all i need in (this american) life of sin, is me and my ira

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When I started college, there were two things I wanted to do almost immediately: explore the many food options in the dining hall, and involve myself with the campus radio station, Radio 1851. While the dining hall proved pretty underwhelming, the radio station was exactly the opposite.

Almost immediately, I signed up for a weekly hour-long time slot with one of my music-loving friends. We’d shack up in the 1851 studio, blasting our favorite classic rock tracks and discussing the musicians who would be making tour stops in Philly. Then after two years of being on-air I shifted my attention to the production and promotion aspects of the station.

Last semester, while at a radio networking lunch hosted by Radio 1851, I was unexpectedly offered an internship position with 92.5 XTU, Philadelphia’s country station. I’d be working with their production manager for the morning show every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. (For a more detailed account about how I landed that position, check out this post I wrote for the Saint Joseph’s University blog about the whole ordeal!)

To put it frankly, me being asked to work on the morning show was akin to a fish being asked to leave the ocean and live on the sand. I’m still a natural night owl, of course — but now I’m a night owl who wakes up ungodly early most mornings and compensates by drinking more coffee than her poor body can handle.

But the dehydration and perpetual exhaustion is absolutely worth the electric energy that’s generated in the studio, all for the sake of creating some theatre of the mind during your morning drive.

On those other two mornings during the week, I still wake up fairly early (although rising at 6 am isn’t half as bad as having my alarm blaring at 4 am) to go to my Digital Storytelling class. Conveniently for me, we spent a few precious weeks earlier in the semester focusing on all things radio, including podcasts, interviews, and the delicate balance between language and sound in audio stories. Our homework was to listen to a snippet of a story called “Dead Animal Man” from a show called This American Life, hosted by a man named Ira Glass.

My initial thoughts upon listening to this broadcast ranged from “Wow, this guy sounds like a total nerd” to “I can totally envision this scene in my head” to “This Ira fellow is pretty good at what he does!” to “Oh my God. I need to listen to every single episode of This American Life back-to-back starting right this second.”

It’s not just because of Glass’s fervent speaking pace, nor is it his inflective — if not slightly nasally — voice. Ira tells stories with as much passion and wonder as a child who’s excited to tell you about his new toy or the squirmy lizard he found in the yard. You feel as if he’s addressing you directly, irregardless of the fact that millions of people tune in to his broadcasts and download his podcasts.

But it’s not just his way of speaking that creates the intimate atmosphere: Glass knows how to use sound to convey details in a story where words simply wouldn’t do justice, and tries to let his subjects and ambient noises do the talking as much as possible. 

In an attempt to mimic Glass’s delivery and story composure, I interviewed a first-time customer at Gold Million and edited it TAL-style:

And while I’m no Ira Glass, I feel as though my audio editing skills are improving, both from completing exercises like this and interning in the production department at XTU. Listening to podcasts — This American Life and others — is a great way to discover firsthand what works and what doesn’t in terms of fashioning compelling audio stories. In Ira’s Transom manifesto, he encourages those who are aiming to narrate stories like these to imitate others’ writing they find appealing; as he says, “Painters do it. Why don’t we?”

Looks I know who I’ll be taking some cues from when I compose my audio stories.

(Hint: his name starts with “I” and ends with “ra Glass.”)

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