Public radio is back in vogue, and Ira Glass, acclaimed host of Public Radio International’s This American Life is perhaps the most celebrated figure the business.
He’s made waves on the Internet, inspiring creative adaptations of his work, and creating a frenzy with his Reddit AMA. Now in its 18th year, his show reaches a weekly combined audience of nearly 3 million people who tune in for Glass’s trademark conversational style, as he highlights the stories of everyday Americans. Prolific radio producer Jay Allison, once called This American Life “not the voice of record, but a record of the voices around us.”
In a recent interview with Slate commemorating the 500th episode of the show, Glass explored his interviewing technique, and the challenge of replicating the intimacy of the radio studio in everyday life:
Many of Glass’s guests have never been interviewed before, something that has forced him to place special emphasis on the plot of the story–sometimes steering it with his own experiences. “Really what I’m thinking about is what is the story arc of the story,” he says. “How do I get plot going, and how can I get them to tell me the plot in the way that will work on the radio?”
“If you want somebody to tell you a story, one of the most easiest and effective ways is if you’re telling them a story,” he says. That story is often told from the comfort of his studio, where Glass enjoys close interactions with his guests and audience. But the experience of being a radio host–and creating deep connections by the method of the interview–doesn’t make relationships any easier in everyday life.
“I feel like in an interview situation, it’s a kind of intimacy that I can understand and handle–versus in real life when I’m much more of a bumbler and have a hard time,” he says. “I just have a harder time, I think, feeling close to people without self consciousness.”
“I think one of the reasons that I got so good at it as somebody making radio stories, is that on the radio I can actually–I can understand what’s happening in the interview and can make a connection in a way that makes sense.”
[Image via PR Web | Stuart Mullenberg]