Website Review

Studs Terkel Radio Archive

WFMT and the Chicago History Museum

As stated on the tin, the Studs Terkel Radio Archive is dedicated to digitising and archiving the numerous radio programs that Louis “Studs” Terkel (1912-2008) made throughout his prolific career. Terkel broadcast primarily on the Chicagoan radio station WFMT, which manages the site in partnership with the Chicago History Museum. Currently, the site hosts 1,200 out of the some 5,600 programs that Terkel created and there are plans to add to that number regularly.

Arriving on the site, users will find that the two most prominent options are to either Explore the Archive or Learn About Studs. The homepage also lists a selection of programs and topics that are popular with users, as well as examples of how some programs have since been re-used/remixed under the site’s Digital Bughouse program. At the very bottom, the News and Events section links out to events or productions that feature Terkel, though it must be noted that these seem to be from 2018-2019 and are unfortunately a bit out of date at this point.

Clicking on the Learn About Studs section first, users will be directed to a short essay detailing Terkel’s personal and professional life. Full of quotes from the man himself, it does a good job of allowing his personality to shine through and readers will likely find this an engaging introduction to his legacy. At the end of the essay, readers have the opportunity to view an early iteration of the current site, find out more about Terkel’s writing, view videos that feature him, and even listen to a colleague of his speak on how it was like to work alongside him.

The Explore section (also accessible via the navigation bar at the top of the screen) is where most of the site’s content lives, and users will be able to browse recordings according to topics, people, date, or keyword. Topics are arranged alphabetically and in picture-grid system, making it fairly easy to search for areas of interest. Clicking a topic brings users to a new page that includes a two to three sentence introduction to the issue in question, with links to the recordings listed according to date below that. The People category allows users to search recordings according to the occupation of the interviewee, while clicking on Date brings up a timeline of recordings that range from 1953 to 1997. Users can also search according to keyword, as each recording has been assigned a number of descriptive tags.

All recordings are accompanied by a short synopsis, its details (e.g. date, format, duration etc.), associated tags, and minimalist media player which allows users to start/stop the audio or move anywhere within the recording. A handful of recordings have also been transcribed. This is a truly excellent feature, as clicking on any part of the transcript will automatically play the audio from that section. The relevant part of the transcript will also automatically be highlighted as the audio plays, this being a very nice touch indeed as it ensures users can easily follow along and not miss a single word. For transcribed recordings, users can also opt to click on the ‘Create Remix’ button in the media player, which will allow users to combine clips from that recording with others.

This allows us to segue into the second big feature of this site: the Interact tab. Under this section, users can either explore themed playlists of Terkel’s works (‘Clips’, currently under construction at time of writing), listen to how clips have been reused in creative ways (‘Reuse’), or even create their own new works by combining audio clips (‘Remix’). While the themed playlists are an excellent idea, it’s a pity that this section currently only provides introductions to the themes themselves and not actual playlists as of yet. Once these are up and running, however, they will definitely prove to be a useful tool for users seeking to explore particular topics/areas. The ‘Reuse’ section (or Digital Bughouse, as it’s also known) of the site is more populated and users can explore how clips from Terkel’s programs have been integrated into various media. In contrast, the ‘Remixer’ is where most of the action happens. Here, users will be able to search up recordings, clip segments out, and combine them with other clippings to create a new audio track. The page also provides easy to understand instructions for this process.

On the Podcast tab, users can listen to episodes of Bughouse Square which revisits and further unpacks issues that Terkel touched on. Meanwhile, the Classroom tab offers 2 sets of comprehensive curricula based on the content of the archives, these being designed for students in grades 7-12. The first looks at the socio-political environment of post-World War 2 America, while the second examines the civil rights movement in particular. Educators can also consider using site’s archival material for oral history courses, where students examine the value and methods of preserving oral history/history from below. Recordings pertaining to topics such as the Cold War or the Great Depression will similarly be useful audio supplements for those specific units, as students will be able to examine how such issues were discussed in popular media and how that might have changed today.

In summary, the archive is an excellent resource for educators, oral history researchers, and casual visitors who would simply like to enjoy good radio programs. The interface of the website is easy to use and its content similarly accessible, while the ability to combine clips offers a host of potential creative outlets. Moving forward, this website will be one to keep an eye on as more and more content is added.

Reviewed by Joanna Lee, Monash University

How to Cite This Source

"Studs Terkel Radio Archive," in in World History Commons, [accessed January 20, 2022]
Red and white text reading 'Studs Terkel Radio Archive' on a black background.
“As stated on the tin, the Studs Terkel Radio Archive is dedicated to digitising and archiving the numerous radio programs that Louis “Studs” Terkel (1912-2008) made throughout his prolific career.”