A few years ago while driving around town on a Saturday afternoon, my wife and I tuned the radio to NPR and caught the first few minutes of the radio show This American Life. The narrator, Ira Glass, has a very distinctive voice and a dry humor that we just didn’t get. We turned the show off after a few minutes. For years after that any time I would hear This American Life on the radio I would change the station. It just wasn’t my thing.
This past year while listening to podcasts on my Nexus smartphone I came across This American Life again and listened to an Episode. It was Episode 505 Use Only as Directed. The episode is a detailed look at the potential dangers in exceeding the recommended dosage for the pain reliever acetaminophen even in small amounts. The story was fascinating and I realized that the show wasn’t, as I previously thought, just Ira Glass talking for the entire hour. He introduces the topic, usually with an anecdote and then introduces the producer for the segment who narrates their story. He comes back between acts and at the end to wrap up and give the credits.
Having gotten hooked on this episode I listened to even more episode and the more I listened to them the more addicted I became to the show. Along the way I discovered Episode 14 Accidental Documentaries which includes a very touching story about Ira Glass’ father who was briefly in radio before Ira was born. This story as well as others gradually changed my tolerance for Ira Glass’ distinctive radio style from tolerance to genuine appreciation. His dry humor and disconcerting vocal delivery (for me anyway) became a strength of the show instead of something I could live with.
The show is truly an American treasure. The stories are fascinating and well produced. Rich in details and carefully structured. Some episodes feature multiple segments along a central theme some are full episodes about one topic. Whether it is about a Car Dealership or Hostages from a country I’d never heard of, or a physician that murdered his father I’ve yet to hear a story that didn’t entertain and educate me.
I have to cut this short now because I have 18 years of This American Life to catch up on. If you aren’t a fan you have a lot to catch up on as well.