Of the 5,000+ programs in the Studs Terkel Radio Archive, it’s a rare conversation that doesn’t sooner or later dig into the subject of work. The fact that some people get to find a calling in which they help others, leave their mark, turn chaos into order, derive pleasure or otherwise find fulfillment while others face labor as something to be endured, is one of the puzzles and great tensions in human societies. Studs and his guests offer a feast of perspectives on what work means. Below we have gathered a few favorite programs.

For many people Studs is best known for his 1974 book Working which is chattily subtitled: People Talk About What They Do All Day and How They Feel About What They Do. In the introduction Studs offered the following thoughts:

“This book, being about work, is, by its very nature, about violence—to the spirit as well as the body. It is about ulcers as well as accidents, about shouting matches as well as fistfights, about nervous breakdowns as well as kicking the dog around. It is, above all (or beneath all), about daily humiliations… It is about a search, too, for daily meaning as well as daily bread, for recognition as well as cash, for astonishment rather than torpor; in short, for a sort of life rather than a Monday through Friday sort of dying. Perhaps immortality, too, is part of the quest. To be remembered was the wish, spoken and unspoken, of the heroes and heroines of this book.”

The same might be said of a great many of these radio conversations. Whether Studs is talking to an inspired musician, an influential scientist, an alienated teenager, a laborer feeling discarded, it may be surprising (or not) how deeply the yearning to find one's calling and/or escape the limitations of being defined by one's job resonates.

Labor Program Highlights

Here are a few of our favorite examples of programs on work, some universal and others (like a talk with a professional witch) illuminating unexpected professions. Click here for a list of programs with an emphasis on work, labor and class.

Social workers talk with Studs Terkel on WFMT (1965/01/09)

Studs convenes a round-table with a group of social workers from various countries (Germany, India, Malaysia and Peru) focused on helping young people adapt to finding work in a changing world.

Listen to the full program.

James Cameron and Cesar Chavez talk with Studs Terkel on WFMT (1973/06/04)

Conversation with the great farm-workers labor leader and a British journalist about the history and struggles of Latino and other migrant workers.

Listen to the full program.

Sybil Leek talks with Studs Terkel on WFMT (1966)

An example of the immense range of types of jobs: Studs speaks with a British witch who recently immigrated to the United States seeking better living and working conditions.

Listen to the full program.

South African miners talk with Studs Terkel on WFMT (1963)

One of the many field recordings made on Studs’s 1963 trip to South Africa sheds light on the daily lives of a hard-pressed class of workers.

Listen to the full program.

View More Labor Programs

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Studs Terkel: Conversations with America