Today on This American Life: chronological milestones. Do they matter? Or are they just arbitrary numbers on a calendar to which society has attributed undue significance? Ira Glass, who has presided over TAL ever since it was a Chicago-only show called Your Radio Playhouse and wasn’t even subdivided into acts, has some thoughts on the matter and has formed them into a brief but poignant editorial on the occasion of This American Life’s 20th anniversary. Fans should not expect the calm, reflective public radio superstar to get all mushy here. His reflections begin with the words: “I hate nostalgia, so I’ll keep this brief.” Mostly, Glass uses this opportunity to chronicle how much the show has changed over the course of two decades, from doing “stories that were too small and personal for most traditional journalists” to tackling “hardcore documentary reporting that we simply didn’t have the staff or money to do for our first 15 years on the air.”
Encouragingly, though he does have some kind words to say about past episodes, Ira Glass is clearly concentrating on the future of his long-running program. “Honestly,” he writes, “it still feels like there’s so much to do, so much to try that we’ve never tried, so much to explore. It still feels like we’re at the beginning of something.” To illustrate that point, he mentions the numerous podcasts that were obviously influenced by the work being done on This American Life. This includes not only the popular TAL spin-off Serial but also such excellent series as Mystery Show, Invisibilia, and Radiolab, many of which feature TAL contributors and graduates. Glass’ little radio show, which didn’t even go national for its first seven months, has now inspired a whole world of audio journalism. Still and all, Glass understands that people will want to share memories of This American Life and encourages them to use the #20YearsofTAL hashtag on Twitter to do so.