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A conversation with David Rose, little magazine veteran and publisher of Lapham’s Quarterly
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Nov. 4, 2011, 2:30 p.m.

Ira Glass: ‘Who cares if radio survives? Something else will happen’

Question about future of radio make Ira angry. He optimistic about future of craft.

It’s a predictable but important question, whenever you get a group of successful radio storytellers in a room. Will the medium survive? Or rather, do talented people still need the traditional institutions of radio to do good work?

Apparently this is the magic question that activates Angry Ira Glass.

At WFMU’s Radiovision Festival last Saturday, Ira Glass (This American Life), Marc Maron (WTF), and Tom Scharpling (The Best Show On WFMU) gathered for a panel discussion about, among other things, the future of the craft. Eventually, moderator Therese Mahler asked the magic question.

Glass replied, agitated: “For some reason radio seems to survive, and I believe it’s because as long as there are cars with radios and people are lazy, people will get into a car and turn on a radio.”

Later, he continued: “It’s disturbingly nostalgic. I mean, who cares if it survives? Who cares if radio survives? Like, something else will happen,” Glass said. When Maron pressed him for what, exactly, that might be, Glass struggled to come up with an answer.

It’s easy for Glass not to worry now, his stardom secured. But would an equally talented Ira Glass, starting his career today, in a noisy, fragmented, podcast-saturated world, without the support of terrestrial radio, find the same success?

I don’t think Glass is necessarily fatalistic or pessimistic about radio, however. He seems to think the craft of radio is just fine, whatever may happen to the medium.

You can listen to the (highly entertaining) five-minute exchange with the Radiovision panelists and read excerpts of Glass’s comments below.

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Ira Glass: I feel like as a people we have to officially stop asking if radio is going to survive. It’s so boring! I feel like I get asked that, like, every two weeks of my life, and the fact is we don’t have to decide that. You know what I mean? We don’t have to come to a judgment on that.

For some reason radio seems to survive, and I believe it’s because as long as there are cars with radios and people are lazy, people will get into a car and turn on a radio. And thank God people are fucking lazy. And like radio sort of just is there. And then in addition, people who are on radio doing anything interesting can put it out as a podcast and get a second audience, and so it seems like the whole computer thing has just been actually good for radio and the style that we do it. And I think it’s going to be fine.

I don’t think we have to worry. If radio goes away, something else will happen, and who gives a fuck that it’s gone?

Therese Mahler: There will still be people telling stories.
Glass: We’re built to tell stories! And— my wife says that in every panel I ever do, at some point I start to get angry…
Mahler: Maybe we should have made you the Hulk! [Illustrator Brian Musikoff had sketched the three radio personalities as superheroes, with Scharpling as the Hulk.]
Marc Maron: Ira’s angry!
Mahler: Ira smash!
Glass: I think the question of, like, “Is radio going to survive?” — it’s disturbingly nostalgic. I mean, who cares if it survives? Who cares if radio survives? Like, something else will happen.
Maron: Like what? I mean, I know you can say that, but you gotta have some forward thinking on this. What are the options?
Glass: Well they have this thing where they attach pictures to the radio. There’s that! You know, there’s like…videos on the Internet, or, I don’t know.
Mahler: I guess by “Will radio survive?” I meant, will it become more driven by an individual rather than a larger organization like NPR or something? Is it becoming less about institutions and more about individuals?
Maron: Yeah, in my case it definitely is, and it’s beautiful.
Glass: There’s never been a better time to do creative work than right now. You can get stuff started. You can get it out to people. And you can turn it into a business if it’s decent. And there are more ways to get work to material. And it’s easier to get work. We are at a peak. Everything about our country is going to hell. Our politics, industry — like this is the one part of America which is actually going great.
Maron: Yeah, you can put stuff out there, no matter what. And if you do it consistently and compulsively, people will come to it.
Glass: China hasn’t beaten us on that yet.
Maron: What, you mean narcissism? We’re way ahead of the communists with the narcissist thing.

Special thanks to Benjamen Walker, Ken Freedman, Irene Trudel, and Therese Mahler for their help with this story. My terrible Photoshop job is based on an image by Eneas De Troya used under a Creative Commons license.

POSTED     Nov. 4, 2011, 2:30 p.m.
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