This American Life Turns 25. Has it Grown Too Big?


PodMov Daily: Friday, December 11

Episode 335: Week Download Complete

In 25 Years, Has This American Life Grown Too Big?

This month marks 25 years since Glass founded This American Life. Sam Wolfson of The Guardian spoke with Glass and several others about the program’s evolution, from the mid-1990s to Serial to now. The Pulitzer Prize-winning radio show has 2.2 million weekly listeners, with a further 3.1 million podcast downloads.

In 2006, releasing the show as a podcast was a seemingly minor distribution decision. (According to producer Nancy Updike, “It didn’t seem like, ‘Here’s a moneymaker.’”) Glass summarizes its staggering level of influence on media since: “A generation of podcasters heard what we were doing and sought to improve upon it.”

Despite anchoring a legacy media company, This American Life starts from scratch each week — after the team kills half its potential stories. “Weirdly, it hasn’t got any easier to make the show,” Glass says. “There are things we know we do well, but we’ve also set more ambitious goals, so the stories we do are much harder.”

Lessons from Podcast Production Against All Odds

Adonde Media founder Martina Castro is used to podcast recording sessions all over the world. However, there’s no preparing for work in conflict zones right as a pandemic hits. Castro reflects on lessons learned by the multilingual, woman-led production team of Seeking Peace as they built its second season.

From Georgetown University, the podcast tells the stories of high-profile and on-the-ground peace activists in countries like Yemen, Libya, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. When pushing through safety and logistical issues, Castro says, “Trust is at the center of it all.” Trust among the team, but also outside of it.

Podcasters in less extreme scenarios still have to adapt. “Don’t let the challenges make you lose sight of your end goal,” Castro advises. “When it comes to the tradeoffs of producing in difficult situations, know when you can make exceptions on your principles, but be all on the same page as to where you draw the line.”

Wildcast: A Truly Collaborative Podcast Platform

The podcast industry thrives on connections, and so does your show (and for the guests out there, your brand!) Wildcast is a podcast platform solving collaboration on the great frontier. Podcasters, guests, and networks use Wildcast to streamline every step. Finding the perfect ad trade — or your next brilliant guest — just got easier.

Recently featured in Forbes, Wildcast’s patent-pending networking and productivity platform is your opportunity to create outstanding podcast content and promote your show or message. For more effective cross-promotion, connect with like-minded creators and let the sparks fly.

Communicate through simple, secure messaging (bye, cluttered emails) and schedule projects with your custom calendar. Still in soft-launch, this collaborative camp is completely free to join. Ready to tell better stories together?

Appreciation is a wonderful thing: It makes what is excellent in others belong to us as well.

Here's what else is going on:

  • In time: Seven years in, the acclaimed race and culture podcast Code Switch has blown up. Why? “What transpired at Code Switch between its birth and this appalling year is a lesson in how innovation happens at NPR,” writes Kelly McBride. “It's not a fairy tale. But it is unique to public media.”
  • No charge: Producing a podcast on a shoestring budget? Audio fiction producer Tal Minear has you covered. Minear kindly shares a list of free programs and resources they use to produce Sidequesting, including website hosting, sound libraries, and tools for visual graphics and organization.
  • Trust me: It’s often said that host-read ads sound like an endorsement from a trusted friend. Simon Spichak gives curious brands a big-picture overview of podcast vs. traditional sponsorships: “I began wondering about the psychology of these ads and what makes them so damn effective.” 
  • Cashing in: The Future of Audio, a new three-part podcast series from Spotify and The Drum, focuses on “how digital audio presents brands with boundless creative opportunities.” Listener targeting, mainly: “It also touches upon how context and data can power the effectiveness of ads.”

Don't miss an episode of The Daily

Share With a Friend

About the Author


Join the Movement