Born to Live

Intro from Jay Allison: Produced in 1961. Premiering on the Internet now, 40 years later. Obviously, it’s unusual for us to feature a piece like this from the past, but much about Studs Terkel’s visit here is unusual. We’re making an exception. One criterion for work is that might provoke interesting discussion online. We think this fits. I wonder: How would this sound to you if you heard it on the radio today? Contemporary or dated? Engagingly free-associative or unfocused? Slow and long, or meditative and out-of-your-face? Have our ears changed? For better or worse? Is this old or new or neither? If you were a radio programmer, or if you are one, would you air this? Would you air a piece on environmental destruction if it was done in a similar style and produced last week?

Listen to “Born to Live”

* Audio courtesy of The Chicago History Museum

What’s old is new.

“Born to Live” was produced in 1961 and is premiering now on the Internet 40 years later. We think it’s worth making an exception to our “not previously broadcast” rule. Do we have a rule like that? I’ll go check.

In the meantime, we’ll let Studs do the introduction, taken from the Studs Terkel Topic.

Studs Terkel

Listen to “Born to Live”

With Born To Live I had the help – more than the help, the collaboration – of Jim Unrath, who was an announcer at the station. He and I worked together on all the documentaries, and all on his own time. As I told you earlier, I’m inept mechanically. Jimmy gathered all the stuff. He knew the way I was thinking. Born to Live is a collage montage of voices.

How to explain this? There was a contest called the Prix Italia. It’s the equivalent of the Nobel Prize, you might say, for radio and TV documentaries and features. And Dennis Mitchell had won it for Morning In The Streets. So Rita Jacobs said, “Let’s submit it.” Well, very few American stations ever win. It’s won by BBC or Stockholm or wherever.


So I thought of all the interviews that I had, and there’s this one that was sponsored by UNESCO as a special interview. It was 1961, I think, that we started doing it. The Cold War was going on pretty hot. And UNESCO says, “Can’t there be one program of East/West values to lower the temperature of heated discussion?”

What came into my mind when we decided to enter the contest – with the odds about a thousand to one – was interviewing a hibakisha, one of the Hiroshima maidens, they were called, who survived the August 9th atomic bombing. She was talking through an interpreter. She’d been brought by the wife of a Quaker who ran that ship The Golden Rule, challenging the nuclear stuff. As she talked, I thought, “I’m going to open with that.”

And then I thought of other tapes I’d done. One of a street worker talking to a kid, a tough kid who’s got a tattoo that says “Born To Die”. There are tattoos on his fingers: die, death, D-E-A-T-H. The street worker says, “What about the time between you’re born and the time you die? What about that?”

“I don’t know. What is it?”

And then I say, “Time to live.” See? And then snip. [snaps]

Little thoughts. And music. Pete Seeger doodling on a banjo, but he’s doodling the chorale from Beethoven’s Ninth. Then it cuts to someone else – two couples in a suburb talking about their kids: “And so she says to me, ‘Well, might as well live today, tomorrow you’re gonna die. I don’t know how long I’ll live.'” “How old is she?” “Nine.” And in between and interspersed are children’s songs, American children’s songs and Japanese children’s songs. And then finally I say, “Born to live. What about the time between you’re born and the time you die?” Then all the voices start. Some dealing with humor and laughter and some dealing with myth and legend, and the voice of Jimmy Baldwin and the voice of Miriam Makeba, the voice of Einstein. And John Ciardi says, “Sometimes you can tell the difference between a large decision and a small decision. Sometimes it’s the sound of it. When I was a kid I used to hear Caruso records. I heard them in these Italian households in Providence, Rhode Island, I’d hear these Caruso records. And you think, ‘That’s as far as a human voice can go.’ And there he’d go one step further.” Then I slip in the voice of Caruso singing “Oh, paradisio,” as he goes one step higher. And then Charlie saying, “…tell the difference between a small decision and a giant decision.” Then it cuts to the voice of Sean O’Casey, and Einstein, and Bertrand Russell. And then it cuts to the voice of a child.

