The MacArthur Foundation today publicly confirmed what fans already know: Jad Abumrad, auteur/producer and co-host of WNYC's Radiolab, is some kinda genius. He is one of 22 scientists and other creative types who received $500,000 MacArthur fellowships in recognition of their achievements and potential. “This show is the central creative mission of my life right now, and the money might give me the space to bring new things into it,” Abumrad said in a New York Times article reporting the awards.
Abumrad probably will have more to say Wednesday morning when he keynotes the Public Radio Program Directors conference in Baltimore.
MacArthur Fellows are U.S. residents who have shown "exceptional creativity, promise for important future advances based on a track record of significant accomplishment, and potential for the fellowship to facilitate subsequent creative work."
In a video interview for MacArthur, Abumrad shows a bit of his process for orchestrating words, sentences and sounds into informational music:
On the radio production showcase Transom.org, Ira Glass expresses his admiration and jealousy ("I feel jealous") about the heights of effective radio that Abumrad and his co-host Robert Krulwich achieve on Radiolab, partly through carefully conceived and sometimes re-recorded "spontaneous sounding" banter. Glass commends to listeners the Radiolab episodes about coincidence and randomness, parasites, a beloved mayor who has had a big operation, and being in a coma.
Glass also contrasts the show's real-people tone, and a different real-people tone of talk-radio personalities, with the standard style of pubradio news: "One way the opinion guys kick our ass and appeal to an audience is that they talk like normal people, not like news robots speaking their stentorian news-speak," Glass writes.