published Monday, April 8th, 2013

Radio storyteller Ira Glass packs Tivoli

Ira Glass, host of Public Radio International's "This American Life," talked about his popular radio program in a presentation titled "Reinventing Radio" this afternoon at the Tivoli Theatre. Glass discussed the power of radio to entertain and educate. He was the final speaker in the George T. Hunter Lecture Series, which is sponsored by the Benwood Foundation and University of Tennessee at Chattanooga.
Ira Glass, host of Public Radio International's "This American Life," talked about his popular radio program in a presentation titled "Reinventing Radio" this afternoon at the Tivoli Theatre. Glass discussed the power of radio to entertain and educate. He was the final speaker in the George T. Hunter Lecture Series, which is sponsored by the Benwood Foundation and University of Tennessee at Chattanooga.
Photo by Connor Choate.

As the lights dimmed in the Tivoli Theatre on Sunday afternoon, hundreds of "This American Life" fans hushed quickly.

And when program host Ira Glass walked on stage, the audience welcomed him with uproarious applause.

"Why wouldn't everyone want to come?" longtime listener Sarah Woodard asked.

In a theatrical trick, Glass kept the lights off. Only the glow of his iPad mini gave him away as he paced back and forth across the stage.

He explained that the power of radio comes from a lack of distraction.

"Without the distraction of someone's face, the words go right inside me. There's an intimacy to just hearing someone's voice," he said.

For many faithful listeners, it's the purity of these voices that keeps them coming back for more.

"He's bringing real personal stories to a large audience and really representing them rather than exploiting them," said John Lynn, who went to high school in Chattanooga and now visits on the weekends.

Glass was the final speaker in the George T. Hunter Lecture Series, which is sponsored by the Benwood Foundation and University of Tennessee at Chattanooga.

The main goal of "This American Life" when the Public Radio International program started 17 years ago, Glass said, was to make radio fun. The point wasn't just to produce something that was good for you.

"We wanted to take the whiff of broccoli out of the air," he said. "Our mission will be entertainment, and we won't be ashamed."

But what starts off as entertainment often can lead to education.

"I like having my mind challenged," said Chattanooga resident Jennifer Martin, a fan of the program that airs on WUTC 88.1 on Sunday nights.

Glass went on to play clip after clip of stories, some all humor and others with a hint of tragedy. In nearly two hours, he covered a 13-year-old girl's ordeal in New Zealand when she was nearly drowned by a shark, a Chicago high school that faces regular gun violence and a woman whose house flew through the air in a tornado.

Each story had a chorus of voices speaking to the topic, something Martin finds very appealing.

"I like how they'll take one different thread and look at it from multiple perspectives," she said.

For Glass, it's these humorous or surprising elements, these human voices, that are vital to tell. Without them, the whole story isn't being told.

"Without them, I feel like it makes the world much smaller," he said.

Contact staff writer Lindsay Burkholder at lburkholder@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6592.

about Lindsay Burkholder...

Lindsay Burkholder is originally from Winston-Salem, N.C. She graduated from Covenant College in May 2012 with a bachelor's degree in English. While at Covenant she spent time writing for and editing the news section of the school newspaper, The Bagpipe. Burkholder also attended the World Journalism Institute in New York City in 2011.

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