In any event, it had everything. But I was influenced by Dennis Mitchell as well as by Norman Corwin. Sounds need not have a narrator. I got that from Mitchell. Just let the ideas flow from one to the other.

Studs Terkel

Studs Terkel

Studs Terkel, a Pulitzer prize-winner, was a member of the American Academy of Arts and Letters and a presidential National Humanities Medal recipient. Born in 1912, Studs grew up in Chicago. After graduating Law School in 1934, Studs’ career took a great many turns. He was an actor in radio soap operas, a disk jockey, a sports commentator, a television master of ceremonies and a radio host. He traveled all over the world doing on-the-spot interviews. Studs Terkel lived in Chicago. He passed away on October 31, 2008.


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  • Jay Allison


    Born To Live

    Produced in 1961. Premiering on the Internet now, 40 years later.

    Obviously, it’s unusual for us to feature a piece like this from the past, but much about Studs Terkel’s visit here is unusual. We’re making an exception. One criterion for work is that might provoke interesting discussion online. We think this fits.

    I wonder: How would this sound to you if you heard it on the radio today? Contemporary or dated? Engagingly free-associative or unfocused? Slow and long, or meditative and out-of-your-face?

    Have our ears changed? For better or worse?

    Is this old or new or neither?

    If you were a radio programmer, or if you are one, would you air this? Would you air a piece on environmental destruction if it was done in a similar style and produced last week?

  • operations


    my internet stage-fright has been overcome…

    I have just finished listening to born to live, and am overwhelmed, gobsmacked, what an incredible journey, the sheer breadth of humanity represented by this piece is amazing, and it’s with one voice that they seem to speak.

    I am left simultaneously optimistic and pessimistic about the fate of us, of humanity; But in awe of Mr Terkel and the enormous wealth he has captured with his lifetime of interviews. A wonderful example of the power of Vox Humana.

    And it just doesn’t seem dated at all…

    "Contemporary … Engagingly free-associative ….meditative and out-of-your-face" (to paraphrase Jay) but reaching firmly into your head and heart.

  • Joshua Barlow


    "operations", who?

    Im not operations, I’m Helen Transom Team Member. sorry.

  • Thomas Dixon


    Thomas Dixon

    Studs piece is stunning and fresh–as if it had been produced this week. It gives hope to producers and a target for us to shoot at. Thanks for giving us access to it and Studs. The voices reach to your heart. And how appropriate and dignified to use the Seeger banjo solo of the 9th.

    In answer to Jay’s question: empatically, yes, I would air this piece in a Chicago minute. And bring on any piece of work of similar quality on the environment. In fact, I think I’ll go try to make one.

    More than anything, thank you, Studs!


  • Joshua Barlow



    I’ve listened to this piece about 5 times so far, and each time I find a new element that serves as the clincher – for different reasons. I think everyone in their youth wants to compose a piece whose point and premise is to celebrate the grander themes of existence… There is such an emphasis on literal narrative in most of todays radio, that I think many are shy to come near such endeavours. I suppose it serves as inspiration that Studs managed to pull it off. Not that I’m at all surprised.

    Though I don’t feel that I would want to hear every journalist producing pieces of this magnitude on a regular basis (God forbid the exception become the trend and then the cliche’) – I think this piece exemplifies the need for broader strokes in storytelling. I suppose it’s one of those "You don’t know what you are missing until you find it" Perhaps of the things we are missing in radio (at present) are more places in the mix for such work.

  • Joan Schuman


    ahhh, tissues & tears

    Ok, don’t laugh, but I cried, real tears, joyful and sad weeping after listening to Studs’ piece. Hint: this is a stunning work, a gem, a gift.

    I cried for all those people (the artists, writers, creative people, regular people, mentors) who have instilled the importance of history and the human voice and story telling and doing radio and sound portraits the way you hear them.

    I thought about Glenn Gould’s, "Idea of North" (produced in the 40’s, no? maybe the 50’s). I thought of Antonin Artaud and his struggles to get innovative work on the radio in France at the end of the war. I thought of Joe Frank, a teller of weird radio tales over the last 20 years.

