LATIF NASSER: Wait, we're not live right now. We are?
LULU MILLER: We really are.
SOREN WHEELER: This is Radiolab. I'm Soren Wheeler. Today you're gonna hear Lulu and Latif and our show in a very different mode, mood, place. Reason being it's Radiolab's 20th anniversary. So 20 years ago, Jad started a show that played Sunday nights here on WNYC, our home station. Just on the air. No podcast back in that day. And so in celebration of those 20 years and all the things that have happened to the show since, we took over the airwaves of WNYC once again, and we ran the show live. Actually, we did two live shows that night—just this past Sunday—in a row, but I just wanted to share some of that little experiment with everyone on the podcast. So I'm gonna play the second hour of that show in the spirit of the attempt totally, totally raw, unedited. And I hope you enjoy it.
LULU: I'm Lulu Miller.
LATIF: I'm Latif Nasser.
LULU: You are listening to Radiolab tries live.
LATIF: So we don't normally do live radio. So since we're so used to pre-recording everything, this is basically our equivalent of showing up to high school for a pop quiz naked. But it is our 20th birthday, and we wanted to celebrate in real time with you. Don't worry, we are wearing clothes and we actually did prepare for this pop quiz. We've got stories, we've got guests, we've got surprises in store.
LULU: And we are not going to curse.
LATIF: And best of all, we got you. If you want. We're opening the phone lines shortly to take your calls.
LULU: Okay, so 20 years ago when Jad Abumrad started Radiolab, he called himself a quote "DJ of documentary."
LATIF: So corny. He's such a cornball.
LULU: [laughs] But so beautiful. He spun audio and stories the way that DJs spin music—stories from people who weren't always being heard, stories from people he admired, and he thought about what tape to put up against what. And so in that spirit—which I think is so beautiful—we wanted to kick things off by sharing a short story that we love. And honestly, it's kind of better knowing nothing at all going into it. It comes from our pals at The Moth, a live storytelling show, and it is told by Ashok Ramasubramanian.
ASHOK RAMASUBRAMANIAN: Sometimes when I'm walking down the street, people stop me and ask me for change. Of course, it's not change they want. They want money. But—but here's the deal: like, I always have change. I always give them money. It wasn't always this way, and there was a time when I was quite stingy with my money. And this is how it all changed, and it's due to my roommate.
ASHOK RAMASUBRAMANIAN: I was in the third year of my engineering school in India. And one day, a relation of mine who's been overseas came back with a KitKat, the candy bar. A full bar. He gave it to me and he said, "This is KitKat. They eat it in America. And it's amazing." So when you're in India and when you have a roommate, tradition dictates that you share this thing with your—with your roommate.
ASHOK RAMASUBRAMANIAN: And I looked at it, and it was like nothing I've ever seen before. It was—it was beautiful. And I said, "I'm gonna eat just a small piece." I mean, I'll still share the bulk of the thing with the roommate. I mean, no harm done. I ate a small piece, and it was amazing. And I said, "I'll eat a little piece more." I mean, you know where this is going. Pretty soon, I had one very small piece of KitKat in my hand, and at this point, some kind of twisted logic seized me. I mean, what's the point of sharing now? I mean, the roommate's gonna come home and I gotta explain, "Dude, I had this full bar. I ate most of it, and there's only a small piece to share." No, the safe thing to do is to eat that also and hide the wrapper, which is what I did.
ASHOK RAMASUBRAMANIAN: Now in my 21 years in India, in my 21 years in India, this KitKat has come into my life only two times. You already know the first time. Now here is the second. About two hours later, my roommate comes home, and he's clearly delighted about something. And joy is a concept that's very hard to pin down, but you know it when you see it. And I saw joy in the eyes of my roommate. He's—the dude's clearly excited about something. Now in his hand is a small paper napkin folded up. And he opens it up, and inside is a small, one-inch piece of KitKat.
ASHOK RAMASUBRAMANIAN: Now unlike me who had wealthy relatives abroad, a friend of a friend had given him something, a small piece, and his eyes were filled with the joy of sharing. And he said, "This is KitKat. They eat it in America. And—and it's amazing!" And his eyes are sparkling with joy. I've never seen anything like that since or before. With my own eyes more confused than anything else. Like, I mean, what am I supposed to say? "Dude, I actually had a full bar. You know I ate it all. So you should eat this." I mean, so he—so he proceeded to take a ruler. This is engineering school, so there's rulers all over the place. And the rulers that we used had one edge that's sharp, the better to draw lines with. So he took the sharp edge of the ruler, and he cut his tiny bit of KitKat into two and he offered one piece to me. I ate it. I mean, what else are you supposed to do? I mean, it's too complicated to do anything else.
ASHOK RAMASUBRAMANIAN: But, you know—you know, two KitKats in a single day within hours of each other. The universe—God if you will—is trying to send me a signal saying, "Dude, you are on the wrong path. You need to change." And so I did. Thank you.
LATIF: That was Ashok Ramasubramanian, and his story came to us via The Moth. The Moth is actually about to celebrate their 25th anniversary. Got us beat by five. Happy birthday to The Moth. They have a new book out called How To Tell A Story: The Essential Guide to Memorable Storytelling from The Moth.
LULU: That story makes me so happy. Oh, I just get warm when I hear. Latif, can I tell you a fun factoid that may or may not be true that I learned recently about KitKats?
LULU: Okay, so do you know what's inside a KitKat? Like, what's on the inside?
LATIF: Wafer? Wafer.
LULU: Wafer. Mm-hmm. But more specifically, any other—any other ...?
LATIF: Besides the wafer and the chocolate? I don't know. I feel like those are the only two ingredients.
LULU: Okay, apparently it is crushed up KitKats.
