First-person diaries, sound portraits, and hidden chapters of history from Peabody Award-winning producer Joe Richman and the Radio Diaries team. From teenagers to octogenarians, prisoners to prison guards, bra saleswomen to lighthouse keepers. The extraordinary stories of ordinary life. Radio Diaries is a proud member of Radiotopia, from PRX. Learn more at radiotopia.fm
In 1932, 20,000 WWI veterans set up a tent city in Washington. They called themselves the Bonus Army. See photos of the Bonus Army here: http://www.radiodiaries.org/march-of-the-bonus-army/
In the early 1970’s, author Studs Terkel went around the country with a reel-to-reel tape recorder interviewing people about their jobs. He turned these interviews into a book called, “Working.” After the book was released in 1974, the tapes were packed away in Studs home office. A few years ago, we at Radio Diaries, along with our collaborator Jane Saks of Project&, were offered the chance to make a radio and podcast series out of the recordings. In today’s episode, we bring you some of our...more
Before the U.S. Supreme Court's decision in Roe vs. Wade, abortions were illegal in most of the United States. But that didn't mean women didn't have them. Hundreds of women were dying every year in botched abortions. In 1965, an underground network formed in Chicago to help women who wanted to have abortions, in a medically safe way. At first, they connected women with doctors willing to break the law to perform the procedure. Eventually, women in the collective trained to perform abortions t...more
The men of the 10th Mountain Division led a series of daring assaults against the Nazis in the mountains of Italy during WWII. After returning home, many of these soldiers helped to create the modern ski industry.
On February 20th, 1939, 20,000 people streamed into Madison Square Garden in New York City. Outside, the marquee was lit up with the evening's main event: a "Pro-American rally." Inside, on the stage, there was a 30-foot tall banner of George Washington, sandwiched between American flags...and two huge swastikas. Today’s episode is a special collaboration with The Memory Palace. *** This episode is sponsored by Care/Of, a monthly subscription vitamin service. For 50% off your first month, go ...more
Nowadays we’re very accustomed to recording and hearing the sound of our own voices. But in the 1930s many people were doing it for the first time. And a surprising trend began. People started sending their voices to each other, through the postal service. It was literally: voice-mail. We recently combed through a large collection of early voicemail at the Phono Post Archive, and we discovered that many of these audio letters are about the same thing: Love. *** This episode is supported by Ro...more
Stories about walls and borders, and what happens when – instead of people crossing the border – the border crosses the people. Act 1: Wrong Side of the Fence Pamela Taylor technically lives in the U.S. But somehow, her house is on the Mexican side of the border wall. Act 2: The Chamizal Ever since Texas became a state, the Rio Grande has been the official border between the US and Mexico. The problem is, rivers can move – and that’s exactly what happened in 1864. Torrential rains caused the...more
We first met Thembi when she was 19 and living in one of the largest townships in South Africa. We were struck by her candor, sense of humor and her courage. She was willing to speak out about having AIDS at a time when very few South Africans were willing to. Thembi carried a tape recorder from 2004 to 2005 to document her life. In this episode, we revisit Thembi’s diary.
There’s an old saying that “sound is like touch from a distance.” We think it’s a perfect metaphor for what we at Radio Diaries — and all the shows at Radiotopia — try to do. We want to help you hear the world differently. We’re in the middle of our annual fundraiser where we ask you, our listeners, to support the network that makes this show possible. Our goal is to reach 25,000 donors. Every donation counts, no matter the size. So give what you can and help us get one step closer. There’s so...more
November 23, 1936 was a good day for recorded music. Two men – an ocean apart – sat before a microphone and began to play. One was a cello prodigy who had performed for the Queen of Spain; the other played guitar and was a regular in the juke joints of the Mississippi Delta. But on this day 75 years ago, Pablo Casals and Robert Johnson both made recordings that would change music history.
Our country is so politically polarized these days, it’s hard to remember a time when Republicans and Democrats could agree on anything at all. In today’s episode, we’re going back almost 80 years, to another extremely polarized moment in American history. It was 1940, and the U.S. was deeply divided about engaging in World War II. Franklin Roosevelt was running for his third term, facing a Republican challenger, Wendell Wilkie. But that election season, the Republican Party, The Democrats, and...more
A record-breaking number of women are running for Congress in the midterm elections this November. There are 257, dwarfing all previous years. And in 2020, we’ll likely see a record number of women running for President as well. It's a historic moment for women in politics. But what many people don’t know is that - over the years - there have actually been more than 35 women who have run for President. Today on the show we have three stories of women who launched bids to be President of the Uni...more
Sergeant Furman Camel spent 27 years in a North Carolina Prison. That's as many years as Nelson Mandela spent behind bars. But Camel did his time, as likes to say, in 8 hour shifts. "I wear this uniform with pride. Everyday that I come in here I'm creased down. My shoes are shined. And I smell good. The uniform is 90% of the job. Looking the part." In this episode we bring you audio diaries from the prison guards who work at Polk Youth Institution.
