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AV Smackdown . . . The Podcast

Monday, May 18, 2009 - 09:30 PM

radiolab10.jpg Jad "Boom Boom" Abumrad in the Red Corner

On May 6th, at WNYC's new Jerome L. Greene Performance Space, we opened up an age old can of worms. Jad and Robert faced off over which medium is superior -- television or radio. This American Life's Ira Glass was the referee. There were stunning jabs, wicked uppercuts, and even the occasional low blow.

In TV’s corner, Robert "The Krusher" Krulwich hit hard with stunning video images, but audio-savant Jad "Boom Boom" Abumrad pounded his opponent with the power of sound. The bout went five hard rounds and had to go to the cards for a decision. Tears were shed, and after a short intermission Jad and Robert sat down with Ira to discuss the challenges of working in both TV and Radio.


Robert "The Krusher" Krulwich
This American Life\'s Ira Glass contemplates the fight
Jad "Boom Boom" Abumrad in the Red Corner
Jad goading the audience
Jad declares victory in an early round.
Round 4
Ira Glass polling the audience. Is it Radio or TV?
The Hungry March Band busts out Eye of the Tiger
Robert and Jad post fight.
This American Life\'s Ira Glass
The Hungry March Band
The Hungry March Band
The Hungry March Band
The Hungry March Band
The Hungry March Band
This American Life's Ira Glass.
Jad "Boom Boom" Abumrad
Round 1


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Comments [22]

iris bieber

hi, i like justin bieber :)

Oct. 30 2013 10:19 AM

Can anyone identify the version of "Itsy Bitsy Spider" played in the short radio story about the deep-voiced man & the little girl?

Aug. 08 2009 09:55 PM

Hi Jo,

His name is John Biewen

Here is the audio piece called "Scared" with his daughter Harper:

Jul. 18 2009 01:35 PM
Hannah S

I absolutely agree that radio personalities are more approachable than television stars. And I don't discredit the notion that the intimate nature of radio has something to do with this. Yet I think there's another factor at work here that was not discussed on the show.
Any sentient human being who stares at a screen for a few seconds has the opportunity to see and recognize the face of someone who has been on television. However, the only people who would recognize someone from the radio are the true fans: the people who listen often enough to remember the names, "Garrison Keillor," "David Sedaris" or "Jad Abumrad" and actually care enough type them into the search box on Google Images. And we who have done this, who have gone to the trouble of finding out what you guys look like, we understand on some level that our dedication is evident simply in the act of recognition. Unlike the countless people capable of recognizing a face that once appeared on TV - fans or otherwise of the television shows they witness - radio enthusiasts know that we single ourselves out, we actively self-select, simply by knowing what you guys look like. Thus, we feel more comfortable marching up to you on subways or street corners and openly declaring our dedication, whereas in the case of a TV star (albeit a possible hero of ours) we shy away respectfully, knowing that everyone else on the train or sidewalk and is probably thinking the same thing.

Jun. 20 2009 04:33 AM

can anyone tell me who this john.. buwin? bewin? (...) is actually really called like? The guy who did this short thing about his growing up daughter?


Jun. 15 2009 12:24 PM
Stephanie Booth

I was listening to this episode over lunch today, and it got me thinking. I've been an active blogger for approaching ten years now, and though I've tried my hand at audio and video (and am not too disastrous at it) I've never really persevered.

Listening about the differences between TV and radio has made me want to experiment with audio and video again -- more audio than video I have to admit, I like the "intimacy" it creates (I couldn't put words on it, but you nailed it). It's quite true that after listening to RadioLab for a few hours, you guys feel close and approachable -- and that's the kind of relationship I try to have with my audience.

So, thanks for the episode (and all the rest): if I ever become an active podcaster, it'll be your fault!

Jun. 09 2009 08:16 AM
Autumn VanderKloot

Wow. I would most certainly encourage more debate like this, it was very enlightening and entertaining as well.
Keep up the magnificent work!