LULU: Which begs the question: what was inside the first KitKat?
LULU: So pondering unanswerable physical, philosophical puzzles like the KitKat ouroboros, as I like to call it, which may or may not be true—if anyone from the candy corporation wants to let us know, we're here—that brings me joy. I like to think about stuff like that. And over the past 20 years at Radiolab, the show's covered all kinds of things: science, the Supreme Court, history, but I think it's fair to say we always try to keep our antennae tuned for moments of joy. We try to work at least one into every episode.
LATIF: So listeners, we are calling on you to help us find some joy for this episode tonight. These are some dark times: there's war, there's pestilence, there's climate change, there's so much more terror. But for just a short segment here, let's focus on the hard-won joy. We're opening the phone lines. If you—if you laughed so hard you cried in the last week, we want to hear about it. Call us at 844-745-8255. That's 844-745-TALK. Or send a tweet tagging @Radiolab. Or using the hashtag #RadiolabLive.
LULU: It could be a tiny moment of joy, an interaction you observed between strangers on a train, a little seedling finally pushing up through the dirt. Whatever it is, if you registered that good, warm feeling in your body, call us and tell us about it. We want to know what it looked like, what it felt like, sounded like. Whatever it is, we want to know.
LATIF: And as the calls start rolling in, just to get you in the spirit we wanted to play for you one of our favorite moments of pure bliss ever captured on tape. It's from Radiolab back in 2012. Here it goes.
TIM HOWARD: Okay. Hello, hello?
ALEXANDER GAMME: Hello!
JAD ABUMRAD: Hello, hello!
ALEXANDER GAMME: Hooray! How are you? [laughs]
JAD: We are super, super excited to talk with you.
ALEXANDER GAMME: Oh, well same with me. I'm sorry about the delay. And so ...
JAD: Oh, it's fine. No, it's ...
ALEXANDER GAMME: Quite a busy day.
JAD: Life is crazy.
ALEXANDER GAMME: Life is crazy.
JAD: Yeah, I know.
ALEXANDER GAMME: But you were so enthusiastic. So I need to talk to these guys. They really mean it!
JAD: This is Alex.
ALEXANDER GAMME: Alexander Gamme.
ALEXANDER GAMME: Gamme.
JAD: Are you Norwegian all the way back?
ALEXANDER GAMME: Yeah, typical Norwegian.
JAD: You know, if "typical" includes things like ...
ALEXANDER GAMME: Biking in Sahara, and climbing Everest and things like that.
JAD: He's kind of a professional adventurer.
ROBERT KRULWICH: Hmm.
JAD: And we got him at the studio because he made a video last year on one of his trips ...
JAD: Gotta tell you, this video? It's maybe the most amazing internet video I have ever seen. [laughs]
TIM: I think so, too.
JAD: So let me just set the scene for you.
JAD: What you see in the video is this guy, Alex, kind of moving along this—he's on skis—this snowy snowscape.
JAD: He's filming himself. He's got the camera in his right hand.
ROBERT: Where is he, exactly?
JAD: He's on a three-month trek to the South Pole and back by himself. And what he'd been doing is every couple of days on his trip, you know, every 200 kilometers or so, he would bury stuff in the snow.
ALEXANDER GAMME: Some—some fuel, and sometimes a little bit of gear that I didn't use.
JAD: Was that just to lighten your load?
ALEXANDER GAMME: Yeah.
JAD: You know, because every ounce of unneeded weight has to go.
JAD: So in this video, it's day 86.
ALEXANDER GAMME: Almost three months since I left.
JAD: That's three months of walking 10 hours a day.
ALEXANDER GAMME: And I lost almost 25 kilos.
JAD: 55 pounds. He's exhausted.
[YOUTUBE CLIP, Alexander Gamme: Oh!]
JAD: He's come upon his last cache.
ALEXANDER GAMME: So on the last cache, where this video is captured ...
JAD: What you see is Alex kneel in the snow, start to dig.
ALEXANDER GAMME: I'm telling that I'm quite hungry.
JAD: Whatever's in this last cache in the snow, it's been three months since he buried it.
ALEXANDER GAMME: So I didn't really recall what was there.
[YOUTUBE CLIP, Alexander Gamme: [speaking Norwegian]]
JAD: He hopes it's something good. So he digs up this bag of stuff, starts rifling through it.
[YOUTUBE CLIP, Alexander Gamme: [speaking Norwegian]]
JAD: Some Vaseline, some zinc ointment.
ALEXANDER GAMME: It's just a mess.
ALEXANDER GAMME: It's pretty much old trash.
[YOUTUBE CLIP, Alexander Gamme: [speaking Norwegian]]
JAD: But then ...
[YOUTUBE CLIP, Alexander Gamme: Yeah! Yeah! Yeah!]
ROBERT: [laughs] What is it?
JAD: He holds up a double pack of Cheez Doodles.
[YOUTUBE CLIP, Alexander Gamme: Yeah!]
JAD: And he throws it up in the air.
[YOUTUBE CLIP, Alexander Gamme: Yeah!]
JAD: And then—this is my favorite part. He just freezes, and he's staring off into the distance almost like, did that happen?
[YOUTUBE CLIP, Alexander Gamme: I mean ...]
ALEXANDER GAMME: Is it real?
JAD: So he starts to dig some more. And then ...
[YOUTUBE CLIP, Alexander Gamme: Oh, ha ha! Yeah! Oh!]
ROBERT: What is it this time?
ALEXANDER GAMME: A huge chocolate bar. It's milk chocolate. And then it's just like ...
JAD: He finds some Mentos.
[YOUTUBE CLIP, Alexander Gamme: Mentos!]
ALEXANDER GAMME: I find more and more and more.