We gave Judge Jeremiah, a Rhode Island juvenile court judge, and Matthew, a 16-year-old repeat offender, tape recorders. Through their audio diaries, Matthew and the judge tell the same story from two different sides of the bench.
During the war in Vietnam, there was a notorious American military prison on the outskirts of Saigon, called Long Binh Jail. But LBJ wasn’t for captured enemy fighters, it was for American soldiers. These were men who had broken military law. And there were a lot of them. As the unpopular war dragged on, discipline frayed and soldiers started to rebel. By the summer of 1968, over half the men in Long Binh Jail were locked up on AWOL charges. Some were there for more serious crimes, others for ...more
On August 6, 1945 the United States dropped an atomic bomb on the city of Hiroshima, Japan. It was the first time a nuclear weapon had been used in warfare. There were three strike planes that flew over Hiroshima that day: the Enola Gay which carried the bomb, and two escort planes, the Great Artiste and the Necessary Evil. Russell Gackenbach was a Second Lieutenant and a navigator on the mission. Today, he is the only surviving crew member from those three planes. Know someone who’d make a goo...more
Nelson Mandela would have been 100 years old this week. And we’re marking the anniversary by bringing you our documentary, Mandela: An Audio History. This award-winning series chronicles the struggle against apartheid through intimate first-person accounts of Nelson Mandela himself, as well as those who fought with him, and against him. ************* Sponsors: _ LinkedIn, get $50 off your first job posting at www.linkedin.com/diaries and use code DIARIES at checkout._ Bombas, a sock company on...more
The story of William Cimillo, a New York City bus driver who snapped one day in 1947 and went on a 1,300 mile detour with his bus… to Florida. ************* This episode is sponsored by Quip. _ _Brush Better with a new kind of toothbrush. Go to www.getquip.com/diaries to get your first refill pack FREE.
On June 15, 1904, a steamship called the General Slocum left the pier on East Third Street in New York City just after 9 AM. The boat was filled with more than 1,300 residents of the Lower East Side. Many of the passengers were recent German immigrants who were headed up the east river for a church outing, a boat cruise and picnic on Long Island. But they would never make it. We interviewed the last living survivor of the General Slocum, Adella Wotherspoon, when she was 100 years old. Today we’r...more
On May 31, 1921, six-year-old Olivia Hooker was home with her family when a group of white men launched an attack on the Greenwood section of Tulsa, Oklahoma. In less than 24 hours, the mobs destroyed more than 1000 homes and businesses. It’s estimated as many as 300 people were killed. The Tulsa Race Riot is considered one of the worst incidents of racial violence in American history. Olivia Hooker, now 103, is the last surviving witness to the events of that day. Know someone who’d make a goo...more
In the early 1940s, the U.S. Air Force faced a dilemma. Thousands of new airplanes were coming off assembly lines and needed to be delivered to military bases nationwide, yet most of America’s pilots were overseas fighting the war. To solve the problem, the government launched an experimental program to train women pilots. They were known as the WASPs, the Women Air Force Service Pilots.
Over the past few years, there’s been a movement to tear down the Confederate monuments dotted all over the south. At the same time, there are some new monuments going up. On April 26, the nation’s first lynching memorial will open in Montgomery, Alabama. It’s called the National Memorial for Peace and Justice, and it pays tribute to the more than 4,400 black people who were killed by lynch mobs between 1877 and 1950. Visitors will walk underneath more than 800 suspended columns, each representi...more
There’s a program in Richmond, CA that has a controversial method of reducing gun violence in their city: paying criminals to not commit crimes. Sounds crazy, but the even crazier part is…it works.
The 1950s were the golden age of the American road trip. But of course freedom of movement didn’t apply to all Americans. Jim Crow was the law in the South. Traveling while Black wasn’t easy. Today on the podcast we’re bringing you a story about how Black travelers made a secret road map so they could get around safely. It’s told by our friends and fellow Radiotopians at 99% Invisible.
At 26-years-old, Jose William Huezo Soriano—a.k.a. Weasel—was deported back to his parents’ home country, El Salvador, a country he hadn’t seen since he was 5. This is his audio diary.
You’ve heard of Rosa Parks, but do you know about Claudette Colvin? On March 2, 1955, when Claudette was 15 years old, she refused to give up her seat to a white passenger on a segregated bus in Montgomery, AL. This was nine months before Rosa Parks did the same thing.
