The award-winning show that might have been a "Journey to Whatever" but instead became "This American Life" reached a milestone with its 500th episode on Friday.
The long-running (almost 18 years) and highly successful radio show focuses each week on a single theme, delivering one long story or several shorter ones. It has been the most popular podcast in the country and won all the major broadcast awards (and it recently earned additional street cred when it emerged victorious in our Public Radio Bracket Madness).
Host Ira Glass seems to be taking it all in stride.
"Honestly, it feels to me more like an odometer rolling over than anything else," he said in an interview with BuzzFeed.
Still, to mark the moment, the man who said he doesn't often look back did spend a little time reflecting on the past. Glass shared a document that is assured a place in public radio history: a piece of paper containing notes scrawled during the meeting in which the show got its name. Among the titles considered were "Glasshouse," "Journey to Whatever," "Radiolicious" and "Mouth Noise."
Glass also shared 11 of his favorite episodes, which he noted also happen to be fan favorites.
- Notes on Camp
- Harper High School One and Two
- The Giant Pool of Money
- Somewhere in the Arabian Sea — "I love how funny and human-sized everyone is in this show. It’s a surprisingly funny show about the war on terror," Glass writes.
- Switched at Birth — Glass: "The structure of this show — where the whole episode you wonder how a mom could know for decades she was raising the wrong baby and finally, she answers it in the end — is perfect."
- Break-Up — "The standout story is Starlee Kine’s essay on breakup songs, which includes an interview with Phil Collins that’s so menschy and real, it changed how I saw him forever."
- Babysitting — "Especially the interview with Myron Jones, which is the best interview I’ve ever done, mainly because he had so much grace and humor talking about his past. Any question I could think of, he’d come back with an amazing story, which is rare."
- My Big Break — "David Segal takes a turn in the middle of this story that’s one of my favorite reveals in any radio story ever."
- Harold Washington — "How can you go wrong when the central figure in your story is funny and cantankerous and bighearted and idealistic and utterly pragmatic and on top of all that, totally charismatic? If you don’t know who Harold is, be prepared for a treat."
- Heretics — "Carlton Pearson, like Harold, is someone they should make a movie about, for lots of the same reasons. An idealistic preacher whose idealism costs him pretty much everything: the church he runs, his reputation, his fortune, nearly his family."
But Glass didn't stop there. Other episodes and stories he said he loves "for purely selfish reasons" were:
- Our Friend David
- Americans in Paris
- Act One, What I Did For Love
- Act Three, Medieval Times, Simulated Worlds
- Act Two, Accidental Documentaries
- Very Tough Love
- 24 Hours at the Golden Apple
And finally, for good measure, he threw in the Christmas and Commerce show. It was the first time on radio for David Sedaris and the first time they worked together. "Putting it on the radio changed my life as much as it changed his."
More than a few lives, no doubt, were changed by putting "This American Life" on the radio.