[YOUTUBE CLIP, Alexander Gamme: [laughs]]
JAD: Have you ever been that happy in your life?
LATIF: That was from the Radiolab episode Bliss, and I want to welcome two of the blissed-out voices you heard in that clip to the show right now. Special guests, are you there?
ROBERT: We're here.
JAD: Yeah. Hello!
LATIF: Those voices, of course, belong to Jad "Boom Boom" Abumrad and Robert "Krully" Krulwich, former hosts of Radiolab. Welcome, gentlemen.
ROBERT: Thank you.
LULU: I just feel like saying "Eat up! Yeah! Thank you for coming!" Okay, here. Now that we're calling the shots, here's the—here's the gateway question that lets you into this evening. Okay, first Jad, have you had a moment of joy or bliss that you have felt?
JAD: Oh, that's a great question, Lulu. In fact, that question gives me joy. And that it is asked by you gives me double joy.
LULU: I'm gonna make it harder. I'm gonna make it harder: in the last week.
JAD: Oh, I'll give you one from today. I'll give you one from today.
LULU: Okay, okay. Okay, okay, great.
JAD: It's not—it's not quite as ecstatic as the Cheez Doodles, but so my oldest son who is now 12, and who plays piano and is pretty good, he this afternoon went to an open mic night for teens. He's not yet a teen, but he's almost a teen. And he played an original song that he wrote. And he got up on this very professional-looking stage at this very legit looking jazz venue, and he played his song accompanied by a bass player and a drummer, who he never met. And he took a solo, and it was great. And Karla and I were in the audience. And we were like, "Damn, that's our—that's our child," who used to be like a chubby little blob, right? And then—and now he's this tall, like, 12 year old with peach fuzz and he's playing jazz with two other people. It was just a beautiful, joyful moment. So yeah, that's my moment.
LULU: You can't give us an impression of what this—a little flavor of what the song sounded like?
JAD: No. If I had a piano in front me, I could ...
JAD: [laughs] It wasn't like that kind of jazz.
JAD: It was like Keith Jarrett, Standards Vol. 2.
LULU: I don't know what that means.
JAD: You didn't know. Okay, all right. You know what? It's pretty. It's pretty. It's like pretty jazz. Yeah, it was nice. He did great. I was really proud of him.
LATIF: Okay, Robert. Your turn.
ROBERT: My turn. So let's see. I guess it has to be today? Today. Today ...
JAD: Last five minutes, Krully, last five minutes.
LATIF: No. Okay, last week.
LULU: Last week.
ROBERT: No, in the last few hours I have been completing my wild—my wild grass garden. So I have created a plot of land roughly 40 square feet on the corner of a property that I own which is right by a road. And it was very hot today, but I was determined because the instruction said if you want to put the seeds of these wildflowers into your cleared area, you must reduce the ground to a completely rootless pea hunk of sweet earth. And the—no one has touched this ground I guess at least 50 years, so there's an awful lot of roots there. So I'm—I had this thing where I was on my knees, and I was pulling out roots and pulling out roots and pulling out roots. And I was sweaty. And then some lady came walking with her dog up the road and stood for a long time. I was unaware of her at first. And then she said to the dog, "Look at this man. He loves his garden." [laughs] He heard that, and the flow, just the compliment entered me and I blossomed and I made a full turn. So I was thinking of maybe bowing or something, but she had walked on, unfortunately. It was just a little moment, but I thought "Thank the Lord that I have found this pleasure."
ROBERT: But it's like—and then at the end of the hour, I was able to then sprinkle this sack of seeds which I bought about two months ago. Then it said "Now stamp on the seeds with your feet." So that's what I did. It says "Don't water it. Don't cover it with earth. Just stamp on it and then go away." Which is what I did.
LULU: Sacred moments in rootless earth and boy jazz. Now we are asking for your moments of joy. The phone number is 844-745-8255. Robert and Jad are gonna stick around. Call us in. It's Radiolab's 20th birthday. We'll be back in a moment.
LULU: We are here celebrating 20 years of Radiolab, and we are doing it by taking calls about moments of joy that we're gonna share with Jad and Robert who are here with us. So right now, we have Eva in Ohio. Eva, are you there?
EVA: Hi there.
LULU: Okay, what is your moment?
EVA: I am. Yeah, so you know, with the pandemic being what it was, I had the great gift of having some friends stay with me over the weekend who I'd not seen in years. And, you know, as happens when you are with people for the first time in a long time, you're starting to relearn the social protocols of spending time with each other.
EVA: And we were having a good time, but it was a little stilted until one of my guests went into the bathroom. And unbeknownst to him, my cat was also in the bathroom with him. And we unfortunately discovered that the cat was in the bathroom when said cat very determinedly tried to get out of the bathroom. And the bathroom door is one of those sliding barn-style doors that you see all over, you know, Flip or Flop or all those other HGTV shows.
EVA: And so we look over the bathroom, and we just see my cat's arms sticking out of the door. It's like "Let me out! Let me out! Let me out!" And my little 10-pound cat was so determined to get out of that bathroom that he pried the door open all on his own, leaving my poor friend exposed on the toilet. And there was something that's so quintessentially human about that moment. And the fact that no matter how long it had been since we had seen each other, bathroom humor is always a way to get everyone crying with laughter.
LULU: Love it!
LULU: So Eva's moment of joy is a close friend's slight humiliation with cat.
EVA: And, you know, at the hands of a tiny little cat.
LULU: [laughs] That's wonderful. Well, thank you so much for calling in. We're gonna just keep moving and make a pastiche of these moments in the last week. So next up?
LATIF: Next up, we got Max in Boerum Hill, Brooklyn, Max, you are on the air.
