Five Things Chicago’s Media Archivists Want You To Know

A cadre of Chicagoans who are hard at work salvaging our recorded history — on film, video and audio tape — recently swapped stories. They told tales of diving into dumpsters to rescue footage, of preserving and cataloging their spoils, of tiptoeing around copyright laws, and of collaborating  — with filmmakers, podcasters, artists, students, teachers, and musicians interested in exploring or using their work to create something new.

They recently gathered at the Museum of Broadcast Communications for a discussion sponsored by the Chicago/Midwest chapter of the National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences. Panelists included:

  • Tom Weinberg and Sara Chapman of Media Burn Archive, which collects, restores and distributes documentary video and television created by artists, activists and community groups in Chicago and beyond.
  • Michelle Puetz of the Chicago Film Archive, a regional film archive dedicated to identifying, collecting, preserving and providing access to a diverse array of public and private films that represent the Midwest.
  • And, Tony Macaluso and Allison Schein Holmes of Studs Terkel Radio Archive, a public archive of more than 5,000 conversations Studs conducted over the course of his career, launching in May.
  • John Owens of the Decades Network moderated the event.

Below are just five key takeaways from their two-hour long conversation, which kicked off with some of their favorite finds and is available in full here.

  1. We should all be taking extra special care of all of our personal and professional archives — and transfer those tapes (like, yesterday).

If you produced work on VHS or other types of tape or have home movies, Sara Chapman, executive director of Media Burn, suggests taking immediate steps to preserve them.

“Videotapes are at the end of [their] lifespan now,” she said. “There have been estimates as dire as starting around 2023 it will be pretty impossible to get your tapes transferred. The tapes themselves deteriorate very quickly and they’re unrecoverable once they deteriorate. You can’t really bring back with a photochemical process like film. There’s nothing you can do.”

So move that to the top of your to-do list.

In the meantime, be careful how you store that tape. Different types of media require different storage methods, but in general, the panelists recommend keeping personal archives in a cool, dark place with as stable a temperature and as low humidity as possible.

Meanwhile, if you are digitizing video files on your own for safe storage, Chapman recommends keeping video files uncompressed, with an avi or mov wrapper.

  1. The idea that everything that has ever been created is available in the cloud is “really very, very dangerous.”

It takes a lot of time, effort and money to get all of the footage and audio from old tapes into the collective interwebs, and there is much work left to be done. Continue reading →

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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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Studs Discusses “School Busing” and Magnet Schools with Chicago Parents

This post was written by our summer intern Megan, who is a MLIS student at Dominican University.

It’s August, which means that summer is coming to an end and school is almost in session. This week, we will hear Studs’ 1981 interview with three Chicago parents, Karen Grzybek, Barbara Tekiela, and Mark Smith, who chose to pull their children from their neighborhood schools and bus them to magnet schools around the city. In the process of doing so, they participated in “voluntary integration”. We will hear the stories of these parents, their children, and the advantages and disadvantages of sending children to magnet schools.

Studs asks Karen, Barbara, and Mark–three white, middle-class parents–to share their experiences of “school busing” and the reasons why they believed their children would be better off at magnet schools. Barbara explains that when her son was about to turn eight, the neighborhood public school lost teachers and ended up having to combine classes. No matter how hard the teachers worked, Barbara found that it was close to impossible for them to give their full attention to a split class. For this reason, Barbara decided to send her son to Owen Elementary Scholastic Academy, a magnet school in Chicago with a predominately black student population. Because Barbara believed her son could receive a better education at Owen, she decided to send him there, and he enjoyed it and received a great education.

Karen, who lives in Marquette Park, explained her reasoning for pulling her children from their neighborhood public school and sending them to Randolph Elementary School. Karen was dissatisfied with the school her children were attending in Marquette Park, and explains that there was a general lack of discipline and that her children hated school and would even skip it. When she received a letter in the mail notifying her of the opening of Randolph, a communications and arts school, she applied and ultimately decided to enroll her children in the school–which they love.

Finally, Mark Smith from Beverly describes his rationale for choosing to send his children to a magnet school. Mark explains that their neighborhood school wasn’t exciting, and he didn’t feel like his children were receiving the best education they could. When he heard of McDade Classical School, a predominately black school that offers a greater emphasis on art, music, and foreign language, he decided it would be a good fit for his children. It was indeed a good fit, and his children had great experiences at McDade Classical School.

After hearing the stories of these parents who chose to send their children to magnet schools, it seems there can be several significant advantages to busing students. Everyone at a magnet school has made a conscious decision to be there–from the principal, to the teachers, to the students who choose to attend. They also offer more varied curricula, offering courses that may not be available at traditional public schools. Finally, school busing offered a way to integrate children into more mixed student bodies. Neighborhood schools were often racially isolated, and reinforced neighborhood attitudes.

While magnet schools may possess several advantages over neighborhood schools, they had their disadvantages for these parents, too. Barbara, Karen, and Mark explain that their children faced some teasing from the neighborhood children, and it took a while to get the students situated in the magnet schools. Furthermore, it was often challenging for the children to play with their school friends outside of school, due to the often large distances between their homes.

After taking these advantages and disadvantages into consideration, Barbara, Karen, and Mark explain to Studs that magnet schools were a good decision for their children. Their children are learning more, enjoying their time at school, and interacting with a more diverse student population. Ultimately, this interview is about parents’ universal concern for their children, and their desire to give their children the best education they can. The Studs Terkel Radio Archive Blog wishes all students and parents the best for the upcoming school year.


Continue reading →

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On This Day In 1978: Studs’ Visit to Mclaren Elementary School in Chicago

This post was written by our summer intern Megan, a current MLIS student at Dominican University.

