Extraordinary Stories of Ordinary Life

Stories

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Prisoners Of War

During the war in Vietnam, there was an notorious American prison on the outskirts of Saigon…a prison for American soldiers.

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Last Witness: Mission to Hiroshima

Russell Gackenbach is the only surviving member of the crew that dropped the atomic bomb on Hiroshima. This is his story.

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Busman’s Holiday

The story of William Cimillo, a New York City bus driver who snapped one day in 1947, left his regular route in the Bronx, and drove his municipal bus down to Florida.

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Last Witness: The General Slocum

In 1904, a steamship on its way to a church picnic sank in the East River. More than 1,000 people, many of them women and children, died in the disaster.

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Last Witness: Surviving the Tulsa Race Riot

Olivia Hooker is the last surviving witness to the Tulsa Race Riot of 1921.

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Podcast: Fly Girls

In the early 1940s, the government launched an experimental program to train women pilots. They were known as the WASPs, the Women Airforce Service Pilots.

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Claudette Colvin: “History Had Me Glued To The Seat”

You know the story of Rosa Parks. But have you heard of Claudette Colvin?

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A Voicemail Valentine

Audio love letters recorded around the world in the 1930s and 40s.

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The Women of Jane

The story of an underground abortion service that operated pre-Roe vs. Wade.

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The Dropped Wrench

A collaboration with This American Life.

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Willie McGee and the Traveling Electric Chair

Bridgette McGee is unearthing everything she can about her grandfather’s life – and his death.

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Miss Subways

Beauty pageants promote the fantasy of the ideal woman. But for 35 years, the Miss Subways contest in New York City celebrated the everyday working girl.

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A Movement, a Massacre, and Mexico’s 50 Year Search for the Truth

The secret behind the 1968 massacre of students in Tlatelolco.

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The Working Tapes

In the early 1970’s, author Studs Terkel went around the country with a reel-to-reel tape recorder interviewing people about their jobs. Our new series, “Working: Then & Now” is now on NPR and The Radio Diaries Podcast.

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Ballad for Americans

How a ten minute operatic folk cantata managed to unite Democrats, Republicans and Communists.

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Majd’s Diary: Two Years in the Life of a Saudi Girl

Majd wants to be a scientist. Her family wants to arrange her marriage.

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A Guitar, A Cello, and The Day That Changed Music

November 23, 1936, was a very good day for recorded music.

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New Podcast: Weasel’s Diary, Revisited

We check in with Jose William Huezo Soriano – aka Weasel – 15 years after he recorded his audio diary about being deported to El Salvador.

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The Two Lives of Asa Carter

Asa Carter and Forrest Carter couldn’t have been more different. But they shared a secret.

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The Chamizal: A Town Between Borders

When the U.S. and Mexico chose the Rio Grande as an international border, they didn’t expect the river to move.

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Working Then and Now

In the early 1970s, radio host and oral historian Studs Terkel recorded more than 130 interviews for his bestselling oral history “Working.”

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Frankie: 16 Years Later

As a teenager, Frankie recorded his life as a high school football star. 16 years later and with a baby on the way, he shares his struggle with drug addiction.

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Mandela: An Audio History

A five-part radio series documenting the struggle against apartheid.

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Josh: 16 Years Later

In high school, Josh documented his life with Tourette’s Syndrome. 16 years later, Josh records a new diary about trying to live a normal adult life with a brain that often betrays him.

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The Plane That Flew Into the Empire State Building

On July 28, 1945 an Army bomber pilot on a routine ferry mission found himself lost in the fog over Manhattan.

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Burma ’88

25 years ago, university students in Burma sparked a countrywide uprising. They called for a nationwide strike on 8/8/88, a date they chose for its numerological power.

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Amanda: 16 Years Later

At the age of 17, Amanda knew she was gay. But her parents kept insisting she’d grow out of it. Today, a lot has changed in the country, and within her own family. In her new story, Amanda goes back to her parents to find out how they came to accept having a daughter who is gay.

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Melissa: 16 Years Later

As an 18 year old raised in the foster care system, Melissa took NPR listeners along when she gave birth to her son Issaiah. Sixteen years later she chronicles her life as a working single mother.

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Juan: 16 Years Later

16 years ago, Juan reported on his life as a recent Mexican immigrant living in poverty in Texas. In his new diary, Juan takes us on a tour of the life he has built since he first crossed the Rio Grande. It looks a lot like the typical American dream: a house, 2 cars, 3 kids—except for the fact he’s still living illegally in the U.S.

