I remember driving back to university after being home for Thanksgiving. I think it was my Junior year. I was driving by myself in the old Oldsmobile 88 [with red plush interior] on Highway 78 through northern Mississippi and Alabama. This was back when you used to have to get off the good road in Hamilton and then take surface roads through Gu-win and Guin.
That stretch of road is pretty boring, so I was trying to find a good radio station. I finally found something. A man was taking about being in a well, and children kept coming to talk to him, but they didn’t help rescue him from the well. The way the story was told was so arresting to me. The signal must have been coming from Mississippi, because the station started to fade. I could only get a clear signal when I was driving up a hill. But I didn’t try to find another station, because I wanted to hear what happened. In fact, I started to drive slower. I was hooked.
It turns out, that was the first time I heard This American Life – the classic Cruelty of Children episode, to be exact. I’ve been a committed TAL listener ever since. A few years ago, Ira Glass started making a recommendation at the end of the show, encouraging people to check out RadioLab. I gave it a listen. Now RadioLab has surpassed TAL to become my favorite public radio program.
RadioLab takes a topic and examines it from scientific angles. For example, a recent RadioLab podcast was about Words. They explored the concept of words from the perspectives of public health, neurology, literature, and three sub-disciplines of psychology.
(BTW: The question we talked about at the family dinner table over the summer of how you use language to think (i.e. the language in which deaf people think) – it’s directly addressed in this episode.)
If you don’t have one hour to spare, listen to this shorter, 14 minute discussion about how children’s language development is integrally linked to their cognitive development. The video below is something that RadioLab had filmmakers create to visualize words.
Not only does RadioLab select fascinating topics, but the production values are also top class. The shows are beautiful. Some of my favorite RadioLab episodes are Animal Minds, Parasites, and Laughter.
That’s four hours of radio for your aural pleasure. I don’t want to overload you, so I’ll leave it at that. Let me if you come to love RadioLab, too.