A Studs Terkel Footnote

In those far-off pre-computer days, Studs Terkel was blessed with a prodigious memory that made it possible for him to assemble the thousands of interview fragments that made up his documentaries, both written and recorded.  Twenty years ago I experienced it at first-hand.


In 1965 when I was production director at KPFA, Berkeley’s highbrow FM station, the great Studs Terkel paid us a visit. We all hung around waiting to shake his hand.  (Kissing the hem of his garment would have been appropriate but a bit over the top.)


A quarter century later I was in New York, sitting in the dress circle for a performance of Lily Tomlin’s brilliant solo show, “Search for Intelligent Life in the Universe”. During the interval I heard a familiar voice three seats away. I leaned across and asked, “Excuse me, are you Studs Terkel?”


He chuckled. “If I’m not, I’m in deep trouble!”


“You won’t remember me,” I continued, “but back in 1965. . .”


“No, don’t tell me,” he interrupted. There was a couple of seconds’ pause.  “John Whiting, KPFA. You ran the studio.”


I wish I could report the brilliant exchange that followed, but I’d have to make it up. He was three seats away and with friends, so I just waved acknowledgement and let him get back to his conversation. I may not have kissed the hem of his garment, but he certainly touched mine.


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