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Ira Glass, This American Life

Radio stories worth paying for

No, you don`t have to pay to listen to Ira Glass on the legendary programme "This American Life". But the program is so eminently good that many enough do it to keep the program growing

Excellent programme host
So, what is the secret?  The programme host is a great part of it.  Ira Glass is an excellent storyteller with a lot of enthusiasm, curiousity and charisma - and it is flowing right through the microphone out to the listeners.  It is all there when he speaks live to an audience:  At a media conference in Oslo in June he spellbound 550 radio people so much that they demanded the lunch to be postponed to hear it all.
Anywhere anytime
The context of the program is another part of the secret.  Its relevance is not limited by time or space.  Ira Glass does not hunt the news stories of today which will be old stuff and uninteresting tomorrow.  Neither does he go for the local stories of interest only to the people living in the area.  He looks for stories from common people's lives which may touch and move anyone whenever and wherever the programme is distributed.
Stories telling wider stories
The perspective is a third part.  The stories of common people often communicate an understanding of much wider issues of importance to anyone.  Like the story of the policeman who drove his car to an undisturbed place and laid down to take a nap in the back seat.  Only to discover that the back seat of American police cars functions like a prison cell - the doors cannot be opened from the inside.  He - who had arrested a lot of people - suddenly got a first hand experience about how it is being trapped and losing his freedom.  His account and reflections over this situation was indeed a moving story.
Enough listeners donating enough
The qualities of the programme have led to it being sent weekly at more than 500 radio stations around the US.  To most of the listeners it is only a programme they listen to on radio for free.  But there is still enough listeners left who have become fans, have strong feelings for the programme and are willing to donate enough money to keep this type of programming going and growing on their local public radio station.
The business model for the internet?
And it really maybe so that such voluntary donations can be an important business model for the internet age.  The New York Times has - among many others - discovered that they loose 95% of their users when they introduce a pay wall to get access to the content.  So they let it be available for free to reach out to a mass audience.  But within this mass audience they have also discovered that there may be 5% who can appreciate the availability of the content with enhanced services so much that they are willing to pay - and pay enough to cover the use of the 95% as well.  This requires, however, that the content and services are really good and worth paying for.
Success with podcast require a new quality
In Britain The Guardian are making a lot of specialised, high quality podcasts.  They say it opens for a new form for radio - going deeper and broader into the material to be worth downloading and listening to outside the area for local relevance and day-to-day news interest. 
"This American Life" is the prototype of such a program - and it is no coincidence that it most weeks resides on top of the iTunes' list of the world's most popular podcasts. 
The session with Ira Glass and his legendary "This American Life" will be very well worth listening to - not only as a great source of inspiration to programme people, but also with interesting perspectives for radio strategists and sales people.