MAX: Oh my goodness. Latif, it's good to—first of all, it's a joy to be on the air with you four incredible people who I've been listening to for almost all 20 years. I've been listening since Krulwich joined, basically.
JAD: Oh my God, really!
ROBERT: And I'm a Boerum Hill person. I lived on Dean Street. I'm from that very neighborhood. I mean, for a little while, anyways.
MAX: Oh, my goodness! I'm on Douglass and Smith.
ROBERT: Oh, yeah. Okay.
LATIF: Tell us your moment of joy.
MAX: My—it was yesterday. I was heading into Manhattan for a friend's birthday party in Central Park, and I was on the F train. And a dad came on with his, I'd say probably four-year-old son, sat down across from me. The son's looking around the train, and gets a little bored and then the dad pulls out a toy still in its box and hands it to the kid who looks at it. And he catches eyes with me, and I give him—I'm wearing my mask and give him just a big eyebrow raise "Oh my goodness, you got a toy!" face.
MAX: And he lights up. But I'm reading—I'm reading a book, and he's looking around the train. And then he just keeps coming back to me. And comes back to me, and then his eyes start to just drift away. And this little boy just starts to fall asleep holding this toy, staring at me, trying to figure out what's going on, and then falls asleep.
MAX: And his father brings him in and then tries to wake him up as they're about to get off. And this kid just can't keep his eyes open. And it was just this moment of seeing joy in a kid's face when he's at the end of his day was just a real moment of joy for me to witness.
ROBERT: I see. So there was—there was a gaze at you was the last bit of life he had in him before he had to hit the wall? Okay.
JAD: I was like, did he drug this kid? What happened?
LATIF: You've never fallen asleep on—on public transit? I feel like I get my best sleep on public transit.
ROBERT: Oh, yeah. Every time. Every time. Not under the focused gaze of a happy man on the other side of a thing. I mean, something strange happened there, I feel.
LATIF: Okay. Well, thank you, Max. Appreciate it.
LULU: Thanks so much. That'll do it. We had more calls, but we just reveled in the joy too much to take any more, so we're gonna call it on our section of joy. Thank you.
JAD: That's it? All the joy?
LULU: Well, there's gonna be more joy, just less joy from the callers, but more joy coming.
JAD: Okay. Okay.
LULU: Thanks for everyone who called in.
[ARCHIVE CLIP: [yodeling]]
LATIF: That was—that yodeling was previously recorded by Lulu and myself. We are celebrating Radiolab's 20th anniversary today. 20 years ago when Jad started the show, it broadcast live. He played audio from people he admired. We're doing that tonight, too. Time now for another short story that we love. This one is called Are You A Member of Wash Club? And it was originally broadcast on the BBC Radio 4 show Short Cuts.
ROSS SUTHERLAND: One night, I'm sitting in a student halls of residence at a kitchen. It's a little after midnight, and I'm chatting to this guy called Beaver. Beaver is telling me a story. He'd seen a bunch of teenagers hanging out in the 24-hour laundrette, and one of the kids was inside one of the tumble dryers and was going around. When Beaver first saw this, he thought that they were torturing the guy in the tumble dryer, but when Beaver realized that the guy was actually inside a tumble dryer by choice, he demanded to be the next person to get a go in the machine.
ROSS SUTHERLAND: You got tumble dryers, they've got like a temperature gauge on them? But the rest of the guys had put this down to zero. However, Beaver told me that when it came to his go— and this is his words, right? He insisted on being tumbled at the same temperature as his clothes. I'm listening to the story, right? And I'm just thinking "I've hit paydirt." A clandestine tumbling club here on campus. That's kind of vintage lifestyle magazine material, if you take into account that the second part of Beaver's story is like definitely a lie, isn't it? There's no way that he did himself at the same temperature that he did his clothes. He'd be, like, severely burned. But the first part of the story is probably true, isn't it? Like, that's probably—it's probably true, isn't it?
ROSS SUTHERLAND: The next day I start work. I go to the late-night laundrette, and I kind of hang around to see if anything happens. Nothing happens, which I'm really surprised by, but I realize I'm only one man. Like, I can't be in all launderettes in Norwich simultaneously. So I started putting up posters, and this is—this is a copy of it. "Are you a member of Wash Club?" And then I just put my mobile number at the bottom. Immediately, I start getting text messages about it.
ROSS SUTHERLAND: "What is Wash Club?" Which is a good question, right? It's a good question. My poster doesn't make that clear at all. So I'd respond with something like, "Wash Club is a secret society where you get into tumble dryers and go round. Are you a member?" And then there'd be another message, you know, like, "What is Wash Club?" And then I respond, "Wash Club is a clandestine group who tests their endurance by getting into tumble dryers. Are you a member?" "Can I join Wash Club?" "When is the next meeting?" "I want into Wash Club." "When next Wash Club meeting?"
ROSS SUTHERLAND: Pretty much every message I received from that moment onwards was just an application to join. Overnight, I became the ringleader of the very cult I was supposed to be investigating. I don't know what you'd do in a situation like this, maybe, like, text back these people and explain the mistake. And, like, in retrospect you're like "Yes, that's a really good idea." But at the time, I just sent this text message to everyone who texted me saying "Meeting for new recruits next Monday at midnight. Uni laundrette. No loose clothing." Because—and I want to justify that. Even if they hadn't gone to a club yet, they were like potential people who might join. And that's still interesting, right? So I wanted to talk to those people. Maybe Wash Club already existed. (Like, it didn't exist.) But maybe it did, right? Maybe it did. And then the original chapter would hear about this kind of new chapter, and we would kind of join forces. Except that's never gonna happen because, like, this is a fantasy.
ROSS SUTHERLAND: I had another text through.
