Photo illustration: "Radio Producer Plays Tapes and Mixes Music Track," says imaginary marquee of movie house

Glass somehow makes radio a spectator art. (Not an actual movie marquee, though the description isn't far off.)

Live-to-theater technology will serve This American Life fans who can’t get enough

Originally published in Current, April 7, 2008
By Steve Behrens

Not long ago it might have been a surprise that the gentle, horn-rimmed producer of This American Life could go on tour with a compact mixing board, fill five or ten big auditoriums, and slay his audience with a standup act seemingly about documentary radio — leaving fans weak and delighted by demonstrating his sure touch with an audio fader.

It turns out those tours were just practice.

On May 1, Ira Glass will appear on at least 317 movie house screens at once, projected live, several times life-size, in high-definition video, with tickets going for $20 each and merch selling fast in the lobby.

(Armchair impresarios are mumbling: Who’s got a piece of this boy? Could Julio Iglesias have pulled this off, in his prime? Nah. It would take Josh Groban—at least!)

Tickets went on sale April 4 through, an arm of National CineMedia, the same company that fed a live HD broadcast of the Metropolitan Opera’s La Bohème last weekend to just a few more movie-house screens.

This American Life’s radio distributor, Public Radio International came up with the event for the stations, says Mike Arnold, director of content development and strategy. Last year, PRI was impressed that about three dozen pubradio stations pulled together events for the fans around the premiere of This American Life’s TV version on the Showtime cable network.

With the second Showtime season set to start May 4, PRI proposed the live HD broadcast to theaters, which could give stations a cool and easy turnkey event to sponsor, Arnold says.

Glass took a survey to test audience interest and 20,000 people declared that they want to see the show in movie theaters, according to a news release. “After that,” he says in the release, “we had to do the event.”

As of last week, 68 pubradio stations near 101 of the movie houses were planning events, each receiving 20 free tickets, and many buying additional admissions at full price to serve as thank-you gifts to station donors, Arnold says.

Fathom Events is producing the movie-house show in partnership with BY Experience and Chicago Public Radio, the radio producer, in association with PRI.

Details of the show aren’t nailed down yet, planners say it will include clips from the upcoming Showtime season, also in HD, plus Glass’s live narration of a This American Life radio story, an appearance by Chris Wilcha, the Showtime series director, and a Q&A opportunity. To submit your question, write to

The five-camera HD shoot will originate from the sold-out Skirball Center for the Performing Arts in New York at 8 p.m. Eastern time (7 Central and 6 Mountain), with a repeat at 8 Pacific time.

The headline above is slightly revised from print edition.

Web page posted April 7, 2008
Copyright 2008 by Current LLC


Mo' better radio: For Ira Glass, it means surprises, empathy, fun — in 45-second stanzas. Glass lays out his m.o. in a 1998 speech.

This American Life came late to podcasting but then climbed rapidly toward the top of the podcasting charts.


Thirty thousand turn out for This American Life in theaters


Complete theater listing for May 1 event.

PRI describes the digital cinema event and posts a video promo for it.

Why did Glass put the show on Showtime instead of PBS? "Public television is terrible," Glass says. "This isn't the greatest thing for me to say, but it's the truth. In terms of innovation and what they do, you know, it's just not that interesting most of the time." Roger Catlin reported on Glass's comments in the Hartford Courant. [Page down to second item.]


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