My first foray into the wondrous world of American public radio took place shortly after the purchase of my iPod and the beginnings of my iTunes podcast subscriptions. I knew nothing about this world, save for an imagined similarity to the CBC and an assumption that it was about as boring as the majority of PBS’ televised programing. You know, not necessarily boring topics, but made in a very standard, old-people-friendly sort of way. I wasn’t hugely interested in this, but I decided to check out one show that I had heard of a few times anyways.
That show, of course, was This American Life. It gripped me immediately. The show’s format is an hour long collection of stories, generally three or four with an occasional episode consumed entirely by a single tale. These are usually non-fiction, but told in such a way as to create a real narrative arc complete with strong characters and an engaging voice. Some are highly produced field pieces, where the producers go spend time with a group of people and edit the tapes into a complete story. Others, such as David Sedaris’ (the author of Naked, Me Talk Pretty One Day, and his most recent When You Are Engulfed in Flames) semi-regular pieces, are simply a story read aloud, often with some scoring to heighten the emotional impact. Similarly to The Moth, these can be touching, funny, or simply interesting, although they’re put together much more tightly than The Moth’s ‘live and without notes’ tales.
The stories are grouped by themes, with each episode exploring a central idea. Some recent episodes explored a worst case parenting situation (Didn’t Ask to Be Born), ‘human’ resources, or what happens when we switch to our secondary plan in life (Plan B).
It comes out once a week, and is definitely worth listening to. They also have the entire archives of the show on their website, with an excellent favourites page giving a strong introduction (and a direct iTunes link).
Oh, and it has won awards. Because that is all that matters.
Next: Radio Lab