[WOMAN: My name is Sue Hartnell. I'm writing an article on Wash Club. I wondered if you could explain a bit more about the club and what happens at a Wash Club event.]
ROSS SUTHERLAND: I sent off a quick response. It just said, "Hi, Sue. There's no such thing as Wash Club. It's just a joke. Hope you haven't wasted too much time looking into it. Cheers, Ross." Two days later, like this is the article.
[WOMAN: Students spin and tumble in late night dryer rides. Despite the supposed tradition behind the Wash Club, there have been no past reports about the activity. Members remain ever elusive.]
ROSS SUTHERLAND: I decided at this point, it's best that I don't respond to any more text messages just in case any more journalists try to, like, weed their way into my club. My plan is, right? That I'm also gonna go down on that Monday at midnight and pretend to be another new recruit myself.
ROSS SUTHERLAND: So Monday rolls around. I'm killing time 'til midnight, so I go down to the computer center of the university and start to do a little bit of kind of preliminary research. There have been reports of, you know, people getting inside tumble dryers in other parts of the country. And I shouldn't be surprised, really. There's bored teenagers everywhere, right? But there's one story, which is in the seaside town of Tenby in Wales. Over a 48 hour period, every single industrial tumble dryer in Tenby was broken. Classic Wash Club activity. The thing that concerned me most about this article was a bit at the end where they did an interview with a tumble dryer repairman. He says, you know, it's just lucky that the tumble dryers these kids got into weren't gas-operated tumble dryers, because if they had done that, then the fumes from the tumble dryer would have made them very sick, and possibly could have killed them.
ROSS SUTHERLAND: And that did give me cause for concern, based on what was gonna happen this evening. But the reason why I knew it was all right was because Beaver told me, yeah, that he definitely went inside the machines on campus. And that's how I knew that they weren't gas-operated dryers. Even though Beaver said that he went in at the temperature that he did his clothes at, that clearly was a lie, he definitely went inside the machines, right? That part's true. And that's why I knew for certain that I hadn't just formed a death cult.
ROSS SUTHERLAND: Anyway, it gets to midnight. There's two guys already waiting outside,drinking some beer. They ask me if I'm here for Wash Club. I say yes. I tell them I saw a poster. We stand and have a chat. We're waiting for Mr. Wash Club himself to kind of turn up and kind of validate what we're all doing here. Obviously, he's not turning up—he's me. But they don't know that. I use that time whilst we're waiting to talk to the rest of the guys about the small risk of these being gas-operated dryers, and the fact that we could kill ourselves by getting inside it. And sort of slowly over the next couple of minutes, we come around to the idea of maybe sacking it off. One of the guys invites us, all of us together back to his halls of residence.
ROSS SUTHERLAND: About an hour later, one of his flatmates comes back, and he asks us where we've been this evening. And I tell him. This story, it's got a cyclical nature to it because, like, here we are, like, back at the start again, sitting in a kitchen in a halls of residence, talking about getting into tumble dryers, except this guy who's just walked in, he's me, and I'm Beaver. He asked us a question which I didn't really answer at the time: why would any adult get inside a tumble dryer?Which just goes to show a terrible journalist I was that I would never have even asked myself why anyone would kind of do it. But I can't answer that question now.
ROSS SUTHERLAND: At that point in time, I would have done anything for my life to have been like a story. Creating Wash Club was my opportunity to do that. For a minute, you know, I got to be the axis around which everything else turns. You know, whether or not you have any sympathy for that, I think really depends on which perspective you take, right? I mean, because if you take the perspective of the person outside the laundrette looking in, then all you see is a twat going around in a tumble dryer. If you take the perspective of the person inside the tumble dryer, then just for a moment, you get to see the whole world turning around you.
LATIF: That story came to us from Ross Sutherland's show called Imaginary Advice. It was originally produced by Eleanor McDowell for Short Cuts, a Falling Tree production for BBC Radio.
LULU: All right. Well, since we are here doing live radio at night, we thought we had to pay homage to queen of late night radio Delilah with an ...
[[singing] Electro-acoustic dedication.]
LULU: In the first and only occurrence of this never-to-occur-again segment, a listener tells us who they want to dedicate a song to and why, and then Jad, who listens to esoteric music that mostly only robots like, picks out the song to play for that person. Jad, are you ready for your assignment?
LULU: Okay, okay. So Kelly Clancy just tweeted at us that she wants to dedicate a song to her husband, Jim, her, quote, "Favorite person to listen to music and Radiolab with." So what are you gonna send out? What are you gonna send out to Jim as a musical expression of Kelly's love? What you got?
JAD: Well, I think I have the perfect soundtrack for that—that touching dedication. [laughs] This is a song that goes simply by the name Construction. Because, Lulu, we are all just that: constructions, works in progress. We're striving to be better.
LULU: We're real clunky and awkward.
JAD: And yet somehow cold, detached in the face of an uncaring world. And so with that, I dedicate this song simply called Construction Number One by John Wall to Jim.
[AVANT GARDE MUSIC]
LATIF: [laughs] Is that it?
JAD: What more do you have to say, right?
JAD: I think it captures all of it.
LATIF: It really does.
JAD: The relationship, just all of it.
LATIF: Not quite what I would have chosen, Jad. But thank you anyway, I guess. And thank you on behalf of Jim who, like, I'm sure is just bowled over with gratitude. And also, thank you Jad for starting 20 years ago, this dinky little show called Radiolab. Oh, is that music still playing? Yes. Okay. All right.
JAD: Bring it in hot.
