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WBUR turns podcast into radio program

‘You’re the Expert’ mixes science, some goofy comedy

Chris Duffy is the host of  WBUR’s “You’re the Expert.”
Chris Duffy is the host of WBUR’s “You’re the Expert.”(Kevin Albinder)

WBUR on Wednesday will launch a six-week pilot of a weekly radio program called “You’re the Expert” that features a scientist fielding goofy questions from a panel of comedians.

But the show is not exactly new: Episodes have been available as podcasts for three years.

The sudden leap by “You’re the Expert” from digital-only platforms like iTunes to the airwaves of a leading public broadcast station represents the latest evidence of podcasting’s recent growth and clout, a decade after the medium’s introduction as a playground for amateurs.

“We now have this real shot at legitimacy,” said Chris Duffy, the program’s 28-year-old host. “We have a lot of people who listen to the show now, but those people have sought it out. What happens when a random person listening to 90.9 hears ‘You’re the Expert?’ What do they think? In the next six weeks, that’s what we’re going to discover.”

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Podcasts have lately become an important extension of many mainstream media outlets, much like blogs before them. The podcast “Serial,” launched in the fall as a spinoff of the popular public radio series “This American Life,” was recognized Sunday with a Peabody Award — the first time a podcast has earned the honor.

Between March and May, WBUR and the Boston Globe partnered on a podcast series called “Finish Line” during the trial of Boston Marathon bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev. The WBUR Idea Lab, the station’s new-media initiative, has created or helped develop other podcasts, including “You’re the Expert” and an audio version of the “Dear Sugar” advice column.

“These aren’t just things a few people download anymore,” said Devan Rosen, director of the emerging media program at Ithaca College. “Podcasting is a real, important, viable media format.”

But putting a podcast on the air is a rare move — made more noteworthy in this case because “You’re the Expert” is a grass-roots phenomenon.

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Duffy was a fifth-grade teacher and moonlighting comic when he started “You’re the Expert” as a live comedy show with an educational twist. He would book small venues, like the Somerville Theatre and Oberon in Cambridge, record the performances, and post them online as downloadable audio files.

WBUR general manager Charlie Kravetz attended one of those early shows and left impressed. “I remember thinking, ‘This is really right up our alley,’ ” Kravetz said. “It’s got science and academia and really smart people doing really interesting things, and it’s done in a very entertaining, engaging, accessible way that makes it not like you’re eating porridge.”

Duffy has spent the last two years refining the format in the Idea Lab, with the help of WBUR producers. The vibe of the hourlong program airing Wednesdays at 9 p.m. will be familiar to fans of “Wait, Wait . . . Don’t Tell Me!” the weekly news quiz produced by Chicago Public Media that is broadcast by NPR stations across the country, including WBUR.

Kravetz said the station will conduct listener surveys after the six-week pilot and make tweaks before a likely second run later in the year.

“The goal eventually is to turn it into a weekly program,” he added. “Chris travels around the country for recordings, so this could be a very successful national program, if and when we feel it’s ready for that.”


Callum Borchers can be reached at callum.borchers@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @callumborchers.

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