Sonja Williams on Richard Durham

Recently, we had the opportunity to spend an afternoon with Sonja D. Williams, Howard University professor, radio producer, and author of Word Warrior: Richard Durham, Radio, and Freedom.  After a lovely lunch together, she and Tony Macaluso, the STRA Director, sat down and talked about Richard Durham’s innovative work and his connections with Studs Terkel.

Richard and Studs met while working on the WPA Writers’ Project and their friendship and collaboration continued from there.  Richard Durham went on to develop and write the groundbreaking series Destination Freedom and Bird of the Iron Feather (which aired on our sister television station, WTTW Chicago, and one episode of which can be seen here).

In this episode of Destination Freedom, Studs Terkel voices Sammy the Whammy, the ultimate Dodgers fan.

Sonja Williams tells us how the constant theme in Durham’s life was the fight for freedom, justice, and equality.  This fight was never easy, and as she discusses, it required frequent sacrifices from him.  He was truly a Word Warrior, and an inspiration to anyone working to effect social change today.

Durham got to know many of the bright lights in contemporary culture, including Nelson Algren, Muhammad Ali, and Toni Morrison, who also spent some time in Studs’ studio.

Want to learn more about Richard Durham?  His papers are held by the Chicago Public Library, and you can read more about him here and here.

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Why We Vote: Women’s Issues

In this final week of campaigning, we’re exploring the ideals that send us to the voting booth and help us make these vital choices.  Verify your registration and find out where to vote here!

Women in this country have been fighting for the right to vote since the 1840’s, and were finally granted it in 1920 with the nineteenth amendment to the constitution.  Less that one hundred years later, we may elect our first woman president.

Women’s issues have not played a major role in this election cycle (unless of course you consider the issues surrounding a major candidate being a woman), but they have been a consistent point of contention since the mid-twentieth century.  In this post, we hear from three women working to make our country a better place for women.

Gloria Steinem joins Studs on the tenth anniversary of Ms. Magazine (1982); in 1970, Judy Collins stops by after a Ravinia concert to talk about her work with the Illinois Citizens for the Medical Control of Abortion (about 20 minutes into the interview); and finally we hear from Nora Ephron on her book Crazy Salad (1975).

But first, check out Blank on Blank‘s animated adaptation of some funny and insightful moments in Nora Ephron’s interview.

Photo credit: By K. Kendall [CC BY 2.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons,

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Why We Vote: education

In this final week of campaigning, we’re exploring the ideals that send us to the voting booth and help us make these vital choices.  Verify your registration and find out where to vote here!

In this post we’re looking at education.  The first interview features Mrs. Alberta Patterson, the mother of an autistic boy. She started the S.T.E.P. School in Chicago in order to meet his needs.  We also hear from Alice Jerome, the school’s director, and Sally Heynemann, a teacher.  These days, it is not unusual to hear about how best to educate children with autism, but this 1970 interview demonstrates the challenges that parents and students faced before schools were required and trained to educate students with autism spectrum disorders.

We reach further back in time to 1968 when Studs visited the St. Mary’s Center for Learning in Chicago.  The teachers and parents talk about their excitement for education, while the students share their passions for courses and teachers.  Educating young women, particularly in STEM subjects, has become a great talking point, and Mrs. Obama’s Let Girls Learn initiative has made it global.  The teachers and parents at St. Mary’s believed it was a priority nearly 50 years ago – and much of what they say rings true for today’s students.

Next up – Why We Vote: Women’s Rights

Photo Credit: By Macruve (Own work) [GFDL ( or CC BY-SA 4.0-3.0-2.5-2.0-1.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

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World Day for Audiovisual Heritage

On October 27, 2016, UNESCO and the Coordinating Council of Audiovisual Archives Associations is celebrating World Day for Audiovisual Heritage.

For this year’s theme, “It’s Your Story – Don’t Lose It”, we’re featuring a collection of American voices from the Studs Terkel Radio Archive.  This collection showcases the struggles and triumphs of Americans of all stripes, from students to activists to Nobel Prize winner, Bob Dylan.

Studs cherished all stories; the experience of a taxi driver was as relevant and worthy of respect to him as that of a newspaper editor, politician, or celebrity.  During the nearly fifty years he broadcast out of WFMT in Chicago, he heard and shared stories that together create a compelling and vital picture of our nation through the second half of the twentieth century.

American Voices

1963: Bob Dylan was in Chicago for a show and spent an hour speaking with Studs about songwriting and folk music.  Looking at the archive with historical perspective, we can see that Studs often spoke with people early in their careers who would go on to be American cultural leaders.  This is one such time.

