The New Studs Terkel Radio Archive Will Let You Hear 5,000+ Recordings Featuring the Great American Broadcaster & Interviewer

Sit­ting down with a famous (or not) per­son and ask­ing questions–and record­ing them– might seem like the most nat­ur­al thing in the world these days. We have talk shows, pod­casts, radio inter­views. We read them in mag­a­zines, news­pa­pers, online. But this was not always the case, cer­tain­ly not before the inven­tion of mod­ern media in the 20th cen­tu­ry. And one of the main peo­ple to start inter­view­ing folks was Studs Terkel. He called it “guer­ril­la jour­nal­ism” because it was direct and live and the jour­nal­ist was not an inter­me­di­ary.

“I real­ized very ear­ly on,” he said, “that the con­ven­tion­al way of approach­ing an inter­view was use­less; that tak­ing in a note­book full of ques­tions, for instance, only made peo­ple feel inter­ro­gat­ed.”

And now The Studs Terkel Radio Archive (STRA) is set to go live on the Inter­net, a huge col­lec­tion of his inter­views. Between 1952 and 1997, at his home­town radio sta­tion WFMT in Chica­go, he record­ed a whop­ping 5,600 pro­grams. The archive is being unveiled on what would be Terkel’s 106th birth­day, May 16, 2018. (He passed away at 95 in 2008.)

His list of guests is for­mi­da­ble: Mar­tin Luther King, Simone de Beau­voir, Bob Dylan, Cesar Chavez, Mar­lon Bran­do, Toni Mor­ri­son, Ted Turn­er, Arnold Schwarzeneg­ger. But it’s the list of unknowns, the com­mon folk, that make his work rise above. A good social­ist, he gave voice to those who might nev­er have con­sid­ered speak­ing up, in books like Work­ing, Race, or Com­ing of Age. Here was the sto­ry of Amer­i­ca, from poor to rich, and Terkel had time, and a lis­ten­ing ear, for all of them. He was inter­est­ed in civ­il rights, work­ers’ rights, the promise of Amer­i­ca and the sins of Amer­i­ca.

The STRA has five com­po­nents: the dig­i­tal plat­form (where peo­ple can access his inter­views), the “Dig­i­tal Bug­house” where oth­er broad­cast­ers and such can license his works; an edu­ca­tion­al com­po­nent to be used in the class­room; the “Bug­house Square” a pod­cast intend­ed for younger lis­ten­ers; and a series of upcom­ing live events in Chica­go and around the world.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Hear Tom Wolfe (RIP) Tell Studs Terkel All About Cus­tom-Car Cul­ture, the Sub­ject of His Sem­i­nal Piece of New Jour­nal­ism (1965)

Studs Terkel Inter­views Bob Dylan, Shel Sil­ver­stein, Maya Angelou & More in New Audio Trove

Hunter S. Thomp­son Chill­ing­ly Pre­dicts the Future, Telling Studs Terkel About the Com­ing Revenge of the Eco­nom­i­cal­ly & Tech­no­log­i­cal­ly “Obso­lete” (1967)

Ted Mills is a free­lance writer on the arts who cur­rent­ly hosts the artist inter­view-based FunkZone Pod­cast and is the pro­duc­er of KCR­W’s Curi­ous Coast. You can also fol­low him on Twit­ter at @tedmills, read his oth­er arts writ­ing at and/or watch his films here.

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  • Rick Volbrecht says:

    I am search­ing for Studs Terkel inter­view­ing Charles Geary by audio, video, or arti­cle.

    Charles Geary was a titan who tried to build a Hank Williams Vil­lage for thou­sands of dirt poor South­ern­ers liv­ing in Chica­go in gen­er­al area of Lar­wrence and east of Ash­land Ave in mid 1960’s thru late 1970’s.

    May­or Daley stopped Feary by build one of the city col­leges on the same prop­er­ty that Geary’s plan would be using. Movie MEDIUM COOL high­light­ed the dirt poor South­ern­ers I describe above.

    Charles Geary appeared in MEDIUM COOL at the very start for 3–4 mins of the movie although I don’t think Geary was cred­it­ed in the movie cred­its

    It is very hard to track down info on Charles Geary

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