He is a fixture on National Public Radio. His show is crafted out of living, breathing pieces. Each week he presents us with a quilt portraying America; patched together with the fibers of its citizens. His award-winning show is broadcast on NPR radio waves and is the most downloaded podcast in the country. The man is Ira Glass, the bespectacled host and producer of NPR’s “This American Life,” a program that is one of the smartest and yet warmest snapshots of our culture.
As a radio personality, Ira Glass is the unassuming hero of the airwaves. Imagine Ferris Bueller’s perspective inside Cameron Frye’s body and you begin to get an idea of his persona. As airwaves crowd with the polarizing likes of Glenn Beck, Rush Limbaugh, Howard Stern, and Alex Jones, Ira’s personality is a most refreshing one; and his voice is distinctive for being so unremarkable and devoid of impertinence. Glass’s winsome appeal extends to his signature creation, giving it a unique charm. Make no mistake, “This American Life” is his baby, and he’s nurtured it since its inception in 1995.
Smart and yet warmly engrossing, each episode of “This American Life” focuses on a theme, and is composed of different kinds of stories to underline this topic. All are genuine and thought-provoking. Sure, they may not be as visceral as other radio podcasts. But for those of us who rely on rumination rather than knee-jerk reactions, these tales are infinitely more fascinating and revealing. In short, the stories captivate you. The allure stems from its “every man” spirit. They are tales that could be about your neighbors, your friends, your family or even yourself. And in many ways, they are.
What’s most striking is the authenticity of the people involved. The narratives are often first-person, and serve as a testimonial to our diverse land. Many of the stories have a tint of melancholy, creating clouds over our country’s amber waves of grain. And yet, it’s all so identifiable. It’s tailor-made for radio, where your mind is free of any pre-conceived notions that images can provide. For a short while, “This American Life” was adapted as a television program on the Showtime network, but it never captured the same vibe. On the air, the show feels casual and even extemporaneous, but on TV it felt overproduced. Sometimes, stories don’t need anything else but our ears and imaginations to bring them to life.
The first time you hear Ira Glass, you are struck by his voice, but not for conventional reasons. The voice is not what one expects from a typical radio vocal talent. No one will ever confuse him with James Earl Jones. Yet, I’m of the opinion that one of the most important elements in the success of “This American Life” is Ira’s voice. To be honest, it’s slightly timid and nasal. And that very lack of command is distinctive. What he lacks in baritone, he makes up for in sincerity. More importantly, it doesn’t distract us from the power of the stories themselves. His common voice allows us to hear both the literal and figurative voice of the subjects. Don’t take my word for it. Visit the official site, browse the library and give a listen. Just follow the glasses.
The beauty of “This American Life” is that it allows one to breathe and taste the lives of others. Ira Glass’s conversational tone make it feel like bedtime stories for adults. These tales are unconventional and rarely follow a straight path, yet Glass reads between these lines. We find that in this great land, the space between all of us can become the very bridge that connects us. Storytelling at its best reveals the culture of the narrator and the audience, and this man provides a peek at our nation’s very soul.
His name is Ira Glass, and he is a modern day Paul Harvey of sorts. A throwback to an era where radio men didn’t aim to crossover all media; he stays true to the spirit of storytelling and its power to enlighten. The stories engage us, gestate inside us, and affect us in ways we may not expect. Glass pulls back the curtain on what typifies America to focus on the citizens across our land. News stories may be about events, but they are always rooted to the people that are effected. Here’s a man that holds onto that truth: that it is these people that comprise (as Paul Harvey would himself say) the rest of the story.
Ira Glass will be appearing live at The Paramount on Saturday Dec. 4th, at 8:00 p.m.