This American Life: 20 Favourites

20 Favourites from This American Life

Would you be surprised if I told you that radio programs are responsible for a decent part of my daily happiness and entertainment? I blogged before about radio shows I love and since it’s the weekend and we all have some free time on our hands, I thought it would be nice to do a no-fuss guide to one of my favourite programs: This American Life.

If you have never heard of this great show from WBEZ and hosted by Ira Glass then I promise that you are really missing out and this is why I wanted to blog about it today, to encourage you to give it a chance because I swear it will make your commute, your chores and your evenings in about a hundred times better.

I may have grown up without a television but I always loved the audio format. Long before we used buzzwords like “content” and “storytelling”, before the slam poetry nights of my university days and the diary-reading events like Cringe were a thing; I was very much taken with radio programs, especially the ones where strangers would call in and share personal anecdotes, opinions, frustrations, and most of all… secrets.

In fact when I was nine years old, my younger sister Melissa and I spent the best part of a scorchingly hot summer crouched upon a tape recorder, busying ourselves with mimicking adult voices, standing in for the hosts, callers and interviewees of various made-up programs, and we even included the advertising breaks. If that’s not dedication, I don’t know what is. I still have those tapes buried at the bottom of my bedroom’s closet at home, and I’m pretty sure they’re displaying their own crayola artwork.

Fast-forward a few years and I’m a teenager in high-school, rushing upstairs after dinner, making a beeline for my bed, throwing my homework and clothes to the floor without ceremony and plugging in my long-cabled headphones to the chunky stereo system. My favourite program is on this evening and I don’t want to miss the start so I lean back, legs propped up against the wall, and push the volume up.

It’s on a radio station called Le Mouv; it’s irreverent and funny and home to some great indie music and bands. My friends across the city are probably tuning in too because from 9pm to midnight, we are privy to the rambling, debating, and cards-on-table chit-chat of a posse of raucous girls in their early twenties and they’re a riot to listen to. Sort of like if you had been invited to sit in with the coolest group of friends of your older sister, for the sort of sleepover where there’s booze, great music and uncensored discussions about sex.

We would always talk about the show the next day and dare ourselves to call in to contribute to the anecdotes. One school night, I worked up the nerve to call and on that week, people actually stopped me at school to say they had heard me on the radio and thought the story I shared was funny. It kind of rocked my world for a while.

Then for some reason, probably because iPods and Spotify came along, I virtually stopped listening to the radio unless I was in the car and if I’m honest, I didn’t think I missed it. It took years for me to come back to the medium until one day randomly, after I had moved to London and met my friend Emma, she introduced me to this great show she was listening to and with it, opened the door to a whole world of podcasts I would fall in love with.

We must have been chatting and lazing around on the concrete rooftop of her little studio in Bethnal Green on a Spring afternoon when she recalled a story she had heard on the program and realised I had no idea what she was talking about because I had never heard of the show. So she slid her phone towards me and had me listen to an episode right there and then as we were dozing off behind our sunglasses.

I fell in love instantly and to this day, I have listened to well over 500 episodes starting all the way back in 1995. That’s why I felt compelled to write about it with the hope that I can pass the addiction on to one of my readers; maybe someone who has never lived in the States or heard of the show, maybe even someone who doesn’t think they would enjoy listening to podcasts at all?

I promise that this selection of episodes will make you fall for the program too, that it will enhance your life, that you will crave the next available stretch of 15 minutes where you can catch up with a particularly riveting episode, and that examples and quotes from the stories, fictional or otherwise, will work their way into your daily conversation.

So here are twenty favourite episodes from This American Life which I hope you will enjoy listening to and love as much as I do. I would love to know about the radio programs or podcasts that you listen to; my addiction needs to be fed, so let me know your recommendations!

Episode 109 – Notes on Camp
Episode 165 – Americans in Paris
Episode 172 – 24 Hours at the Golden Apple
Episode 175 – Babysitting
Episode 178 – Superpowers
Episode 186 – Prom
Episode 199 – House on Loon Lake
Episode 282 – DIY
Episode 296 – After the Flood
Episode 319 – And the Call was Coming from the Basement
Episode 323 – The Super
Episode 339 – Breakup
Episode 352 – The Ghost of Bobby Dunbar
Episode 355 – The Giant Pool of Money
Episode 360 – Switched at Birth
Episode 388 – Rest Stop
Episode 443 – Amusement Park
Episode 492 – Dr Gilmer and Mr Hyde
Episode 507 – Confessions
Episode 513 – Cars

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