Radiolab, the WNYC radio show that became the pop-science cornerstone of most podcast directories throughout the 2010s, announced a major shakeup on Thursday to fans via its official newsletter. Longtime co-host Robert Krulwich will soon leave the show, with his announcement hinting to only a pair of episodes left before he moves on to other independent projects.
In his not-quite-goodbye to fans, Krulwich appears to declare that the series’ producers and staff have succeeded in the mission he’d begun with the series years ago: to create a pipeline (a self-perpetuating one, arguably) for compelling science-based radio accessible to new audiences. After the show caught on with radio listeners nationwide, “the next question we asked ourselves is what’s Radiolab to become, other than the two of us delighting each other?” Krulwich writes. “The answer came literally through the door as one wonderfully talented person after another came and joined us until we now have pretty much the strongest bench in the business, a gang of people who, in their very different ways, have learned to tell stories that grab audiences, sort of like we did but more and more in their own voices with their own musics and their own styles.”
Krulwich then describes a moment from roughly a year ago where it dawned upon him that his time at Radiolab was drawing to a close:
I was sitting in an editorial meeting and it dawned on me (and this was both a pleasant and not-so-pleasant feeling) that I was no longer crucial to what was going on. The room was rich with back and forth, ideas percolating, and if I had tiptoed out, the place would be every bit as vivid as if I’d stayed. I’m not being overly modest here. I was crucial for a long time, but in a healthy system, you make way for the new, the fresh, the untested. From the beginning I’ve been the oldest, 25 years older than Jad who is now almost 20 years older than our youngest reporters. There comes a time—and I think it has come—when you get out of the way and let the future come flooding in. We have a flood of people who are ready to step up and that they came to us, chose us, that we got to teach them what we knew with Jad and Soren and Suzie guiding them—that, I’m now thinking, may be our grandest achievement—that what we started just might endure with different voices, different forms, but true to the idea that complexity can be delicious.
No end date has been announced, with Krulwich hinting to one episode being finalized for “next week” and an eventual super-sized episode about “a world population puzzle” as his remaining Radiolab duties. From there, Krulwich says he’ll work on “new projects, a documentary, a global warming interactive, and more grandpa duty.” The announcement comes with a separate letter from series creator Jad Abumrad, which shows he’s not ready for a complete goodbye: “Radiolab won’t ever really let Robert go. You will still hear him on the show from time to time (that’s how much we love him), and you’ll most certainly hear his influence—his unbridled curiosity and wonder—in each and every Radiolab story yet to come.”
Krulwich has co-hosted the series since 2004, two years after Abumrad created the series as a weekly WNYC series that rounded up reported stories based on particular themes—though not with the scientific leaning that the series eventually became known for. Much of that was due to Krulwich’s background as a science reporter, which he had previously explored in 1999’s science-themed news miniseries Brave New World—a series that arguably received more attention due to its house band, the nerd-pop icons They Might Be Giants.
A chance encounter between the two reporters, separated by 25 years of age, led to collaborations and radio-show experiments, including a historical rumination about Flag Day submitted to, and declined by, Ira Glass’ This American Life. “It was a special class” of “horrible,” Glass told the co-hosts years later. Undeterred, the duo continued collaborating. Krulwich guested on Radiolab for his first time in 2004, and he became the informal co-host in 2004 before joining the team in earnest in 2005.
Radiolab has since exploded as a podcast phenomenon with a variety of official series offshoots, including the Supreme Court-focused More Perfect and 2019’s fascinating Dolly Parton’s America. The original series, like many other modern podcasts, is also known for live-recording events across the United States, sometimes even with live bands guesting with sonic experiments.