New distributor for ‘American Life’

Ira Glass

Ira Glass

Just as Ira Glass promised, it didn’t take long for “This American Life” to land a new distributor. Sources tell me it’s going from PRI to PRX.

After 17 years with Public Radio International, the award-winning weekly radio program announced Thursday that it was severing ties with the Minneapolis-based outfit that oversees sales, marketing and transmission of the show to 587 stations nationwide.

Although all parties involved are keeping mum (host and executive producer Glass will say only that he’ll have an announcement “sometime soon”), insiders said Friday an agreement is expected with Public Radio Exchange, another distributor of public radio programming, based in Cambridge, Mass. The current deal with PRI expires on July 1.

PRX already distributes Greg Kot and Jim DeRogatis’s “Sound Opinions” (also produced by Chicago Public Media WBEZ FM 91.5), as well as “The Moth Radio Hour,” “State of the Re:Union,” “Snap Judgment,” “American Routes” and “WTF with Marc Maron.” On the board of directors of PRX is Torey Malatia, former president and CEO of Chicago Public Media and the man Glass frequently credits with co-creating “This American Life.”

PRI has been distributing the show since 1997 — two years after it began locally as “Your Radio Playhouse” on WBEZ. Since 2006, production of the show has been based in New York.

“During our most recent negotiation, it became clear that our organizations’ expectations regarding our futures were different,” PRI said in a statement posted on its website Thursday.

Initial news reports of the split with PRI led to confusion about whether “This American Life” would still be available to its 2.2 million weekly listeners. “Panic ripped through public radio circles overnight, after it was announced on Thursday that Public Radio International (PRI) would no longer be distributing mainstay 'This American Life,' ” reported

“Dear @Variety and everyone else: We are not going off the radio, just switching distributors,” the program quickly  tweeted. “But thanks for the concern!”

Alison Scholly, interim CEO of Chicago Public Media, reassured WBEZ staffers in a memo: “A few news outlets are making this a bigger story than it is, so we wanted to make sure that everyone knows that: 1) there will be no impact on our listeners’ ability to receive the show; and 2) we’ll be announcing our new distribution partner in the next few months.”

Here is the full text of Glass’ blog post:

We’re leaving our distributor Public Radio International. What this means for listeners is ... nothing! We’ll continue to make our radio show and podcast. The same public radio stations will continue to broadcast it. They just won’t be getting it through PRI.

PRI has been a great partner. When we signed up with them in 1997, we were already on over a hundred public radio stations. It’d taken us a year to get that many. In three months, PRI doubled the number. A miracle. Over the years since, they built that number to 587 stations.

But looking at where PRI is now pushing its business and where we're growing – especially on the digital side of things, which we’ve always done without PRI – both we and our colleagues at PRI came to the same conclusion: to go our separate ways.

Most listeners I meet seem utterly unaware of who our distributor is, or they think – mistakenly – that we’re part of NPR. NPR is the company that puts out Morning Edition and All Things Considered and many fine programs. But there are several other companies that distribute public radio shows around the country. Local public radio stations get shows from all of them.

We’ll announce sometime soon what our new plan is to distribute the show to radio stations.