Studs Terkel: Looking For A Human Voice

Studs Terkel speaking in a mobile StoryCorps recording booth parked in his driveway in Chicago. i i

Studs Terkel speaking in a mobile StoryCorps recording booth parked in his driveway in Chicago — the only time the StoryCorps trailer has made a house call. He died Oct. 31. hide caption

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Studs Terkel speaking in a mobile StoryCorps recording booth parked in his driveway in Chicago.

Studs Terkel speaking in a mobile StoryCorps recording booth parked in his driveway in Chicago — the only time the StoryCorps trailer has made a house call. He died Oct. 31.

The legendary oral historian Studs Terkel was always a lover of what he called "vox humana" — the human voice. And he noticed when it was missing, as it was one day on an airport shuttle train in Atlanta.

A machine-like voice rang out from above informing Terkel and his fellow passengers that the train was about to leave the concourse. Otherwise, he recalled, it was dead silent.

The pneumatic doors were closing when a young couple pushed them open to get in, Terkel said.

"Without missing a beat, that voice above says, 'Because of late entry, we're delayed 30 seconds.'

"People looked at that couple as if that couple had just committed mass murder," Terkel said.

The two cringed — and Terkel spoke up.

"George Orwell, your time has come and gone!" he yelled out. The passengers greeted his attempt at humor with complete silence.

"And now they look at me — and I'm with the couple, the three of us are at the Hill of Calvary on Good Friday," Terkel said.

"My God, where's the human voice?" Terkel asked the passengers.

After noticing a baby on the train, he asked another question.

"Sir or madam," Terkel said to the infant, "What is your opinion of the human species?"

And the baby started to giggle.

"I said, 'Thank God — the sound of a human voice.'"

Produced for Morning Edition by Michael Garofalo, senior producer of StoryCorps.

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