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Radio silence: the empty space in This American Life

There’s a common saying in jazz that it’s not about the notes you play, but the notes you don’t play.1

This American Life did an impressive thing with their most recent episode, Retraction, which was entirely dedicated to retracting an earlier episode about Apple and their Chinese production facilities.

Not only did they make an extremely compelling hour of radio about something that is really an internal affair, but they were also unusually symmetrical in their retraction; that is, they’ve given it as much space and prominence as the original story, which is admirable.

One aspect that makes the episode so interesting is the amount of silence they’ve left in the interview. When lies come to light, it’s an uncomfortable experience for everybody involved. This American Life did a great job of capturing that discomfort, and left more awkward silence than I’ve ever heard on a radio show. To get back to that jazz saying, it was the words they weren’t saying, the rests and pauses, that really told the story.

In that spirit, I’ve made a supercut of some of the longest expanses of silence on the show. I recommend listening to the full program. If you’ve already done that, you may find this interesting.

  1. It’s sometimes attributed to Miles Davis, but who knows.