Nowadays we’re very accustomed to recording and hearing the sound of our own voices. But in the 1930s many people were doing it for the first time. And a surprising trend began. People started sending their voices to each other, through the postal service. It was literally: voice-mail. We recently combed through a large collection of early voicemail at the Phono Post Archive, and we discovered that many of these audio letters are about the same thing: Love. *** This episode is supported by Zo...more
Abortion is one of the most divisive issues in American life and politics. 45 years after Roe vs. Wade – our country is still split. It’s easy to forget that it wasn’t so long ago when abortions were illegal everywhere in the United States. In 1965, an underground network formed in Chicago to help pregnant women get abortions. At first, they connected women with doctors willing to break the law to perform the procedure. Eventually, they were trained and began performing abortions themselves. T...more
Every day, we go about our lives doing thousands of routine, mundane tasks. And sometimes, we make mistakes. Human error. It happens all the time. It just doesn’t always happen in a nuclear missile silo. A collaboration with This American Life. *** If you enjoy this podcast, please consider making a donation before the end of the year. www.radiodiaries.org/donate Thank you!
Majd Abdulghani is a teenager living in Saudi Arabia, one of the most restrictive countries for women in the world. She wants to be a scientist. Her family wants to arrange her marriage. From the age of 19 to 21, Majd has been chronicling her life with a microphone, taking us inside a society where the voices of women are rarely heard. In her audio diary, Majd documents everything from arguments with her brother about how much she should cover herself in front of men, to late night thoughts abou...more
16 years after recording his teenage diary, Juan now lives in Colorado. He has a house, a good job, and three American kids. But…he’s still undocumented. This is Juan’s story, from our series, Teenage Diaries Revisited. *** We are proud to be founding members of Radiotopia, a network of the most creative, smart, and inspiring podcasts in the world. We hope you’ll become a Radiotopia citizen today! Go to www.radiotopia.fm to donate and support the podcasts you love.
Juan crossed the U.S.-Mexico border illegally as a teen, and settled with his family in Texas. In 1996, he recorded an audio diary for our Teenage Diaries project. In this week’s episode, listen to Juan’s Teenage Diary, as well as a new story that he told live on stage (as a grown-up) at The Moth. *** We are proud to be founding members of Radiotopia, a network of the most creative, smart, and inspiring podcasts in the world. We hope you’ll become a Radiotopia citizen today! Go to www.radiotop...more
Asa Carter and Forrest Carter couldn’t have been more different. But they shared a secret. The Education of Little Tree, by Forrest Carter, is an iconic best-selling book, with a message about living in harmony with nature, and compassion for people of all kinds. But there’s a very different story behind the book. It begins with the most infamous racist political speech in American History. This week on the Radio Diaries Podcast, the true story of the untrue story of The Education of Little Tre...more
When you spend so much of your life getting to the next stage, thinking about the next move, what is it like to find yourself in…the Last Place? In this episode, we bring you audio diaries from a retirement home.
For Labor Day, we’re bringing you a special, one hour episode of our series The Working Tapes of Studs Terkel. In 1974, oral historian Studs Terkel published a book with an unwieldy title: “Working: People talk about what they do all day and how they feel about what they do.” This collective portrait of America was based on more than a hundred interviews Studs did around the country. And after “Working” came out, something surprising happened. It became a bestseller. It even inspired a Broadway...more
In 1945, Willie McGee was accused of raping a white woman. The all-white jury took less than three minutes to find him guilty and McGee was sentenced to death. Over the next six years, the case went through three trials and sparked international protests and appeals. But in 1951, McGee was put to death in Mississippi’s traveling electric chair. His execution was broadcast live by a local radio station. Narrated by Bridgette McGee, this documentary follows a granddaughter’s search for the truth. ...more
Most beauty pageants promote the fantasy of the ideal woman. But for 35 years, one contest in New York City celebrated the everyday working girl. Each month starting in 1941, a young woman was elected “Miss Subways,” and her face gazed down on transit riders as they rode through the city. Her photo was accompanied by a short bio describing her hopes, dreams and aspirations. The public got to choose the winners – so Miss Subway represented the perfect New York miss. She was also a barometer of c...more
In 1968, Mexico City was preparing to host the Olympics. It was the first time that a Latin American country would host the Games, and the government was hoping to show off the new, modern, Mexico. At the same time, student protests were regularly sweeping through the streets of Mexico City. And just 10 days before the Olympics were to begin, on October 2, the Mexican army fired on a peaceful student demonstration in the Tlatelolco neighborhood. The official announcement was that four students ...more
The New York City public school system is huge. More than a million students, all being taught by 75,000 teachers. Except, a few hundred of those teachers are being paid NOT to teach. These are teachers who are accused of misconduct. Often without warning, they’re removed from their classrooms and sent to a Department of Education reassignment center. Teachers call it: “The Rubber Room.” The truth is, some of these teachers haven’t done anything wrong. And sometimes they don’t even know why the...more
This month, the big tent is finally coming down. After 146 years, Ringling Brothers and Barnum and Bailey are closing the ‘Greatest Show on Earth.’ The elephants have already retired to a farm in central florida. Where will the 400 human cast and crew members go next? Perhaps they’ll go just an hour west of that elephant farm…to Gibsonton, Florida. It was once known as the Oddest Town in America. Gibsonton – aka Gibtown – is where the Sideshow went to retire.
