Best of Studs Terkel


Fridays at 11:00 pm

For 45 years (1952-1997), WFMT was home to Pulitzer Prize-winning author Studs Terkel. Operating from a tiny room overstuffed with papers, books, and an antique typewriter, Studs’s  career – and everything cultural – unfolded before our eyes. Over the years, the guests on his daily radio show ranged from ordinary Chicagoans to international figures: political leaders, writers, performers, social activists, and labor organizers. Covering wide-ranging topics, Studs was remarkable in his depth of knowledge, and in his ability to get others to open up and talk. Most of all, he modeled a quality that became his job title at WFMT: Free Spirit.

See a schedule of recent and upcoming broadcasts below, and for more information visit the Studs Terkel Radio Archive.

December 30, 2016
HANUKKAH (Recorded December 5, 1988)
It was in December 1988 that Studs Terkel presented this musical tribute to Hanukkah, the Jewish festival of lights. The hour begins with songs of Martha Schlamme and Theo Bikel, and some klezmer music, too. Later in the hour, Studs reads Grace Paley’s short story, “Good-bye and Good Luck”.

January 6, 2016

BORN TO LIVE (Recorded July 6, 1962)

The New Year brings a WFMT broadcast tradition and the presentation of “Born to Live,” a program of interviews, spoken word, and musical responses to the nuclear age that Studs Terksl produced in 1961 with colleague Jim Unrath. “Born to Live” won the Prix Italia, an award Studs described as “the equivalent of the Nobel Prize, you might say, for radio and TV documentaries and features.” He and Jim were proud of that, as we remain of them.

January 13, 2016


Tonight on the BEST OF STUDS TERKEL, “It’s Like A Dream to Me,” Studs Terkel’s 1970 birthday tribute to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.  Please be advised that in addition to the hope, optimism, and struggles of the Civil Rights Movement, this historical program includes an interview containing strong language of an offensive nature which conveys the harsh reality of the time and place.

January 20, 2016

COMMEMORATING MOZART (Recorded January 25, 1974)

Mozart’s birthday is on January 27, and in honor of the 261st anniversary of that event we bring you a program from January 1974, and the time that Studs Terkel first conjured this portrait of the composer through music and remembrances.

January 27, 2016


American composer Philip Glass celebrates his 80th birthday on January 31, 2017.  In his honor we return to April 1990 and the time Studs Terkel spoke with Philip Glass about his operatic music theater piece, “Hydrogen Jukebox.”  Also in on that conversation was the opera’s librettist, Philip Glass’s friend and collaborator, beat poet Allen Ginsberg.

February 3, 2017


During the summer of 1966, the great American contralto, Marian Anderson, performed with the Grant Park Orchestra under the direction of her nephew, conductor James DePreist.  When Studs Terkel visited them shortly before the concert, he recorded this program on his portable tape recorder.

February 10, 2017


Steve Goodman and Fred Holstein, Chicago sons and folk troubadours, played songs and told stories when they visited with Studs Terkel in 1972.

February 17, 2017

WILLIAM RUSSO (Recorded February 13, 1997)

Chicagoan William Russo was a Jazz composer, arranger, educator and band leader whose remarkable career spanned the second half of the 20th century. He wrote for Stan Kenton and the New York Philharmonic, collaborated with Duke Ellington and Yehudi Menuhin, developed the music department at Columbia College, and originated the long-running Chicago Jazz Ensemble in residence there. In 1997, shortly before a grand concert honoring his 50 years in music, Studs Terkel welcomed him to WFMT’s studios. The hour begins with the CJE’s performance of Russo’s Chicago Suite No. 1, and the movement called simply, “Studs.”

February 24, 2017

BROWNIE MC GHEE & SONNY TERRY (Recorded January 28, 1970)

This evening’s BEST OF STUDS TERKEL is a rebroadcast of a 1970 conversation with bluesmen Sonny Terry and Brownie McGee. Sonny with a harmonica, whom Studs called “a nonpareil”, and Brownie McGee at the guitar; they were a team for a long time. Studs opens this program with an excerpt of another Sonny Terry and Brownie McGee concert which he had introduced some 11 years earlier.