    And I’ll take Studs’ simple advice (maybe not for every piece, or it’ll get formulaic, as Joshua B. reminds us): Sounds need not have a narrator, just let the ideas flow from one to the other. And follow his example: introducing who’s talking but not necessarily naming them until the very end of the piece. We get to listen and wonder and maybe recognize: was that really Simone de Beauvoir? Einstein? Certainly that was Pete Seeger.

    I only wished I’d stumbled upon this piece on the radio instead of setting up my computer and squirling away an hour to listen online. When I happen to hear something so wonderful on the radio, I want to call everyone to listen at that moment ("Quick, turn your radio on…there’s this amazing piece!") Now, I’ll tell people to go online, send them the URL. But I fear that not as many will tune in (or they’ll get frustrated if it doesn’t work immediately). I miss that idea of simultaneity. It happens online, but it’s different.

    I want to hear this piece on the radio. Its content may be historical, but its style is fresher than much of what I hear on the air today.

    Oh, and the other great thing: this piece was produced the year I was born. Voices captured and stories told at the beginning of one’s life or just before are wonderful gifts. They’re like old, black & white photos and a long afternoon spent with Aunt Sadie.

    Thanks Studs. Thanks Transom.



  • larry massett



    It’s striking how much this work resembles "The Family of Man"- the photo exhibit put together Edward Steichen ( funded, I believe, by UNESCO) in the early ’60’s. The concept appears the same: a kalkaleidoscopicoss-cultural demonstration of the most attattractiveaits humanity has in common. ( Ignoring, of course, our less attractive common traits, such as our human fondness for rape, murder, slavery and so on- but never mind, this is meant to be an uplifting concept. ) Audiences loved "The Family of Man." Art critics -snooty then as now- noted that while the individual photographs were brilliant, the editorial hand was propagandistic. So it is here. Advertising never tells us anything new; it only amplifies our predjudices. As it happens I’m already predjudiced in favor of Terkle’s politics: my friends and I are the choir to which he’s preaching. But what in this piece has led me or you to surprise, to rethinking what we already knew? We feel better after hearing it, sure. But then we already feel pretty good about ourselves, didn’t we? – by contrast to those others, those war-mongerers, those Balkan slobs, those KKK numbskulls, those idiots who seem not to benifit from the lessons of public radio…. Dated, it’s not. In Europe , where "art radio" or "features," are still supported by an elite beauracracy, a work like this would be normal right this minute. In the ’60’s, when European radio was unknown here, this must have sounded astonishing. It sounds astonishing now, in fact. Once NPR- after a brief fliration in the 70’s, before All Things Consindered became a hit- decided there’s no audience for this sort of thing ( and too expensive to make) we never hear this kind of radio anymore. It’s up to local stations now. Or maybe it’s up to Transom? To present other works of this type- of which there is a huge collection overseas.

  • operations


    Who’s Who from "Born to Live"

    Below is the cast of characters from "Born to Live":

    Myoko Harubasa and Joan Takada
    Perry Miranda and a Chicago street boy
    A Midwest Surburban Couple
    T.P. Amerasinghe
    Alexander Eliot
    Lillian Smith
    The Weavers
    Simone de Beauvoir
    James Baldwin
    Miriam Makeba
    Georgia Turner
    Gwendolyn Brooks
    Bessie Smith
    Salvatore Baccaloni
    Members of the cast of Brendan Behan’s play “The Hostage”
    Pete Seeger
    William Sloane Coffin Jr.
    Sean O’Casey
    Shanta Gandi
    Mahalia Jackson
    John Ciardi
    Enrico Caruso
    Bertrand Russell
    Buckminster Fuller
    Nicolai Pogodin
    Arthur C. Clarke
    Harlow Shapley
    The Writings of J. Bronowski
    Carl Sandburg
    ….and a mother and child.

  • Phil Easley



    It’s wonderful. So much substance that style takes a back seat (although the style is wonderful, also).

    Of course it should be aired today. 40 years old or one week old? Doesn’t matter much as long as the content is relevant and well crafted. I am sure that an audience either already exists or could be readily developed, once it knew this kind of meaningful programming existed.