When our friends at the storytelling show, The Moth, heard Melissa Rodriguez’s audio diary, they invited her to tell a story live on stage, in a special show in Brooklyn. For Mother’s day, we’re bringing you Melissa’s story, as she told it live at The Moth.
This is the story of a song, “Ain’t No Grave Gonna Hold My Body Down,” written by a 12-year-old boy on his deathbed. A boy who – instead of dying – went on to become a Pentecostal preacher. A boy who would later help inspire the birth of Rock & Roll. His name was Brother Claude Ely…and he was known as The Gospel Ranger.
Nelson Mandela famously spent 27 years in prison for fighting against apartheid in South Africa. He was sentenced to life in 1964 for treason, along with 7 others. One of them was Ahmed Kathrada who died this week. He was 87. Mandela, Kathrada and the others served most of their sentences at Robben Island. Kathrada often said that being in prison for more than two decades was like being preserved in amber. When he was released, he found himself in a pretty different country. He was now allowed...more
In 1966, a young Marine took a reel-to-reel tape recorder with him into the Vietnam War. For two months, Michael A. Baronowski made tapes of his friends, of life in foxholes, of combat. And he sent those audio letters home to his family in Norristown, Pennsylvania. And then he was killed in action. Michael’s tapes survived and were used to produce this story as part of the public radio series “Lost and Found Sound,” created by the Kitchen Sisters and Jay Allison. The story was produced by Chri...more
An estimated 11 million undocumented immigrants live in the United States. Over the past month, the Trump Administration has unveiled plans to arrest and deport large numbers of them. Under Obama, close to 3 million immigrants were deported. Trump is trying to do it faster. And with fewer restrictions. Undocumented immigrants have long been an easy political target, especially those who’ve committed crimes. But, like everything, the individual stories are always more complicated. In 1999, we m...more
Daisy Anderson and Alberta Martin lived what seemed like parallel lives. Both had grown up poor, children of sharecroppers in the South. Daisy in Tennessee; Alberta in Alabama. Both women got married in their early 20’s, to men who were near 80. And both those husbands had served in the Civil War. But as it happens, they’d served on opposite sides. Daisy and Alberta were two of the last surviving Civil War widows.
One week into his Presidency, Donald Trump signed an executive order to begin building a wall between the U.S. and Mexico. Trump says it will be, “an impenetrable, physical, tall, powerful, beautiful, southern border wall.” But campaign slogans are easy. Reality is harder. In this episode, two stories about that border. And what happens when, instead of people crossing the border, the border crosses the people.
Finding artists willing to perform at Donald Trump’s inauguration proved harder than expected. Elton John, Celine Dion, Garth Brooks, Ice-T, and Kiss were among those reportedly invited. They all declined. Then there was British singer and X-factor winner Rebecca Ferguson. She said she would consider performing at the inauguration if she were allowed to sing the song Strange Fruit. On the podcast, we tell the story behind Strange Fruit. It begins with three men in a jail cell in Marion, Indiana...more
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. This story originally aired on This American Life. *** Radio Diaries is a non-profit organization. We couldn’t do this work without support from our listeners. If you like this podcast, please consider making a tax-deductible contribution before December 31st. Go to www.radiodiaries.org to donate.
