Two words—gut churn—used by co-creator Michael Elsesser to describe his physical reaction to the uncertainty and stress of starting Radiolab, a radio show about looking at problems in a new light, gave Jad Abumrad the perfect point to focus on. “It’s something that everybody goes through, from contemplating [the future] to breakups to jobs. You feel like you should be better, but you’re not. It’s an ordinary human experience,” Abumrad says.
In his “Gut Churn” talk, which he’ll bring to The Alden June 11, Abumrad’s takeaway for audiences is to view problems like a pointing arrow. “It doesn’t always feel great, but that’s the feeling you need to lean into,” he says. “You figure things out creatively, personally, psychologically, and things click. Things don’t click when you’re comfortable. It’s about learning to see it as something not to avoid but rather to be understood and even cultivated.”
Started in 2002, Radiolab has morphed from a science show that explored big questions and big ideas into an active exploration of all kinds of topics. Abumrad says the show deals with “how to feel about the world when the world is complicated and not easy to boil down into easy sound bites.”
Keeping away from the typical elements of documentaries, it uses a playful template and rich sound that has gotten “a little more sophisticated and restrained” over the years but no less powerful. Awarded the Peabody Award in 2010 and the MacArthur Genius Grant in 2011, Radiolab continues to search for meaningful understanding using storytelling in new ways. Abumrad articulates the show’s goal: “Increasingly we’re telling the kinds of stories where we just don’t know how to feel, and we want to understand better and see a thing from all its different angles. It’s just curious people trying to understand a complicated universe.”
One can go to Radiolab’s website and see the myriad topics paired with intense soundscapes and media clips that grab the mind and demand attention. Much like Abumrad’s self-proclaimed “jabbering,” the knowledge that spills out from the man and the site is immense and thought-provoking. // Saturday, June 11, 8 p.m., The Alden Theatre: 1234 Ingleside Ave., McLean