Explaining the This American Life podcast
This American Life is a weekly public radio show that is based on the idea that people want to hear stories about real, ordinary American lives. This includes the good, the bad, and the everyday. This show doesn’t highlight the heroics, or economics, or government, or politics, but instead portrays the nitty-gritty of life by presenting vignettes showing American life as it really is. This American Life attempts to cover anything and everything on its show, and does so with freshness and vitality. It is an immensely popular radio show and podcast, broadcast on over 500 stations to over 1.7 million listeners. In addition, 400,000-500,000 people download the podcast every week.
The show began in 1995 in Chicago with producer and host Ira Glass, who still hosts the show each week. Produced by Chicago Public Media, the show went national in early 1996 and is now distributed by Public Radio International. Since its inception, the radio program has won countless awards, including a Peabody, a Livingston Award, the Edward R. Murrow Award, and the George Polk Award, among many others. The program also did a brief stint as a television show for two seasons with the Showtime network. The show won three Emmys, but the cast and staff asked to end it because it was too much work to produce both the show and a weekly radio program. You can find the DVD of the television show in stores, on iTunes, or available on Netflix.
This American Life is an hour-long program that is split up into “acts” that center around a theme each week. For example, one week the theme will be the midterm elections, as in Episode 417: This Party Sucks. After a prologue, this particular episode has two acts—stories that are generally about the theme, but are complete short stories in and of themselves. Some episodes have more, and one even had twenty acts. This American Life describes these “acts” as “like movies for radio.” The stories range from using irreverent humor to drama and emotionally moving moments. They look for stories that are personal and to the point, but make grander statements about the human condition at the same time. Stories that are common to many people are often featured. If interested, you can submit your own stories or feature ideas to the show at its website: http://thisamericanlife.org.
Although the show started out as merely a radio show, it quickly became clear that the show was tremendously popular. Listeners wanted to be able to hear it when it was convenient for them. The staff turned the show into MP3s and soon after the show was made into podcast form. You can find the podcasts today on iTunes under the This American Life podcast. You can still listen to the show on the radio, hear archived and current issues streaming on the web, download the newest episode from the website, buy old episodes on iTunes, purchase CD collections of the show, or get the weekly podcast free on iTunes.
If you are new to the show you can visit the webpage and start listening to the favorites. Or you can enjoy the shows listed in the other categories: The Short List, Other Favorites, Early Shows, Topical, One Location, and Contributors. You will have to either buy these older shows or just listen to the clips available on the website, but it will give you a great idea of what the show is and the format and content it portrays.
This American Life is a radio show unlike any other. It isn’t news, but it is newsworthy. It is a kind of journalism that fits with documentaries, non-fiction stories, public interest pieces, and more. It is worth listening to, and deserves the one-hour a week it asks for.