Plus: Ira Glass’s salary, and bloodshed at Pacifica’s KPFK.
Plus: Ira Glass’s salary, and bloodshed at Pacifica’s KPFK.
The producers of public radio’s This American Life will take over distribution of their show starting July 1, using Public Radio Exchange to deliver the program to stations. TAL and Public Radio International, its distributor of 17 years, announced in March that they would part ways effective July 1. Under the agreement announced Wednesday, Chicago Public Media and Ira Glass will handle distribution and underwriting, while Marge Ostroushko will be responsible for marketing and station relations. Ostroushko handled those duties before PRI picked up the show in 1997. “We’re excited and proud to be partners now with PRX,” Glass said in a statement.
After This American Life parts with longtime distributor Public Radio International July 1, it could become public radio’s most widely carried show without a major distributor representing it. That’s if the show pursues that option. Program host and creator Ira Glass has hinted in interviews with the New York Times and Chicago media reporter Robert Feder that he’s considering self-distribution. But there may be good reasons that few shows have gone that route. Self-distribution poses challenges that few resource-strapped program creators are willing to take on, including handling their own billing, marketing and station relations.
• The Pacifica Foundation announced the appointment of a new interim executive director, even as the one the foundation attempted to fire, Summer Reese, reportedly continues to camp out at the foundation’s headquarters. Bernard Duncan, previously station manager at Pacifica’s Los Angeles outlet KPFK, is the new interim head of the network, according to a statement on Pacifica’s website. “What Pacifica needs right now is a skilled manager who can hit the ground running, and I’m very pleased Bernard’s taken us on,” board chair Margy Wilkinson said in the release. Duncan resigned from KPFK in January. • PBS’s POV will host a Twitter chat with veteran documentary filmmakers April 8 from 1-2 p.m. Eastern time. Directors Gary Hustwit, Doug Block and Bernardo Ruiz will discuss how they made their first films. Interested participants can send their thoughts with the hashtag #docchat.
PubTV programming picked up 13 Peabody Awards and public radio earned three in 2013.
• WUGA-TV in Athens, Ga., is cutting all local programming from its schedule and eliminating six staff members as of June 30, the University of Georgia announced Thursday. The changes come as a result of a study requested by Jere Morehead, president of UGA, the station’s licensee. The study determined that the cost of ramping up local programming and student involvement for the station “was just too great relative to the cost of the operation,” according to the release. WUGA will switch to carrying the PBS World Channel full-time beginning July 1. The move will save the university about $565,000 annually, the release said.
When Torey Malatia unexpectedly announced his resignation as president of WBEZ licensee Chicago Public Media Friday, July 26, news of the longtime leader’s exit reverberated across Chicago media and public radio.
As one of the most popular podcasts of all time, Public Radio International’s This American Life has had to deal with its fair share of imitators and parodies over the years, and many other podcasts have appropriated the “This American…” moniker to draw attention to their own audio. On Feb. 5, SF Weekly spotlighted one such effort that was reportedly getting heat from Glass and his attorneys over trademark violation: This American Whore, a podcast covering sex workers’ issues, created in November 2012 by Siouxsie Q, a San Francisco sex worker. Siouxsie Q first tweeted on Feb.
This American Life host and public radio superstar Ira Glass continues his foray into scripted entertainment, as a producer of a new television series in development at the Sundance Channel. The project, billed as T, will follow Terrence, a transgender man who has recently undergone sex reassignment surgery, and the story will be split between his present life as a male and former life as a female college student named Thora. Fellow TAL producer Alissa Shipp will also produce T.
Glass ventured into the world of independent film this summer with Mike Birbiglia’s Sleepwalk With Me, which he co-wrote and produced. The film, which had a budget of $1 million, has grossed more than $2.2 million in theaters to date, making it a financial success. This is also not the first time Glass has dealt with a commercial TV station.
‘Sleepwalk With Me,’ is the program’s latest (and biggest) attempt to break into the movie business.
