Fearless Curiosity

I complain about radio a lot. I rant about Gannett owning all of the so-called alternative stations; how National Public Radio is too safe and tidy; how I wish the micro-radio advocates would hurry up and take over.

My tirades have tapered off lately due to the weekly public radio offering "This American Life." In its fifth season, this hour-long show explores a theme—"Be Careful Who You Pretend to Be," "Edge of Sanity," "I Enjoy Being a Girl, Sometimes," to name a few—through essay, interview, and story.

I’ve become an evangelist for this show. It has usurped my dead mother’s place in my small-talk repertoire. My introduction came a little over a year ago when a friend called and told me to turn my radio on—now. Producer Ira Glass and contributing editor Sarah Vowell were detailing the former’s attempt to teach the latter how to drive. Through recorded conversations and after-the-fact commentary, they recounted her transformation from bus rider to car driver. The subject matter grabbed me immediately. I don’t drive. What’s more, friends—former and present—have tried to teach me to drive. So when Vowell drove off the cemetery road to get out of the way of an approaching vehicle, I yelled at my housemates, "It’s me!"

The driving lesson "act," as the segments are called, was part of an episode called "How To." It shared the hour with a piece about a sixth-grader’s manual for staving off attacks by dinosaurs and other wildlife; Junot Diaz’ "How to Date a Browngirl, Blackgirl, Whitegirl, or Halfie"; and interviews with insurance adjusters on how to increase your monetary value. Each act can stand on its own, but the ensembles provide a well-balanced diet of wry humor, edge, and insight. Most of the contributors aren’t well-known, which is why they are some of the most creative, fearless writers out there. The show is hipper, wryer, and rawer than anything else I’ve found on broadcast radio.

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