Not only is this uncharacteristically awesome news for a Monday afternoon, but this is also what makes This American Life (TAL) so compelling: it is constantly pushing the boundaries of radio.
Ira Glass pretty much invented the sound of modern radio; early last year they announced they’d be parting with their long-time distributor PRI to distribute it themselves! They taught us all how to listen to podcasts, a tutorial which we’ve no doubt to thank for the wild success of their spinoff show Serial (they launched a spinoff show! ) which went on to set the record for first podcast to reach 5m downloads and, according to the above-linked NYT article has been downloaded over 100 million times(!) making it the Most Popular Podcast Of All Time.
The most interesting part of all this though is the business behind it. TAL has been innovative in funding practically since their inception. Ira Glass tells in this interview with The Public that in the program’s first year, they made these funny little radio spots for stations to play during their pledge drives–but if the station accepted the spot, they had to accept the show. He says about half of the stations that carried them the first year did it because of those spots. So, TAL doesn’t do pledge drives. Once a year (if necessary, which it wasn’t last year) they take a minute of air time to ask their listeners to contribute to the show. That’s it! Just once! And it works incredibly well. Serial came into being because of a surplus of TAL money, and is able to continue thanks to its listeners.
So I’m really pleased with the announcement that these two amazing, creative, innovative, thought-provoking, compelling, interesting shows are going to be widely available. I’m even more pleased that those geniuses at TAL have devised yet another way to make public radio not just sustainable but profitable. It means they can devote more resources to producing more amazing work.
There’s a greater application here, and it’s one I hope we see more and more of: creative people getting paid their worth. We’ve seen it over and over again with This American Life. I’ve seen it with vloggers like Hank Green and his numerous spinoffs. I love seeing people in industries–especially creative, but also philanthropic–coming up with clever ways to make their work profitable. Maybe one day we’ll figure it out with education.