 23 weeks 4 days, the doctors advise there is nothing more they can do meaning the baby will be coming in a day or two. And, at 23 weeks and 6 days, their daughter was born. That is when they had to decide what measures should be taken for their premature daughter Juniper.
An episode from November 14, 2011, could be considered more relevant today with COVID19 than in 2011 when it first aired. This episode discusses the person at the center of an outbreak.
One story of “Patient Zero” that has been well known is that of Typhoid Mary. Mary Mallon who a career cook of the well to do that was a healthy carrier of Salmonella typhi aka Typhoid fever.
After covering the story of Typhoid Mary they go on to discuss the beginning of AIDS. The start of the global pandemic and locating where it originated. With the poor record-keeping of this disease, the hosts can only re-imagine how it all started.
As serious as the episode is, it isn’t without some comic relief as they discuss the origins of the high-five and the cowboy hat.
Man Against Horse
Yeah, exactly. I mean, I’m interested in how and why our bodies are the way they are and the way in which we evolved. – Daniel Lieberman
This episode reported by Heather Radke and Matt Kielty aired on December 28, 2019. It is considered one of the most downloaded episodes by some sites.
A strange, interesting episode that may lead to some laughs. This episode is about the butt. How we got our butts and why we have them. Maybe because of the nuchal ligament for running bodies? Not found until our ancestor Homo Erectus.
Heather and Matt talk to researchers Daniel Lieberman and Dennis Bramble. Lieberman is an evolutionary biologist at Havard that has an interest in the human body and human physical activity. They follow the history of the butt from ancient times to current day Arizona.
Do you have internal hitchhikers? Are they good or bad? In this Radiolab episode that originally aired on September 7, 2009, they discuss just that.
How important are parasites to the world around us? Are they really the ones pulling all the strings? The hosts delve into stories about a farmer that is lethargic, cockroaches, and other moochers of nature. They also discuss claims of whether or not there are beneficial parasites.
Like it’s somehow the word changes the world, in some fundamental way. – Jad Abumrad
The 8th top Radiolab episode, as stated by Radiolab itself aired on August 9, 2010. The hosts tackle a world without words. If and how it is possible to live without words.
Susan Schaller learned sign language at 17 years old after being hit by a truck. Years later she meets a 27-year-old man who didn’t know language. He was deaf since birth and no one knew how to handle him or teach him. So he never learned to sign. To know words. Susan works to teach the man his first words.
Susan’s story leads them into the discussion of whether we need words. Research by psychologist Charles Fernyhough of Durham University in the UK tries to explain how having words change our world.
Frequently Asked Questions
What happened to Radiolab?
In December 2019, Robert Krulwich announced his plans to retire as co-host from Radiolab. And some listeners feel it hasn’t really been the same since.
But some listeners felt that before that, the show had already lost some of its magic and was going slowly downhill.
When the show first began, as far back as 2002, it was a lengthy three-hour weekly show, tackling a wide range of philosophical and scientific topics.
But over the years, the producers tried varying this format in an attempt to appeal to a wider audience. And a typical episode would then last an hour. At one point, however, about 5 years ago, they began shifting to predominantly producing “shorts.”
This upset many die-hard listeners, who used to love the more in-depth one-hour-long episodes. And they also began to use more human interest stories and to focus less on scientific issues.
How can I listen to old Radiolab episodes?
There are many different ways to access and listen to old Radiolab episodes, including Spotify, Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, iHeart Radio, Pocket Casts, TuneIn, Stitcher, and RSS.
However, whichever app you choose to use, you may have to do a lot of scrolling before it brings up the older or archived Radiolab episodes.
However, the good news is that if you know the title of a specific episode that you want to listen to, you can find it very quickly if you use those apps that feature a search bar.
Alternatively, if you don’t know the title of specific episodes that might interest you, but you want to focus on a specific topic, you can always try searching under the topic’s keywords.
There’s effectively quite a goldmine of old Radiolab podcast episodes out there, as they’ve been broadcasting since 2002.
How many episodes of Radiolab are there?
Although Radiolab is often described as a “limited-run series,” there have been more than 15 seasons on this show when writing this article, and each season has between 5 to 10 individual episodes.
Radiolab’s first nine seasons, starting in February 2005 and going until April 2011, comprised five episodes. Subsequent seasons after this point in time contained between nine and ten episodes.
However, there have also been several individual episodes before the official start of season one.
While the scheduling of episodes is meant to be once a week, this scheduling does not seem to have been stuck to religiously. Although there is an extensive archive of Radiolab episodes that you can access, you will not get exactly one episode a week since its first founding in 2002.
We recommend that you check out the Wikipedia article available on this link for a long list of individual episodes. However, please note that this article is not necessarily fully up to date.
Is Radiolab on Spotify?
Yes, Radiolab is accessible on Spotify, including the free version of Spotify. And from Spotify, you can access every single episode since Radiolab’s humble beginnings in 2002.
Once you‘ve listened to some of the best episodes, perhaps including several of the ones we showed you in our article above, you can use Spotify to filter only the episodes that you’ve let to listen to. This is super convenient.
We will give you a heads up though, using Spotify to listen to Radiolab episodes isn’t as easy to navigate as we would like. For example, when I typed “Radiolab thought experiments” into the search bar, no results were found.
Instead, when you click on Radiolab by WNYC Studios, you are met with a long list of episodes starting with the most recent. And going through all the episodes one by one will take you forever.
In short, using Spotify can be a great way of listening to Radiolab episodes, provided you want to do so chronologically rather than by topic.
How long has Radiolab been around?
Radiolab was founded as far back as (or as recently as) May of 2002. And we get why there’s quite a lot of confusion over this because Season One technically didn’t start until February 2005. However, there were very many Radiolab episodes before this date.
Radiolab began as both a radio program and a podcast when it was founded by Jad Abumrad and Robert Krulwich in 2002. Jad Abumrad still co-hosts the show, but now Robert Krulwich has been replaced by Latif Nasser and Lulu Miller.
Radiolab is still broadcasting its podcasts to this very day. There are many different ways to access and listen to old Radiolab episodes, including Spotify, Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, iHeart Radio, Pocket Casts, TuneIn, Stitcher, and RSS.
Admittedly there has been quite some change in the format of Radiolab’s podcast episodes over the years, but we would argue that show still does an excellent job.
Who are the hosts of Radiolab?
When Radiolab was first introduced to the world in 2002, the hosts included Jad Abumrad and Robert Krulwich. After Robert Krulwich announced his retirement in December 2002, he was replaced by Latif Nasser and Lulu Miller.
Jad Abumrad is a Lebanese-American and was born in 1973 and raised in Tennesse. Before choosing radio as a career, Abumrad composed film scores. In 2007, he married Karla Murthy, whom he met in college. The couple has two children, and they all live in Brooklyn.
Latif Shiraz Nasser is a Canadian researcher, writer, and presenter. In addition to his work on Radiolab, where he is both a co-host and a research director, he also hosts the Netflix show Connected.
He grew up in Mississauga, Ontario, and is extensively educated. Nasser earned his doctoral degree at Harvard University, where he specialized in the history of science. He is married to Carly Mensch.
Lulu Miller is an American writer, artist, and science reporter for National Public Radio and Radiolab. She attended Swarthmore College and graduated with a degree in history.
She is married to Grace Miller, and they have a son. And after 5 great years at Radiolab, she left to pursue her writing career.
How long are Radiolab podcasts?
As Radiolab is aired on over 300 radio stations around the US it is kept to a manageable time. Each episode is an hour-long.