Jun. 04 2009 07:02 PM
david zwengler

we love radio then and now and as Mr Welles said radio was a gold mine that was only scratched at the surface how bout your group grace us with a American Life live broadcast in Oct 2009 call me for details static and all

Jun. 04 2009 04:48 PM
david zwengler

later i was a a radio performer and i now am retired. Does Mr.glas know of the Friends of old time radio whose 34 tu convention will be held this year and feaeures recreations of the great shows of radio done as they were with a huge attendanc of fans

Jun. 04 2009 04:42 PM
david zwengler

I was a radio baby born in 1930 and the beauty of radio is that you could be anyone on the radio. I was all of the heroes and all of those great acyors and characters were me and you and you, why BECAUSE YOU NEVER SAW THEM

Jun. 04 2009 04:37 PM

Full piece. Where can I get the full piece of scared?

May. 26 2009 12:09 AM
Chad Ernst

The book 4 Arguments For the Elimination of Television has some useful points (more than 4.) I've also heard that if children watch too much tv before the age of 6 or so, they never develop the ability to make pictures in there heads. So they are in a very real way disabled.

May. 25 2009 09:19 PM

One of the reasons that I like radio is that I can do something else when I'm listening (even Colbert brought this up during their interview when he asked Ira if he could make soup while they talked). When I'm listening to the radio, I can cook or do dishes or play solitaire or drive a car and not miss anything. With TV, you miss something as soon as you look away from the box. TV is an escape from life, but radio can become part of your life. I certainly enjoy TV in its place, but radio feels less invasive. The other thing, though, is that I only tend to listen to one or two radio stations, but I channel surf freely--why do you think that is?

May. 23 2009 10:13 PM

There's an asymmetry in comparing fictional tv and radio. Television documentaries, done well,convey emotion as well as radio without the need for superficial and external techniques like fast cutting. Storytelling is storytelling, and the best stories reveal something surprising. The fact that Ira says tv stories don't need surprise endings says a lot to me about why I never liked TAL on TV as much as I do on radio. Getting intimacy from characters for tv requires time and patience. Getting intimacy from characters for radio doesn't quite require the same amount of time and patience. The thing for me about the radio is that there's a backstory that tv very often eschews. Radio TAL feels mythic because it embraced that backstory. TV TAL didn't embrace backstory, and so felt two-dimensional, at least to me.

May. 23 2009 09:34 PM

You three need your own show! This was great!

May. 23 2009 08:30 PM

I googled this bit, because I feel that it is really the crux of the argument, but couldn't find any text. So I've transcribed it for anyone else who wants, articulated perfectly in a style his own, by Mr. Krulwich:

I think one of the deep differences is when you watch the TV, it is an act of staring. So, you’re—you’re in a chair—or standing—and you’re looking across a space at a box, with a square. And then in the square are some images. And you—your options are to look away or to look at it. You also know that between you and it, there could be lots of business. Someone could come by: a cat could go by, a child could go by, a dog could go by. Or something could catch your eye, and you’d flick it away. So there is a stare in TV. In the radio, often people either clamp something on either ear—or if they don’t do that and they’re just listening to the radio . . .. There is a, um—there is a, an intimate kind of sharing, where if the radio is describing, the person listening starts to paint, involuntarily, just because they helplessly picture the words you’re saying. And the painting in your head, first of all, belongs to you—and it’s not a stare. It’s actually very unlike a stare. And there’s more—when you are co-authoring (which is what you’re doing) the story you’re being told, there is more room in there for that story, in a way. But when you stare, you do get to see things that you wouldn’t know, that you wouldn’t find yourself, that you couldn’t imagine. But there is a coolness to the stare and a warmness to the radio that just travels. And there are advantages and disadvantages to both.

