It was pitch black in the auditorium. The only light came from a tablet shining between the hands of a figure pacing on stage. Ira Glass’ voice cut through the darkness.
“The first thing that you have to understand is that it’s radio. That not seeing has a power in and of itself.”
Veiled by the shadows, Glass continued to talk about the power of voice in a story and how sight can sometimes be more of a distraction.
Then, the lights turned on.
The audience saw Glass in the flesh for the first time and a round of applause echoed through the room.
“You look different than I thought you would, too,” Glass said.
As creator and host of award-winning radio show “This American Life,” Glass knows how to tell a story. During his talk, “Reinventing Radio,” on Sunday evening in the Christopher Cohan Performing Arts Center (PAC), he told more than a few. Jenna Juday, 32, came to the event not knowing what to expect.
“This was a nice surprise — to actually hear him talk about the process of how they come up with their stories,” she said.
Glass held nothing back as he revealed unknown backstory of his past radio stories, sharing tips, tricks and methods he has used to make engaging radio over the past few decades.
He said one of the main things you have to keep in mind when making broadcast journalism is structure, specifically organizing stories around plot.
“You need forward motion. You need an actual plot and you need the plot to be surprising,” Glass said, later comparing plot points with a train heading toward its destination. “Then the other thing you need is an idea. There has to be a reason for the story to exist; it has to be about something.”
Finding meaning in an idea is of the utmost importance, according to Glass. He said the best way to uncover the meaning in a story is to propose one to the interviewee.
“Ideally, either they’re going to say in a nice way that you’re right and they’re going to add to it, or the ideal thing is they say you’re wrong, and then they’ll have an idea that’s even better than yours. That happens a lot,” he said.
This method of creating stories has proved extremely effective, as listeners of his show can’t seem to turn off the station.
“He’s a supreme storyteller,” said Renee Leton, 54, who has been listening to “This American Life” for 12 years.
Glass said listener rates are so high because of his mastery of narrative tricks, such as plot-driven stories.
“That’s my job: to create a situation where you do not turn off the radio,” he said.
A major failure of journalism, Glass said, is the separation of humor and drama.
“In American broadcast journalism, it’s very, very rare for the funny and the serious to mix in a single story. Which, if you think about it, is weird, because in real life, in the most grave situations a person is in, things do get very funny sometimes in a weird way,” he said.
Glass is known for his mixture of humor and drama in stories, and Juday said that makes him a reliable storyteller.
“He just seems really genuine,” she said.
But part of being genuine involves finding real stories — not an easy task.
“It is a disturbingly inefficient, messy process,” Glass said.
To find good stories that people actually want to hear, Glass said you have to go out in the world, walk around and observe.
“You have to set aside time in the day and in the week when you are consciously looking at stuff and being in the world and reading stuff, thinking about stuff and just noticing what is interesting to you. That will lead you to things,” he said.
Glass appears to be gifted in finding interesting content, and his effective way of telling stories is tried and true.
One of Glass’ trademarks is his voice, easily identifiable on the radio. Through his voice alone, his personality can be felt by his listeners through the speakers.
“I think he has a great voice,” Miller said. “But also, he’s very bright and friendly and down-to-earth.”
The audience walked away from the PAC with a better sense of what it takes to be a broadcast journalist and how radio segments are put together. The main takeaway: Glass’ tireless passion and skill for storytelling are unrivaled, and can only grow.