March 3, 2017

JOHN ELIOT GARDINER (Recorded February 20, 1989)

British conductor John Eliot Gardiner is a rather unique figure in the world of music. His interest is primarily Baroque music, and he founded the Montiverdi Choir and the English Baroque Soloists. A 1989 tour with these ensembles brought him to Chicago, and this conversation with Studs Terkel.

March 10, 2017

DEL CLOSE (Recorded May, 15, 1970)

Back in 1970, Studs Terkel spoke with the actor, comedian, teacher and innovator, Del Close, about his life, and his influence on improvisational humor and performance in Chicago and around the world.  The hour begins with a recording from 1960 in which Del Close and John Brent hold forth on How to Speak Hip.

March 24, 2017

Hello, Spring! (Recorded March 20, 1980)

With spring at last at our doorstep, we recall how Studs Terkel once observed that there are more songs about this season of the year than any of the other three. And so tonight on the BEST OF STUDS TERKEL we return to 1980, and Stud’s program about Spring.

March 31, 2017

Renée Fleming (Recorded February 2, 1996)

In 1996, Studs Terkel, ever interested in music and the people who create it, spoke with Renée Fleming who was in Chicago to portray Marguerite in Gounod’s Faust at Lyric Opera. In April, the long-celebrated soprano, and Lyric Opera creative consultant, will return to a signature role as the Marschallin in The Metropolitan Opera’s production of Der Rosenkavalier.

April 7, 2017

MARK STRAND (Recorded March 3, 1982)

April is Poetry Month and so this evening the BEST OF STUDS TERKEL returns to April 3, 1982, and the time that Studs spoke with the esteemed Canadian-American poet, Mark Strand.

April 14, 2017

PASSOVER & EASTER (Recorded March 13, 1979)

On an April morning in 1979, Studs Terkel presented this musical program commemorating Passover and Easter.

April 21, 2017

SEAMUS HEANEY (Recorded  c. March 1981)

Seamus Heaney is widely recognized as one of the major poets of the 20th century.  When he won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1995 “for works of lyrical beauty and ethical depth, which exalt everyday miracles and the living past,” Studs Terkel rebroadcast their conversation from 1981.

April 28, 2017

YEATS IN WORDS AND MUSIC (Recorded June 3, 1993)

In June 1993, when Kathy Cowen, Tom Orf, and David Sobol were Studs Terkel’s guests on WFMT, they performed a musical program of songs set to poems by William Butler Yeats.  We conclude the hour with an excerpt of Cultural FM, Second City’s 1961 tip of the hat to WFMT, and a troubadour setting of William Blake’s The Tiger.

May 5, 2017

LAURIE ANDERSON (Recorded  December 4, 1984)

Dateline: 1984. Multi-instrumentalist and Glen Ellyn native, Laurie Anderson, explained to Studs Terkel how her music expresses aspects of the human experience. She said it’s about “people who live with technology, people who have a lot of phones and computers and television sets and how do you stay human with all those machines.”  We bring you that conversation, tonight on the BEST OF STUDS TERKEL.

May 12, 2017


From Alan Hall of Falling Tree Productions comes this two-part audio mosaic built from many of Studs Terkel’s interviews.   Crafted from Alan’s own conversations with Studs and excerpts from many of Studs’s WFMT programs, this beautiful free-form program explores the themes of liberty and creativity.  We bring it to you in  honor of WFMT’s resident Free Spirit; Studs was born on May 16, 1912.

