This American Life (so Canadian?)

September 8, 2008

Recently, I’ve been hearing a LOT about the radio show This American Life produced by Chicago Public Radio down in the States. The weekly show hosted by Ira Glass, runs one hour long, and is basically a grab bag of stories, testimonials, rants, investigations, and so on in that vein. Each episode has a sort of theme that attempts to connect and string together all of the stories heard in that hour.

I must admit, the show is great. It’s funny. It’s heartfelt. It’s about what it means to be human.

But I can’t help feel a bit of animosity towards how much hype the show has been getting, especially from Canadians. See, we have this great thing up here in Canada called the CBC, which amongst other media broadcasting, is also on the radio. And there is some great stuff on CBC Radio. Stories with as much human interest as This American Life. Stories as full of humour, tragedy and drama. Stories that are just as tender or fantastic. But I rarely hear as much interest voiced for our own home-bred stories as I do for those on the Yankee program.

Perhaps this is not the fault of the listeners, but of the broadcasters. What is the CBC doing to make sure it keeps up with a niche market that it definitely had a hand in crafting? They have such a history of bringing great human interest stories to the air, how could they let their foothold slip to some cool kids in Chicago? We’ve got cool kids up here in the land of ice and snow (probably cooler for that matter). Is the CBC getting out there and actually listening to the undercurrents of Canadian society, because that’s what This American Life is doing with American culture, and it’s serving them so much the better as far as getting their show heard!

This entry isn’t meant to so much rag on the CBC Radio as it is to encourage them, and to let those who haven’t given the good old Canadian Broadcasting Corporation a fair chance, to go back and give them another listen. How about Saturday afternoons with Sook-Yin Lee and Definitely Not the Opera, or weekday mornings with Shelagh Rogers and Sounds Like Canada, or weekday afternoons with Jian Ghomeshi?

There’s so much out there in the land of radio, but there’s still so much potential for better.


2 Responses to “This American Life (so Canadian?)”

  1. Peter Says:


    So I went to the This American Life movie last night and started wondering if there was a good CBC equivalent. So I googled “This American Life” and “Canada” and this blog came up. So is there anything that compares? I’ve tried listening to Definitely Not The Opera and while it has some promise, it comes across as being disjointed and not as smoothly assembled as the stories on TAL.

    Johnathan Goldstein (who writes for TAL) has a show that I will have to check out but if you have any suggestions, I’d love to hear them.


    • nathanz Says:

      Hi Peter – lately, CBC programming has been suffering from underfunding and “creative issues” (read: poor choices, like the altering of CBC Radio 2 line-up from classical to pop music). Currently, however, I can recommend a few CBC programs worth checking out. One of my favourites – though it might seems a bit “wholesome” or “feel-good” for more world-weary listeners – is The Vinyl Cafe with Stuart McLean
      . The show is a blend of music and stories and is one of the best creative projects of its kind currently on the airwaves. If you haven’t checked out Q with Jian Ghomeshi – recently famous for Jian’s interview with the train-wreck of a personality, Billy Bob Thorton – you should
      . Besides being a radio show, Q also has a video-podcast portion to it, which is a great visual supplement. A very interesting and intellectually stimulating program is Ideas And a wonderful personality is Shelagh Rogers, whose show Sounds Like Canada has been recently debunked, but if you can find episodes of it on podcast, she’s definitely worth a listen. Shelagh is a great interviewer. So that’s just some of my suggestions, and check out the CBC Radio website if you have time and patience to search through it for the good stuff. Michael Enright is another interviewer you should take a listen to – he’s got a fabulous radio voice!

      In the end, I appeal to the CBC to reconsider their direction, and to look to shows like This American Life and the success it has garnered for inspiration.

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