    I think what we lack is sponsorship…not audience. I’m about to give up on the top-down vertically-integrated inbred model driven by corporate underwriting…in favor of a more networked, horizontal collective of people who interview, listen, edit and share. Right here at the Transom is a wonderful example of that kind of sponsorship.

    Everybody has bills to be paid, of course…I don’t quite know how to solve that part.

  • Jay Allison


    More Studs Terkel

    Here’s a note from Tish Valva of WBEZ:

    On Thursday August 9 and Friday August 10 Eight Forty-Eight will rebroadcast Studs Terkel’s 1963 radio program "This Train." The show chronicles a train ride carrying hundreds of Civil Rights Activists from Chicago to Washington DC to join the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and his march on Washington.

    Each Part one hour. Can be heard streamed live at http://WWW.WBEZ.ORG http://WWW.WBEZ.ORG at 10:06 a.m. each day. The programs will also be archived on the web on the Eight Forty-Eight program page, and should be posted within a few hours of broadcast.

  • Jay Allison



    In the next week or so, we’ll pull all the comments from this topic to show to Studs Terkel, so post soon if you have something to say.

    We’ll be premiering a new show any day now.

  • Nannette Drake Oldenbourg


    To partially answer the question in BORN TO LIVE:

    Yes, "is you is our baby," Studs Terkel!

    You have such a great way of addressing the biggest, toughest questions while weaving people and themes together, leaving us both wiser and more hopeful, more focused and stronger.

    [Some would say it’s not possible to be both wiser and more hopeful, but here we are.]

    And again, thank you for melding or bridging professions and genres. It makes for rich listening – and inspiration for more work. And thank you to your wife, family, friends and colleagues too.

  • Nannette Drake Oldenbourg


    Observing, Caring, Becoming a Whatnot Collecting Things

    i From Studs Terkel – 03:50pm Jul 3, 2001 EST (#9 of 79)
    i "Even though I lived in Chicago, I grew up in New York."

    –Did you move from New York to Chicago? Did the experience of moving make you a bit of an outsider or observer?

    and/or did some kind of experience like that force you to leave much behind somewhere? Have you had to choose what to bring along – letters, journals, clippings, souvenirs, like your subjects?

  • Susan Jenkins


    Nobody mentioned the quietness

    Amazing. I could not tear myself away, listened to the whole think in one sitting.

    His "dissertation," as he calls it towards the end, seems more like witnessing to me than propaganda. But what made me shiver were the sound qualities…the quiet behind the whole piece which makes the voices so much more affecting…the lilt of the Indian woman’s voice is like a feather tickling the neck. The soft plushness of the japanese woman’s voice like a breeze disturbing your hair. This is sound you can feel. And the space around Terkel’s introductions sandwiched inside the speakers, a pace that you don’t hear these days.

    It seems to me that quietness is soft, whereas the quietness of today’s studios, or condenser mics, or whatever it is, has a cleaner, edgier feel. Like the difference between LP’s and CD’s.

    I’ll just hide this message here months after the discussion petered out and let those who find it, find it.

    • Matt



      “…This is sound you can feel….” it is, but it’s not everyone who feels it, or notices. Fewer still could put it this way.

  • Paul Landskroener


    Born to Live broadcasts

    I just stumbled across this site looking for background information on Born to Win for my daughter. I’ve always thought I was the only one who knew about it. . . .

    For nearly all of the 20 years or so I lived in Valparaiso, Indiana, (ending in 1991) I listened to Born to Win at 10:00 on New Years Day broadcast on WFMT. Several years after moving to Minnesota, I purchased a CD recording of the program from Smithsonian-Folkways and have continued the tradition. (The Smithsonian agreed to keep all of the Folkways recordings in print when it acquired Folkways in 1987 or so; Born to Win is one of them that has not yet (to my knowledge) been re-released commercially, so you simply order a custom-made CD; you do get a fascimile of the album notes which consist of a brief introduction and a full transcript of the broadcast, helpful for following the voices if you want to.)

