“From WBEZ Chicago, it’s This American Life, distributed by Public Radio International, I’m Ira Glass.”
These are the words that welcome my favourite hour of every week. Not just my favourite hour of radio, but literally the hour I look forward to most. And the guy behind that hour? Ira Glass.
But who is this bespectacled fella who sits behind a microphone? The press will heap entirely justified praise on his journalistic ability, but what makes Ira so incredible isn’t his journalistic prowess, it’s the way he makes that prowess invisible as he tells really frikkin’ great stories, bringing to life a medium that most commentators will tell you is dying.
The opportunity to watch Ira (I call him Ira because, really, I feel like we’re total besties) recreate the sound of This American Life in a live scenario, and talk through what makes a compelling story, will be the best thing you see in 2012. Anyone familiar with This American Life will absolutely confirm this, and if you don’t fit into that category then take my advice. You need to hear this show.
What makes it so good? Firstly, the way they’ll take an issue and make it interesting. Take the GFC, for example. Who knew the US housing crisis, toxic assets and hedge funds (Broadway song to accompany the story included) could be entertaining and informative all at once? Then there’s the shows where This American Life takes you to a place – like New Orleans, Iraq, and even Nauru – and brings you stories you would never hear elsewhere in the media. And when they’re not delving into current affairs via geography or economics, the show produces stories so personal and simultaneously universal it’s impossible to not get caught up in the lives of ordinary Americans. Like two baby girls being switched at birth back in 1951, the production of Hamlet as performed by the inmates of a high security prison, and the time a tornado hit Hoisington, Kansas, on Prom night. Plus, they also uncovered the original recipe for Coke. Pretty sweet, huh? The fact is no one does journalism quite like This American Life. I couldn’t tell you the number of times I’ve laughed and/ or cried in public as a result of the show.
Of course This American Life isn’t all Ira. More than a handful of some of the greatest storytellers of our generation contribute to making this show what it is, so to go all radio-weak-at-the-knees for Ira is kind of ridiculous. But 444 shows down, 441 of those with Ira’s unmistakably Ira voice drawing you in to another world for those 60 minutes – to actually see (and hear) this guy in the flesh is a bit weak-at-the-knees inducing. This guy! He’s real! And he’s going to be here! Confirming that all those moments where you thought he was talking directly to you are absolutely true. Seriously, do not miss it.
Eliza Sarlos is a self-confessed Ira Glass fanatic. So much so that she started a radio show to pay homage to the storytelling radio hour that is This American Life. Hear Sydney’s own version, All the Best, on FBi Radio every Saturday at 10am, or download the podcast at fbiradio.com.