Another factor in this lasting power is the show’s tendency to highlight humorous stories that otherwise would pass under the radar of normal news. One such story occurred right in the Bay area, when an ambitious man cooked up an idea for a most unusual detective agency: “It was a detective agency where, instead of regular guy detectives, the guy who ran the agency… just hired good looking soccer moms.” The logic behind this was that no one would suspect a minivan driving soccer mom as a private investigator, but as “This American Life’s” own investigation into the story proved, there were deeper motives at work. As it turned out, the whole concept, which involved staged drug busts in cooperation with a crooked Contra Costa County official, was all a ploy to land the soccer mom detectives a reality show.
The fact that the narrative range of “This American Life” can veer between a story as outlandish as the soccer mom detectives, to one as ‘normal’ as a story about average car salesmen, and one as dire as the case of the corrupt southern judge testifies to the great narrative range on which the show moves. People have noticed “This American Life” has greatly changed the face of radio. As Ira says, “It’s made a certain kind of thing economically powerful… specifically, the kind of stories we do on our show. Long form narrative stories, with characters and scenes and feelings and ideas.” Shows and podcasts like Radiolab and Serial have continued the tradition of using radio for longer narratives, and Ira actively encourages those interested in pursuing a career in radio journalism to do so. “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…”
All the world needs is a new generation of journalists to take up the challenge. And as long as they retain the curiosity, empathy, and sense of humor that fuels This American Life for the last 20 years, creative and alternative journalism can only continue to reach new heights.
Check out our SKYPE interview with Ira Glass on FastForward’s Youtube channel.