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Heart of Glass

The host of This American Life looks back on a life spent in radio.

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Ira Glass maintains the same car-radio ritual on his drive to work every morning at Chicago's WBEZ studios. Naturally, the host of National Public Radio's This American Life would listen to the network's Morning Edition. But to surf back and forth between its news show and Howard Stern? "I think he's the most emotionally honest, hard-to-predict person on the air, and he's No. 1 for a reason," says Glass, who reminisces about his 28-year radio career on Monday at the Ohio Theatre.

"I can take leave of all the girls taking off their clothes, because I've heard it all before. But in any given half-hour, he's got a bunch of characters -- you know who they are, he puts them in situations, and you listen to them react. I just straight-up enjoy it."

Same can be said about recording his hour-long show every week. (It's heard on WCPN-FM 90.3 every Sunday morning.) Since 1995, Glass and his posse of producers and reporters have woven together stories about ordinary people with extraordinary lives.

In a recent episode titled "Know Your Enemy," former Dead Kennedys frontman Jello Biafra was pitted against the prosecutor who charged the punk rocker, in 1985, with distributing porn to minors (the band's album, Frankenchrist, included a poster called "Penis Landscape"). Two decades later, the prosecutor picked up the phone and apologized to Biafra on Glass's show. "You don't hear a public figure say so cleanly, 'I was completely wrong. I thought I was doing the right thing,'" notes Glass.

But Glass cringes when he hears the FCC cracking down on foul shock-jock banter. For fear the feds would slap him with a fine, Glass chose to bleep the word "screw" in a lyric that set up the Biafra piece. "I'm perfectly happy to say screw off the air, but that price is a little steep," he says. "That's a lot of coffee mugs to get rid of at pledge time to raise a quarter-million dollars."

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