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Teen Contender

At 16, Claressa Shields was the youngest woman to compete for a spot on the first-ever women’s Olympic boxing team.

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Teenage Diaries Series

Since 1996, Radio Diaries has given tape recorders to young people around the country and worked with them to produce the Teenage Diaries series for NPR.

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Mexico ’68: A Movement, A Massacre, and the 40-Year Search for the Truth

The Massacre of Tlatelolco has become a defining moment in Mexican history, but for forty years the truth of that day has remained hidden.

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Weasel’s Diary: Deported

A 26-year-old Los Angeles resident gets deported to his parents’ home country of El Salvador, which he has not seen since age five.

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Segregation Now, Segregation Forever: The Infamous Words of George Wallace

On the 50th anniversary of Wallace’s inaugural speech as the Governor of Alabama, Radio Diaries tells the story behind those infamous words, and the man who delivered them.

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Thembi’s AIDS Diary

Thembi Ngubane was willing to stand up and speak out at a time when few South Africans were willing to say, “I have AIDS.”

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March of the Bonus Army

In 1932, 20,000 WWI veterans set up a tent city in Washington. They called themselves the Bonus Army.

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The Gospel Ranger

Outside the Appalachian mountains, his name was barely known. But Claude Ely influenced some of the pioneers of rock & roll.

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The Last Man on the Mountain

In the 1990s, Arch Coal began mining Pigeonroost Hollow. Now Jimmy Weekley is the last person left there.

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The Square Deal

George F. Johnson was the owner of the Endicott Johnson Corp. — at one time the country’s leading shoe manufacturer — and one of the nation’s leading welfare capitalists known for his labor policy, the “Square Deal.”

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Strange Fruit: Voices of a Lynching

“Here is a fruit for the crows to pluck, for the rain to gather, for the wind to suck, for the sun to rot, for a tree to drop. Here is a strange and bitter crop.” -Abel Meeropol

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Becoming Nelson Mandela

Mandela was a lawyer, freedom fighter, leader of the African National Congress, and finally, president.

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Soweto 1976

On June 16th, 1976, in South Africa, a group of school children in the black township of Soweto held a protest and changed the course of a nation.

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The Pygmy in the Zoo

On September 8th, 1906, New York’s Bronx Zoo unveiled a new exhibit that would attract thousands of visitors. Inside a cage, in the monkey house, was a man.

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West Side Story: Michael Farmer and the Murder that Shocked New York

More than fifty years ago, Puerto Rican and black gang members in New York City fatally stabbed Michael Farmer, a white teenager.

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Identical Strangers

Paula Bernstein and Elyse Schein were both born in New York City and adopted as infants. When they were 35-years-old, they met, and found they were “identical strangers.”

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Victoria Woodhull: The First Woman to Run for President

In the 19th century, Victoria Woodhull was many things: a clairvoyant, a businesswoman, an advocate for women’s rights and sexual freedom, and a presidential candidate.

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A Man and His Cello

Bernard Greenhouse was a founding member of the acclaimed Beaux Arts Trio. At 92, he continues to perform and teach. And his cello, a 300-year-old Stradivarius, has been his constant companion.

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William Jennings Bryan: The Speech That Changed Politics

William Jenning Bryan’s “Cross of Gold” speech is known today as one of the most important oratorical performances in American history.

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Adlai Stevenson: A Candidate in the Age of Television

The 1952 presidential campaign pitted the popular General Dwight D. Eisenhower against the intensely private Adlai Stevenson. It was an election fought on a new battleground: television.

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Margaret Chase Smith: Cold War Warrior in Pearls

In 1964, Margaret Chase Smith became the first woman from a major party to run for President.

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Shirley Chisholm: The Politics of Principle

In 1972, Shirley Chisholm launched a spirited campaign for the Democratic nomination. She was the first woman and first African American to run.

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Pasquale Spensieri, Grinder

Pasquale Spensieri spends his days driving around Brooklyn looking for dull blades.

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Cali Rivera, Cowbell Maker

Forty-five years ago, Cali Rivera started out with a dream to make the perfect cowbell.

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Charlie Zimmerman, Watertower Builder

Charlie works for Rosenwach Tanks, building wooden water tanks.

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Frank Sabatino, Fisherman

Frank Sabatino is one of the last fishermen left in Brooklyn.

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Frank Schubert, Lighthouse Keeper

Frank Schubert is the last civilian lighthouse keeper in the United States.

