Behind The Stories

Bad Hair, Great Stories: 'Playback' Brings The Best From October 1988

All Things Considered Producers (l-r) Peter Breslow, Art Silverman, Richard L. Harris, Maury Schlesinger, Christopher Koch and Neal Conan line up in front of 1986's take on an editorial board. i i

All Things Considered Producers (l-r) Peter Breslow, Art Silverman, Richard L. Harris, Maury Schlesinger, Christopher Koch and Neal Conan line up in front of 1986's take on an editorial board. Art Silverman/NPR hide caption

itoggle caption Art Silverman/NPR
All Things Considered Producers (l-r) Peter Breslow, Art Silverman, Richard L. Harris, Maury Schlesinger, Christopher Koch and Neal Conan line up in front of 1986's take on an editorial board.

All Things Considered Producers (l-r) Peter Breslow, Art Silverman, Richard L. Harris, Maury Schlesinger, Christopher Koch and Neal Conan line up in front of 1986's take on an editorial board.

Art Silverman/NPR

What do you remember about October 1988? What if you read this: "Martians have invaded New Jersey." Seeing a clearer picture?

Listen

Playback: October 1988

For the last decade, NPR Producer Kerry Thompson has been striking the public media equivalent of a gold mine as she digs through the NPR broadcast archives, one month at a time. She easily finds a wealth of riveting, nostalgic and just plain quirky stories stuck in the black hole of tape-reel abyss. Determined to share these classic pieces of audio with today's listeners, Thompson created a podcast: Playback.

Each month, Playback invites listeners for a ride in the "NPR DeLorean," to revisit the movers, shakers and, yes, one-hit wonders that made news exactly 25 years ago. This month's Playback takes a trip to October 1988: a time when Def Leppard's "Love Bites" topped the charts, scrunchies hit their stride and Lloyd Bentsen famously assured Dan Quayle that he was "no Jack Kennedy."

The podcast begins with a reminder for listeners of a day when the world "came to an end." That month, NPR aired a 50th anniversary tribute to Orson Welles' iconic 1938 radio broadcast, The War of the Worlds. And today marks 75 years since Welles pulled off this "prank" of epic proportion. Now that's what we call an October Surprise.

Have you seen this Sony Pro Walkman cassette machine? "I never got it back," says Peter Breslow, who maintains that it was "swiped by one of the Yak herders who were helping to transport our loads." i i

Have you seen this Sony Pro Walkman cassette machine? "I never got it back," says Peter Breslow, who maintains that it was "swiped by one of the Yak herders who were helping to transport our loads." wikipedia.org/wiki/Walkman hide caption

itoggle caption wikipedia.org/wiki/Walkman
Have you seen this Sony Pro Walkman cassette machine? "I never got it back," says Peter Breslow, who maintains that it was "swiped by one of the Yak herders who were helping to transport our loads."

Have you seen this Sony Pro Walkman cassette machine? "I never got it back," says Peter Breslow, who maintains that it was "swiped by one of the Yak herders who were helping to transport our loads."

wikipedia.org/wiki/Walkman

Playback: October 1988 then goes off the trail and clips into Cowboys on Everest, a Peabody Award-winning piece from NPR's Peter Breslow. Breslow was working as a producer for All Things Considered when he lugged a Sony Pro Walkman cassette machine along for a trek up Mount Everest. Breslow used a lavalier lapel mic (think "helmet-cam," circa 1988) to capture audio, while keeping his hands free to wield ice axes into the North Face of the notorious peak.

Another gem from this month's Playback: In an interview with Fresh Air Host Terry Gross, a young Tom Hanks wonders aloud how long his celebrity might last. He didn't yet know that Big, for which Hanks' would nab his first Oscar, was already on the Academy's radar. Gross, herself, was still early in her own career as host of a nationally distributed news-talk show produced out of Member Station WHYY in Philadelphia.

Fast forward a quarter-century, when a seasoned Hanks speaks again with Fresh Air, this time as his latest film Captain Phillips swirls with Oscar buzz. Together, this pair of conversations offers a glimpse through a rare window into the makings of a storied Hollywood career.

1980s Snapshots At NPR

  • Reporting the news on what is, clearly, a very hairy situation. Pictured here (l-r) are NPR's Gary Covino, Anne Gudenkauf, Ted Clark and Christopher Koch in 1980, just moments before Ronald Reagan won the presidential election.
    Hide caption
    Reporting the news on what is, clearly, a very hairy situation. Pictured here (l-r) are NPR's Gary Covino, Anne Gudenkauf, Ted Clark and Christopher Koch in 1980, just moments before Ronald Reagan won the presidential election.
    Art Silverman/NPR
  • "These days, most of my mountaineering experience involves arranging interviews with real climbers," says Peter Breslow (pictured here, in 1988), who now produces for NPR's Weekend Edition. Somebody's getting a "helmet-cam" for his birthday!
    Hide caption
    "These days, most of my mountaineering experience involves arranging interviews with real climbers," says Peter Breslow (pictured here, in 1988), who now produces for NPR's Weekend Edition. Somebody's getting a "helmet-cam" for his birthday!
    Art Silverman/NPR
  • Terry Gross celebrates Fresh Air's first anniversary as a national program in 1988. NPR had previously only offered the news-talk show to Member Stations on a weekly basis.
    Hide caption
    Terry Gross celebrates Fresh Air's first anniversary as a national program in 1988. NPR had previously only offered the news-talk show to Member Stations on a weekly basis.
    courtesy of Fresh Air
  • 25 years ago, Robert Siegel and Renee Montagne (l-r) were co-hosts for All Things Considered. In 1988, the afternoon newsmagazine was already in its 17th year on-air. Also pictured (l-r): NPR's Alex Chadwick, Art Silverman and Lynn Neary.
    Hide caption
    25 years ago, Robert Siegel and Renee Montagne (l-r) were co-hosts for All Things Considered. In 1988, the afternoon newsmagazine was already in its 17th year on-air. Also pictured (l-r): NPR's Alex Chadwick, Art Silverman and Lynn Neary.
    Art Silverman/NPR
  • Richard L. Harris, Ira Glass, Robert Siegel and Neal Conan (l-r) pictured here in 1986. We imagine that the four were ranking their hairstyles.
    Hide caption
    Richard L. Harris, Ira Glass, Robert Siegel and Neal Conan (l-r) pictured here in 1986. We imagine that the four were ranking their hairstyles.
    Art Silverman/NPR

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Subscribe to Playback and download new episodes in the NPR Podcast Directory and via iTunes.

We'll leave you with one final thought about the practicality of dumpster diving in the NPR archives. As our own pop culture Monkey See blogger Linda Holmes once wrote,

It feels redundant, and maybe a bit solipsistic, to study the mechanics of nostalgia too closely. It means watching ourselves watch ourselves and asking why we're doing it.

Broad cultural nostalgia... has... a single aim: escape... When you leave your regular life, Tahiti or Alaska or St. Maarten may be in fashion or may be cheap, but you don't leave to be there so much as you leave to not be here... You need to leave, so you leave.

What's eternal about nostalgia is the same thing that's eternal about travel: It will always happen, not because what's out there is so special that it will pull us out through the windows, but because what's in here is, at least some of the time, so difficult that it will push us out through the door.

So, enjoy the travel back to October 1988. We only hope that the impossibly bad hairstyles don't return with you in your carry on.


Allison Corke is part of the NPR Development team. She was an 80s baby.

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