Working With Studs -
A Transom Radio Special

April 27th, 2010 | Produced by Sydney Lewis
with help from Jay Allison and Viki Merrick

Studs at typewriter

In the coming months on PRX, Transom will be distributing four new hour-long radio specials. The first is a tribute to our patron saint, Studs Terkel, on the eve of what would have been his 98th birthday.

For many years, Transom editor Sydney Lewis worked side by side with Studs on his radio show and his books. For this hour, produced in a seamless blend of documentary and reminiscence, Syd brought together a crew of Studs’ co-workers who, in turn, brought great stories, along with wonderful previously-unheard tape of Studs himself. Sydney is an oral historian, and like Studs, not a skilled technician, but she overcame her fear of digital recorders and ProTools in order to craft this lovely eulogy to American’s greatest listener. Jay A

About Working With Studs

Back in the 1980s, long before coming to work at Transom, I’d been working with Studs Terkel at WFMT Radio. Despite exiting ’FMT in ‘91, and leaving Chicago in 2001, I continued working as Studs’ transcriptionist and editorial helper for the rest of his life.

Studs Terkel and Sydney Lewis at WFMT, ca 1989

Studs Terkel and Sydney Lewis at WFMT, ca 1989

Last year, during a planning meeting for a Transom radio special series, Jay Allison said, “OK, Syd, you have to produce an hour.” Until then, the extent of my audio work had been making Sonic IDs (WCAI’s 60-second station ID breaks). I’d never produced anything longer than 90-seconds, and I hadn’t even touched a Pro Tools session in 6 years. Knowing I had the creative and technical support of my Transom community kept me from being paralyzed with fear.

My original idea, prompted by a conversation with Samantha Broun, was to use audio made during my work on his memoir Touch and Go. I had a box containing 30 cassette tapes of Studs talking about his life and work. Where to begin?

Lois Baum, WFMT, ca 1990

Lois Baum, WFMT, ca 1990

Jay wisely urged me to focus the piece on working with Studs rather than on his work, and offered structural suggestions. Viki, knowing how self-conscious a writer and reader I am, made a great suggestion: instead of writing a formal narration, I should make notes and simply talk to her rather than read her the narration.

Everyone at Transom gave great notes on early drafts –– gratitude for all they contributed in the making of this hour.

Studs Terkel and André Schiffrin working on “Race” 1991

Studs Terkel and André Schiffrin working on “Race” 1991

For the piece, I chose to interview others who had worked closely with or around Studs. From WFMT, three former colleagues: Lois Baum (Associate Program Director who’d worked with Studs for over 40 years), former WFMT sales manager Tony Judge, (who’d become a friend to Studs and accompanied him on long distance interview trips for the books), and George Drury. George started out as Assistant Librarian and became Spoken Arts Curator before becoming a teacher. His archival nature and memory were essential to this project, and he generously shared audio and ideas. Studs’ publisher André Schiffrin was the natural choice when discussing the oral history work. And I included Tom Engelhardt, an editor I’d bonded with when he worked on two of Studs’ later books.

For me, the opportunity to talk with the others about our old friend close to a year after his death was a joyful experience.

Of course, my original plans went kerflooey. For starters, much of my Terkel tape wasn’t usable. He was frail when we worked on Touch and Go, recovering from a lengthy hospitalization and a raft of ailments. He didn’t sound like himself. Fortunately, in 2001, Jay had asked me to interview Studs in Chicago for a Transom manifesto. That tape was perfect for my needs.

George Drury, Librarian Andi Lamoreaux, and Studs Terkel ca 1987

George Drury, Librarian Andi Lamoreaux, and Studs Terkel ca 1987

George Drury suggested I get in touch with German documentarians Hans-Ulrich Warner and Uli Swidler who kindly shared audio from television and radio documentaries they’d done on Chicago and Studs years back. Jesse Hardman heard about the piece and volunteered tape from Studs’ 90th birthday celebration. Studs’ son, Dan Terkell, dug out and sent tapes I requested from the house. Russell Lewis of the Chicago History Museum and Steve Robinson of WFMT graciously gave me permission to use material under their respective purviews. But there’s only so much you can pack into an hour, and much of what I gluttonously requested was eventually put aside.

Thanks to Sara Chapman and Tom Weinberg of Media Burn, Jyothi Natarajan of the New Press, David Krupp, and those interviewed for helping me get my hands on the photos.

At first, spending so much time hearing Studs’s voice was an emotional roller coaster. But making the piece helped me move through my deepest grief and became an act of closure and celebration. For me, this piece is a kiss of love and gratitude, blown out to the ether where I believe Studs exists somewhere, still listening.

Tech Notes

I don’t know from tech. Ask anybody at Transom. Until they got their hands on me, I’d recorded solely for print purposes. My concerns: Is this thing recording, and can I hear all the words? OK, good.

