Studs moved to Chicago as an eight year old in 1920, and for the next 88 years he was endlessly fascinated and sometimes exasperated by it. Chicago was an endless source of inspiration for Studs Terkel and his radio archive features hundreds of programs that explore different facets of the city. In this section we’ve collected some of our favorite programs on Studs’ hometown.

Often, the most enchanting and historically insightful programs feature Studs and his faithful portable Uher 4000 tape recorder out roaming Chicago, gathering field recordings based on particular themes. Some programs focus on famous events in Chicago history: the Great Fire of 1871, the World’s Fairs, political conventions, or the decadent First Ward Ball run by notorious aldermen Bathhouse John and Hinky Dink McKenna. Others document the unique art, architecture, music, and literature of the city; while some showcase the lives of Chicago’s many residents including children, immigrants, elderly people, tradesmen and women, African Americans, and Native Americans. Still others focus on the geography of the city itself, looking at changes in urban life, gentrification, and legendary Chicago venues like the bohemian Dil Pickle Club, and Bughouse Square.

Chicago Program Highlights

As the archive evolves many more programs will be made available in this section. Below are some highlights already digitized and online. Click here for a list of programs with an emphasis on Chicago and its inhabitants.

The Great Chicago Blizzard (1967)

A program in which Studs tramps through city, popping into diners, drug stores, cocktail lounges, CTA buses and dozens of other locales asking Chicagoans of all sorts if the city's most massive snow storm ever is causing people to act differently. The result is a portrait of newfound humanity emerging when the usual forms of power shut down. The evening cab ride with folk musician Win Stracke at the end is especially memorable.

Listen to the full program.

The unveiling of the Picasso sculpture (1968)

Studs gathers the spontaneous reactions of Chicagoans all sorts to a major new work of public art in the heart of the city. Old Polish babushkas, children, lawyers, retired burlesque dancers, bewildered city workers, rant, rave, debate and wax poetic about what this new object by Picasso means for the city. Is it a bird, a woman, an anteater, a hot dog, a steel monstrosity or “something that you ate too many pickles and ice cream and dreamed it?”

Listen to the full program.

Fiesta a Chicago Happening (1969)

In preparation for a documentary on the Lincoln Park neighborhood, Terkel visits a street fiesta to celebrate the opening of a new day care, put on by the Puerto Rican community in Lincoln Park. The proposed fiesta is controversial in the neighborhood, and the Alderman granted no permit. Listen to the neighborhood politics in a raw and unfiltered form.

Listen to the full program.

The Be-In (1967)

A dreamlike trek through an immense lakefront hippie happening in which Studs gets crowned with flowers, fed pineapples and immersed in an increasingly complex and surprising public debate about how people living in the same city do or don't interact with one another.

Listen to the full program.

View More Chicago Programs

Are you looking for the previous version of this site? It has been archived here:
Studs Terkel: Conversations with America