LATIF: [laughs] Okay. Well, so since it is the show's birthday, and since we do have Jad and Robert here on the line, I want to know from everyone listening, has Radiolab ever changed your life? Has it ever made you do something you otherwise wouldn't have? Has it ever made you not do something you otherwise would have? Has it—at any point over the last 20 years, has it changed the way you exist out in the world? If so, call us at 844-745-8255 That's 844-745-TALK, or tweet at us @Radiolab, or just tweet using the hashtag #RadiolabLive.
LULU: This is Radiolab. We'll be back in a moment.
LATIF: I'm Lulu Miller.
LULU: I'm Latif Nasser.
LATIF: Tonight, Radiolab's 20th birthday party live. We want to take a few minutes to hear from people about whether and how the show has changed your lives, and especially so in the presence of Jad and Robert. Our first—our first call is coming from inside the house.
LATIF: It is Radiolab's W. Harry Fortuna, our production coordinator, here in the studio with us. Harry, hello.
- HARRY FORTUNA: Hello.
LATIF: You have a story about Radiolab from before you actually worked here.
HARRY: I do. Radiolab is my career change. I used to work in TV and film. And in that job I was in my car a lot. I was a location scout, and I heard an episode, You Versus You. And back then, I'm not proud of it, but I was a smoker, a pretty heavy smoker. And I had tried to quit a bunch of times. And in that episode, they talk about something called the Ulysses Contract, where you make a deal with yourself that you're not willing to lose. And because of that episode, I made a bet with my brother where I bet him my just cherry of a car. I had a 1987 Buick Grand National aka the Death Star, which is what it was called because it only came in one color: black. And I named it "Pearl." And I bet my brother that car that I would quit smoking. And he made an alternate bet with me that he would quit vaping, because he started vaping at 42 like an idiot.
HARRY: But he lost the bet in a week, but on the night of my 35th birthday when I made that bet, I threw the pack out in the trash and I never smoked again. And it was all because of what I heard on that episode.
LATIF: Wow! Jad and Robert, are you there?
JAD: Harry Fortuna, that's pretty—that's pretty cool.
HARRY: I think it's pretty cool. My lungs thank you.
JAD: Okay. All right.
ROBERT: And your brother? What's the—what happened to him? Did he stop vaping?
HARRY: Oh no, no. I found out a week—I found out later that he lasted about a week. And we had some sort of, I guess it's called like a dead man's switch so you couldn't back out of the bet even if the other person lost, but I actually—what was so surprising to me because I had tried to quit so many times prior to that and done some very depraved things instead of quitting to get more cigarettes, after that night I actually never wanted to smoke again. It just—it turned a switch in my head that made losing the car was—or keeping the car was more important to me than continuing smoking.
JAD: Hmm. Hmm.
ROBERT: Wow. And was your brother a regular listener to the show or he never heard us?
HARRY: Never heard it. Never heard it.
ROBERT: Well, see? There's a—ooh, see I can maybe draw a line on that story.
HARRY: Maybe I should have played ...
ROBERT: The happy people in America, the largely happy and jolly people in America who really listen to the show. And the ones who are sitting sadly on sidewalks without cars, they've been constantly—they're the ones who fail to listen.
HARRY: Yeah, maybe the—maybe the dulcet tones of your voice were actually the key to the quitting.
LATIF: I don't know. I think we need a—I think we need a slightly bigger sample size here. So actually, let us go. We're gonna go to the phone lines. We have Haven and Gwen on the phone. Are you there, Haven and Gwen?
LATIF: Hey, you're live on the radio.
GWEN: Excellent to be here.
LATIF: Oh, thanks. Okay, tell us—tell us your story about Radiolab. What happened?
HAVEN: Yeah. Gwen, do you want to go first or do you want me to?
GWEN: You can go.
HAVEN: Okay, sounds good. So I got my first episode of Radiolab a friend in college burned onto a CD—the musical language episode. I just had to Google the name to make sure I had the right one.
JAD: Oh my God, that's early. That's early.
HAVEN: So I listened on and off for a few years, and I listened to the—an episode about a bone marrow donor and recipient meeting. And because of that episode, I donated bone marrow. And a few years ago, I got matched with one, and I donated my bone marrow. And that was how we got connected.
JAD: Oh my God!
LATIF: Oh wow!
HAVEN: So yeah.
LATIF: Yeah. Gwen, tell us the story from your side.
GWEN: It was crazy. So in 2018, I was diagnosed with a rare blood disorder. And my only treatment option really was a bone marrow transplant. And so my doctors told me they were looking on the registry for a donor. And Haven was a perfect match for me.
JAD: And did you guys ...
ROBERT: Did you meet? Did you ...
JAD: Yeah. How did you guys, yeah, connect? Tell us about that.
GWEN: So a year after the transplant, you have the opportunity to meet your donor and the donor has the opportunity to meet the recipient. So we both filled out that paperwork saying we wanted to meet each other, but it was during the pandemic, so we actually contacted each other through email first.
GWEN: And it was—it was such an amazing day when we got the email from Haven. My family and I were so excited. And we emailed back and forth for a little bit and we talked over Zoom, and then just recently last month, we met at the Match Gala in New York.
LATIF: Oh, cool!
ROBERT: Oh, there's now a gala so that people can get together in a hotel room and look at the people who have given them the bone marrow. Wow!
LATIF: Match is the organization that does the—that organizes the donations and the donors and matches everybody. Is that right?
GWEN: Correct. Yeah.
ROBERT: What must that be like? Does everybody pair off with their double and sort of sit and hold hands? Or do they all mingle together?
LATIF: Or were you two just special guests kind of thing.
HAVEN: We were the only two—we were the only match. And actually, I don't even know if I've told you this story, Gwen, but my family flew out with me—my husband and my parents—and we were having lunch the day of the event. So it was gonna be that evening. And my husband turns to me he goes, "Well, so who are the other matches who are meeting up at the event?" And I just looked at him and I was like, "It's us. We're the only ones." And he goes "Oh, I was wondering why you were so nervous." And I was like, "Yeah, this is a big deal."