Studs Terkel, Tony Judge, sound technician, and Mike Royko, during a shoot for an episode of Tom Weinberg's PBS series, The 90’s. From 1989.

Studs Terkel, Tony Judge, sound technician, and Mike Royko, during a shoot for an episode of Tom Weinberg’s PBS series, The 90’s. From 1989.

For the 2001 Terkel Transom interview I was sent a Sony TC-D5M, along with a Beyer mic and godsend of a manual. I used the same equipment for my 2005-06 interviews with Studs for the book Touch and Go. I liked the Sony; it didn’t make me nervous. But for this piece I entered the 21st century. Viki loaned me her Marantz 620 and I borrowed a Beyer MCE58 mic from our office for the two interviews I recorded.

The Schiffrin interview was a tape synch in Paris. I don’t know what Sarah Elzas used, but it worked just fine. A group tape synch was held at Chicago’s WBEZ, where Mary Gaffney, who’d also once worked at WFMT, engineered.

I have no idea what equipment was used for the archival material and other tape generously sent me by those thanked above. Both Viki and Sam introduced me to the world of digital recording, and Viki gave me a crash course in Pro Tools, I’d forgotten a lot in six years.

About Sydney Lewis

Sydney is the author of three oral histories, and for close to thirty years transcribed for and otherwise assisted oral history maestro Studs Terkel. She co-authored his memoir Touch and Go. Sydney currently works as a freelance editor, and at Atlantic Public Media and Transom.org where she is an editor and curates the Transom Review.


Bonus tracks from “Working With Studs”

Studs Terkel and Mahalia Jackson in rehearsal, year unknown

Studs Terkel and Mahalia Jackson in rehearsal, year unknown

Listen

Ida

Sydney Lewis, Lois Baum and George Drury on Studs Terkel’s most important audience, his wife Ida.


George Drury on Studs’ fleet feet.


Studs Terkel on “Born to Live,” which won a Prix-Italia Prize in 1961


Additional Support for this work provided by
National Endowment for the Arts logo


11 Comments on “Working With Studs – A Transom Radio Special”

  • michael c. keith says:
    Time with Studs–Michael C. Keith

    I had the distinct pleasure as Chair of Education for Chicago’s Museum of Broadcast Education to share a table with Studs at the Museum’s Radio Hall of Fame ceremonies back in the mid-1990s, wherein Norman Corwin was inducted. Norman could not come so he chose Stud’s as his proxy to give his acceptance speech. Of course, Studs gave an eloquent address, which pleased Norman immensely. My subsequent encounters with Studs consisted mostly of telephone interviews for various book projects I was working on. Studs was always extremely generous with his time and he would provide you with marvelous observations and comments. Precious gems, in fact. The last time I solicited his input was for a blurb for "Norman Corwin’s ‘One World Flight:’ The Lost Journal of Radio’s Greatest Writer." This is what he offered: "Norman’s passion for the world. the human race, is in the very marrow of his words." Corwin would have said the same about him.

  • Jay Allison says:
    Studs and Norman

    We’re fortunate to have had both of them here as Guests on Transom. Check their issues of The Transom Review, if only to hear their voices:

    http://www.transom.org/guests/review/200107.review.sterkel.real.html
    http://www.transom.org/guests/review/200112.review.ncorwin.html

    Come to think of it, they both wrote "This I Believe" essays for us:

    http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=4963443
    http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=4607744

  • Lois Baum says:
    WFMT programmer, producer, recording eng. & friend of Studs, 1964-2008

    Syd Lewis vividly portrays Studs just as he was and, from the start,
    brings him right into the room with the listener. Thanks to her (and to George Drury for that tape!), we have a living memory of the man who influenced all of us and taught us so much. Far more than a reminiscence or a documentary, this program is RADIO at its best! I’m
    looking forward to your next production, Syd!

  • Jamie Gilson says:
    You captured Studs!

    It isn’t easy to catch that free spirit. Sydney Lewis revealed it, though, not only by using terrific excerpts from the man himself, but also by including the delighted and often astonished voices of others—people who were interviewed by him, who had worked down the hall from him, who were old friends. She found just the right pieces and melded them into one of those perfect montages that were Studs’ trademark. It’s memorable radio. Congratulations.

  • Kay Richards says:
    STUDS LIVES!

    I was lucky enough to work with studs for more than 30 years, although not as closely as Lois and Syd. But he was my source for books and ideas that stretched my suburban background more than fours years as a history major.

    Listening to these loving reminiscences interspersed with his gravely insistence brought back those wonderfully stimulating ‘old times’. Much the same kind of tossing of memories around WFMT occurred in the weeks following Studs’ death (once we got over the shock — he’d seemed an immortal force of nature).

    The flow of this program is a tribute to Syd’s talents as his ‘wrangler’ in life and her ability to invite others to share who Studs was to each of us. I felt like I was sitting among you, reveling in this amazing man we were lucky enough to have known.

