Timmy Time: The Existence of a Column


The lights were off, and all Erik Magnuson ‘12 and I could see was a small light on the stage. It was in his hands, as he walked back and forth in the dark. We all sat and wondered, admired, desired at that glow moving about before us.

Then he spoke. And it was the familiar voice of Ira Glass.

We were seated in the Pabst Theater, having travelled the afternoon with Ratatat and cashews through the sunshine and cornfields of Wisconsin. By then we had eaten our fill of garlic cheese fries, bleu cheeseburgers, and Guinness in an Irish pub in Milwaukee. And there we were, finally hearing his voice in person, this man we had heard before, this man we admired.

The lights turned on, we could see him and he continued to speak, but it took some time to come to terms with it. To comprehend his actual face moving and speaking, and the same voice coming out.

We knew what he was going to talk about, but we had no idea what he would say. He was going to talk about This American Life, but how, what would he tell us?

Ira told us what makes a good story. The motion and sequence of any narrative, and the questions raised and answered in the good ones. The whole time he framed storytelling through the radio, focusing on how a voice can be the most captivating and intimate medium.

Radio is the most connecting of the mediums, he told us, but This American Life also has the most fun. One of the show’s main goals, from the beginning, has been to be fun to listen to. In a journalistic world where the main focus is the threatening, surprising and grave, his show wants to include the stuff that makes life worth living.

At a more fundamental level, storytelling is comforting and satisfying. Something about a good story is irresistible, is fascinating in a human way. “Stories are practice in empathy,” he told us, because they are about people and for people.

What you get in This American Life, are stories focusing on people and their experiences. A more human and whole informative experience is made through voice, music and good storytelling. And that is what we experienced listening to Ira Glass talk about his craft.

Eventually his story ended, and we were left with the memory of his words and a journey home. Driving through the dark highway of the Wisconsin night, Erik and I listened to an old This American Life, quiet and captivated. Satisfied.



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