Glass, Ira

▪ 2009

born March 3, 1959, Baltimore, Md.

      On May 4, 2008, on-screen host Ira Glass launched the premiere episode of the second season of This American Life, the cable television adaptation of his long-running public radio program of the same name. When the TV show debuted in 2007, many critics initially doubted that the radio show's idiosyncratic format—a series of thematically related stories narrated by various reporters, writers, and artists—would translate to the small screen. The one facet of the television program that they apparently took for granted, however, was Glass, whose ingratiating TV presence and expert framing of the stories were singled out for praise by reviewers after the first installments aired.

      Glass acknowledged that as a boy he knew nothing about public radio, but in 1978, after having failed to find a summer job at any of Baltimore's commercial radio and TV stations, he talked his way into an internship at National Public Radio (NPR) in Washington, D.C. He quickly became enamoured with the medium, and he started working for NPR soon after graduating (1982) from Brown University, Providence, R.I., with a degree in semiotics. Glass was a jack-of-all-trades at NPR, holding positions as wide-ranging as tape cutter, copy writer, and producer and occasionally serving as a guest host on Talk of the Nation and All Things Considered.

      He moved to Chicago in 1989 to become a reporter for NPR's Chicago bureau. His yearlong accounts of local attempts at school restructuring won awards from both the National Education Association and the Education Writers Association and further burnished his public radio star. Glass's prominence led to an offer from the MacArthur Foundation to produce and host a new radio show that would focus on Chicago-area writers and performers. Originally titled Your Radio Playhouse, Glass's show first aired on WBEZ in Chicago in November 1995. It was an instant hit and was nationally syndicated the following year as This American Life. The program received the prestigious Peabody Award in 1996 and again in 2006. The show also drew critical acclaim and developed a strong cult following, which led to unheard-of—by public radio standards—touring shows, CD collections, and a movie adaptation (Unaccompanied Minors [2006]), on which Glass served as an executive producer. While some of the often-insular public radio fan base blanched at the idea of Glass's taking This American Life to television—he was called “Judas” at one speaking engagement soon after the deal was announced—the radio program (along with its associated podcast) continued to thrive alongside its televised sister show and reached an estimated 1.7 million weekly listeners on more than 500 radio stations in 2008.

Adam Augustyn

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Universalium. 2010.

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