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The Working Tapes

Is there a book that changed your life? A book that’s the reason you do what you do? Here at Radio Diaries….that book is Working.

In the early 1970’s, author Studs Terkel went around the country with a reel-to-reel tape recorder interviewing people about their jobs.

But until now, few of the interviews have ever been heard before. For decades, the tapes were packed away in Studs’ home office. The book became a bestseller and even inspired a Broadway musical – something rare for an oral history collection.  Working struck a nerve, because it elevated the stories of ordinary people and their daily lives. Studs celebrated the un-celebrated.

Radio Diaries and our partner Project& were given exclusive access to those recordings and we have spent the past year combing through them to produce a new series for NPR. We’re archival tape geeks, and listening to these tapes has felt like finding the Dead Sea Scrolls.

Now you can hear what we found in the archives: a jockey, a private investigator, a union worker, a telephone operator, a gravedigger, a hotel piano player, and more. We also have new interviews with some of those same people today. This project is a collaboration with Working in America, a nationally traveling photo exhibit and online archive of workers in the US today. Click the link to upload your own story about work.

We’re so proud to be bringing Studs’ interviews to life on the radio.radiotopia_fullmark_black_no_prx

You can stream the stories on this page, or hear them all on the Radio Diaries Podcast.

Working: Then & Now is produced by Joe Richman, Nellie Gilles, and Sarah Kate Kramer of Radio Diaries with Jane Saks of Project&. The editors are Deborah George and Ben Shapiro. Thanks to the Studs Terkel Archive at WFMT, the Chicago History Museum, Sydney Lewis, NPR’s Franklyn Cater, Chris Turpin and Matt Ozug, and The New Press (where you can find all of Studs Terkel’s books.) neh_logo_black-transparent

Support for this project comes from the National Endowment for the Humanities, the National Endowments for the Arts, the New York Council on the Arts, and the Hitachi Foundation.


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