Jad Abumrad, the founder of the podcast and public radio series Radiolab, is heading for academia. After announcing in January he was stepping away from the show he created, Abumrad is joining Vanderbilt University to lead and advise on several areas of work, including the launch of a new podcast institute designed to become what the school describes as a “national center of excellence” for the evolving profession of digital narratives.
Abumrad called moving to this new role at Vanderbilt a natural fit as he seeks to develop a new generation of audio creators. The new podcast institute will model itself after novelist Mario Bellatin’s Dynamic School for Writers, an institute established in Mexico City for aspiring writers that is considered to be an intellectual hub.
“The idea is to do the same, but for Nashville. And for the next generation of creative audio storytellers,” said Abumrad. “Now is the perfect time for Vanderbilt University to become a leader in the future of journalism.”
The podcast institute in the College of Arts and Science is tentatively scheduled to launch in summer 2023.
“Jad Abumrad is widely recognized as an innovator in journalism,” said Steve Ertel, Vice Chancellor for Communications and Marketing. “We believe his expertise will bring great value to our students and our institution as we seek to become a national leader and training ground for digital media with the new Vanderbilt Podcast Institute,” he said in the announcement.
The new position at Vanderbilt will be a homecoming of sorts for Abumrad. He is a Nashville native, and his father is a surgeon at Vanderbilt University Medical Center and a longtime professor.
In his dad’s footsteps, Abumrad is set to become a Distinguished Research Professor of Cinema and Media Arts and of Communication of Science and Technology at the College of Arts and Science, and he will have an advisory role with Vanderbilt’s Communications and Marketing team. The school says he will use his journalism expertise to shape narratives on innovation at Vanderbilt, particularly regarding how it communicates weighty scientific information. Abumrad will also work in an advisory role to enhance communication of academic research through a multi-channel strategy.
“Jad Abumrad joining our university community is an opportunity to make a significant difference in an evolving industry as we train a new generation of storytellers,” said John G. Geer, the Dean of the College of Arts and Science. “With his expansive knowledge, we can expand our course offerings, engage students and faculty in innovative initiatives, and more effectively share sound knowledge and information with the public.”
In January, Abumrad announced that he was departing the show that launched in 2002 as a three hour local radio show on New York Public Radio/WNYC (93.9, 820) that featured short audio documentaries from around the world, but also drew upon Abumrad’s background in music composition and film scoring. In 2005, television correspondent Robert Krulwich became co-host, and the two forged a sound that combined interviews with experts and first-person storytelling with sound design. Abumrad’s exit followed the retirement of Krulwich in 2020. WNYC Studios has tapped Lulu Miller and Latif Nasser, who have served as cohosts of the show since Sept. 2020 too step into the role as sole hosts of the series.
Radiolab has more than 100 million downloads per year and its radio companion is carried on 576 public radio stations.