This American Life is going indie. After leaving its longtime distributor Public Radio International (PRI) in March, the iconic public radio program will be self-distributed by its producer Chicago Public Media as of July 1, using online service Public Radio Exchange (PRX) to deliver the shows to more than 500 stations. This American Life will be responsible for its own marketing and sponsorships.
"We’ll be on all the same radio stations at all the same times with exactly the same show. From a listener perspective, nothing’s going to change at all," host and executive producer Ira Glass told the Chicago Tribune. The biggest challenge, said Glass, is taking responsibility for pulling in sponsorship money, which PRI previously handled. "There’s a possibility that we won’t do as good of a job as PRI did in selling underwriting for the show, so it could go worse," he said. "If everything goes great, then we’ll have an easier time making our budget each year."
This American Life has 2.2 million radio listeners each week, but reaches an additional 1 million listeners as a downloaded podcast. When Glass announced the show's split from PRI, which had been its distributor since 1997, he noted that the show's rapid digital growth had been independent from PRI, and the businesses were moving in different directions. As a nonprofit online platform for radio distribution, Cambridge, Mass.-based PRX may serve as a more flexible solution for This American Life. The service already works with popular shows including The Moth Radio Hour and WBEZ-produced Sound Opinions, but This American Life is a big get. According to Glass, the show had a number of offers from other terrestrial distributors, and was also offered its own dedicated channel on SiriusXM, Howard Stern-style.
But while This American Life will remain primarily terrestrial, its growing digital footprint as a podcast reflects a large trend in radio listening, especially of talk-based shows. Digital distribution has been a major force in independent radio programming, which is a growing category on Kickstarter. Radio Diaries, currently fundraising for a second season, gives people tape recorders and asks them to document their lives. The stories are put out as a podcast, but have also landed on terrestrial programs including This American Life. Radio Diaries' story on Olympic boxer Claressa Shields aired on NPR and won a Peabody Award in 2013. Accidental Rhythm, a music discovery show that originally launched on L.A.'s KCRW in 2007, has now gone fully independent and online after the recent shuttering of its latest home East Village Radio.