Public Historian Joey Plaster spent a year gathering 70+ interviews from people experiencing Polk Street’s transition from a working class queer neighborhood to an upscale entertainment district. Polk Street’s scene predates the modern gay rights movement. It was a world unto itself, ten blocks of low rent hotels, bars and liquor stores, all sandwiched in between the gritty Tenderloin, City Hall, and the ritzy Nob Hill: a home invented by people who had no other home.
For decades, the street had been a national destination for queer youth and transgender women, many of them fleeing abusive or unwelcoming homes. But by the mid-1990s, the last of the working class bars that formed the backbone of the Polk community were being replaced by a new bloc of mid-income businesses and residents.
Long-term Polk residents were incredibly emotional about these changes. Many considered the neighborhood to be their first real home. Now they saw their family’s gathering places evaporating. The conflict was sometimes dramatic: owners of one gay bar claimed that the new business association forced them off the street. A gay activist group made national news when they plastered the street with “wanted” posters featuring a photo of the new association’s president.
These intense reactions suggested a rich history, but I found that it had not been recorded. I feared it would be lost with the scene. I had prior experience as an oral historian. This was my first effort to find overlap with radio, which I’ve long felt is the best medium for broadcasting intimate, personal stories from “marginal” populations. —Joey Plaster
Megan Taylor grew up feeling she was living in the wrong body. In her 20s, she decided to do something about it. First, she changed her name to Miles. Miles began taking testosterone, scheduled a double mastectomy — part of sex reassignment surgery — and began changing his body into one that felt right. The hardest part was telling his parents. Through it all, he kept an audio diary.
Pasquale Spensieri spends his days driving around Brooklyn looking for dull blades. When he rings the bell on his truck, the owners of upholstery shops, restaurants and pizza parlors come out with knives and scissors to sharpen. Pasquale’s father first started sharpening knives during the Depression, with a pedal-operated grinding machine strapped to his back. At that time, there were hundreds of door-to-door grinders in New York. Today, at the age of 71, Pasquale is one of the last. Produced by Joe Richman and Emily Botein (WNYC) for their series New York Works.
Since the 1880s, Mohawk Indian ironworkers have been known for their ability to work high steel. From the Empire State Building to the the World Trade Center, generations of Mohawks have helped shape New York City’s skyline. Each week, they commute to Manhattan from their reservation in Canada, framing the city’s skyscrapers and bridges. In September 2001, after the fall of the Trade Center Towers, the sons and nephews of these men returned to the site to dismantle what their elders had helped to build.
A century ago the six Crow Reservation Districts came together for a cultural gathering with other Great Plains tribes. Every third weekend of August the Crow Fair honors that tradition in a “giant family reunion under the Big Sky.” Five days of celebration in southeastern Montana, with a parade, Pow Wow, rodeo, and traditional and fancy dancing.
In 1977 a team of NPR producers and recordists spent a week collecting sounds and interviewing people at this annual event. This early ambient sound-portrait breathes with the arts and activities of the Crow people: the Apsaalooke Nation.
Voices from all sides of adoption. Stories about living with questions and searching for answers. We hear from birth families (mothers, siblings and a father), adoptees (both kids and adults), and various adoptive families including open adoption and international adoption (China).
Eighty years ago, on the courthouse square in Marion, Indiana, Thomas Shipp and Abram Smith were murdered by a mob of townsfolk. A photo of the lynching prompted the poem by Bronx schoolteacher Abel Meeropol, “Strange Fruit,” which became lyrics to a well-known Billie Holiday song.
Decades later, a box of recordings was found in a basement with recollections of people who witnessed — even took part in — the murders. This riveting Radio Diaries premiered this week on NPR…
On Aug. 7, 1930, Lawrence Beitler took this photograph of Thomas Shipp and Abram Smith, lynched in the town center of Marion, Ind., for allegedly murdering a white factory worker, Claude Deeter, and raping his companion, Mary Ball. But the case was never solved.
Southern trees bear strange fruit,
Blood on the leaves and blood at the root,
Black body swinging in the Southern breeze,
Strange fruit hanging from the poplar trees.
Pastoral scene of the gallant South,
The bulging eyes and the twisted mouth,
Scent of magnolia sweet and fresh,
Then the sudden smell of burning flesh!
Here is fruit for the crows to pluck,
For the rain to gather, for the wind to suck,
For the sun to rot, for the trees to drop,
Here is a strange and bitter crop.
For many years, Transom.org editor, Sydney Lewis, worked side by side with Studs on his radio show and his books. For this remembrance, a blend of documentary and reminiscence, she brings together a crew of Stud’s co-workers. They share great stories and wonderful previously-unheard tape of Studs himself. Sydney Lewis co-authored Studs’ book Touch and Go: A Memoir.
