Allison Schein and Grace Radkins 2016-05-12 11:09:53
The iconic oral historian and Chicago broadcaster is still getting the last word. The WFMT Radio Network—in partnership with the Chicago History Museum and with great assistance from the Library of Congress (which is digitizing the collection)—is working to create an online repository of Studs Terkel’s radio shows. In the last two years, the Studs Terkel Radio Archive (STRA) has used cutting-edge technology to make more than 400 programs and some of the most captivating conversations of the twentieth century available to the public. At the time of this writing, $80,000 has been raised through a Kickstarter campaign, the goal of which is to upload an additional thousand programs and enhance infrastructure. It is an exciting time in STRA’s young history. Terkel, who passed away in 2008 at the age of 96, may be best known for his oral history books, such as the Pulitzer Prizewinning The Good War, but for nearly 50 years he hosted a radio show on Chicago’s WFMT. His experience growing up in a Chicago rooming house sparked his deep interest in people and their stories, and he approached this interest from a variety of angles: first earning a law degree and then acting before settling into radio broadcasting and writing. His radio show is known for featuring famous guests at the time—such as actor Shirley Maclaine and political activist Stokely Carmichael—as well as everyday people, echoing the tone of his oral history books. How do we interest today’s listeners in a show begun in the 1950s? Terkel’s unpredictable conversations are strikingly relevant to current issues of police brutality, race relations, abuse of governmental powers, and the shrinking voice of communities. These themes are explored through our newsletter and blog, but the most exciting part of connecting the archive with listeners comes from developing outreach programs with STRA’s technology and education partners. Accessed, Remixed, and Shared From the beginning, STRA wanted to create a free online repository showcasing the nearly fifty years of Terkel’s programs and make them accessible to media makers for inclusion in audio, video, and print releases. We partner with open source, low-cost, innovative technology platforms that enable us to navigate, manage, and share our diverse collection. Pop Up Archive was an early partner and its automatic transcription service allowed us to upload more than four hundred programs in just a year and half. In addition to creating a basic transcription of a program, natural language keywords were automatically culled from the audio, creating more access points. Graduate students from Dominican University’s Library and Information Science program perfected the transcripts. This relatively small collection of programs includes such guests as Buster Keaton, Frederico Fellini, and James Baldwin, and highlights community events, as in “Fiesta: A Chicago Happening,” a program about a Puerto Rican street festival and members of the Young Lords community group. Because the programs on Pop Up Archive were the first impression STRA was making on the world, we selected programs that we expected would be popular, even if listeners were unfamiliar with Terkel. Transcripts on Pop Up Archive are searchable and can be accessed by keywords—an important step in opening up the collection to the public! STRA also has partnered with Hyperaud.io and Trint. Hyperaud.io is a browser-based remixing tool that allows the user to drag and drop portions of transcripts from multiple audio or video files to create a new file. These remixed files can be shared, and will eventually be housed in our repository, providing additional context to the original interviews. This is a key way to engage high school students in the archive, allowing them to create their own programs that reflect their vision and give new life to the collection. We hope to offer the majority of Terkel’s programs through Hyperaud.io, so that anyone can be inspired by the archive to explore, create, and share. Trint also creates automatic transcripts, but is more interactive. Portions of the text can be highlighted, exported, and shared. Trint is developing an open source Interactive Transcript Player for social media and mobile platforms. Soon, users can make a mash-up of Terkel’s interviews to share with their networks or tweet a meaningful quote. Starchive, the digital asset management system from Digital ReLab, will simplify and tie together the processes of cataloging, ingest, and dissemination. Upon ingestion, metadata are assigned against an existing template; any derivatives can be created at that point. Probes are also used to ensure that associated metadata are automatically added to the record. Media makers and scholars interested in previewing a number of shows can easily have access in one apot; they can also edit within the browser and download their edited copy. The new file is retained for potential future use. Starchive can ingest content from multiple locations, such as DropBox, Facebook, and Twitter, a feature that is especially appealing as we develop curricula for nationwide implementation. Using Primary Sources in the Classroom Speaking of curricula, STRA was fortunate to be awarded a $24,500 HIVE grant and a $20,000 grant from the Chicago Public Library to pilot a youth-oriented program. New Voices on Studs Terkel was launched during the summer of 2015, with educational partners YOUmedia, Convergence Academy at Tilden Career Community Academy, and Chicago High School for the Arts. The students spent two months diving into the archive and creating art in response to what they heard. The program culminated in a gallery showing at the Chicago Art Department and an opening during a neighborhood art walk. In addition to the youth program, we partnered with English and history teachers at Chicago public high schools who visited the youth program and created curricula based on the archive that were scalable, modular, and adjustable for high- and low-tech classrooms. Implemented in the fall of 2015, students conducted their own interviews that will be published by a local nonprofit while other students took part in a credited service learning project around labor disputes. Both sets of curricula will be available through the Chicago Public Library’s professional development department and the Great Books Foundation. One final partner is the Chicago-based app Vamonde, which lets users download an audio adventure that leads them to locations where they listen to related audio. We created an adventure based on Terkel’s interview with author David Lowe on his book Lost Chicago, which describes architectural changes in the city through 1975. Audio excerpts of their discussion about the Carson Pirie Scott department store (now a Target), the Rookery building, and the Chicago Stock Exchange, among others, play on the app as the user visits these locations. Users can also leave comments and images at each stop. We are looking forward to creating more adventures, bringing to life the diversity of Chicago’s neighborhoods through Terkel’s interviews. Looking Ahead STRA’s goal is to make the audio of Terkel’s interviews accessible for anyone to listen to, use in unique ways, and share. Although we’re new and quite small, we’re on the right track. Our technology partners make accessing and listening to the programs simple and user-friendly, and the foundation has been laid for sharing the programs on a larger scale and encouraging new creations through Chicago Public Library’s YOUMedia and curriculum development partnerships. Although Terkel’s voice hasn’t been heard live on the airways in nearly two decades, there is still a great deal to learn from him and from the people with whom he connected. The STRA team is honored to be among the stewards of Terkel’s legacy and to have the opportunity to engage or re-engage listeners with his programs—not to mention give him the last word.
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