For long-time listeners of National Public Radio, Ira Glass has an easily recognizable voice, one that conveys honesty, integrity, and comfort. These are not natural features, but characteristics of the credibility Glass has earned in his decades-long career in public radio. As the co-creator and auteur of This American Life (TAL), his signature weekly non-fiction radio program and podcast, he reimagined the radio narrative and told many stories that would have otherwise gone untold.
Between the airwaves and the internet, Glass reaches over 5 million listeners each week with tales of America that examine human nature and explore the more obscure parts of the nation. In 2020 Glass, along with two additional collaborators and his staff, was the recipient of the Pulitzer Prize for Audio Programming, specifically for the TAL episode investigating the effects of President Trump’s policies toward Mexican refugees. Glass has become a modern pioneer in oral storytelling, and his influence can be seen in the wide landscape of podcasts that have come to prominence in recent years.
After graduating from high school in his native Baltimore, Maryland, Glass initially pursued a pre-medical education at Northwestern University, but instead he began to explore a budding interest in radio. In 1980, he returned to the East Coast when he transferred to Brown University, ultimately graduating two years later with an honors degree in semiotics (since integrated into the Department of Modern Culture and Media).
By the time he arrived in Providence, Rhode Island, Glass had already ingratiated himself with NPR, but his time at Brown gave him the insights into storytelling that would shape his later career. By studying what he calls “the machinery of story,” he learned how to compel audiences with successful and satisfying narratives, like those he recounts on TAL.
Glass has found his signature brand of entertainment-journalism to be an essential tool for communicating the overwhelming struggles of everyday Americans during the COVID-19 pandemic. TAL was among the first outlets to report on the virus and its spread before reaching the U.S. and has continued to explore how individuals and communities struggle to adapt to or anticipate the unknown.
As an alum of Brown University, he has extended worthwhile advice to young students, noting the importance of failure and perseverance in the world after academia. At a time when public health precludes in-person communication, Ira Glass is a worthy leader for audio storytelling with a reassuring voice in chaotic times.