May 19, 2017

MAHALIA JACKSON AT THE HOTEL MORRISON (Recorded September 20, /1957)

Tonight on the BEST OF STUDS TERKEL we bring you an archive favorite, and one of the programs that Studs loved best. This broadcast took place in 1957 at the old Hotel Morrison on the Near west side of Chicago where WFMT’s studios were first located.  We’re in the ballroom, which is filled to capacity. Studs is in his element, hosting this live concert with his friend, gospel great Mahalia Jackson.

May 26, 2017

MICHAEL BABATUNDE OLATUNJI (Recorded November 2, 1960)

One November morning in 1960, Studs Terkel’s guest was Michael Babatunde Olatunji of Nigeria.  He brought along some of his drums, as well as some recordings.  This lively hour from WFMT’s archives  features the rhythms, music and lore of west Africa and the continent itself.

June 2, 2017

RACHEL BARTON PINE (Recorded March 18, 1997)

Rachel Barton Pine began playing the violin at the age of 3 ½ and debuted with the Chicago Symphony at age 10.  She continues to perform and record prolifically, as an international orchestral soloist and chamber musician, and in a heavy metal rock band. Rachel has just released her latest album, Bel Canto Paganini 24 Caprices and other Works for Solo Violin.   Rachel and cellist Wendy Warner were Studs Terkel’s guests in March 1997.

June 9, 2017

GWENDOLYN BROOKS (Recorded July 21, 1964)

Born on June 7th a century ago and raised in Chicago, Gwendolyn Brooks was one of the most highly regarded, influential, and widely-read of American poets. In 1950, she became the first black author to win the Pulitzer Prize, and in 1985, the first black woman named as poetry consultant to the Library of Congress.  She also served as Poet Laureate of Illinois from her appointment in 1968 until her death in 2000. In tonight’s BEST OF STUDS TERKEL, first heard on WFMT in July 1964, both Studs and his honored guest recite some of her iconic prose.

JANOS STARKER (Recorded c. 1965)

In 1965, Studs spoke with cellist Janos Starker about his early life, how Heifetz inspired him as a performer, the music he loved, and more.

June 16, 2017

MARILYN HORNE & HENRY LEWIS (Recorded in 1966, 2006)

The great American mezzo-soprano Marilyn Horne, and her husband, conductor Henry Lewis, visited with Studs Terkel in June 1966.

June 23, 2017

A SUMMER SALAD (Recorded June 22, 1988)

On June 22, 1988 Studs Terkel broadcast an hour of words and music he dubbed “a summer salad.” He began by recalling Joe Louis’ triumphant boxing win over Max Schmeling, and went on to include songs performed by Anita O’Day, Mahalia Jackson, Pearl Baily, Ethel Waters and Bessie Smith, as well as Paul Robson’s 1941 recording of “King Joe” by Count Basie.

June 30, 2017


Fifty years ago, in June 1967, the Beatles released their seminal album Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.  Not long thereafter, Studs wove together a program in his free-associative style.  We’ll hear excerpts from the recording, Studs reciting some of the songs’ lyrics, and interviews with young people in Chicago.  These may not all be directly related to the Beatles, but as Studs says at the end of the hour, perhaps in some way they are related after all.

July 7, 2017
In July, the BEST OF STUDS TERKEL will revisit conversations with Americans at the forefront of their respective crafts. This historic broadcast is one of the earliest surviving recording of Studs Terkel’s WFMT radio programs. It dates from 1952, when his then-weekly program, called The Almanac, was broadcast live on Sunday mornings. And it was the first meeting of two now iconic American musicians: folk singer Pete Seeger, and the legendary blues artist, Big Bill Broonzy.

July 14, 2017
JOSEPH CAMPBELL (Recorded January 31, 1973)
This month on the BEST OF STUDS TERKEL we’re hearing conversations with Americans at the forefront of their respective crafts. Writer and educator Joseph Campbell (1904-1987) devoted his life to exploring the myths and religions at the core of human experience. He was Studs Terkel’s guest on January 31, 1973.

