Out on the Wire: The Storytelling Secrets of the New Masters of Radio


I am at work on a major project on the narrative techniques and ideas of the new generation of great American journalists/storytellers on the radio and podcasts. Jumping off from Radio: an Illustrated Guide, a 32-page comic I did in collaboration with Ira Glass back in 1999 (and which you can still buy via TAL), I’ve been talking to radio people and thinking about radio and story pretty much nonstop since April of 2012.

The book is over 200 pages, and will be out August 25 2015 from Broadway Books. Preorder now! Out on the Wire: The Storytelling Secrets of the New Masters of Radio.we are all storytellers

The book features producers from

This American Life (Ira Glass and others)

Snap Judgment (Glynn Washington, Stephanie Foo, Mark Ristich, Pat Mesiti-Miller, Julia Dewitt)

Planet Money (Adam Davidson, Alex Blumberg, Chana Joffee Walt, David Kestenbaum, Robert Smith, Zoe Chace)

Radiolab (Jad Abumrad, Robert Krulwich, Sean Cole, Soren Wheeler)

The Moth (Catherine Burns)

99% Invisible (Roman Mars)

…and more.

These people are pretty much the smartest, coolest people out there in any art form (other than comics) and they know their stuff. I have done my best to draw together their insights and knowledge in a way that will be useful to storytellers in all media.

They also have a LOT to say, most of which I don’t have room for in the book, so I will begin a series of posts with interview excerpts and possibly audio/video in the next months.

If you’re interested in this, you can sign up to follow me in any number of forums.

My newsletter will have links to recent material, and I’ll start a radio-comics-specific sub-list at some point, for which you can indicate interest when you sign up.

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facebook My profile, not a page, but feel free to follow. I post mostly to the public. If you follow me there, you’ll be able to find out when I start a FB page for this book.

and of course, here’s the old reliable RSS for this site.

Ira. Do you have a name for this kind of radio?



Here’s a longer description:

Go behind the scenes of our most ambitious radio programs and witness an intensely creative moment in a medium that’s changing the way we tell stories. 

Every week, millions of devoted fans download or tune in to This American Life, The Moth, Radiolab, Planet Money, Snap Judgment, Radio Diaries, 99% Invisible, and other nonfiction narrative radio shows. The compelling stories they produce are almost cinematic in scope and approach—intricately weaving sound into robust and engaging storytelling. A lot goes into making the shows we love. Anchored by surprising characters and big questions, their stories are tightly structured, edited, and soundtracked, and they introduce us to authentic voices from every walk of life.

Radio and podcasts today are entrepreneurial and DIY; there’s a can-do, collaborative spirit that characterizes people working in this field, fearlessly breaking new artistic ground. And more than ever, given the excellence and explosive popularity of shows like Serial, it’s clear that the creative producers working in this medium hold the key to storytelling secrets that the rest of us must learn.

Out on the Wire, a documentary comic, literally illustrates those secrets, gleaned straight from those on the frontlines of radio’s revolution. With the help of This American Life’s Ira Glass, cartoonist Jessica Abel uncovers just how producers construct a story, spilling some juicy insider details along the way. Jad Abumrad of RadioLab talks about chasing moments of awe with scientists, while Planet Money’s Robert Smith speaks candidly about his slightly embarrassing strategy for putting interviewees at ease. And Abel reveals how mad—really mad—Ira Glass becomes when he receives tough edits from his colleagues. Informative and inventive, Out on the Wire shows us the magic that makes these shows great and why we can’t stop listening to them.