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Chicagoist Wayback Machine, Inaugural Edition: Belated Birthday Wishes to Studs

By Karl Klockars in News on May 19, 2007 2:00PM

Consummate Chicagoan, supreme storyteller, raconteur, and the man who elevated the interview to high art, Studs Terkel turned 95 years old on Wednesday. Other media outlets can't seem to agree on what to call him: interviewer, author, activist, media pioneer, oral historian, blacklisted lefty. We prefer to think Studs wouldn't mind any of those labels as long as you didn't call him late for his daily scotch.

During Studs' birthday celebration this week he bemoaned the general lack of memory and illiteracy of history amongst these kids today, christening it the "United States of Alzheimers."

0519_studs.jpgGood timing for such a remark, Studs; it just so happens that Chicagoist picked this week to roll out a sort of history corner every weekend. We figure we spend all week bemoaning and hurrahing the state of our fair city; why not spend a few Saturday moments in the presence of classic Chicagoans like Hinky-Dink McKenna, places like the Everleigh Club, and tracking down old Magikist signs?

In case you're not familiar with Mr. Terkel's work, on the short list of "most venerable Chicago authors," Studs ranks up there with Nelson Algren and Saul Bellow. Pulitzer Prize winner for The Good War, for our money it's hard to beat Studs' Division Street America, a book ostensibly about urban life in Chicago but is much more of a snapshot of race and class in the center third of the 20th Century.

Studs is still out there raising hell; last year he and other prominent Chicagoans filed suit against AT&T for breach of privacy in the wake of the NSA's records-sharing agreement uncovered a year ago. The old axe-handle is that "if you're young and not liberal you have no heart, if you're old and not conservative you have no brain." No one bothered to tell Terkel this; he remains solidly and proudly liberal and pro-union, and was famously kicked off of his TV show after refusing to denounce his left-wing politics in 1952.

We tracked down some old footage of Studs, posted to YouTube by, featuring some of his work on WFMT, a discussion of FDR and the medium of radio, and much more. Also, in another example of why the Internet is awesome, many of the interviews that went into making so many of Studs' books are available online at his website.

Studs remains one of the last links to a Chicago that many can't recall, and he has certainly been witness to some parts of the city that many would like to forget. He's seen more than his share of things come and go from this city, and it's going to be a damned shame when it's Studs' turn. If you have a chance to see Studs speak, don't walk, run to that library, that conference hall, that meeting room. He's a living legend, and Chicagoist is proud to feature him in our first ... whatever this is.

Curious about something in Chicago's history? Email us at, and we'll try to track something down for you. Also, we're not necessarily married to the whole "Wayback" name for these posts, so any suggestions would be encouraged.