In every issue of the magazine we ask a podcast disciple five questions about their love of podcast and podcasting. For issue #019, we were joined by Ira Glass, a true legend of the podcast game and the Creator, Producer and Host of This American Life!
Why do you love podcasts?
IG: I love them for the reason I think most people love them. There’s an intimacy to them, to just hearing people’s voices. It’s easier to connect. It’s easier to have feelings. A story told on podcast hits you harder than most films or books ever do.
What was the first pod you ever listened to?
I hope this isn’t a bratty answer but our show This American Life was such an early podcast – we were doing the show even before podcasts existed – that I’m afraid the true answer is – my own show was the first podcast I ever heard. What’s interesting about the popularity of our show as a podcast is that we really designed it as a radio show. It went on the air in 1995. But the style of the show – personal stories told in a compelling way, lots of them very funny – meshed naturally with what makes a great podcast. So when we started offering it for free as a podcast, it took off without us doing anything at all to promote it. Now roughly 3 million people download it each week, a bigger audience than our radio audience.
Which podcast makes you laugh the most?
I don’t listen to a lot of comedy podcasts but I do like Mike Birbiglia’s Working It Out, and he has very funny people on: John Mulaney, Colbert, Sarah Silverman, Conan, Gaffigan.
Which podcast has educated you the most?
The Daily of course is the gold standard for clear explanation of complicated news on a super-fast turnaround, and I listen every day. I’m also a superfan of the Radiolab podcast – it invented a way of telling a story that’s so fun to listen to and – honestly, at this point – I listen partly to hear how they keep re-inventing what they do, over and over. Their recent mini-series on Harry Pace was just masterful, I thought, and a very tough story to tell: about a guy who left no recordings or writing to know his thoughts. They’re always trying new stuff and so out to entertain. I even listen to their host Jad Abumrad’s music podcast on Apple Music: Everything. Together.
Can you recommend a show our readers may not have heard?
Hard to restrict it to one! Our show S-Town was super-popular but there are people out there who still haven’t heard it. A great example of a story built around someone who’s intensely, magnetically charismatic and also quite a mystery. I loved Malcolm Gladwell’s Bomber Mafia which is on a subject I normally care nothing about but he pulls you in and tells a fantastic true tale. Couldn’t turn it off. You have to google it and pay for it, but IMO, worth it. I love the Dave Chapelle podcast on Luminary The Midnight Miracle where they sound design the hell out of it and it just feels so original and like nothing out there at all. If you’re in a rush, skip to the last ep where he talks about opening for Richard Pryor. Oh my. Perfect audio moments in that one and in so many of them. (Luminary you have to pay for but if you’re cheap, they give you a week for free.) Also: Heavyweight is still killing, after all these years. Check out their Barbara Ep from Season Six.