Ira Glass at the mic and on the page

AND NOW . . . the story of a regular man whose job is to find the Big Ideas peeking out from the small foibles and successes of our everyday lives . . . the story of a man who helps us not only to hear them, but also to feel them.

Act I, Scene I

Ira Glass at the mic at Memorial Hall this Saturday, performing “Radio Stories & Other Stories”

And so today we bring you a blog all about the importance of voices, of the spoken word launched out across the airwaves, and how these voices help us to more fully understand what it means to be a human being in this world.  That’s it.  Nothing bigger than that.  As in my life, it’s about conversations that take unexpected turns, and it’s about following them, helping the speaker along to some new and unexpected place. And helping us, the listeners, too.  In the case of Ira Glass and This American Life, “us” is the 1.7 million listeners who tune in each week.

Mr. Glass, or Ira, as I can’t help calling him, after hearing his voice in my kitchen or car every weekend, is a contributor to our book, Reality Radio: Telling True Stories in Sound, and is also, incidentally, host of This American Life, from Chicago Public Radio, brought into my kitchen by North Carolina Public Radio.  As you may know, Dear Reader, this show was one of the first, and continues to be one of the most loved, documentary series in what some call the new golden age of documentary radio.  It’s voice interwoven with sound and music, it’s an experiment in juxtaposition, humor, and candor,  and it’s a belief made audible that there’s a real relationship between the subject and the interviewer, and that this relationship is worth capturing too.

In a different way, that’s what Reality Radio does, as well.  In it, John Biewen has gathered together some of the most influential, recognized, and loved voices of our era to talk about how they work and why their work is important.  And Biewen should know: he produces documentary work for the public radio system and is the director of the audio program at the Center for Documentary Studies at Duke University.

From Rick Moody and the Kitchen Sisters to Sandy Tolan, Scott Carrier, and of course, Jay Allison, to name only a few, we read, and yes, we hear stories about why and how radio continues to matter to listeners as we learn more about how these producers and hosts assemble their pieces.  We’re talking about the programs that are cutting edge–and that are also becoming staples of our listening experience–This American Life, StoryCorps, and Radiolab as well as sites such as Transom, PRX, Hearing Voices, and Soundprint, as well as through the evolving world of the podcast.  In all, and in very different ways,  we are encouraged to think about the role of sound; the importance of voice and of respect; the splicing, editing, and condensation involved; the Big Idea or the moment captured.  And why and how listening changes us.  Again, boils down to the complicated, gooey stuff of humanity.

In fact, if you’d like to listen to what PRX and Saltcast have to say about Reality Radio, check out their site.  If you click on the actual podcast, you can hear John Biewen’s radio story “Racial Cleansing in America,” as well as a discussion of how the story is put together–how it works on us.  It’s a compelling story, and might be some good homework before or after hearing the talk this Saturday, to boot.  Check it out.

So, what to expect on Saturday night?  Thoughtful conversation.  Laughter. Reveling. Revelation.   Good luck, Ira, we’ll be hanging on your every word.


P.S. Why not let us know what you think about all this?  How do you listen to these stories? And why?  Will you listen differently now?