A woman interviews Studs Terkel about his long and colorful radio career at WFMT, a fine arts and classical music station in Chicago. Studs also paints a picture of Chicago broadcasting's early days and explains how his experiences influenced his later books.
00:00Copy video clip URL Color bars. Audio picks up a conversation between Terkel and the interviewer about his radio documentary, “Born To Live,” which they discuss later in the tape.
00:25Copy video clip URL Terkel talks about “my discovery of WFMT” in 1952. Blacklisted and unemployed during the Anti-Communist Crusade, Terkel found himself at home listening to WFMT one night when a Woody Guthrie song captured his attention. He called to ask for a job. “They said, ‘We’d love to hire you except that we’re flat broke.’ I said, ‘I am too, so we’re even.’ ” And so Terkel began his almost fifty-year run at WFMT. “Those 45 years were to me the most exciting, I suppose creative years of my life. Anything I wanted to do, [station managers] said ‘do.'” Terkel’s programming spanned a broad spectrum, from reading Flannery O’Connor short stories and interviewing music greats to playing Louis Armstrong’s West End Blues and Bizet’s Carmen.
06:01Copy video clip URL “I think radio, to me, is more provocative than TV,” Terkel says, talking about WFMT’s “sound” and ability to spark the imaginations of its listeners. “FMT represented to me the best of sound,” he says.
08:55Copy video clip URL Terkel describes his radio show’s audience. “People think, ‘Oh, intellectuals are the audience,’ and well, that’s true … but [there were] a surprising number of blue collar people, and I want to hit that very much. A surprising number of people hearing it and loving that music.” He later calls his working-class fans people “who want to know, who are hungry for something.”
10:45Copy video clip URL The interviewer and Terkel discuss how his books and work as an oral historian grew from his work at the radio station. When a New York publisher saw Terkel’s radio interviews published in Perspectives magazine, as Studs recalls, “he liked them and he got the idea about my doing a book about Chicago and ordinary people. And I said, ‘Are you out of your mind?’ ”
14:18Copy video clip URL The interviewer asks for anecdotes about guests on Terkel’s show. He tells stories about television personality Steve Allen and legendary gospel singer Mahalia Jackson, who became his close friend. “I never heard a voice like that,” he says of Jackson, who once called Terkel the DJ who made her known to the white world.
15:56Copy video clip URL He talks about his work with WFMT associates on radio documentaries, one of which won the Prix Italia, an international contest likened to the Nobel Prize of radio. Ironically, Terkel calls himself as “inept” at using radio equipment and tells a humorous story about bungling a specific sound effect to illustrate his point.
18:21Copy video clip URL They discuss “Born to Live,” a radio documentary Terkel produced about life and death. He talks about a specific portion starring British television producer Jacob Bronowski, who gave a haunting description of flying over Nagasaki just months after the U.S. dropped an atomic bomb on the Japanese city.
19:46Copy video clip URL Terkel fondly recalls 1967’s “The Snow Show,” a documentary about Chicago after a massive blizzard. “That was the liberation of Chicago,” Terkel declares. “All the automobiles, all the trucks stopped. You could walk down the outer drive. … This woman says, ‘You know, I fell down 20 times and each time I was picked up and invited for coffee. You can’t beat people.’ ” He vividly describes the storm that made Chicago history. He also talks about “This Train,” a documentary he produced while riding a train from Chicago to Washington, D.C. for a civil rights march.
23:16Copy video clip URL Terkel estimates the number of people he’s interviewed at a whopping 9,000, for both his books and radio program. Original audiotapes from Terkel’s radio show now reside at the Chicago Historical Society (now the Chicago History Museum). He also describes his time at the University of Chicago Law School and work as a radio soap opera performer.
24:43Copy video clip URL Terkel reads a portion of Bronowski’s description of Nagasaki in to “Born to Live.” “Civilization face-to-face with its own implications, the implications of both the industrial slum that Nagasaki was before it was bombed, and the ashy desolation which the bomb made of the slum. And civilization asked of both ruins, ‘Is you is or is you ain’t my baby?’ “