WFMT is the proper place for the involvement to begin. Though the Pulitzer Prize-winning Terkel is best-known to the public as an oral historian for his books of interviews with generally everyday people (most notably Working, which was turned into a Broadway musical, but also a great many others), he was best-known in Chicago for having an hour-long, nightly interview show for 46 years, on WFMT. That's over 5,000 interviews. In many ways, it was an odd place for him to be -- WFMT is largely a classical music station, though they balanced that with a sense of folk culture. (I've written about their weekly Saturday night show The Midnight Special with folk, comedy and Broadway, started by their then-staff announcer Mike Nichols. And they'll even throw in folk and comedy and offbeat pieces amidst the classical during the week when appropriate, often playing Stan Freberg on national holidays.) But Studs fit in with WFMT. In their program guide, when they listed everyone's position, his title was "Free Spirit." He came to work for most of that time on the #146 bus on the CTA, as he prepared for his 10 PM broadcast.
He passed away in 2008 -- still quite active at the age of 96, but he remains active even now on WFMT, as the station not only still plays from its Studs Terkel archives from time to time, but even has a weekly broadcast from him on its regular schedule. The Best of Studs Terkel, every Friday night at his old 10 PM time slot. You can listen to it online live -- like tonight, in fact, presuming you are reading this on the Friday it was posted -- (or anything on WFMT) by clicking here and going to the "Listen Live" button at the top of the page.
Among its collaborators with WFMT are the Chicago History Museum, the Chicago Public Library, the Library of Congress Recorded Sound Archive, the European Broadcasting Union, the American Writers Museum and more.
You can find the Studs Terkel Radio Archive here. At the moment, they're calling it a temporary site, and it's definitely the early stages, though it's nicely developed, but over the years they hope to have as many of those 5,000 interviews as they can gather for the online collection, and more, including involvement with events.
Studs did a lot more than just oral history. He was in movies (most recognizably, Eight Men Out) and was a pioneer in early television with his Studs' Place show. And more.
I even had a slight connection with the fellow. When a kid, I read an article about Studs where was quoted as having been given his start by "that adman, I.J. Wagner." I went running to my mother and called out that "Studs Terkel says that he was given his start by cousin Iz!!!" She was nonchalant about it all, "Oh sure, he was close with Iz. He spoke at his funeral." Isadore James Wagner was one of the early writers of radio jingles, his most famous being for Pabst Blue Ribbon Beer, that they used for decades ("What'll you have? Pabst Blue Ribbon!" to the tune of "10 Little Indians".) He had recommended Studs for his first broadcast job, and Studs always gave him credit, whether in interviews or even his various autobiographies. I always felt honored to be names after Iz -- the "J." -- most especially for him being the first writer in the family, which is why I write as Robert J. Elisberg.
Years after that, I had a very brief occasion to speak with Studs. I was working for the Ravinia Music Festival, the summer home of the Chicago Symphony. Studs called in, and I was handling the phone at the time. It wasn't a long conversation at all, and I was just a college kid, but I told him that I was a cousin of I.J. Wagner, and was even named after him. He was very pleased to hear it, wished me well, and we went about our business.
And now there will be this great Studs Terkel Radio Archive. Check it out, and then come back later as the collection grows. It should be quite amazing. Studs's interview style is not for everyone -- especially when they were on every single night -- he's deeply knowledgeable about his subjects and very intense, often going off into stories of his own. But they're rich and vibrant and fascinating, as much about history and popular culture and politics and everyday life as they were about the person being interviewed. Sometimes you had to take a little breather from listening to them night after night. But then, they were on for 46 years, so you had a whole lot to pick and choose from...
Again, the site can be found here.