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Studs Terkel 1912-2008:

Studs Terkel 1912-2008: Beloved Oral Historian and Broadcaster Dies at 96 The legendary radio broadcaster, writer, oral historian, raconteur and chronicler of our times, Studs Terkel, died Friday at the age of ninety-six in his home town of Chicago.
by Dave Riley

The very existence of Studs Terkel is a challenge to what we may assume is radio. What we get from the standard switch of the dial is so much pap but Terkel took the exchange between himself and some other to a new level of investigation.

I first experienced Terkel through his Working series which I read rather than listened to in the early seventies. But radio transcripts are brutal records. They do not suffer fools lightly and Studs was no fool.

If you were to read what is said on television you'd so often be embarrassed by its inanity. But a dialogue with Terkel was something else again: sharp, relentless, considerate... and open. It was never about a headline. It was about the core shared condition that we are all part of as humans, as workers, as -- in our own various ways -- victims of our own experience.

So there was this acute humanism and regard that enriched Terkel's interviews -- the likes of which are hard to reference or compare today in a world driven and orchestrated by 'spin'. And if you have ever interviewed someone with journalism in mind you'd know that the end product so often determines the means.

That's relevant because a lot of Stud's work was about celebrating everyday people and so not about exposing them. His was oral history taking -- grabbing an autobiography which was so much a peoples' history of the world we all experience.

To get a feel for the scope of that level of engagement Studs Terkel's website has a lot of archived material you can listen to.

A really good interviewer -- a considerate listener in fact -- is a rarity. If you think that begins and ends with Andrew Denton then you are selling yourself short. Terkel is without the mawkishness that marks off that ilk. He was always at one with his interviewee -- always inquisitive rather than playing the inquisitor.

At the same moment he was not a therapist. He wasn't psychologistic and interpretive.No catharsis was being engineered. His knack was to foster this other person into explaining what they were about. And I doubt that there was one cynical element in play. It was always :"I need to know who you are in this shared world of ours."

"I need to know," Studs seems to be saying, "because we inhabit the same social (and political ) existence."

And that's the key thing. Terkel's tact wasn't about losing ourselves in introspection but in exploring our shared social experience.

...about exploring our shared social experience because that's where our existence could be re-made.

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