“Working: Then and Now” to Debut on NPR on Sept. 25

“Working: Then and Now” a series co-produced by Project& and Radio Diaries will begin to air on NPR beginning Sunday, September 25.

In the early 1970s, Terkel went around the country, tape recorder in hand, interviewing people about their jobs. He collected more than 130 interviews for his seminal book, Working: People Talk About What They Do All Day and How They Feel About What They Do. “Working” struck a nerve, because it elevated the stories of ordinary people and their daily lives. After the book came out, the cassettes were packed away and stored in Terkel’s home office.

Now Project& and Radio Diaries are co-producing the series with these never-before-heard field interviews to air on NPR — along with interviews with some of the same subjects today.

The series will also explore Studs Terkel’s quirks and interviewing style, what made the book unique and popular 40 years ago, and how ideas about work in American life have changed in the years since.

Stories will run from Sept 25 — October 2 across NPR’s Morning Edition, All Things Considered, Weekend Edition and Weekend All Things Considered, featuring audio portraits from Terkel’s original recordings, along with some interviews with the same subjects today. Stations and broadcast times are available on npr.org/stations.

The Radio Diaries Podcast will also release a mini-series of episodes featuring all the stories, dropping on 9/26, 10/4, and 10/11. “Working: Then & Now” is a Radio Diaries co-production with Project& and a component of the “Working in America” initiative, a nationally traveling photo exhibition with photos taken of 24 individuals by Pulitzer Prize photographer Lynsey Addario and an online archive, Your Working Story, of workers in the US today.

Here is a list of the upcoming stories.

Jockey — Eddie Arroyo; Weekend All Things Considered

Eddie Arroyo. Photo by Jane M Saks.

Eddie Arroyo grew up wanting to play basketball, but at five feet and 108 pounds he was better built to be a jockey. When he was first interviewed by Studs Terkel in 1971, Arroyo had been racing for 6 years. He said it was the hardest — and most dangerous — job he’d ever had. His best friend was paralyzed from the waist down, and Arroyo himself was trampled by a horse. Arroyo was inducted into the Chicago Sports Hall of Fame. Today he still works in the racing industry at the Arlington Race Track, where part of his contemporary interview was recorded.

Car Parker — Lovin’ Al Pommier; Morning Edition

Lovin’ Al Pommier talked to Studs Terkel about the tips and tricks of parking cars in Chicago, while they smoked cigars inside a car.

Phone Operator — Sharon Griggins; All Things Considered

Sharon Griggins was 17 years old and working for Illinois Bell as a telephone operator when she was interviewed by Studs Terkel. For a job that required talking to people all day long, Sharon tells Studs that it’s a remarkably lonely profession. Today, Sharon is the Director of Communications at the Seattle Public Library Foundation.

Ad Executive — Judy Saylor; Morning Edition

Barbara Herrick was a young advertising executive in Chicago. As the “token woman” in a male-dominated industry, Saylor carefully navigated every professional interaction. She fielded sexual advances from married colleagues, put up with misogynistic jokes from clients, and fought to prove that she was not just the face, but the brains behind her work. Saylor was attractive and successful, two qualities that she said seemed to be inextricably intertwined.

Auto Repair/Family Business — Duke and Lee Singer; All Things Considered

The Singer Family. Photo by Jane M. Saks

Duke Singer and his son Lee opened an auto repair service station in Geneva, Illinois in the late 1960’s. Unlike his father, Lee worked hard to separate work-life from home-life. When he was interviewed by Studs at the age of 23, he expressed some regret about joining the family business. Today, Lee Singer is 68 and still runs the family auto repair/body shop. Except now he works with his son Scott and grandson Austin. And many of the same father-son tensions are playing out in the next generation.

Police Officer — Renault Robinson; Morning Edition

Jane M. Saks and Renault Robinson.

Renault Robinson was an officer in the Chicago Police Department when he was first interviewed by Studs Terkel in 1971. As one of the few black police officers on the force, Robinson spoke openly and bluntly about the role of race in urban policing. Robinson was later part of a lawsuit against the Chicago police force for discrimination, which effectively ended his career as a police officer. In his contemporary interview Robinson expresses frustration with how little has changed in 40 years.

Hotel Piano Player — Hots Michaels; All Things Considered

Hots Michael was interviewed by Studs Terkel while entertaining guests at the Hotel Sherman where worked for decades.

Union Worker — Gary Bryner; Weekend Edition Saturday

Gary Bryner had been working in a General Motors factory for four years when he was elected president of the Local 1112 chapter of the United Automobile Workers in Lordstown, Ohio. At only 29 years old, Bryner was in a powerful position at the assembly plant. He led a successful strike in 1972 in response to the plants’ replacement of many jobs with machines to increase the speed of the assembly line. Bryner recently retired after more than 45 years. He reflects on how factory work and the role of unions have changed over the past four decades.

Press Agent — Eddie Jaffe; Weekend All Things Considered

Eddie Jaffe was a press agent “legendary for his lost causes, chutzpah and angst.” He represented broadway and hollywood stars. In his interview with Studs Terkel, Jaffe looked back on his career and wondered if somehow he made the wrong choice.

Private Investigator — Anthony Ruggiero; Weekend Edition Sunday

Anthony Ruggiero worked as a porter, a baker, a newspaper man, and a drunk. As an undercover investigator in Brooklyn, Ruggiero was hired by companies to root out criminal activity. In his 1970’s interview with Studs Terkel, he talked about what it takes to do this kind of work: be an honest guy.

For more information about Working in America and to share your own “working story,” please visit Working.org.

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