A Good Listener

31 October marks the anniversary of the death in 2008, of Studs Terkel, American author, broadcaster and historian.

Born in New York City, Terkel’s family arrived in Chicago when he was 8 years old. Terkel would go on to join the Works Progress Administration Federal Writers Project and work in broadcasting doing everything from soap operas to sports reports. He would begin hosting ‘The Studs Terkel Program’ on Chicago radio in 1952 and continue to broadcast the one hour program each weekday for the next 45 years.

In 1974, Terkel’s book, ‘Working: People Talk About What They Do All Day and How They Feel About What They Do’, was published. The book was assembled from oral histories taken by Terkel of people talking about the jobs they do. This ranged from parking valets to policemen, bookbinders to bus drivers. Here is an excerpt: “I stand in the same spot, about two- or three-feet area, all night. The only time a person stops is when the line stops. We do about thirty-two jobs per car, per unit. Forty-eight units an hour. Eight hours a day. Thirty-two times forty-eight times eight. Figure it out. That’s how many times I push the button.” (Phil Stallings, spot-welder)

In 1998, Terkel donated 7,000 hours of recordings from his radio show to the Chicago History Museum. Upon the donation, museum President, Gary T. Johnson had this to say about Terkel’s work, “He believed that everyone had the right to be heard and had something important to say. He was there to listen, to chronicle, and to make sure their stories are remembered.”