Ira Glass On Accidentally-By-Luck Radio
KUNM’s Elaine Baumgartel chatted with Glass about what he originally envisioned for the show back in 1995 when it first aired. There was a kind of story that he wasn’t hearing very often on the radio, Glass said.
Glass: And if I had to describe it, it’s sort of like, there’d be characters and scenes and funny moments and emotional moments. And maybe this story is a true story where, you know, I or another reporter went out and got the tape. Or maybe it was a written story by David Sadaris or some other writer. But there were scenes and characters and it just had a feeling and it had forward motion and it would have plot. It just seemed like somebody could do a show like that. Honestly, I thought it was such an obvious idea I was scared somebody was going to beat me to it.
KUNM: I was going to ask you when you realized that you were reinventing radio, that you were doing, like, a reinvention of radio, but it sounds like you set out to do that to begin with.
Glass: Yes. Yeah, there were certain things about the show that I thought should be different, including the style of narration and the fact that the way that I am as the host is different from the way other public radio hosts were up until the time. One of the things that was new about the show at the time, which sounds ridiculous to say out loud, is that it would just be out for fun. That it would conceive of itself as an entertainment and do all the classy high-minded things that public radio does, and public broadcasting does, but at the same time just be completely out for fun and be out for its own amusement and that would just be built into the thing. A lot of it was applying the tools of journalism to stories that were so small and personal that journalists would never have touched them.
KUNM: So what reinvention did you have to do at the advent of the podcast, and the, just basically the branching off myriad ways that people can access the show instead of just tuning in at a certain time once a week in order to hear it from a broadcast station?
Glass: That’s a really interesting question because our podcast has been this huge, crazy business success and I wish I could say that we did something to make that happen but we did nothing. Like literally. It just turns out that this kind of storytelling is something that people would want to hear as a podcast.
KUNM: What is the special sauce in the storytelling? What facet of the type of storytelling do you think is that thing that makes it special?
Glass: Well, partly, I think it’s just, you know, the things that are appealing about a good story are always appealing. This is just a very easily consumed version of it. Then I think just coincidentally, the aesthetics of our radio show match the aesthetics of the internet. That is the internet, like radio, is a one to one medium. When you read somebody in the comment section or in a blog, or really any piece of writing on the internet, what it feels like is it’s one person writing to you. These happen to be the aesthetics of the radio show. It’s super conversational. It’s very personal. The reporters are not news robots but in fact have the reactions that normal people have and that bloggers have where we’re amazed and amused and surprised by things. I think there’s something of the intimacy of that, which feels like the intimacy of things that you find on the internet. And so I feel like, sort of accidentally by luck we chanced into an aesthetic that happened to be the growing and then dominant aesthetic of our time.