July 21, 2017
GEORGE NAKASHIMA (Recorded October 10, 1977)
This month on the BEST OF STUDS TERKEL we’re hearing conversations with Americans at the forefront of their respective crafts. This time, it’s master woodworker and M.I.T.-trained architect, George Nakashima, who was born in Spokane, Washington, in 1905. He was Studs Terkel’s guest on October 10, 1977.

July 28, 2017
ELEANOR STEBER (Recorded September 9, 1962)
It has become the time of evening for the BEST OF STUDS TERKEL… This program dates from 1962, when American Soprano Eleanor Steber spoke with Studs Terkel about her life in music, and the experience of commissioning Samuel Barber’s “Knoxville, Summer of 1915.” She describes meeting James Agee, whose novel and prose-poem, “A Death in the Family,” provided the text for Barber’s evocative masterpiece.

August 4, 2017
Tonight, an annual WFMT tradition dating back to August 1963. Studs Terkel created a number of radio plays in partnership with WFMT announcer and engineer Jim Unrath. This program is based on Normin Corwin’s prose poem, Overkill and Megalove, a response to the bombing of Hiroshima that deals with the madness of war that leads to the obliteration of the human species.

August 11, 2017
UNVEILING OF PICASSO’S GIFT TO CHICAGO (Recorded in 1967 and 1997)
On August 15, 1967, Chicago’s Mayor Richard J. Daley unveiled Pablo Picasso’s great gift to Chicago, a fifty-feet-tall abstract sculpture. It still sits at the corner of Washington and Randolph in the courtyard of what was then known as the Civic Center, but which we now call Daley Plaza. Studs Terkel was there with his portable tape recorder, collecting sounds of the event and comments from people in the crowd. Studs first presented tonight’s commemorative program in 1997 on the 30th anniversary of the Picasso’s unveiling. It begins with the original 1967 broadcast and concludes with a half hour of Studs-curated poetry, comedy and music, all musing on the broad definition of “art.”

August 18, 2017
THIS TRAIN, PART 1 (Recorded August 27, 1963)
This Train commemorates the March on Washington led by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. This broadcast is WFMT’s annual remembrance of the train ride from Chicago to Washington in late August 1963, and that’s when this program was first broadcast. Studs Terkel joined hundreds of Chicagoans on that train bound for Washington, DC, and tonight on the Best of Studs Terkel, we bring you the first part of the two-hour radio soundscape through which he documented that historic journey.

August 25, 2017
THIS TRAIN, PART 2 (Recorded August 27, 1963)
This Train commemorates the March on Washington led by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. This broadcast is WFMT’s annual remembrance of the train ride from Chicago to Washington in late August 1963, and that’s when this program was first broadcast. Studs Terkel joined hundreds of Chicagoans on that train bound for Washington, DC, and tonight on the Best of Studs Terkel, we bring you the second half of the two-hour radio soundscape through which he documented that historic journey.

September 1, 2017
Sydney Lewis worked side by side with Studs Terkel, on his radio show and his many books, as transcriptionist, editorial helper, and more. She began assisting on his projects as a staffer at WFMT in the 1980s, and remained his amanuensis until his death in 2008. In producing this hour, Syd brought together a crew of others who also worked with Studs, weaving their voices and stories in a seamless and affectionate blend of documentary and reminiscence.

September 8, 2017

Tonight there will be no BEST OF STUDS TERKEL so that we can bring you a live broadcast, Stars of Lyric Opera at Millennium Park.

September 15, 2017
SIR GERAINT EVANS (Recorded October 2, 1974)
In October 1974, Studs Terkel welcomed eminent Welsh baritone Sir Geraint Evans for a program of music of conversation.

September 22, 2017
ROSH HASHANA (Recorded September 13, 1977)
From the archives, here is Studs Terkel’s Rosh Hashanah commemoration from 1977.

September 29, 2017

Tonight there will be no BEST OF STUDS TERKEL so that WFMT can bring you a broadcast from Last Night of the Proms earlier in the evening.