A new story from our series The Working Tapes. In the early 1970’s, author Studs Terkel interviewed the owners of Duke & Lee’s Auto Repair in Geneva, Illinois for his book Working. He went to talk to them about fixing cars. What he found was a story about fathers and sons working together… and the tensions within a family business. We at Radio Diaries, went back to Duke & Lee’s four decades later and found the family business still intact — tensions at all. Studs recorded more than 130...more
Author James Baldwin once wrote, “I love America more than any other country in the world and, exactly for this reason: I insist on the right to criticize her perpetually.” Criticism — and dissent — are patriotic. In fact, one of the most important strands of the American DNA, is protest. From the Boston Tea Party, to the Republican Tea Party. From Civil Rights marches to Occupy Wall Street. But it’s how the government and the institutions of power respond to dissent that is really the test of ...more
This election season, our country seems more politically divided than ever. The race has been so ugly that it’s hard to even imagine a time when Republicans and Democrats could agree on anything at all. In this podcast episode, we’re going back more than 75 years, to another hard-fought election. In 1940, FDR squared off against Wendell Willkie. And during the campaign, the Republicans, the Democrats, and even the Communist Party managed to agree on one thing: A song. It was an unlikely hit. ...more
A private eye, a jockey, a hotel piano player….voices from 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 for his book, “Working.” It was a surprise bestseller. But until now, few of these interviews have ever been heard before. For decades, the reel-to-reel tapes were packed away in Terkel’s home office. Over the past year, Radio Diaries, along with Project&, combed through them to p...more
A Chicago police officer, a female advertising executive, a gravedigger……voices from 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 for his book, “Working.” It was a surprise bestseller. But until now, few of these interviews have ever been heard before. For decades, the reel-to-reel tapes were packed away in Terkel’s home office. Over the past year, Radio Diaries, along with Project&...more
An auto union worker, a switchboard telephone operator, a press agent… In the early 1970’s, author Studs Terkel went around the country with a reel-to-reel tape recorder interviewing people about their jobs for his book, “Working.” It was a surprise bestseller. But until now, few of these interviews have ever been heard before. For decades, the reel-to-reel tapes were packed away in Terkel’s home office. Over the past year, Radio Diaries, along with Project&, combed through them to produce...more
In the early 1970’s, author Studs Terkel went around the country with a reel-to-reel tape recorder interviewing people about their jobs. The result was a book called “Working.” It 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. But until now, few of these interviews have ever been heard before. For decades, the reel-to-reel tapes were pac...more
2012 marked the first year that women boxers were allowed to compete in the Summer Olympics. Our audio diary followed Claressa Shields, a 17-year-old from Flint, Michigan, with a dream — to become the first American woman to win Olympic gold in boxing. And she did just that. But how much does a gold medal really change things for a teenager in Flint?
Harry S. Truman once wrote that the President of the United States is a “glorified public relations man who spends his time flattering, kissing and kicking people to get them to do what they are supposed to do anyway.” And yet, it’s a job that people spend millions of dollars trying to get. Alben Barkley certainly wanted the job. He was in Congress for 40 years, but Barkley never made it to the pinnacle of power. He got close – he was our country’s 35th Vice President, serving under Harry S. T...more
Throughout American history, one of the most important job qualifications for the office of President has been knowing how to talk. You have to be able to deliver a speech that will rally the people. For Lincoln it was: “Four score and seven years ago,” FDR had: “A date which will live in infamy.” JFK asked, “Ask not what your country can do for you…” You get the idea. But one of the most influential speeches in American political history is one most people have never even heard of: William Je...more
If Hillary Clinton wins in November, she will become the first female President in American history. But she is not the first woman to seek this office. Today, we look back at three of the most groundbreaking female presidential candidates — who never won the White House. This is the first in our 3-part series: Contenders.
Majd Abdulghani is a teenager living in Saudi Arabia, one of the most restrictive countries for women in the world. She wants to be a scientist. Her family wants to arrange her marriage. From the age of 19 to 21, Majd has been chronicling her life with a microphone, taking us inside a society where the voices of women are rarely heard. She records herself practicing karate, conducting experiments in a genetics lab, and fending off pressure to accept an arranged marriage. In her audio diary, Majd...more
In celebration of Mother’s Day and Radio Diaries’ 20th anniversary this month, we’re revisiting Melissa’s story. As an 18 year old, Melissa recorded an audio diary as she gave birth to her son Issaiah. Over the next two decades, Melissa and her son faced many challenges, from eviction notices to a life-threatening medical diagnosis. Melissa recently recorded a new “grown-up” diary chronicling her life as a single working mother and introducing listeners to teenage Issaiah. In this episode, liste...more
20 years ago, NPR’s All Things Considered began running our occasional series, Teenage Diaries… which then grew up to become Radio Diaries. Today on the podcast, we check in with our very first diarist, Amanda Brand.
In 1906, New York’s Bronx Zoo was the largest zoo in the world. That year, the zoo introduced a new exhibit that would quickly became its most popular attraction. In the monkey house, right next to an orangutan, there was a man…inside a cage.
Nine months before Rosa Parks, a 15-year-old girl refused to give up her seat to a white passenger on a segregated bus in Montgomery, AL.
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.”
As a teenager, Frankie was a high school football star whose picture was in his hometown newspaper every week. Years after graduating, Frankie was back in the paper—as a criminal. In his new audio diary, Frankie is hoping for a second chance.
“In the seventh grade, I was real little, probably weighed 75 pounds. Everybody used to pick on me all the time. They picked on me and beat the crap out of me everyday…Then one day, my ninth grade year, I decided to play football. Now, at school, I can’t go out in the hall without somebody touching me and saying, ‘Hey Frankie, good luck tonight.’ I mean it’s just crazy. I can’t believe everybody likes me as much as they do. It’s like the old me is dead and then I was born again or something.” I...more
The 10th Mountain Division fought in World War II for only four months, but it had one of the highest casualty rates of the war. The division started out as an experiment to train skiers and climbers to fight in the mountains. The men of the 10th went on to lead a series of daring assaults against the German army in the mountains of Italy.
