One of the great all-time voices of broadcast radio has fallen silent. The eclectic disc-jockey known as Studs Terkel died today at the age of 96. In addition to his contribution to radio, he was also a great oral historian, author and activist. I remember, when I was 23 years old and just getting my start in radio, I had the great pleasure of sitting in on an interview with Terkel back in December 2005 for the program, “Uprising.” He had been doing interview after interview that morning and still had the stamina to tell engaging stories for our own listening audience.
Terkel has not only served as a guiding light for radio. As a historian, he had much, in terms of sobering perspectives, to offer the discipline. For those who seek to commune with the past and recreate its narrative, Terkel had the following advice:
“Who are the best historians? Who are the storytellers?” “Who lived through the Great Depression of the ’30s, World War II that changed the whole psyche and map of the world, a Cold War, Joe McCarthy, Vietnam, the ’60s, that’s so often put down today and I think was an exhilarating and hopeful period, and, of course, the computer and technology. Who are the best ones to tell the story? Those who’ve borne witness to it. And they’re our storytellers.”
Our society unfortunately doesn’t produce talented souls the likes of Terkel anymore which makes his loss all the more painstaking. Thankfully, his voice is preserved and in conclusion, for those who want to learn about this man who accomplished much during his lifetime, I suggest the brilliantly produced “Studs Terkel: The Spoken Century,” from the Pacifica Radio Archives.