Studs Terkel Credit: Sun-Times

The WFMT Radio Network (spun off from the radio station in the 1970s) is launching a Kickstarter campaign Thursday. The goal is to raise at least $75,000. The loftier and ultimate goal is to create an easily accessible, searchable digital archive of the more than 5,600 programs Studs Terkel recorded for WFMT 98.7 FM between 1952 and 1997.

About 2,000 of those tapes have already been digitized by the Library of Congress, and about 450 of them are online here. If the Kickstarter campaign succeeds, Tony Macaluso, the network’s director of network syndication, tells me, “we’ll be able to put up another 1,000 programs but in a much more user-friendly way, with some much more powerful search and sharing tools, plus, over time, transcriptions.”

And eventually—if other funding comes in, including grants the network hopes to get from the National Endowment for the Humanities—every single one of the programs will be posted. Studs Terkel, who died in 2008, left the tapes to the Chicago History Museum, which asked the radio network to create a public digital archive. The network had created online archives before—specifically for Exploring Music With Bill McGlaughlin—and Macaluso says its connections with radio stations and producers around the world make it “ideal for spreading the word that Studs’s work would be accessible and could be used in creative new ways.”

These ways include the educational, the scholarly, and the journalistic. And, what sounds like a combination of all three: Macaluso says the network hopes to create a weekly series of “Terkelogues”podcasts and radio programs that would have guest curators making use of Studs’s old shows, then segueing into explorations of the contemporary world.

Allison Schein will manage the archive. She also manages the audio archive at Experimental Sound Studio in Edgewater. 

Macaluso also shared some reflections on the archive that he’d previously composed. It’s so vast, he observed, that it’ll surprise even people who think they remember Studs well. “Just a few examples,” Macaluso noted: “More than 50 programs from and around a trip Studs made to China in 1980 . . . plus amazing in-the-field stuff from the Soviet Union, South Africa, Italy, France, Denmark, Selma and elsewhere.” And “frequent programs” on subjects before their time—”like gay rights, women’s rights, prison reform, the environment . . . “

And there were the times Studs passed an hour talking about music or reading poems.

“Even after two years of listening extensively,” Macaluso marveled, “we’re continually surprised.”