    Like several of you, I find it exhilarating and hopeful that a genius like Studs Terkel had the vision to put together a program like this that is timeless in its relevance, while simultaneously depressed that the world situation has changed so little in 40 years that it still sounds so contemporary. Like several of you, too, I never fail to weep — I’ve learned to control my emotion through most of it, but always break down during the credits when he says, "and a mother and child" and the music swells from Pete Seeger’s banjo to the full exuberant chorus of Beethovan’s 9th’s Ode to Joy.

  • Jay Allison



    It’s nice to see this topic accumulating messages slowly a year or so apart.

    Paul, do you have a web adress for getting those Folkways/Smithsonian CDs? Do they have an online catalog?

    You might be interested in some pictures of Studs accepting the Third Coast Festival’s Lifetime Achievement award a couple of months months ago. I just hung one on my studio wall today.

  • Paul Landskroener


    How to find & order Born to Win

    Jay: Here’s the url for the catalog search page of Smithsonian-Folkways:

    You can get to the regular catalog from that site too.

    The catalog no. is 05525. They’ll make a custom CD for $19.95 or a cassette for $10.95

    I notice S-F also has available another recording of Studs’ Weekly Almanac episode entitled Folk Music & Blues with Big Bill Broonzy and Pete Seeger.

    I enjoyed looking at the photos from the 3d Coast Festival page; I saw Studs last in St. Paul 4 or 5 years ago, I think while he was promoting his book Will the Circle be Unbroken. The McCallister College chapel was packed and he was in rare form — actually, it is the same form as the last few times I’ve seen him. He was pugnatious and provocative from the lecturn, but seemed frail up close. I remember my favorite line of his was, "I was born in 1912, that auspicious year. The Titantic went down, and I came up!"

  • Paul Landskroener


    Rethinking what we already know

    Larry: I see the connection with Family of Man too. And, of course, I was sympatico with Studs’ politics and views, part of the choir as you say. But even choir members can learn new things.

    I listen every year, at least once, and something new always jumps out at me. The one I most remember right now is John Ciardi’s discussion of Curuso (sp?): how, after admiring the animal quality of his voice, he was struck by the centuries of consciousness that went into creating that sound, how the singer was the repository of hundreds of years of singing, of musical intelligence nurtured by a particular — Italian, in this case — culture.

    This thought indeed surprised me, because, even though I had an understanding of how history affects politics (we’re fighting this war because of that grievance after the previous war etc.), I had never comprehended how history affects consciousness itself, especially artistic consciousness. May not be a new idea to you; it isn’t new to me any more, but I hadn’t heard it espressed quite like that before.

    And, I take Born to Win to be much more than a mere political screed. It may use the political-social situation of the nuclear age and racial segretation as the context, but the program to me expresses a more universal question — as stated by Lillian Smith: Who am I? Or, as said by the writer whose name I can never remember "Is you is or is you ain’t my baby?" — and by Carl Sandburg "Who can live without hope?" etc.

    True, I feel more human after listening to it, but I have a hard time imagining anyone taking it as a "Thank God I am not as other men are." For me, it invokes much more of the "God forgive me a miserable sinner" emotion. Far from making me feel superior to others, it helps me see the humanity of those numskulls you describe. I need to hear that — and I suspect a lot of others do, too — and more than once a year.

  • Michael Feltes


    The way you’re actin’ lately makes me doubt…

    That line you couldn’t remember is from a song by the great Louis Jordan. BB King recorded a wonderful album of some of his standards a few years ago; it remains one of my favorite records.

  • Sydney Lewis




    It’s Born to Live (not to win, though that would be more american, wouldn’t it?)

    I work with Studs and I’m going to send your words his, they’ll please him. He’s now working on a book about the very subject of hope.

  • Jonathan Kundra



    I heard this as an adolescent growing up in Chicago in the early 60s. It was a life-changing experience for me, and I never forgot it. It’s amazing to rediscover it more than forty years later, in Paris, where I now make my home.

    • Frederick Dolan



      Are you the Jonathan Kundra who briefly worked at the Herald Tribune in the 80s? If so, hello from Vicky and Fred.

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