Four years after Nelson Mandela was released from prison, he became president of South Africa. And yet, those 4 years were among the bloodiest and most painful for all South Africans – black and white – as they struggled toward the transition to majority rule. On the Radio Diaries Podcast we’ve been revisiting chapters from our documentary series, Mandela: An Audio History. In this episode, we bring you “From Prison to President.” Plus, a bonus chapter about what might have been the most awkward...more
When you spend so much of your life getting to the next stage, thinking about the next move, what is it like to find yourself at…the Last Place? On this episode of the Radio Diaries Podcast, we bring you audio diaries from a retirement home. If you enjoy this podcast, please help us reach our year-end fundraising goal! Every dollar will help us produce more stories. Donate at radiodiaries.org
November 23, 1936 was a good day for recorded music. Two men – an ocean apart – sat before a microphone and began to play. One was a cello prodigy who had performed for the Queen of Spain; the other played guitar and was a regular in the juke joints of the Mississippi Delta. But on this day, Pablo Casals and Robert Johnson both made recordings that would change music history.
How a ten minute operatic folk cantata managed to unite Democrats, Republicans and Communists.
Polk Youth Institution in Butner, North Carolina is a prison for young men between the ages of 19-25. For our series Prison Diaries, I gave tape recorders to a handful of inmates at Polk to tell the story of life behind bars. After visiting the prison for a few months, I realized I had been overlooking the stories of the guards. Pretty much every guard I talked to said they serve time too – in eight hour shifts. In this episode of the Radio Diaries Podcast, listen to the audio diaries of prison ...more
One of the best mission statements we’ve ever read is the original NPR mission, which was written in 1969 by Bill Siemering. Bill is an amazing guy who, at the age of 80, continues to help create radio stations and programs in developing countries around the world. The manifesto Bill wrote is no longer NPR’s official mission statement but it’s a lovely reminder of why we do this work. It’s truly worth reading. Here at Radio Diaries we like history – including our own. So with help from the good...more
This month’s podcast is about what it takes to get people to change. We focus on a group of people that might be the hardest to change – or at least they’ve had the most money thrown at them in hopes of change: Criminals. Back in 2006, Richmond, CA was named the ninth most dangerous city in the country, with 42 murders for a population of about 100,000. Then they brought in a new police chief and started doing all kinds of things differently. And it worked. Homicides are now a third of what the...more
“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 Poet and songwriter Abel Meeropol wrote that lament after seeing a photograph of two black teenagers hanging from a tree, after being lynched in Marion, Indiana, on August 7, 1930. Meeropol’s song, “Strange Fruit” was later made famous by Billie Holiday. A secret, missing from the photograph, is that a third black boy w...more
While Mandela and other political leaders languished in prison, the government cracked down. It seemed that resistance to apartheid had been crushed. But on June 16, 1976, a student uprising in Soweto sparked a new generation of activism. This is Chapter 3 of our documentary (and 2015 Audiobook of the Year) Mandela: An Audio History. Plus, the story behind the only known recording of Nelson Mandela during his 27 years in prison. More information about the project is available at mandelahistory...more
Big, happy announcement: The Memory Palace is the newest member of Radiotopia! To celebrate, we bring you an episode from The Memory Palace, by Nate DiMeo. It’s the story of Guglielmo Marconi, sometimes called the inventor of radio…and his dreams of a super-radio that would allow him to hear every sound ever made. We pair Marconi’s story with our sound portrait of Frank Schubert, the last civilian lighthouse keeper in the U.S.
We gave both Judge Jeremiah, a Rhode Island juvenile court judge, and Matthew, a 16-year-old repeat offender, tape recorders. Judge Jeremiah released Matthew early, for good behavior. Two weeks later, Matthew was arrested again for selling drugs. Through their diaries, Matthew and the judge tell the same story from two different sides of the bench.
The Education of Little Tree is an iconic best-selling book, with a message about living in harmony with nature, and compassion for people of all kinds. But there’s a very different story behind the book. It begins with the most infamous racist political speech in American History. This week on the Radio Diaries Podcast, the true story of the untrue story of The Education of Little Tree.
Bridgette McGee grew up knowing nothing about her grandfather, Willie McGee. Now she is on a quest to unearth everything she can about his life – and his death. In 1945, Willie McGee was accused of raping a white woman. The all-white jury took less than three minutes to find him guilty and McGee was sentenced to death. Over the next six years, the case went through three trials and sparked international protests and appeals from Albert Einstein, William Faulkner, Paul Robeson, and Josephine Bak...more
As a teenager, Kamari Ridgle was a drug dealer and drive-by shooter until a near-death experience led him to his true love…accounting. Let us know what you think of the Radio Diaries Podcast. Take this 5-minute survey and you could win a pair of Tivoli headphones! surveynerds.com/diaries
When George F. Johnson died, the nation witnessed one of the largest funerals in U.S. history. What did Johnson do? He made shoes. Lots of them. 100 years ago, the Endicott Johnson Corporation, headquartered in upstate New York, was the largest shoe factory in the world. But George F. Johnson wasn’t only famous for his shoes. He also became known for his views on how a company should treat its workers. Some people called it “welfare capitalism.” Johnson had a different name for it: The Square De...more
In the early 1940s, the US Airforce faced a dilemma. Thousands of new airplanes were coming off assembly lines and needed to be delivered to military bases nationwide, yet most of America’s pilots were overseas fighting the war. To solve the problem, the government launched an experimental program to train women pilots. They were known as the WASPs, the Women Airforce Service Pilots. Please take our listener survey! http://www.surveynerds.com/diaries
What makes a hero? Why do we remember some stories and not others? Consider Claudette Colvin. She was a 15-year-old girl in the segregated city of Montgomery, Alabama. On March 2, 1955, she refused to give up her seat on a bus to a white passenger. Nine months later, Rosa Parks did the exact same thing. Parks, of course, became a powerful symbol of the civil rights movement. But Claudette Colvin has largely been left out of the history books.
Josh Cutler has Tourette’s syndrome, a neurological disorder that causes uncontrollable tics and involuntary verbal outbursts. In this episode, listen to his teenage diary about getting his first kiss. “What I have here is an envelope on which this girl Nicole wrote down instructions on how to kiss. It says: ‘pucker lips, slowly open mouth, slowly slide tongue in, repeat steps 1, 2, and 3.’ She made that list for me because I made out with her and she said I was doing it wrong. So I guess that’...more
You probably don’t know her name, but you definitely know her songs. Rose Marie McCoy passed away recently at the age of 92. On this episode of the Radio Diaries Podcast, we’re remembering Rose and her music.
If you’ve seen the movie Selma, our new podcast features two people who are important characters in the film: Representative John Lewis, the civil rights leader who was brutally beaten while crossing the Edmund Pettus Bridge; and Alabama Governor George Wallace, who ordered his state troopers to stop the march. Our story takes place a few years before the Selma march, on the day of Wallace’s inauguration as governor in 1963. As he stepped up to the podium, Wallace delivered one of the most vehe...more
On July 28, 1945 an Army bomber pilot on a routine ferry mission found himself lost in the fog over Manhattan. A dictation machine in a nearby office happened to capture the sound of the plane as it hit the Empire State Building at the 79th floor. Find out what happened next in this episode of the Radio Diaries Podcast.
Beauty pageants promote the fantasy of the ideal woman. But for 35 years, one contest in New York City celebrated the everyday working girl. Each month starting in 1941, a young woman was elected “Miss Subways,” and her face gazed down on transit riders as they rode through the city. Her photo was accompanied by a short bio describing her hopes, dreams and aspirations. The public got to choose the winners – so Miss Subway represented the perfect New York miss. She was also a barometer of changi...more
A few years ago, we produced a story about the greatest underdog we’d ever met: Jimmy Weekley. Jimmy was the last remaining resident of Pigeonroost Hollow, West Virginia. Jimmy spent most of the last two decades fighting one of the largest coal companies in the country in an attempt to save his hometown. He said he was born in Pigeonroost Hollow, and he planned to die there. This year, he did. He was 74. Today on the Radio Diaries Podcast, we’re remembering Jimmy Weekley, The Last Man on the Mo...more
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.
Jose William Huezo Soriano – aka Weasel – is a 26-year-old Los Angeles resident who gets deported to his parents’ home country of El Salvador, which he has not seen since the age of five. In this episode, you’ll hear Weasel’s original audio diary, as well as an update from Weasel in which he talks about his life over the past 15 years.
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.
What happens when, instead of people crossing the border, the border crosses the people? In this episode of the Radio Diaries Podcast, two stories from the U.S.-Mexico border.
In the early 1970s, radio host and oral historian Studs Terkel went around the country, tape recorder in hand, interviewing people about their jobs. Studs collected more than 130 interviews, and the result was a book called “Working: People Talk About What They Do All Day and How They Feel About What They Do.” And – something unprecedented for an oral history collection – it became a bestseller. In this episode of The Radio Diaries Podcast, we bring you two of the lost interviews that never made...more
The images coming out of Ferguson, MO this summer have reminded us of another upsetting image of race in America. It’s a photograph that was taken just a few hours from Ferguson, but eight decades ago…and it inspired the Billie Holiday song, Strange Fruit. Listen to our story (and be advised that it is disturbing.)