JAD: Oh my God.
GWEN: Yeah, I'm not sure if I realized it until I was there that we were the only two meeting. [laughs]
LATIF: Well, you're the—you're the—you're the only two match made in marrow on our program too. So you should feel pretty special. Thank you. Thank you for calling and telling us your story. For those of you who maybe have not heard the episode or don't know about it, it's called A Match Made in Marrow. And actually, we got some stats on it. After we released that episode, approximately 3,600 people registered to become bone marrow donors, and 22 of those went on to match and donate. Yeah, meaning that potentially lives were actually saved, which is very, very exciting. And you too listener can register to donate. Go to BetheMatch.org to find out how.
LATIF: Lulu, you want to take our next caller?
LULU: Yeah. Gwen and Haven. Thank you so much for calling in.
LATIF: Thank you!
LULU: I don't think it gets any better.
JAD: That's super cool.
LULU: So we have another set of callers. I wanted to tell you one quick tweet we got, Robert, that came from MJ, who said "I have generalized anxiety disorder and PTSD, and I listen to the episode Tree to Shining Tree anytime I need to ground myself." And I know that's all of you in there, but that piece about the interconnectedness in trees and communication, I think is such a special one. I also listened to that one for calming, and had nothing to do with making it. So double thanks on that.
JAD: Yeah. Robert, you know who MJ is, right?
ROBERT: Michael Jackson?
JAD: No. Michael Jordan.
ROBERT: It's Michael Jordan! Right, Michael Jordan.
LULU: It wasn't Michael Jordan at all. Okay, okay, okay. I'm moving—I'm moving on to our callers. We have another set. We have Andy Barnes and Marianna Veta Vito on the phone. Andy and Marianna, are you there?
ANDY BARNES: We are.
MARIANNA VETA VITO: Yes!
LULU: [laughs] All right. Welcome to the party. Can you tell us how Radiolab changed your lives, and thank these old guys—who are not very old—for the thing they brought into the world? Yeah, how did Radiolab change your lives?
ANDY BARNES: Well, first of all, thank you for having us. This is an honor to celebrate your anniversary with you. So how did Radiolab change our lives? So it was the summer of 2017, and I met up with a friend at a bar in Washington, DC. When I got there, my friend was talking to one of his graduate school classmates, who was this cute woman that introduced herself as Mari. The next thing I knew, you know, an hour or more had gone by and my friend had left by this point. And maybe Mari, if you want to take it from there.
MARIANNA VETA VITO: Sure. So the conversation was flowing well, and I brought up a recent trip to the Amazon for work. And Andy asked me if I had seen a jaguar. So I put out a picture on my phone of a jaguar paw print, and I explained that I didn't see one directly, but I saw a fresh and warm paw print. So I knew that one jaguar—like, a Jaguar was very close. And this is when Andy brought in Radiolab.
ANDY BARNES: Yeah, so I had just recently listened to the Radiolab episode Wild Talk, which is one of my favorites. And there isn't a jaguar in it, but there is a leopard. So it was kind of a stretch, but of course I asked for Mari's phone number so I could share the podcast with her. And then the rest as they say is history. Three years later, we got married. And so we've been together five years.
LATIF: Oh, wow. Congratulations!
ANDY BARNES: Thank you. So I owe it to Robert and Jad for that episode in helping me get my future wife's phone number. Thank you.
ROBERT: Yeah, that's really—I would hope that people would be using episodes of Radiolab to get phone numbers in all 50 states.
JAD: Well, globally.
ROBERT: And globally. Yes. Why not? Why not in Canada as well?
JAD: At the risk of asking a question that opens a whole—whole thing but, like, what were you doing in the forest?
MARIANNA VETA VITO: Actually, it was—it's related to my career. I work on forest conservation.
JAD: Oh, gotcha. Okay.
MARIANNA VETA VITO: Yeah, yeah. So I'm originally from Brazil, but by then I was working in Peru. So it was just a work trip.
JAD: Cool. All right. That sounds like fun work.
MARIANNA VETA VITO: Yeah.
ROBERT: Lulu and I—remember, Lulu, when we went up to that guy who was creating all those national parks for those animals? And he had a sculpture in his driveway that we thought we had run into a Jaguar because it was sort of hiding behind a bush in Westchester.
LULU: Yeah, that was an amazing interview that I think—I'm forgetting his name, but it was about his stutter, and how a Jaguar kind of helped him move through that.
JAD: Oh my God, that's right. That's right.
LULU: Yeah, absolutely.
LATIF: Okay. Thank you. Thank you so much, Andy and Marianna. We have time enough just to squeeze in one more call here. It is Nick in Wayne, New Jersey. Are you there? You're on the air.
NICK: Hi. Yes, I am. Thank you for taking my call.
LATIF: Wonderful. Tell us, how did we change your life? And was it—should we be apologizing or ...?
LULU: And you have to do it in a minute or less. I'm sorry.
NICK: Oh shoot. No, I'll be super quick. I used to be a really pessimistic person, and I kind of fell into a deep depression for a while a number of years ago. And on the radio one day, I was just kind of going through, and I just found Radiolab completely by accident. And it was the episode on colors. And learning the fact that the world didn't have words for the color blue and just the idea in concept of it didn't even occur to them or, like, I believe it was mentioned about how Native Americans didn't have a word for the color of the sky. That just concept of—that kind of question didn't even occur to me ever before, and it gave me a deep hunger to learn more about the nature of the world. And that just led to such an appreciation for everything around me, and has kind of inspired this lifelong search for more knowledge and more understanding of the world, and constantly being amazed at what we don't know.