Chief Mountain Hotshots, Nicole Meeso and Aldon Wells, Powell Campground ID — Getting ready for a day’s work in the Clearwater Forest with the Blackfeet wildland firefighters, known as some of the best in the world.
Sister Carol Ann and the Bendictine Sisters, St. Gertrude Monastery, Cottonwood ID — Land stewardship is a matter of faith in these sisters’ rural Catholic perspective. We walk thru the woods of the monastery; 800 acres which the sisters have had to learn how to manage.
Lois & Betty, Patterson Restaurant, Patterson WA — Sipping coffee and surveying farm life from the breakfast tables of a small town cafe.
Louis Butler and family, Walla Walla River WA — Four Generations Fishing: A retiree from Hanford Nuclear Reservation goes catfishing with his daughter, grand-daughter and great-grandsons.
Ken Karzmiski, Archeologist, Columbia Gorge Discovery Center, The Dalles WA — Looking for lost Lewis & Clark legacy, and the artifacts and languages of native cultures drowned by the Columbia River dams.
USCG Duty Surfman Kyle Betts, now Chief Boatswain’s Mate and Executive Petty Officer, Cape Disappointment U.S. Coast Guard Station WA — The USCG Search and Rescue team pulls boats and people out of treacherous West coast waters along the Columbia River bar, where the river meets the ocean: “the graveyard of the Pacific.”
An earlier pedal over the same route, from the Rocky Mountains, down the Columbia River to the Pacific Ocean, interviewing whoever crosses our path: wind surfers, church organists, forest service employees, and “we’ve been talking to as many loggers as we can, to try and find out if they don’t see bicyclists, or they just hate us.”
The first movement in From the Journals of Lewis and Clark, a symphonic work for orchestra and choir based on the expedition’s journals. Montana’s Great Falls Symphony commissioned University of Idaho music professor Dan Bukvitch as the composer. The text is President Jeffersons’s instructions to Captain Lewis in 1803.
Yellowstone Public Radio’s Lois Bent passed on into that great audio control room in the sky last week. I remember late night at a PRPD party; I was three sheets to the whiskey (what else is new), talking to Jessie Thorn (TSOYA) and Jonathan Goldstein (WireTap). Lois came over to say Hi. She’s got phenomenal operatic pipes, so I asked for a song. She belted out a rousing version of Gershwin’s “Summertime.” Made my night, and that of all others w/in earshot.
A project of mine asks folk “How would you change the world?” Here’s Lois’ answer:
“Lois Bent- Change the World (circa 2003)” (1:51 mp3):
Biking & Mic-ing the Modern Lewis & Clark Trail; part one of two, up the Missouri River into the Rocky Mountains. Barrett Golding and Josef Verbanac, a radio producer and an English professor, a Jew and a Souix, bicycle from Missouri to Montana, enduring floods, war, worms, mud, and myriad Lewis & Clark festivals:
Prep: Cross-country preparations, then and now, from Penis syringes and Indian presents, to AAA and GPS. “Your observations are to be taken with great pains and accuracy, for others as well as yourself” –Jefferson’s Instructions to Lewis, 1803.
Flood: Missouri floodwaterss, a frog symphony, a million worms, bowfishing a beanfield, and in Marthasville MI little league it’s Lemke Trenching and Excavating vs. Miller Funeral Homes. Don Sherman, a retired Chrysler worker, who now volunteers his time taking care of the city park in the flood-prone landmark rural town — which, in Lewis & Clark’s time, was the last outpost of white society. And we go bow-fishing for in a bean field.
Rendezvous: Biking and mic-ing the Missouri River. Captain Lewis’ Aria, surveyor-stalking cougars, black powder bursts, cave wall Manitous, and Edens lost. Explorers express emotions and the Expedition breaks into song, in “Corps of Discovery: An Opera in Three Acts” produced by music professor Eric Dillner and the University of Missouri’s Show-Me Opera. Geographer James Harlan maps the Two Missouris, the Missouri Territory now and two centuries ago, using an 1815 Land Office survey and Clark’s field-notes. James Denny, Historic Interpreter, for Missouri’s Department of Natural Resources, points out where pictografs on a cliff were a landmark of the Lower Missouri, until the railroad blew ’em up; we tour through the tunnel of the ex-Manitous.
Wars: No Home on the Range, Chief Joseph’s Race Track, and Brothers Buddha and Brahma. Farrell Adkins, Campground Host at Arrow Rock MO sings the little known second verse of “Home on the Range.” Matt Nowak, Natural Resources Director at Fort Leavenworth Army Base KA describes this places part in the death and desctrution of the Nez Perce people.
