Ira Glass started working in public radio in 1978 when he was 19, as an intern at National Public Radio's Washington Headquarters. Over the course of the next 17 years, he worked on nearly every NPR news show, and did nearly every production job they had: he was a tape cutter, desk assistant, newscast writer, editor, producer, reporter and substitute host.
He moved to Chicago in 1989. From there, he did several documentary series about public schools and about race relations for NPR. One followed a group of sophomores at Lincoln Park High School over a span of three years. Another documented school reform at Taft High School for a year. Yet another tracked life at Washington Irving Elementary School for a year.
This American Life went on the air in November of 1995.