|How Did Terkel Work?||0||Apr 19, 2011|
Davis: You think of Studs Terkel as a radio man, and he called himself a "disc jockey." Does the rest of the world think of Studs this way? If not, should they?
Tony: This varies fairly widely, but in general I'd say based on lots of conversations that people outside of Chicago are much more likely to know him as an oral historian because of his books. The fact that he interviewed so many great writers, musicians, actors, scholars, social activists, scientists, etc. day after day is something of a surprise to many. The way Studs used the human voice (his own, his guests, the pauses, the little sighs, exclamations and of course his gleeful cackle) is so powerful and will be a discovery for people exploring the radio archive.
The Studs Terkel Radio Archive project is led by Tony Macaluso from WFMT, director of Network Marketing & The Studs Terkel Radio Archive, who its development and the many people who have worked toward this release. I spoke with Steve Robinson, general manager of WFMT, who told me that "Studs is part of the folklore of the station...part of what WFMT is. He is an iconic part of the DNA," adding during our phone conversation that "His ghost is floating around the hallways to this day."
Tony: Studs worked in a way that strikes me as very different from how many contemporary media folk do it today. Some of his favorite guests were those who belief systems were wildly at odds with his. Those conversations are especially rich in humor, warm-hearted sparring, real puzzlement at the complexity of society, and a sense that there were consequences to ideas. And then there's the way he prepared for interviews. His reading books by his guests with tremendous appetite, with page after page after page marked up with his annotations. Writers invariably mention the incredible respect they felt being interviewed by someone who read their work with great diligence. For a delightful behind the scenes account I highly recommend Sydney Lewis's
Davis: This attention to the work of his guests probably makes Studs more informed than many working in radio today, and I wonder how he found the time to do it all? Radio was his vocation during these years, of course, but I have the sense that he was a person involved in a thousand activities at once. How do you think he balanced it all, if he did?
Tony: This is one that I really can't answer. But I'll speculate a little. He clearly had tremendous patience and ability to focus. He was notorious for engaging everyone around him in conversation. I constantly hear stories about how here at the radio station or the Chicago History Museum (where he spent a lot of time at the end of his life). He would have long, in-depth conversations with interns, the security staff, the janitors, and the people working in the café. The flip side was that he didn't tolerate formalities. He didn't like meetings; he was fairly allergic to bureaucratic process. Answering mail wasn't always a big priority, so my guess is that he was liberated from a lot of the busy-work that consumes so much of our daily lives (especially in this age of email and mobile devices) and that allowed to focus on reading, preparing for interviews and engaging directly with people.
Davis: How should someone who knows the name "Studs Terkel" but little else approach the archive (let's imagine it is now completed)? What are the entry points for the uninitiated, or the only partially initiated?
Yes, Studs' reel-to-reel tapes from 98.7 WFMT were moved from the station to the Chicago History Museum in 1998 and then to the Library of Congress in 2011, and now, these tapes will start to go public in 2014 the Studs Terkel Radio Archive, via a free streaming website: .