I’ve been listening to podcasts for years, my favorites being “The Moth,” “Wait, Wait, Don’t Tell Me,” and “This American Life.” “The Moth” just might be my favorite. In fact the Spouse and I drove to Arizona one year, and before embarking on this great adventure, downloaded every Moth we could get our hands on. We listened to those live stories all the way to Prescott and all the way back.
For the purpose of this blog exercise, however, I figured it was time I branch out and try something new. I picked “Radio Lab,” which is a platform for all sorts of things from science to human nature to things odd and quirky. Their presentation is light and fun, with some comedy interjected here and there to keep things from getting too serious.
Without a specific episode in mind, I decided to start at the very beginning, or at least the published beginning on their web site. It was an episode titled “New Normal?” and was 2009 production about human nature’s need to have conflict among their race (as in war), baboons living in a trash heap, and a cross-dressing mayor of a small town in Oregon. I’m still trying to decide how the three stories intersect, but that’s somewhat irrelevant. The stories seemed great – even interesting – but there was something about it that didn’t fit right.
Last week, I might not have been able to ascertain what, exactly, wasn’t fitting right.. This week, though? Oh yes. I’ve been schooled in the art of sound and digital storytelling. Four whole weeks into this class and I’m already a changed gal.
Here’s what was wrong with that particular podcast: timing. It had gripping sound clips, clever narrative and plenty of intrigue. The narration and accompanying sound accessories, however, seemed munched together and rushed. The format of “Radio Lab” is such that there are two hosts who volley back and forth. They will finish each other’s sentences, provide extra information, explain concepts and so on. But as was said before, the timing was off. It needed some silence as they exchanged ideas. I deemed the podcast “okay” and moved on. Maybe I’d listen again, but probably not.
The most interesting thing about this “Radio Lab” podcast was that we were assigned to read an interview with the podcast’s creator, host and sound genius Jad Abumrad. I read this article immediately after listening. In Abumrad’s remarks, he mentioned that “in the early days, when playing with the sounds, I would get the balance a little bit wrong, and I would put stuff on the air that was sort of unlistenable, that people would react really badly to; there’d be too much of it.”
The interview proceeded to go over the process by which Jad Abumrad fine-tuned his “Radio Lab” as the years went by. And fine tune he did! After reading the article I went right directly to the web site and gobbled up another “Radio Lab” entre. I’m a fan! The changes are subtle, but with sound, that’s all it takes. Little changes make a big difference.