Charlie Foster on Friday, Sep. 23rd
I knew Ira Glass must have been getting annoyed that This American Life is no longer the coolest show on public radio. And I can’t say I was surprised this week when he started to vent publicly about it.
“When I meet public radio fans, and we get to talking about what programs they’re liking these days, Radiolab is the program they want to gush about,” wrote Glass in an open letter to the public radio insider website Transom.org. “I feel jealous.”
It must have added insult to neurotic, self-pitying injury when the day after Transom posted the letter, Radiolab co-host Jad Abumarad won a MacArthur Fellowship. You know, the one where they give you half-a-mill just for being a “genius.”
The 52-year-old boy wonder has hit rock bottom.
I’m joking, of course. Glass is still a public radio deity. And his Transom letter comes in the form of gratitude, not insecurity. “Radiolab: An Appreciation by Ira Glass” is in fact a thoughtful analysis of exactly how and why Radiolab is so successfully innovating the hour-long documentary radio show by the most successful modern innovator of the hour-long documentary radio show. It’s a must-read for anyone interested in audio storytelling.
For the record, Glass really did write that he was “jealous.” But he followed that pseudo-selfish thought with a more generous one about Radiolab: “Its co-creators Jad Abumrad and Robert Krulwich have digested all the storytelling and production tricks of everyone in public radio before them, invented some slick moves of their own, and ended up creating the rarest thing you can create in any medium: a new aesthetic.”
A particularly interesting passage in the 4500-word appraisal, is when he discusses the effectiveness of banter in radio. At the risk of sounding “big pretentious, tiresome,” Glass lays out just how important Radiolab‘s witty repartee is to the future of journalism:
Real journalism – and by that I mean fact-based reporting – is getting trounced by commentary and opinion in all its forms, from Fox News to the political blogs to Jon Stewart. Everyone knows newspapers are in horrible trouble. TV news continually loses ratings. And one way we broadcast journalists can fight back and hold our audience is to sound like human beings on the air. Not know-it-all stiffs. One way the opinion guys kick our ass and appeal to an audience is that they talk like normal people, not like news robots speaking their stentorian news-speak. So I wish more broadcast journalism had such human narrators at its center. I think that would help fact-based journalism survive.
Kidding aside, you do get the feeling Glass is a little jealous he doesn’t have his own regular co-host to banter with. If he can overlook anything rude I said about him earlier in this post, I’d be happy to oblige.