LATIF: Thank you so much.
LULU: Thank you so much. Thank you for calling in. And thanks to everyone who called in this whole night as we tried this out. We pledge to keep trying to change your life.
LATIF: Yeah. And biggest thanks of all to Jad and Robert for making this show, this—this little world that we live in. We love you both.
ROBERT: Love you too. Yeah, absolutely.
LULU: So as our real thank you to you, Robert and Jad, and to all of the listeners who've listened to over the 20 years and maybe are even still listening tonight—unclear—we have our big—we've got our big ender for our birthday party because no birthday party is complete without amazing refreshments. And so we have cooked up the biggest and best one we can think of but we need some help. We need our callers. Callers are you there? Wame Mufaylo, are you there?
WAME MUFAYLO: Yes, I'm here.
LULU: [laughs] Great! And where are you? Where are you calling from?
WAME MUFAYLO: From Botswana in Maun.
LULU: Okay. And what time is it there, and what does it look like around you right now?
WAME MUFAYLO: Right now is 3:55 am.
LATIF: Thank you for staying up.
LULU: I know. Thank you for getting up. And what does it look like out there? What can you see?
WAME MUFAYLO: Oh well. It's dark and really, really cold because it's winter.
LATIF: Okay, we're gonna—we're gonna make this really quick then, we promise. Eric? Eric Villard? Are you there?
ERIC VILLARD: Yes, I'm here.
LATIF: Where are you, and what time is it, and what does it look like all around you?
ERIC VILLARD: It's just about 4:00 pm my time, and I'm on Hawaii Kai, which is near Honolulu, Hawaii.
ERIC VILLARD: And it's beautiful here. I mean, it's, you know, big palm trees and Hawaiian grass and cool breezes, and these amazing trees. I gotta find out what the names are. They have these amazing colors on the bark.
ERIC VILLARD: So it's a beautiful place.
LULU: Okay. So Wame in Botswana, it's cold and dark. Eric in Hawaii, it's warm and light. You are standing on opposite sides of the globe right now. What are these called again, Latif?
LULU: Okay, so picture Wame up top, on top of the Earth, and Eric on the bottom. Have you each, as instructed, brought a piece of bread?
ERIC VILLARD: Yes, I have a piece of Hawaiian bread.
LATIF: Wame? What kind of bread do you have?
WAME MUFAYLO: A piece of brown bread.
LATIF: Brown bread. Perfect.
LULU: Okay, so on the count of three, we would like to ask you to put the bread on the ground, okay? Three, two, one, go!
ERIC VILLARD: Done.
WAME MUFAYLO: Just did.
LATIF: On the ground. Listeners, we have made an Earth sandwich!
LULU: Everyone listening, we are right now inside the very same sandwich.
LATIF: Incredible, incredible.
LULU: Makes me feel so warm.
LATIF: Shout out to artist Ze Frank. Back in 2006, Ze made the world's first Earth sandwich. A baguette was placed on the ground in Spain, and a baguette was placed on the ground in New Zealand, and we've been wanting to make one ever since. And we just did. That is it for this hour of Radiolab: Live After Dark. Thanks to our dream team over here: Mary Croak, Leora Noankravitz, Zach Cohen, Jason Isaac, Regina Dehere, Yesica Balderrama, Peter Iorlono, Matt Morando, Meghan Ryan, Aaron Cohen, Carolyn McCusker. Sindhu Gnanasambandan, Annie McEwen, Dylan Keefe, Jeremy Bloom, Soren Wheeler and Suzy Lechtenberg.
LULU: Special thanks to Alan and Aleta Gofinski, Alex Weller, Steven Katherine Viera Zuko. Good night, everyone. Sweet dreams.
LATIF: And happy birthday Radiolab.
SOREN: Okay, that was our experiment with live radio in celebration of Radiolab's birthday. I hope you had fun listening to it. We had a lot of fun making it. Just to remind you, this was only half of the full sort of live show we did. We did two hours last week. And members of The Lab and Radiolab Plus on Apple Podcasts will get exclusive access to the first hour. I played you the second here, the first hour of that radio show. They'll get that next Monday May 30 at 10am Eastern time. So if you subscribe to The Lab at Radiolab.org/join and to Radiolab Plus on Apple Podcasts, you will be getting that in your feed. Go back and listen to it and relisten to it whenever you want.
SOREN: I'll tell you there are some very fun things in that first hour. You get to hear from our editor, Alex Neason's cat, Poppy. You get to hear silly questions from call-in listeners. So a lot of fun there. And you even at the very end, get to hear my father in law's dog sing with me "Happy Birthday." So if you want all that, just join up to The Lab. Whether you do or not, this is Radiolab. I'm Soren Wheeler. Thanks for listening, and we'll be back next week.
[LISTENER: Radiolab was created by Jad Abumrad and is edited by Soren Wheeler. Lulu Miller and Latif Nasser are our co-hosts. Suzie Lechtenberg is our executive producer. Dylan Keefe is our director of sound design. Our staff includes: Simon Adler, Jeremy Bloom, Becca Bressler, Rachael Cusick, W. Harry Fortuna, David Gebel, Maria Paz Gutiérrez, Sindhu Gnanasambandan, Matt Kielty, Annie McEwen, Alex Neason, Sarah Qari, Anna Rascouët-Paz, Arianne Wack, Pat Walters and Molly Webster. With help from Carolyn McCusker and Sarah Sandbach. Our fact-checkers are Diane Kelly, Emily Krieger and Adam Przybyl.]
New York Public Radio transcripts are created on a rush deadline, often by contractors. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of programming is the audio record.