On July 20th,1978, Studs visited Mclaren Elementary School in Chicago, a school from which he himself graduated in 1925. Studs speaks with students who painted elaborate murals in the school stairways, only to be informed on the last day of the school year that Mclaren was going to be torn down. In this interview, the children describe their murals and share their feelings about the fact that their school, along with their hard work, is going to be demolished.

School Children

School children, courtesy of Wikipedia.

Studs stands in the halls of Mclaren with the students who created the murals and discuss how they began. The students wanted to brighten their school, and because they were studying oceanography at the time, decided to paint an underwater-themed mural on the first floor stairway. Approximately forty children took time out of their classes and worked on the mural. Studs views the work and describes how imaginative it is: there is a hammerhead shark imagined as a carpenter and holding a toolkit, a mermaid, and a “dinosaur school bus”–a school bus with the head of a dinosaur. This mural was a cooperative effort, with multiple children working to create the larger figures.

Studs then follows the children to the second floor of Mclaren school, where they show him another mural they created. This one is a fantastical land-based theme, including a baseball game featuring animal players. There is a blue zebra wearing roller skates, birds playing tennis, an ostrich, various spectators, and a hippopotamus who the children describe as the best baseball player of them all.

After viewing these creative works, Studs discusses the fact that the children felt “had”–the adults knew the school was going to be demolished, and hid this fact from the children. After all the time and effort the students put into creating these murals, their work was about to be destroyed. The frustration and sadness the children feel is evident in their voices as they discuss the fate of their works.

Finally, Studs speaks with parents and residents of the neighborhood who describe their dismay over the fact that Mclaren school is going to be demolished. The board who voted to tear the school down also voted to photograph the murals and move the photographs to the new school. Despite this effort to preserve the children’s work, the children were still devastated to lose their original murals. Overall, Studs highlights the children’s experience creating the murals together, and how valuable these projects can be for children. What they created is valuable, and it is indeed a shame that the works were destroyed. However, Studs also discusses the fact that the children will become stronger by going through the experience of losing their school and their hard work. This interview taps into the larger issues of having respect for children’s work, as well as artwork in general.


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Our Vamonde adventure is available!

We are so pleased to be working with Vamonde, a great Chicago company that creates location-based audio adventures.  They’ve developed an adventure based on Studs’ 1975 conversation with David Lowe, author of Lost Chicago, called “Views of a Splendid World.”  You can get the Vamonde app in the Apple store and start your walk today.

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Studs was a regular on the street, and we have many more programs we’d like to turn into audio adventures, including “Fiesta” (1969), the Lincoln Park Be-In (1967), the unveiling of the Picasso sculpture (1968), and the snow-in (1967).

Do you have a favorite “on the streets” program that you’d like to see turned into an audio adventure?  Let us know in the comments.  And if you haven’t checked out our Kickstarter campaign yet, please do.  We need to raise $75K by February 25 in order to keep the archive functioning.

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The Mayor, the City Council, schools… and poetry

Sometimes it feels like deja vu all over again here in Chicago.  We’re dealing with those issues today, (well, maybe not poetry), but this program was recorded on July 22, 1971.

On July 21, 1971, Alderman Dick Simpson made the suggestion in a City Council meeting that the councilman the mayor had chosen for the Zoning Board of Appeals had a conflict of interest, and was too closely connected to other influential boards and to the mayor himself.

Mayor Daley responded.  Passionately.  And an unnamed journalist recorded it.

During the first half of this program, Dick Simpson is in the studio recounting the event to Studs.  He remarks, “Somehow, on all of these boards that are appointed, it’s the important firms of the city that get represented; it’s not all of the other elements of the public interest, it’s not the small firms, it’s not the little real estate man.”  After he leaves to teach a class, journalist Mike Royko sits in and dissects the event with Studs.  They read part of Daley’s response aloud and then listen to the recording.

You can read the Chicago Tribune coverage of the event here (it begins on the bottom right of page one), and listen to the program below.

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Paul Chevigny on Police Power

Shortly after the publication of his 1969 book Police Power: Police Abuses in New York City, Paul Chevigny spent an hour in conversation with Studs.  At the time, Mr. Chevigny was a lawyer practicing in Harlem and working with the New York Civil Liberties Union; in 1977, he began teaching law at New York University and he is now the Anne and Joel Ehrenkranz Professor of Law Emeritus.

After the introductions, Studs plays a clip from an earlier interview with an unnamed Puerto Rican man recounting his harassment by multiple Chicago police officers as he leaves his workplace.  Mr. Chevigny and Studs go on to talk about how race and class affect arrests and acquittal rates, and the strategy of bringing false charges in order to cover up inappropriate police actions.  But they also talk about society’s responsibility in police brutality and corruption: a society must change in order for its police force to change.

Toward the end of the interview, Mr. Chevigny predicts that our society will not make any great changes toward ending police brutality and corruption: “I don’t think that the powers of the police are going to decline, and I don’t think that society’s going to want to limit their abuses any more than they’ve done up to now, and probably less.”

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We made it.  If you’re reading this, then you survived the 4th (or 3rd, or 5th, depending on how you measure and who you’re listening to) worst snowstorm in Chicago history.  (Or maybe you live somewhere it doesn’t snow – lucky you!)

Our worst storm hit in late January of 1967.  The Monkees’ “I’m A Believer” was topping the charts, Lyndon B. Johnson was president, and Chicago struggled to get out from under 23 inches of snow.  Well, maybe it wasn’t all struggle.  As one of the men Studs talks with says, snowstorms are good for giving “people a chance to stay downtown and get drunk.”

And as a quick update to our last post, Studs’ Working is competing against Audrey Niffenegger’s The Time Traveler’s Wife this week in the Reader‘s Greatest Chicago Book Tournament.

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