May. 22 2009 05:41 PM

I definitely agree that radio produces a specific sense of intimacy that television does not. With radio, I get the direct, personal communication without having to look at the person speaking. There is something oddly soothing in this. I can't explain it, but the intimacy of listening is less intimidating when the voice is disembodied. Perhaps that is why radio feels warm and personable.
Now, watching someone speak on television (say, on a newscast) is not intimidating, but it is stimulating in way that is similar to real interactions. I become suspicious. I find myself looking for clues in body language: do they mean what they say? do they really care? are they nervous, bored, happy, etc? There's a strange disconnect between the very sedentary act of sitting and staring, and the heightened anxiety of watching and interpreting. With the radio, the voices I hear are just voices, but they are speaking to me. Radio is all of the warm fuzzies and none of the cold pricklies of intimacy.

p.s. I dream of running into Robert Krulwich on the street some day, but I imagine I'll be shocked when his voice doesn't emanate from inside my own head.

May. 22 2009 02:41 AM

So as you guys were talking about how radio listeners feel like they have a personal relationship with you, I feel like you missed a fairly obvious point. In the majority of radio (certainly RL and TAL), you are yourselves. When you speak, you're telling us how you feel. So we get to know you as a person, and when we see you on the street, you're the same person. But most of TV is fiction, so when we watch Ned on Pushing Daisies, we're getting to know Ned the character. But when we see him on the street, we meet this stranger Lee Pace that we've never met before.

So I don't believe it's the medium at all that makes the difference. I know I've been pretty head over heels in love with TV characters. And I bet most of her watchers feel like they know Oprah pretty well too.

May. 21 2009 09:42 PM
nate beaty

"maybe we should do more of those" -- yes! please do. was very interesting listening to you folks consider why your show and TAL work so well, and how they connect with listeners.

May. 21 2009 05:32 PM

I am never compelled to write to the actors on TV because they are characters. I see them living their lives (fictional or real) and they are separate from me- their images on the television across the room exaggerates the separation. However, like you say in the podcast, I do feel like I "know" you, (despite the obvious absurdity) and actually could have a conversation with you.
Also, the person who speaks on the radio enters my head and follows me whether I listen or not, unlike television which has loses its effect when I look away). This definitely makes a more intimate experience.
And finally, I love the way you all create your program. In addition to being unique and interesting topics, I appreciate the silences and audio spaces you create which somehow give my mind more room.

May. 20 2009 01:32 PM

I was raised before TV and cartoons as a young boy for As long as I can remember radio has been a companion. The Shadow, Roy Rodgers, Superman and there were the programs that we listened to as a family Lux Presents Hollywood, Johnny Dollar, Gun Smoke Jack Benny. The radio brought the whole family together, I'd play on the floor,dad would sometimes play Lincoln logs with me or read the paper, and mom would iron. When I was sick it was the daily soaps ,commentators and daily talking guys with these great deep voices who were in my room just to keep me company . My whole life even after TV I have seeked out that voice on the radio that teaches me, takes me places I haven't been, gives me interesting stuff I didn't know and speaks just to me as though they know me.That's why Radio lab is important to me because it pals around with me like a kid in a group that doesn't say anything but is happy just to be in the group. Your programs are the closest thing to old time radio and the companionship it gave millions. The only difference is your topics are contemporary , but the effect is just the same. We download all of your mp3s and play them as we go to bed, because it makes us forget anything we would worry about and perhaps takes us back to a secure time when all of our family sat together to listen to the radio. With Radio I'm never lonesome and that is something TV doesn't do.

May. 20 2009 10:39 AM

Jad, Robert & Ira,
Just listened to the AV Smackdown podcast. Robert, thought you were going to hit upon it. Jad, you know this. Ira, Ira, Ira - I posit the reason that radio is concurrently greatly personal and potentially mythic is that the listener co-creates his or her experience. Without the visual stimulation of TV, the mind's eye goes where no optic nerve can go. Also, imagination enables the experience of the mythical, and imagination is profoundly personal. Yes? I so enjoy the 3 of you, mgm

May. 20 2009 12:10 AM

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