This American Life will be broadcast on BBC Radio 4 Extra from this Sunday.
As a fan of This American Life (TAL for short), trust me: This is awesome news. For many years now the only way that you could listen to TAL in the U.K. was by subscribing to the podcast on iTunes or by listening to episodes on the This American Life website, and the only way that you found out that the show even existed was by being told by a friend for weeks on end that you just had to listen to it.
What is This American Life? Well, it’s quite hard to describe. Yes, before you say anything, I know this sounds like a wanky thing to say, but it’s true. TAL is a public radio show consisting of stories and presented by Ira Glass (the guy above with the thick-rimmed glasses). Each week has a theme, and the stories during the programme revolve around that theme. Some weeks it might be a documentary, about what it’s like to work on an aircraft carrier in the Arabian Sea during the Iraq War, for example, and another week it might consist of the presenters spending 24 hours at a service station to hear stories of the people passing through. And as new episodes are aired irregularly and each episode can take up months to make, you know each broadcast is going to be high quality. There’s no filler.
Thirteen episodes of This American Life will be broadcast from this Sunday, but Radio 4 Extra has no plans to extend the series or broadcast the current series broadcasting right now in the States. This is a shame. TAL really deserves a permanent Radio 4 slot. Here are nine episodes that you should consider listening to, as well as the episodes due to be played on Radio 4 Extra:
1. Episode 500: “500!”
This episode is a great place to start. To celebrate the 500th episode, Glass and other contributors to the show go through the archives and choose their favourite moments. Here you’ll get a real mix, from an interview with a person who was trapped in the New Orleans Convention Center after Hurricane Katrina, to a story about teenage girls in a detention center who perform a musical number apologising for their actions in front of their parents.
4. Episode 109: “Notes on Camp”
It’s easy to think of summer camps as inhumane. You’ve just finished your year at school and at last it’s the summer holidays, but now you’ve got to pack up your stuff and drive hundreds of miles away from your parents to stay in a camp with strangers your age for a month, maybe two, maybe more.
This episode casts a different light on the ritual of summer camps. American camps sounds amazing. Glass and producer Julie Snyder stayed in a couple of camps in Michigan in 1998. The show consists of interviews with kids and counsellors, as well as contributions from call-ins from listeners. You’ll hear camp stories, ghost stories, and a hell of a lot of harmonicas.
This American Life will be on BBC Radio 4 Extra at 11 a.m. on Sundays, from May 4.