Indian County: Daily pow-wows, casino economies, and Lewis’ birthday gloom. Neil Phillips, Penobscot tribal member and former canoe racer paddles from Maine to Montana, experiencing life on the river, a little-seen view of America. Joe Verbancec Sr. tours us thru the Standing Rock reservation.
The Strenuous Life: Bruce Kaye, Chief Naturalist at Theodore Roosevelt National Park recounts Teddy Roosevelt’s time in North Dakota. His ideas about conservation developed in the badlands, then get expressed in the acts of the President of the United States and the start of the National Park system.
Re-enaction: At Coal Banks Landing, on Missouri River “Breaks” in Montana, we encounters the re-reactors, traveling up-river using the boats, clothes, food, guns and knifes of the Lewis & Clark era.
Camp: Lewis and Clark made 600 campsites on their expedition from St. Louis to the Pacific and back. So far, the exact location of only one has been identified. For 13 years, archaeologist Ken Karsmizki has been digging at Lower Portage camp of the Great Falls, on the Missouri River in Central Montana, and finding fire pits, butchered bones, wooden stakes and other artifacts, all dating to Lewis and Clark’s time.
Orchestration: “From the Journals of Lewis and Clark” is a symphonic work for orchestra and choir based on the expedition’s journals. Montana’s Great Falls Symphony commissioned University of Idaho music professor Daniel Bukvich as the composer, whose job was to make Art imitate History.
Offbeat retreats and obscure tours thru the heart of Americana:
“Losing It at Universal Studios” (4:37) Mark Allen
Temporarily insanity during a tour of Universal Studios in southern California. So many cool things to see, to do, to tour. The writer is overwhelmed by the magnificence of it all, and pretty much loses his mind. Based an Mark Allen’s web essay “I Suffered Stendhal Syndrome At Universal Studios Hollywood!.”
Boonville is a small community in Northwest California, founded in 1862, a few hundred feet in elevation, with few hundred residents. And… the town has it’s own language, Boontling. We go sharkin’ and harpin’ thru Boonville with Charles C. Adams, author of Boontling: An American Lingo.
“David Lynch goes into clean neighborhoods and finds the germs and bugs beneath; I go into dirty neighborhoods and find the life.” That’s how filmmaker Tony Buba describes his twelve documentaries about his hometown of Braddock, Pennsylvania. Buba is the son of Italian immigrants, part of the wave of Europeans who came to America in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries to work in the steel mills of Braddock and other towns around Pittsburgh. Now the steel industry is almost dead, and Braddock is the prototypical post-industrial “‘rust belt” town, a town where a person either lives by his or her wits or lives in poverty. Buba tours through the streets of Braddock, past the old Croatian and Slovak social clubs and through streets, now empty, that once bristled with activity.
Bruce Davidson has been a member of the U.S. Equestrian Team since 1971. He’s a world class rider, trainer and breeder. NPR visited Chesterlands Farm, in Unionville, Pennsylvania, when Bruce Davidson and his horse JJ Babu were training for the 1984 L.A. Olympics (they won a Team Gold). David Molpus is now with Ideastream in Cleveland. The producer Carolyn Chadwick’s latest project is Conservation Sound.
Summer Bird, Rags to Riches, Empire Maker, Lemon Drop Kid, Colonial Affair, Thunder Gulch, those are some of the winners at the Belmont Stakes, the last leg of the Triple Crown of Thoroughbred Racing. In 1979, an army of NPR sound-recordists showed up trackside at Belmont Park, Long Island to document Spectacular Bid’s attempt to match Secretariat’s legend. Writer/Produced: Josh Darsa. Technical Director: Skip Pizzi, with Field Engineers: Paul Blackmore and Ceil Muller. Technical Assistance: John Widoff and Dave Glasser. Editorial Assistance: Neal Conan.
In 1945, Willie McGee was accused of raping a white woman. The all-white jury took less than three minutes to find him guilty and McGee was sentenced to death. Over the next six years, the case went through three trials and sparked international protests and appeals from Albert Einstein, William Faulkner, Paul Robeson, and Josephine Baker. McGee was defended by a young Bella Abzug arguing her first major case. But in 1951, McGee was put to death in Mississippi’s traveling electric chair. His execution was broadcast live by a local radio station. Today, a newly discovered recording of that broadcast provides a chilling window into a lost episode of civil rights history. Narrated by granddaughter Bridgette McGee, this documentary follows a her search for the truth about a case that has been called a real-life To Kill A Mockingbird.