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Posted May 16, 2018

Happy birthday, Studs Terkel! Your Radio Archive is live.

It has been four years since we last updated you on the status of the Studs Terkel Radio Archive project. Since that time — when we launched a simple one-page placeholder website — much has happened.

Funding this very ambitious project was the next big step. Over the course of two years, project leaders Tony Macaluso and Allison Schein Holmes at The WFMT Radio Network won two rounds of grants from the National Endowment for the Humanities and raised individual donations from a very successful Kickstarter campaign.

Since then, Jell has been collaborating with WFMT, WTTW, Digital ReLab, and HyperAud.io to design and develop the online archive we launched today, on the occasion of Studs’s 106th birthday.

(Not sure who Studs Terkel is, or why this website is so important? Almost every short summary of his life seems oversimplified and incomplete, but you should at least know that Studs was a Pulitzer Prize-winning author, oral historian, and radio personality who spent over 46 years talking with the 20th Century’s most notable movers and shakers — as well as everyday folks struggling to make a living in Chicago. Studs was charming, insatiably curious, and always engaging. He routinely broke all the rules, laid the groundwork for the public programming and podcasting we take for granted today, and created an unparalleled treasure trove of audio and writings documenting the thoughts of nearly everyone he met.)

Several events this week celebrate the launch. Last night, we joined 300 other fans of Studs at a private launch party at the Chicago History Museum (one of the original partners in this initiative), which included appearances by many old friends and co-workers, acclaimed jazz vocalist Dee Alexander, and Eve Ewing, the recently anointed podcaster for the Archive. (Tonight, we’ll gather with more friends and musicians at The Hideout to celebrate Studs’s birthday in an altogether different way.)

The single through line we’ve heard consistently from everyone who knew Studs personally was that Studs loved hearing people talk. He put all of his subjects at ease instantly — regardless of their station in life or where he traveled. By all accounts, no one has ever mastered “the art of conversation” quite like Studs Terkel.

The website will continue to evolve and improve over the next month, and the WFMT team will continue to add audio and transcripts for years to come. If you’re looking for a good place to plunge into this massive archive, we’d recommend the Explore department, which lets you navigate programs via topics of conversation, categories of people that Studs interviewed, or keywords.  

Over the past four years, the Archive has received considerable media attention, with an explosion over the past week. Here are just a few examples: