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This American Life: 20 Acts in 60 Minutes

Posted on 27 July 2010

I don’t listen to a lot of radio from the States, but after seeing three recommendations for “This American Life” in three days, I decided to give it a go. I visited their website and clicked on “Favorites” and ultimately chose “20 Acts in 60 Minutes.” The gist is simple: in the hour-long show, they present 20 stories. The math is simple: 3 minutes a story, less, if you account for time the host uses and breaks.

It is brilliant.

Since I regularly put together 2 minute segments on Daybreak, I am even more in awe of how much they are able to convey in such short time. I often find it challenging cutting down a five-minute interview into a two-minute tape, so that they are taking full stories and distilling them to their bare essence is simply inspiring. Particularly great are the stories at the 8:15 mark about a local classifieds radio show in Tennessee and especially the one at 21:59 about the greatest dog name in the world. The thing about both of these is they are such simple stories– the second one, in particular, with two brothers aged 12 and 13 explaining how they named their dog– this could happen anywhere. And yet the story-telling is such that you are captivated by the narrative of this simple non-event that must happens hundreds of times every day around the world– the sort of thing that could easily be glossed over while looking for the next great news story, yet makes for the most memorable bits of radio.

I’m going to take this as my new gold standard for putting together radio packages. If you put the right amount of care into any story, it’s bound to be compelling so long as the person telling it finds it interesting, too.

You can bet I’ll be listening to more of this show on upcoming road trips, and I recommend you do, too: the episode I’m talking about is here, or in the audio player below.


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