Friday, November 7, 2008

Broadcaster and Writer Studs Terkel Passes On

Studs Terkel, a long time radio personality and a Pulitzer prize winning writer, passed on October 31 at the age of 96.

He was born Louis Terkel on May 16, 1912 in New York City. When he was eight years old his family moved to Chicago. Studs Terkel received a juris doctor from the University of Chicago Law School, but after failing the bar exam he worked a short time for the Federal Emergency Relief Administration. Afterwards he would get a job in Washington working for the Department of Treasury. Upon coming back to Chicago in 1938, Terkel joined the Federal Writers’ Project. Writing would be his introduction to radio, as he wrote scripts for WGN in Chicago. Terkel would also go into acting, appearing at the Chicago Repertory Group in Waiting for Lefty and such radio shows as Ma Perkins. It was during this period that he adopted the name "Studs." He served on year in the Air Force during World War II, eventually discharged because of perforated eardrums.

Terkel then went to work for various radio stations in Chicago, doing sports and commentary. In 1945 he received his own show on WENR, The Wax Museum. The show ran for two years. It was in 1949 that he received another radio show (later transferred to television), Stud's Place. The show lasted until 1952, when Terkel's liberal leanings caused NBC to cancel the series. Not able to get a job in broadcasting, Terkel turned to the theatre once more. After hearing Woodie Guthrie (one of Terkel's favourites) on WFMT, he manged to get a job there. In the end, Terkel would work 45 years at WFMT, hosting an hour of interviews, commentary, and music.

It was in 1960 that Pantheon Books' editor and publisher, Andre Schiffrin, decided he wanted an American version of Report From a Chinese Village by Jan Myrdal. Schifrin hired Terkel to write the book eventually titled Division Street. Just as Report From a Chinese Village collected interviews with the average Chinese citizen living in a village, Division Street collected interviews with average Americans from Chicago. Ultimately, Terkel would write eighteen books, including Working: People Talk About What They Do All Day and How They Feel About What They Do and The Good War (for which he won a Pulitzer).

Studs Terkel was among the most talented interviewers and writers around. He had a genuine curiosity about people's lives and a friendly demeanour that just made people open up to him. As a result, individuals were much more willing to give him details of their lives. This showed on both Terkel's radio show and his books. There were very few interviewers quite as skilled as he was.

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