How trees communicate with each other. Why fireflies all blink at the same time. The man who saved President Gerald Ford from an assassin and was outed as gay as a result.
Those are some of the topics Radiolab has covered in its 20 years on the air, and its eye-opening stories, mixed with music and sometimes a bit of silence, make working on it a labor of love for cohosts Lulu Miller and Latif Nasser.
“This is the show I fell in love with. This is where I learned how to do radio,” Miller says.
“It asks big questions but in an intimate way,” Nasser adds. “You can feel all kinds of different feelings. You can think all kinds of different thoughts.”
With the retirement of Radiolab creator Jad Abumrad in February, Miller, a queer white woman, and Nasser, a straight man of South Asian descent, are the sole hosts of the show. (Robert Krulwich hosted with Abumrad from 2005 to 2020.) They’re excited about continuing Abumrad’s vision but also bringing their own spin to it.
In 2020, both became cohosts of the award-winning show, produced at WNYC Studios in New York City, airing weekly on more than 575 public radio stations, and carried on a variety of podcast platforms. Miller was a producer on the show for five years beginning in 2005, left for graduate school, but eventually returned. She’s based in Chicago. Nasser, who works out of Los Angeles, was a freelancer for Radiolab before becoming a host.
“The majority of the show will stay the same,” Nasser says. It’s factual, carefully vetted, yet entertaining, he notes. “The fresh air I think we are bringing in here — we are both kind of mischievous,” he says. “We both really like to go in weird directions.”
“We want to make really good, fun listening experiences,” Miller adds, while maintaining Radiolab’s “spirit of scientific inquiry.”
Of stories they’ve done, Miller is particularly proud of one on eugenic sterilization laws, giving voice to people who were forcibly sterilized because they were deemed “unfit.” “I learned a lot reporting that one,” she says. Nasser points to a series about a man who shared his name and was detained at Guantanamo Bay for 20 years as an accused terrorist. Among other things, they examined how their Muslim identity meant different things to each.
Nasser likewise lauds the episode about Oliver Sipple, who saved President Ford from Sara Jane Moore’s assassination attempt in 1974. News coverage outed Sipple, who resented that. “We were all kind of shocked that we’d never heard that story before,” Nasser says.
One of the upcoming stories they’re looking forward to deals with queer ecology, featuring environmental activist Edgar Xochitl and a look at research from the 1970s from husband-and-wife scientists George Hunt and Molly Warner that documented homosexuality in animals. There were attempts in Congress to quash it. “It’s this mix of science and kind of a mystery story,” Miller says.
Miller and Nasser promise that Radiolab will continue to surprise and enlighten. The show spotlights “a lot of different, really talented people who come from a variety of experiences,” Nasser says. “You have no idea what they’re going to say.”
This story is part of The Advocate’s 2022 Entertainment Issue, which is out on newsstands April 2, 2022. To get your own copy directly, support queer media and subscribe — or download yours for Amazon, Kindle, Nook, or Apple News.