Current’s Feb. 27 story on This American Life’s recent breakthroughs with enterprise reporting describes the inspiration behind “Mr. Daisey and the Apple Factory,” the story on Apple factories in China that was later retracted. Glass tells Current that after seeing Daisey’s monologue last October, he was already “editing the radio version in my head” as he left the theater. “I thought [Daisey] was doing something remarkable,” said Glass, “which is taking a fact that we all already know — that these devices we love are made in China in conditions that are probably not so wonderful, and he makes us feel something about it.”
Glass invited Daisey to lunch, and he recalls feeling nervous when they met Nov. 16.
Update: On March 16, This American Life retracted “Mr. Daisey and the Apple Factory,” its Jan. 6 broadcast that adapted monologist Mike Daisey’s story about working conditions in Chinese gadget factories. Read more. Crunching a two-hour stage monologue into a 39-minute radio piece was a huge challenge for Ira Glass, e.p. and host of This American Life. Glass decided to adapt The Agony and the Ecstasy of Steve Jobs after seeing monologist Mike Daisey perform the show that skewers Apple and Jobs for the harsh working conditions in factories where adored Apple products are assembled.
Update: On March 16, This American Life retracted “Mr. Daisey and the Apple Factory,” its Jan. 6 broadcast that adapted monologist Mike Daisey’s story about working conditions in Chinese gadget factories. Read more. For 16 years, public radio host Ira Glass has charmed listeners with offbeat, quirky stories that captivated minds and won awards. Lately, he’s also been kicking butt, taking names and making a difference. It’s not quite that aggressive.
There’s some heavy-duty soul-searching going on in public radio. The Public Radio Program Directors conference, Sept. 20–23 in Baltimore, sidelined its usual celebrations of pubradio’s audience growth and its journalistic ascendency. Instead, participants grappled with big questions about challenges ahead and wondered aloud about how to move forward after a year of political calamity at NPR. Progress reports about ongoing reforms were freighted with a new urgency: giving exposure to innovative new programs, raising stations’ ambitions for local reporting, opening the field to more diverse voices and listeners.
Ira Glass didn’t know what he was in for when he walked into the post office in the seaside burg of Brunswick, Ga., and asked the first person he met to name the most interesting character in town. Glass and his This American Life production team had given themselves a special assignment: to collect the best stories they could stumble upon far off the beaten path of their day-to-day reporting routines. They followed the standard operating procedure of the Atlanta Journal’s “Georgia Rambler” columnist Charles Salter, who researched more than 500 columns in the late 1970s by roving around small towns of the Peach State in a company car. Nine of the radio show’s producers and reporters adopted Salter’s technique for an episode that aired last summer. They drew the names of their assigned Georgia locales from a baseball cap, went in-country with mikes and recording equipment and, on fast turnaround, collected a trove of human-interest material.
This American Life is hot. The weekly radio program produced by WBEZ, Chicago, and distributed nationally since June 1996, airs on 325 public radio stations. Ira Glass, TAL’s creator and producer, has become something of a celebrity. The subject of lengthy feature stories in national magazines, he now turns up in TV and radio interviews to publicize a Rhino Records CD, “Lies, Sissies and Fiascos: The Best of This American Life.” His own life, frequently described by himself and others, emerges as one of frenetic activity, a contemporary Scheherazade, obsessively devoted to creating stories that he hopes “will give voice to those outside the mainstream.”
Believe it or not, there’s a stone tablet full of radio principles guiding This American Life. Ira Glass laid them out in a talk …
This American Life is unlike anything on public radio. But what would you expect from a man who once devoted an hour of Talk of the Nation to an imaginary presidential inaugural ball? The iconoclastic weekly program, on the air nationally since June 1996, already is a success by several objective measures — most notably, a Peabody Award in its first year. (“Holy cow, I’ve never seen that before!,” says an impressed producer.) Within 10 months, 111 stations picked up This American Life, including the big stations in nine of the top 10 markets (D.C. is the holdout). Recently, CPB’s Radio Program Fund gave the show a three-year $350,000 award — about twice what the show was seeking.