  • Sydney Lewis says:
    Grazie

    Hello Lois, Jamie and Kay,

    Thanks so much for taking the time to write. It’s gratifying to hear from other former colleagues who feel his presence reanimated in the program.

    I’m proud to be a graduate of The School of Studs; the curriculum determined by an intense curiosity and devotion to story, the class a place filled with joy in sharing and learning. Whether on the air or in print, you can’t meet his work without feeling a connection to something real.

    Louis Terkel was a generous soul and an entertaining, enlightening colleague. I’m glad to have had a chance to share some of what those of us lucky enough to be in his sphere experienced.

    That cliché – they broke the mold – has never been truer. But in fact, there was no mold. Studs created his own unique imprint on every field he touched. We can pay tribute, we can emulate; but no one can embody the particular je ne sais quoi he brought to each and every encounter. Lucky to witness him in action, yes, we certainly were.

  • Zak Rosen says:
    Art of Interview

    Hey Syd,

    That was such a delight. I loved your presence as the seemingly off-the-cuff, host.

    Though you did get into a bit in the doc., I’m hoping for the sake of this forum, that you could share a little more about why Studs was such a brilliant interviewer.

    I know he was well researched, and very focused, and sensitive, and that he had a certain quality about him, but beyond that, from your observations, what did he do in that interview space that was so remarkable? Did his questions tend to be short and succinct? Did he interject a lot? Did he circle back to questions? Did he pry?

    Thanks!

  • Sydney Lewis says:
    be awake!

    Thanks, Zak…

    “An air of discovery” is a phrase that pops in mind when I think about what made him a wonderful interviewer. His photographic memory didn’t hurt either.

    Studs’ interviews were a little bit different for radio than for his oral history books, but in either case he conducted any interview as a conversation. Connections would occur to him and off he’d veer, likewise allowing the interviewee to jump topic. He never walked in with a list of questions, never clung to a notion of how an interview should go.

    He was very private and wouldn’t necessarily dig into his own life and share from that well, but would refer to other people and their stories –– whether they be real people, or historical figures, stories from opera, folklore, mythology, perhaps draw a connection to baseball. His range of knowledge was immense, his memory phenomenal, and it gave him a huge pallet from which to work.

    Short and succinct was not his style. He’d interrupt more often on the air, always keeping his audience in mind, moving the conversation forward. For the books he’d sit back, let the person take their time. But it’s not that he wouldn’t interrupt there, either. He was paying attention, passionately so, and his curiosity might spark a question or correlation that couldn’t wait.

    His intense alive-ness, Buddha master ability to be full and deep in the moment, created a connection. People didn’t feel disrespected by his interruptions, though they might sometimes be annoyed. People responded to his empathy and respect for them, and felt his genuine, intense curiosity. He wanted to know what made them who they were and how they felt about their life, work, and world.

    He would have an idea about something he was after in the interview, but his mind was so alert and lively, it never dulled to the potential richness of unexpected turns, twists and surprises.

    If someone hesitated or avoided answering a question, yes, he’d circle back. He asked probing questions, but he did not pry. But if he didn’t feel he was getting truth, he didn’t use it. For the book "Race," I suggested two people I knew –– a white woman and a black man who worked together at a restaurant and were close friends. Unbeknownst to me, they were having an affair, although she was living with her boyfriend at the time. Studs later told me he couldn’t use it. They were lying about their relationship. I said, no, no, no, I don’t think so. I was wrong, wrong, wrong. He just knew.

    Studs had an ability to hear the inner voice the speaker sometimes didn’t even know they had. Which is why particularly his book interviews were often genuine acts of discovery for the person interviewed, sometimes life-changing moments.

    To sum it up: profound interest, empathy, respect, a wealth of knowledge on a range of subject matter, boundless curiosity, excitement at the human exchange, love of conversation. And that he was who he was.

    In fact, when I set out to work on "Hospital," an oral history on Chicago’s Cook County Hospital, he asked if he could give me some advice. Please, I said. His advice: be yourself.

  • This is great, Syd! In the spirit of Studs, we at Cowbird – a small community of digital storytellers – solicited entries on the theme of ‘working’ this month. We were thrilled to receive more than 400 stories (with beautiful images and some audio) from around the world. Like Studs’s ground-breaking work from 1974, this collection offers a glimpse at people working in many different places—in our case, offices, airplanes, hotels, factories and call centers. Our saga also includes portraits of people who have kept the skilled trades alive, like a cobbler, a cheese-maker and a street performer. With this globally crowd-sourced call to action, we explored how people work today, and how that work shapes who they are. Here’s the link to the saga for you to explore (and share!): http://cowbird.com/saga/working/

    The Saga is still open for entries, so if Transom fans would like to add their own story (with audio!), they can request an invite here: https://cowbird.com/request-invite/.

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