Lately I’ve been brushing up on a the fine art of storytelling, a subject about which I know very little. More precisely its radio storytelling I’m exploring, in advance of a audio storytelling workshop I’m hoping to take in a few weeks time. For anyone whose even googled anything to do with the topic, be it what recorder works best, or what makes for compelling radio, they quickly find themselves on the website, Transom.org. Transom is a public radio website that empowers aspiring storytellers, providing them with a wealth of information on the craft presented from some of the industry’s top talent. There’s also an extensive library of podcasts, excellent short stories and full length documentaries produced for radio.
Browsing the content I came across the name Studs Terkel. For those who aren’t familiar with Studs work, he can be described as an American treasure. The author of numerous books, most notably his seminole piece, “Working,” Terkel was an audio historian of the highest order. Known as “Mr Chicago,” his longevity was legendary, having broadcast his daily show for nearly 50 years. Terkel died in 2008 at the tender age of 96, and worked nearly until the end. His life has been celebrated on the Transom site, with numerous stories about and from the legendary broadcaster. I quickly honed in on a reflective piece “Working with Studs, A Transom Radio Special” and immediately found the inspiration I was looking for.
Terkel was always the champion of the common man. And it was the everyday people, not the elites of business and government, whose stories truly mattered in the understanding of our shared history. In his own words, he urges storytellers to dig deeper to find the good stories.
”If I were to ask people who built the pyramids the immediate reaction would be well, the pharaohs did. The pharaohs didn’t lift a finger. Mr. Pharaoh’s hands were as immaculately manicured as Elizabeth Taylor’s in Cleopatra.
“When the Chinese Wall was built, where did the masons go for lunch?
When Caesar conquered Gaul, there was not even one cook in the army?”
And the big one is when the Spanish Armada sank. I remember the year 1588 as well as I do 1492 and 1776. ‘Cause I was told that’s when Sir Francis Drake conquered the Spanish Armada. He did? By himself? And so Brecht writes, “When the Armada sank, we read that King Philip of Spain, King Philip wept.” Here’s the big one: “Were there no other tears?”
Now to me, public radio as well as history should be about those who shed those other tears. And about who makes the wheels go round.”
OK, now I’m inspired to go out there and find some great stories! Thank you Mr. Terkel, thank you Transom!