While the show had its core values and format set, Ira still faced the problem of how to effectively pitch it to radio stations. “With public radio, you have to talk every single local station into picking you up…” he explained, “…it’s radically de-centralized.” During “This American Life’s” infancy, many local stations had trouble accepting that the content – and Ira’s voice – could ever be marketable. Throughout “This American Life’s” run, Ira has managed to deflect such negative feedback, saying that no matter what distributors or listeners thought of the program, “What mattered (to me) was that I liked it.” His endurance paid off, and “This American Life” eventually became one of the most popular radio shows in history. Now, after running for two decades, the show garners 2.2 million listeners each week.

Just start doing it, just start, don’t wait… you have all the technology you need. You can edit in Garageband, and you can record broadcast quality sound on your smartphone… You go out, you talk to people, they say stuff, you choose the best parts, you choose an order. That’s it...

Over those twenty years, “This American Life” has covered a wide spectrum of different people and experiences. While many of those stories have left lasting impressions upon listeners, Ira himself has a selection of stories that have meant the most to him. One such story involved a corrupt southern judge whom he worked tirelessly to expose to the public. “She was such a powerful force, and people were so frightened of her… I couldn’t get anyone to talk on the record,” Ira recalled to us. “…The only thing that kept me going on it was, I believed the people even if they didn’t have proof…” As the search continued fruitlessly, Ira’s staff – as well as his wife – began to have doubts about the viability of the story. For Ira, however, that refusal to give up on his curious instinct, even in the face of defeat, was what made the story especially powerful for him. At this point in telling the story, he held up a certificate to his webcam for all of us to see, a proud grin on his face. “… (The) stuff people said turned out to be totally true… we did a story, and the state of Georgia removed her from the bench.”

Not all of the stories Ira has covered unfolded on as grand of a scale as the expose of the judge; in fact, it’s more often than not the smaller stories that leave a great impact on Ira and “This American Life’s” audience. As Ira told us, “Any story where a person opens up to me, I feel very attached to them, I feel very attached to the story. Happens all the time.” Some of these stories included a simple report on a group of car salesmen trying to meet a quota of 129 sales in a month. “We did a show about these guys who couldn’t be more different than me… I spent a lot of time with them, and not only did I love that, but I really wanted to become a car salesman.” It’s this kind of exploration into people’s lives, this level of intimacy within the story that gives “This American Life” the lasting power it has enjoyed all these years.