Twitter  After 11 days, Twitter shuts down @ReplayLastGoal nie.mn/1nf3s1u  
Nieman Journalism Lab
Pushing to the future of journalism — A project of the Nieman Foundation at Harvard

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.

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

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.

                                   
What to read next
mind-control-cc
Ken Doctor    July 10, 2014
“It’s not the hive that’s at issue here. It’s the big, monopolistic beekeepers who should give us pause.”
  • http://twitter.com/schaffertom Tom Schaffer

    “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?”

    Yes he would. How I do know that? Because I am from Austria. I don’t know This American Life (or The Moth, or Dan Carlin, or…) from listening to some radio. I just know it because it is released as a podcast on iTunes. And surprisingly enough everyone around here who enjoys a good radio/podcast show from time to time knows TIA as well. It doesn’t matter that it isn’t “on air” anywhere. That is simply a result of it’s outstanding quality.

    Who cares if a good show is delivered via the web or via some kind of transmitter? The crucial thing is that people want to listen to it, then they will. Especially people who speak English have half of the world as a potential audience now.

  • http://www.venturevoice.com gregory

    re: “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?”

    It’s not like radio has been a wonderful, democratic birthplace for stars. All have to go through gatekeepers just to get a shot at stardom, and then stardom is quite unlikely. How many radio stars can the average person name? How many Ira Glasses never even got a shot at having a show because the station manager didn’t like them?

    The Internet on the other hand has birthed many stars, from Bieber to BoingBoing to popularized Ted Talks to the Kahn Academy. Incidentally, I discovered This American Life as a podcast.

    I’m with Ira — who cares about radio.

  • MMW

    Gregory and Tom –

    It is easy to say that one discovered This American Life as a podcast and dismiss the importance of radio. But This American Life is on iTunes because it has an audience of tens of millions via NPR stations and that is why it will show up on iTunes (a new gatekeeper)  and show up with a preferred placement (with 13877 ratings as I write this) and with a branding (Chicago Public Radio) that might make you look twice.

    The gatekeeper role is undoubtedly changing and no one can argue that. In my opinion the verdict is still out on what the new reality will mean – will it mean the Ira Glass types who didn’t make it now will? Or will it mean that is is harder for quality to obtain a mass audience (Bieber and Boing Boing notwithstanding)? I hope it is the former and we can continue to say it is the message and not the medium.

  • http://www.venturevoice.com gregory

    I’m just trying to become the first breakout Disqus commenter star, but having Tom post almost the exact same idea that I had a few seconds before me doesn’t bode well for my career.

  • michele l

    Live radio survives because it provides a surreal artificial form of company to the masses. As long as it continues to remain live it should go on.  

  • http://www.pbcliberal.com PBCliberal

    There’s nobody at the controls most of the time in the vast majority of radio stations these days. The radio is the mass media version of the telegram, which has been replaced by the text message which is ubiquitous. There is little reason to remain the slave of a serial delivery medium that you can’t easily suspend or time shift when there are audio delivery mediums that easily can be.

    It is time for us to get over radio the way we got over the horse and buggy. 

  • Diane

    I work in the newspaper industry. All I can say is, whatever that “something new,” is, they’d better start right now on figuring out how to monetize it. Good storytelling isn’t cheap, and not many of us can afford to do it for free.

  • http://twitter.com/RebeccaDavis RebeccaDavis

    “It’s disturbingly nostalgic. I mean, who cares if it survives? Who cares if radio survives? Like, something else will happen,”  Ira Glass

  • http://www.americancarpoint.com/body_by_make_model.php?MID=BMW bmw cars

    wow this is so nice that you 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.