Support Local Journalism. Join the Cleveland Scene Press Club.

Art of Glass 

NPR's Ira Glass leads a how-to session with cartoons.

Ira Glass, the man behind NPR's weekly radio show This American Life, is accustomed to explaining his cinematic style, which combines interviews with music, fiction, essays, and found sounds to document not just events or people, but humanity.

"Most radio stories are organized around ideas, with the reporter putting together quotes that make specific supporting points: This is how the flood affected the people; this is how the tax bill works," he explains as he sits in his Chicago office, picking his fingernails with a razor blade -- one of the habits he picked up "editing the old way" by splicing tapes. "We're trying to make little movies -- stories where you hear the first minute and get caught up in the characters and wonder what is happening to them."

To help more people create more engaging radio, Glass commissioned a comic book detailing the dos and don'ts of good radio production, and this Monday he'll be in Akron to present a multimedia talk, offering listeners a live glimpse at how he creates his unique documentaries.

The process is not a technical wonder -- Glass uses two CD players, a mixing board, and a microphone -- but one of aesthetics. It's the right combination of sound clips that creates the humanity of his show, like his commentary on the '92 presidential campaign that featured Glass and Bill Clinton, awestruck at the size of a dirigible hangar in Akron.

"I'm demonstrating how to make radio in the style of our show. I think it's kind of shocking for people how simple it is," he says, adding that he's not even sure the digital revolution -- which replaced tapes and razor blades with computers for editing -- has made it any simpler. "There are certain things that are easier, but most of the work is the same."

As is his self-made burden: "I'm trying to chart out a different way to do radio, to enlarge what it is that radio can accomplish."

We welcome readers to submit letters regarding articles and content in Cleveland Scene. Letters should be a minimum of 150 words, refer to content that has appeared on Cleveland Scene, and must include the writer's full name, address, and phone number for verification purposes. No attachments will be considered. Writers of letters selected for publication will be notified via email. Letters may be edited and shortened for space.

Email us at

Support Local Journalism.
Join the Cleveland Scene Press Club

Local journalism is information. Information is power. And we believe everyone deserves access to accurate independent coverage of their community and state. Our readers helped us continue this coverage in 2020, and we are so grateful for the support.

Help us keep this coverage going in 2021. Whether it's a one-time acknowledgement of this article or an ongoing membership pledge, your support goes to local-based reporting from our small but mighty team.

Join the Cleveland Scene Press Club for as little as $5 a month.

Speaking of Highlights

More by Michael Gill

Read the Digital Print Issue

January 5, 2022

View more issues

Most Popular

No recently-read stories.

Visit the archives…


Never miss a beat

Sign Up Now

Subscribe now to get the latest news delivered right to your inbox.


© 2022 Cleveland Scene: 737 Bolivar Rd., Suite 4100, Cleveland, OH 44115, (216) 505-8199
Logos and trademarks on this site are property of their respective owners.

Website powered by Foundation