1965: Studs traveled to Montgomery, Alabama for the culmination for the march from Selma to Montgomery.  He recorded nine programs worth of interviews while he was there and we’re featuring two here.  He talks with both African-American and white citizens of Montgomery, and in the second program speaks with a woman who was raised in Nazi Germany and came to the United States as an adult.

1967: On Mother’s Day 1967 a “Be-In” was held in Chicago’s Lincoln Park.  Studs stopped by with his recorder and spoke to fellow participants.  This program is in two parts.

1970: Students from Chicago’s Metro High School talk about their experience at this unique school in which Chicago itself serves as the classroom.

Also that year, Studs’ fellow broadcaster, Elsa Knight Thompson of KPFA, talks to him about what makes a great interview.

1973: Author Hunter S. Thompson talks about his time on the Nixon campaign and the resulting book, Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail ’72.  About halfway through the interview, they play a recording of a disabled Vietnam veteran, Ron Kovic, protesting the campaign (courtesy of Pacifica Radio Archives).  Kovic is unknown in 1973, but he would go on to write Born on the Fourth of July

1974: Ed Sadlowski has just won an upset victory in the election for director of the largest district of the International Steel Workers Union.  Ed and his wife Marlene join Studs to talk about labor history, their families, and why Ed saw a need for change in his union.  This program includes the original advertisements from the broadcast.

1982 marked the tenth anniversary of Ms. Magazine.  Studs talks with its founder Gloria Steinem.

1992: Astronomer Carl Sagan and his wife, science writer Ann Druyan, talk with Studs about humankind and what makes us who we are – the subject of their book Shadows of Forgotten Ancestors.

1996: Chicago Sun-Times film critic Roger Ebert joins Studs for a two hour conversation on Roger Ebert’s Book of Film: From Tolstoy to Tarantino.

Richard Nixon and the Mad Men

It comes as no surprise to most voters that candidates are vetted, groomed, and closely instructed on what to say and how to say it.  In the television age a candidate’s image plays a vital role in the campaign, from the first Kennedy-Nixon debates in 1960,

to the relatively new conversations on how a female candidate is expected to appear and behave.

But how often does the voting public consider the fact that a candidate may be advertised and sold, just like, to use Studs’ simile, a can of Right Guard?

Author Joe McGinniss went behind the scenes with Richard Nixon’s “image advisers” during the 1968 campaign to find out just exactly what they did and why.  (McGinniss makes it clear that Nixon was not the only candidate with a PR team, just the only candidate who would allow him to observe.)  The book that resulted from McGinniss’s observations was The Selling of the President 1968. Continue reading →

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George Wald, Nobel Laureate

In 1967, George Wald, along with Ragnar Granit and Haldan Keffer Hartline won the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine “for their discoveries concerning the primary physiological and chemical visual processes in the eye.”

Dr. Wald, 1967

Dr. Wald, 1967

In 1970, Studs invited Dr. Wald (of Harvard University) to speak on his show.  In the meantime, Dr. Wald had given a talk at an MIT anti-war teach-in: “A Generation in Search of a Future” (read it here).

Perhaps not surprising to Studs’ regular listeners, the two men do not discuss the primary physiological and chemical visual processes in the eye.  Instead, they talk about Dr. Wald’s speech, student unrest, destruction of the environment, and the possibility of nuclear war.  Dr. Wald tells Studs, “We’ve reached a time, the like of which has not appeared in human history in which the whole human enterprise is threatened, all over the world.  The future of humanity is at stake.”

From here, the conversation moves on to the difference between science and technology, and the ethical imperatives of our fast-paced technological world.  Dr. Wald admonishes us to “only do those things that seem right and good to you.”  The relationship between technology and humanity is one Studs returns to consistently; but maybe that’s not unexpected for a man who uses technology as a medium to collect and convey human stories.  In 1962, he spoke to French filmmaker Jacques Tati about much the same thing (although from a more humorous perspective).  Listen here.

Photo: Author unknown, public domain,

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Take it easy but take it!

We have said goodbye to our wonderful summer interns and are so grateful for the help they gave us over the past few months.

Megan spent her summer with the Studs Terkel Radio Archive listening to a great deal of Studs interviews and placing them into subject categories, as well as creating subject tags for them. She also enjoyed writing blog posts on the Studs Terkel Radio Archive blog about some of her favorite interviews. Megan is graduating from Dominican University with her MLIS this month, and is currently working as a Legal Library Assistant in Chicago.

Meghan is in her final year of the MLIS program at Dominican University where she will also be completing certificates in Digital Libraries and Web Design.  Her work on the STRA primarily focused on providing natural language tags for interviews intended for scholars.  She also enjoyed writing blogs for the Archive and working on social media

Sebastian and Sam are also moving on.  We wish them all the very best of luck in their future endeavors.


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