This is the story of a song, “Ain’t No Grave Gonna Hold My Body Down,” written by a 12-year-old boy on his deathbed. A boy who – instead of dying – went on to become a Pentecostal preacher. A boy who would later help inspire the birth of Rock & Roll. His name was Brother Claude Ely…and he was known as The Gospel Ranger.
When Jeff Rogers was 16 years old he started referring to himself as a “halfrican.” Jeff has a black father and a white mother. And like many teenagers, he was trying to figure out who he was. We met Jeff back in 1998, and gave him a tape recorder so he could document his life for our Teenage Diaries series. We started thinking about Jeff when we produced our Teenage Diaries Revisited series last year for NPR. On today’s show, Jeff’s original teenage diary, plus…a conversation we recently had wi...more
Back in 1919, Walter Backerman’s grandfather delivered seltzer by horse and wagon on Manhattan’s Lower East Side. Today, Walter continues to deliver seltzer around the streets of New York. Some customers, like Mildred Blitz, have been on the family route for more than 50 years. When Walter’s grandfather drove his cart there were thousands of seltzer men in the city; today Walter is one of the last.
Check out our Kickstarter video. (Ira Glass has a cameo!) If we reach our goal, we will bring you a new season of Radio Diaries starting in September 2014. We’ll also be putting out the Radio Diaries Podcast twice as often. Biweekly! bit.ly/RDKickstarter
Asa Carter was a speechwriter for Alabama Governor George Wallace. He penned one of the most infamous speeches of the era… Wallace’s Segregation Now, Segregation Forever address. Forrest Carter was a Cherokee writer who grew up in Tennessee. His autobiography, The Education of Little Tree, is a beloved classic that has sold millions of copies around the world. But these two men shared a secret.
The moment Nelson Mandela really became Nelson Mandela was on April 20th, 1964 – fifty years ago today. It happened when he stood up in a stuffy South African courtroom and gave a speech. 50 years is a long time. It’s long enough for things to become history. Long enough that people start to be forgotten, stories get smoothed over, narratives get hardened in stone. That’s what happened this past December with the death of Nelson Mandela. His life story was written… in sharpie.
As a teenager, Frankie Lewchuck recorded an audio diary about his family in rural Alabama. 16 years later, he recorded a follow up story for the Teenage Diaries Revisited series: “I went from being on the front page for football, representing my itty-bitty school, to being on the front page as a thief and a meth head.” A lot of life happens in 16 years.
On the night of May 7th, 1951, in the small town of Laurel, Mississippi, close to a thousand people gathered around the courthouse. They came to witness an execution. Willie McGee was a young black man who had been accused of raping a white woman… and sentenced to death. Six decades later, Bridgette McGee teamed up with Radio Diaries to find the truth about what happened to her grandfather.
Back in the 1990s, Radio Diaries producer Joe Richman gave tape recorders to a handful of teens and asked them to report on their own lives. Now, 16 years later, Joe checks back in with them.
What would it sound like if one of the world’s greatest classical cellists, and the most legendary blues guitarist of all time…jammed together?
An award-winning radio series documenting the struggle against apartheid through intimate first-person accounts of Nelson Mandela himself, as well as those who fought with him, and against him. Hosted by Archbishop Desmond Tutu.
In the 1990s, Arch Coal began mountaintop removal mining in a corner of West Virginia called Pigeonroost Hollow. There used to be dozens of houses in the area, but now there is just one. It belongs to Jimmy Weekley.
On July 28, 1945 an army bomber pilot on a routine ferry mission found himself lost in the fog over Manhattan. Stories from the day a plane crashed into the Empire State Building.
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. In this podcast, listen to Juan’s diaries as well as a conversation about the recording process with producer Joe Richman.
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.
As an 18-year-old raised in the foster care system, Melissa took NPR listeners along when she gave birth to her son Issaiah. Over the past 16 years Melissa and her son have faced many challenges, from eviction notices to her son’s life-threatening medical diagnosis. In this podcast episode, listen to Melissa’s Teenage Diary and her new ‘grown-up’ diary from Teenage Diaries Revisited. Plus, Joe interviews Melissa about the process of documenting her life over the years.
In high school, Josh documented his life with Tourette’s Syndrome, a neurological disorder that causes uncontrollable tics and involuntary verbal outbursts. Today, Josh has overcome Tourette’s enough to become a NYC public school teacher, but not enough to remain one. In this episode, listen to Josh’s audio diaries about trying to live a normal life with a brain that often betrays him. Plus, an interview between Josh and Radio Diaries producer Joe Richman.
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. 16 years later, Amanda goes back to her parents to find out how they came to accept having a daughter who is gay.