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Selma Koch, Bra Saleswoman

94-year old Selma Koch runs the Town Shop, one of New York’s last old-style bra fitting shops.

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Walter Backerman, Seltzer Man

Once there were thousands of seltzer men in New York City. Today, Walter Backerman is one of the last.

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Gracie Allen: The Joke That Became a Campaign

In 1940 the United States was just emerging from the shadow of the Great Depression and war loomed in Europe. Into these serious times stepped Gracie Allen.

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The “Veep”

Alben Barkley served in Congress for close to 40 years and was Harry Truman’s vice president. But he never made it to the pinnacle of power.

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When Ground Zero was Radio Row

For more than four decades, the area around Cortlandt Street in lower Manhattan was the largest collection of radio and electronics stores in the world. Then in 1966 the stores were bulldozed to make way for the new World Trade Center.

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The WASPs: Women Pilots of WWII

In the early 1940s, the government launched an experimental program to train women pilots. They were known as the WASPs, the Women Airforce Service Pilots.

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The 10th Mountain

The men of the 10th Mountain Division led a series of daring assaults against the Nazis in the mountains of Italy. After returning home, many of these soldiers helped to create the modern ski industry.

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The Last Place: Diary of a Retirement Home

A group of residents of The Presbyterian Home use tape recorders to document their lives.

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My So-Called Lungs

Laura Rothenberg tried to live a normal life, with lungs that betrayed her and the awareness that she might not live to see her 30th birthday.

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Going Home: Cristel’s Diary

At 15, Cristel attacked a classmate with a razor blade. After 3 years of incarceration, she’s being released.

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Serving 9 to 5: Correctional Officers’ Diary

Diaries from officers who work behind bars at Polk Youth Institution.

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Doing Time: John’s Diary

As a kid, John dreamed of becoming a police officer, but by the age of 17, John had committed more than 75 armed robberies.

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Matthew and the Judge: Juvenile Court Diary

Through their diaries, Matthew and Judge Jeremiah tell the same story from two different sides of the bench.

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Amanda’s Diary: Girlfriend

Amanda is gay. Amanda’s family is Catholic. And she’s having a hard time convincing her parents that this is not “just a phase.”

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Josh’s Diaries: Tourette’s / First Kiss

Josh has Tourette’s Syndrome, a neurological disorder that causes uncontrollable tics and involuntary verbal outbursts.

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Melissa’s Diaries: Teen Mom / Raising Issaiah

Melissa never meant to get pregnant. But now, after 12 years of living in the foster care system, she’s trying to build the family she never had.

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Frankie’s Diaries: Welcome Home, Dad / Football

Frankie always thought his family was pretty normal until the day the FBI showed up.

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Juan’s Diaries: Looking at the Rio Grande

Juan crossed the U.S.-Mexico border illegally with his family as a teenager. Now he lives next to the Rio Grande in Texas.

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Jeff’s Diary: Halfrican

More and more these days Jeff finds himself thinking about race as he’s confronted with the question “What are you?”

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Randy’s Diary: Remembering Ozell

While living on a farm that was once part of a slave plantation, Randy searches for clues about the life of his great-grandfather, the civil rights leader Ozell Mitchell.

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Emily’s Diary: Teenage Days

Emily gives an inside look at “sportos,” “krusties,” “krinkles,” and how being a teenager isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.

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Nick’s Diary: Home School to High School

Nick chronicles a turbulent year in his life. He’s 15-years-old and hates school, but somehow he must learn to make friends.

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Ricky’s Diary: What If God….

Ricky’s father is an atheist activist. Ricky is beginning his own search for something to believe in.

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The Rubber Room

The true story of little-known rooms in the New York City Board of Education building. Teachers are told to report there instead of their classrooms. No reason is usually given.

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Mandy’s Diary: God is My Guy

Mandy’s growing up with an evangelical pastor for a father.

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Lady Writes the Blues

You may not know her name, but Rose Marie McCoy was one of the most prolific songwriters of the 1950s and 1960s.

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Gibtown

At one time Gibsonton, Florida was considered the oddest town in America.

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The Starting Five

The NBA, now a multi-billion dollar entertainment industry, looked very different a half century ago.

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Civil War Widows

Seven decades ago, Daisy Anderson and Alberta Martin were brand new brides. And their husbands served on opposite sides of the Civil War.

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Conrad’s Garage

“To invent, you need a good imagination… and a pile of junk…” -Thomas Edison

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Esperanza Garden

Esperanza Garden was a much-loved community space in Manhattan’s East Village…until city bulldozers arrived to tear it down.

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