Why Neil deGrasse Tyson Hosts the StarTalk Radio Podcast

Astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson is the Director of the Hayden Planetarium, has written ten books, hosted three television series, gives public lectures, and makes many guest appearances on talk shows. As a result he is one of the most well-known science educators. Yet, because of his mission to educate and make science accessible, it occurred to him to consider these questions:

"Who is going to buy my book? Somebody who likes science or thinks they will like science.

“And, who is going to come to my talk? It’s someone who knows who I am… who has some curiosity that will be fulfilled by my talk.”

That caused Neil to wonder, “how about all the other people who don’t know they like science? Or, more than that, people who are sure they don’t like science?”

As he explains on episode 69 of The Wolf Den podcast, this line of reasoning led to the creation of StarTalk Radio.

Neil tells host Adam Sachs that he thought, “What if I invert the model? I’m the host, a scientist, and my guest is a pop culture personality.” In the interview “we would explore all he ways that science has informed that person’s life.” For instance, if the guest starred in a movie with visual effects, then they would talk about the science behind those effects on the show.

“Then it occurred to me,” he explains, “if that’s how we designed the show, then the pop culture person’s fan base would follow them to StarTalk and hear them talk about science.” The fan who perhaps doesn’t like science will be exposed to that discussion and see that science is cool. “Science is not just this subject they didn’t do well in at school… Science is everywhere, even influencing their hero.”

Neil says the show has three equal elements: science, pop culture, and comedy. To keep things fun, “I will essentially always have a professional stand-up comedian as my co-host, or–in the case of my Cosmic Queries editions of StarTalk–they are reading the questions” submitted by listeners.

The reason he chose the podcast format is because people can listen while exercising, driving, and doing other activities. Also, Neil says that audio is “way more creatable than full-up video content.” Therefore, “the versatility of pure audio is without equal.”

Another advantage to having a podcast is, “it is a reliable posting of content and entertainment, and enlightenment. It comes out every week.” That leads Neil to observe, “the podcast audience, I would say, is the most loyal.”

Since debuting in 2009, StarTalk Radio has become one of the most consistently popular podcasts. Neil says that the StarTalk team did not set out necessarily to top the iTunes charts. However, it turns out that, “there’s a hidden geek within us all, and this show is tickling that geek.”

He tells Adam that his favorite part of the show is bringing in the guest. “Then I get to learn something for a change,” he says, “and I get to invoke my social (and) cultural awareness to find that juxtaposition of science and the livelihood of the person.”

When singer Josh Grobin was on the show, Neil learned that his guest created a science project in high school in which he placed mirrors on the woofers in a speaker. Then, Grobin "beamed lasers on the mirrors, played music, and you’d watch the laser reflections on the ceiling dance around by the music vibrations of the cone.

“I said, ’Yes! We have spotted geekdom here!”

Listen to the entire show to learn about Neil’s least favorite part of doing StarTalk, his recent voice work for Disney, and how his pop culture work is received in the scientific community. Also, it was Adam’s birthday on the day they recorded this episode. So Neil reveals a special science fact specifically about Adam’s time on Earth.



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