Glass House

Two years ago, as F-16s were dropping bombs on Afghanistan, Ira Glass was wandering the decks of an aircraft carrier, interviewing pilots, garage bands and people whose sole job was to refill the vending machines. For his radio show, This American Life, Glass spent an hour exploring the city on water, getting into trouble with the higher-ups and waking in the middle of the night trying to figure out what that loud booming sound was. With a small crew and some tape recorders, Glass once again mapped out a world that other journalists had missed.

After 25 years working for NPR, Glass lives and breathes radio. At his traveling appearances, dubbed “An Evening With Ira Glass, the reporter focuses his attention on what makes a good broadcast story. “I talk about what we’re trying to do on the radio that people have never done, why we’re trying to do it that way and how to do it,” Glass explains.

In a typical hour, This American Life presents comedic, dramatic and still-life pieces wrapped around a single theme, making the normally staid medium of talking-head radio a mix of incidental music and distinct voices. “It’s just applying the tools of journalism to stuff that traditionally doesn’t come under the purview of journalism, like what you think of your neighbors. Not the idea of neighbors, but, literally, what do you think of the Demergens who live upstairs.”

He knows that some of the people who turn out for his Unity Temple appearance probably think they have material worthy of his show, and he provides tips. “There’s a small percentage of people who want to make stuff for a living, and I talk about what makes a compelling story in a very nuts-and-bolts way,” he says.

For those looking to tell their own stories, Glass’ advice is as simple as the show he created: “Anybody can do it. It’s not magic. It’s just craft.”