For me, this is the show that started it all. This is the show that creates obsessions, changes the way you listen. If This American Life changed what we expect from audio storytelling on the radio that makes Radiolab the This American Life of podcasting. It doesn't just ask to keep you sitting in your driveway, waiting for a story to end. Radiolab asks you to set aside time from your life, to become so engrossed in a story that you come back for a second or third or tenth listen the same way your favorite books or movies will. This is the show about which Ira Glass said "I marvel at Radiolab when I hear it. I feel jealous."
The depth to which Jad Abumrad goes to illustrate a story is maddening. You can hear that every note of every piece of music, every millisecond of every piece of ambience is perfectly placed, but it takes a genius (and Jad has the award to prove it) who also happens to be an Oberlin trained composer to put all of that in place. Paired with Jad is Robert Krulwich, a veteran of the news in all mediums. He's covered Watergate, been a bureau chief for Rolling Stone, hosted shows on PBS, ABC, CBS, has an Emmy, Peabody, and a degree in Law. Together they spend months on shows, recording hours and hours of audio for the perfect minute of commentary on the perfect cut of an interview.
This show is worth every minute of your time, and here's the list to help you get started.
A note on this list
In an attempt to limit myself from posting every episode ever I set a few rules for myself.
1. Only full episodes that have aired on the radio. Nothing from before season 1 and no podcast only episodes.
2. Only episodes from the first six seasons and and only one episode per season.
This list in by no means exhaustive, there are 235 episodes in the stream by now, and while I've listened to most of them more than once, I figured a shorter list would be more helpful for someone looking to start, and the best place to start something is usually the beginning. All of the commentary below is from the respective episode page on the Radiolab website.
Season 1 - Emergence
What happens when there is no leader? Starlings, bees, and ants manage just fine. In fact, they form staggeringly complicated societies -- all without a Toscanini to conduct them into harmony. This hour of Radiolab, we ask how this happens. We gaze down at the bottom-up logic of cities, Google, and even our very own brains with fire-flyologists, ant experts, neurologists, a mathematician, and an economist.
Season 2 - Detective Stories
Forensics, archeology, genealogy, and genetics are devoted to figuring out what really happened. In this hour of Radiolab, digging up the past leads to some very unexpected finds. We begin at a trash dump in Egypt, where we find Jesus, Satan, sissies, and porn. Next, a goat on a cow leads us to hundreds of old letters scattered on the side of Route 101. And lastly, a blood-sampling tour of Asia reveals a prolific baby-maker...and potentially a world conqueror.
Season 3 - Placebo
With new research demonstrating the startling power of the placebo effect, this hour of Radiolab examines the chemical consequences of belief and imagination. Could the best medicine be no medicine at all? We take stock of the pharmacy in our brains, consider the symbolic power of the doctor coat, and visit the tent of a self-proclaimed faith healer.
Season 4 - Deception
Lies, liars, and lie catchers. This hour of Radiolab asks if it's possible for anyone to lead a life without deception. We consult a cast of characters, from pathological liars to lying snakes to drunken psychiatrists, to try and understand the strange power of lying to yourself and others.
Season 5 - Choice
Logic and emotion aren't the only forces that guide out decisions. This hour of Radiolab, we turn up the volume on the voices in our heads, and try to make sense of the babble. Forget free will, some important decisions could come down to a steaming cup of coffee.
Season 6 - Afterlife
This hour: Radiolab stares down the very moment of passing, and speculates about what may lie beyond. What happens at the moment when we slip from life...to the other side? Is it a moment? If it is, when exactly does it happen? And what happens afterward? It's a show of questions that don't have easy answers. So, in a slight departure from our regular format, we bring you eleven meditations on how, when, and even if we die.