A Census of This American Life

This American Life: How do we love thee? Let me count the ways: 60,000 apps downloaded from the iPhone store in the first month! At $2.99 a pop, that means the TAL-app developed by PRX is well on its way to being a bestseller and a healthy, respectable source of revenue.

And who would expect anything else? Ira Glass is a public media rock star. Once upon a time, when I told people I worked in public radio, they would ask, “Do you know Terry Gross?” Nowadays, it’s always Ira, Ira, Ira.

Scott Simon might have more than 1.3 million followers on Twitter (myself included) but who else in public radio has inspired pillows and tattoos, possible graffiti and blogs like “Dear Ira Glass?”

Ira Glass is inspired and inspiring. He’s a creative genius (MacArthur Foundation, are you listening?) Some haters in the blogosphere complain his voice sounds whiny and his delivery is mumbly, but he calls it a “punk rock aesthetic.” This sheikh of geek is a host who has found his voice (whether you like it or not) and is not afraid to use it, in nearly every media platform possible, including the latest and hippest – the hugely successful iPhone app.

I admit it: I am a fan. But who cares about me? I’m in the bulls-eye of the aging public radio demographic, like Ira himself. But Ira, with his boyish-seeming sensibility, is the only public radio personality that the 20-somethings I know actually care about with groupie-like passion. I haven’t seen the demographics of his audience, but I wouldn’t be surprised to learn that clans of TAL-heads (like Deadheads) criss-cross the country to see his every live gig. OK, I made that up, but it sounds plausible, no?

2010 is a Census year. The U.S. government engages in a massive counting of the population, home by home, family by family, to get a better picture of life in America. So, I thought it would be interesting to do a Census of This American Life, the radio phenomenon, and also to take a measure of the man behind the microphone.

And why not? Everyone in media is obsessed with metrics. What’s your share, your cume, your time spent listening? Are you tracking your hits, page views, impressions, subscribers and downloads? How many friends and fans and followers do you have? In our competitive culture, if something is measurable, we seem compelled to do the accounting.

So, I sent over a list of questions to TAL to “do the numbers” as they say on Marketplace. Not all questions were answered, so I did a little reaching out to fill in some of the blanks. Since numbers, like moods, are always in flux, of one fact I’m certain: this count will be wrong just as soon as its published. (You can find my list of sources at the end).

This American Life: Paint-By-Numbers

# of episodes produced: 401
# of full timers on staff: 10
# of interns: 1
# of TAL podcast downloads: between 500,000 and 600,000 times per week
# of stations airing TAL: over 500
Age of host: 51 in March (Happy Birthday!)
Average age of staff: 37 or thereabouts
% of staff who wear glasses: 80% at least some of the time, or 82% if you count the intern
# of years Ira has worked in public radio: 32
# of years TAL has been on the air: 15 as of November, 2010
# of episodes of This American Life on Showtime: 12
Weekly Audience for TAL: 1.8 million
# Facebook Fans for TAL: 164,108 (and growing)
Ira’s Income: $216,000 (FY 2008 through WBEZ)
Ira’s non-profit speaking fee: $25,000
# of iPhone apps sold so far: 60,000
Google Results for “Ira Glass”:  213,000
Google Results for “This American Life”: 886,000


How’s your This American Life App-titude? Numerologists out there, what can you divine from these digits? What other stats might you be interested in knowing? Share your ideas by clicking on comments button below.

Here’s what I’d still like to know:

Ira’s weekly Time Spent Listening (TSL) to public radio:
Cost to develop iPhone app:
Projected net revenue from iPhone app in 2010:
How big is the “giant pool of money” Ira has raised for public radio during his career?:

Finally, the TAL iPhone app has been such a rousing success. I have an idea for another app that could be popular, given how many Ira wannabees there may be out there. How about a “This American Voice Game: YOU Can Be Ira 2.0.” Here’s how it works: using your smart phone, take a picture of yourself and record yourself speaking for a minute or two. The app will add over-sized dorky black-rimmed glasses to your photo and will play back your own message with the unmistakable pacing, nasal tones, and “punk rock aesthetic” of Ira Glass. How many downloads do you think this app might get? Would you buy it? Would you download it if it were free?

Sources: Emily Condon (This American Life), Jake Shapiro (PRX),,, Steven Barclay Agency, Google, Facebook, Twitter.