First-person diaries, sound portraits, and hidden chapters of history from Peabody Award-winning producer Joe Richman and the Radio Diaries team. From teenagers to octogenarians, prisoners to prison guards, bra saleswomen to lighthouse keepers. The extraordinary stories of ordinary life. Radio Diaries is a proud member of Radiotopia, from PRX. Learn more at radiotopia.fm.
When Ground Zero was Radio Row
On the 20th anniversary of September 11th, 2001, we’re bringing you a story about the World Trade Center. But it isn’t about the attacks, or about everything that came after. Instead, it’s about what came before 9/11.
A century ago, before the twin towers were built, the neighborhood now known as Ground Zero was home to the largest collection of radio and electronics stores in the world. Back then, it was known as Radio Row.
Last Witness: The Kerner Commission
Decades before our current debate over critical race theory, the 1968 Kerner Report pointed the finger at structural racism for creating the conditions that had triggered a series of protests in Black communities across the United States in the summer of 1967.
Former Senator Fred Harris is the last surviving member of the Kerner Commission, a group appointed by President Lyndon B. Johnson to investigate the protests and author the report.
This story is a part of our Last Witness series, audio portraits of the last surviving witnesses to major historical events.
Radio Diaries is a small non-profit organization. We make this show with support from listeners like you. You can hear all our stories, sign up for our newsletter, and donate on our website www.radiodiaries.org.
Prisoners of War
During the war in Vietnam, there was a notorious American military prison on the outskirts of Saigon, called Long Binh Jail. But LBJ wasn’t for captured enemy fighters. It was for American soldiers.
These were men who had broken military law, and there were a lot of them. As the unpopular war dragged on, discipline frayed and soldiers started to rebel. Some were there for serious crimes, others for small stuff, like refusing to get a haircut.
By the summer of 1968, LBJ had become extremely overcrowded. Originally built to house 400 inmates, it became crammed with over 700 men. On August 29th, 1968, the situation erupted.
This episode originally aired on NPR in 2018.
The Gospel Ranger
This is the story of a song, “Ain’t No Grave Gonna Hold My Body Down.” It was written by a 12-year-old boy on what was supposed to be his deathbed. But the boy didn’t die. Instead, he went on to become a Pentecostal preacher, and later helped inspire the birth of Rock & Roll.
The boy’s name was Brother Claude Ely, and he was known as The Gospel Ranger.
Also, we remember Joe Newman from our Hunker Down Diaries series, who passed away this week at 108 years old.
This episode has support from Article Furniture. Get $50 off your first order of $100 or more by visiting article.com/diaries.
The Rise and Fall of Black Swan Records
One hundred years ago, in 1921, a man named Harry Pace started the first major Black-owned record company in the United States. He called it Black Swan Records.
In an era when few Black musicians were recorded, the company was revolutionary. It launched the careers of Ethel Waters, Fletcher Henderson, William Grant Still, Alberta Hunter and other influential artists who transformed American music.
But Black Swan’s success would be short-lived. Just a couple years after Pace founded the company, larger, wealthier, white competitors started to take an interest in the artists whose careers Pace had propelled. Then, Pace’s own life took a mysterious turn.
This episode of Radio Diaries has support from the National Endowment for the Humanities and The Lily Auchincloss Foundation.
We are a proud member of Radiotopia, a network of creators who are able to follow their curiosity and tell the stories they care about the most. Show your support for Radiotopia during our Spring Fundraiser. Donate today at https://on.prx.org/3wl9pWn.
From the Archive: Josh's Diary
Twenty-five years ago, Josh Cutler was a 16-year old living with Tourette’s Syndrome, a brain disorder that often causes physical and verbal tics. For several months, he recorded cassette tapes of everything from conversations with his parents and classmates, to prank calls. This is his diary, which chronicles his attempts to live a normal teenage life with a brain that often betrays him.
Josh’s diary first aired as part of the Teenage Diaries series on NPR in 1996.
Radio Diaries is a proud member of Radiotopia, a network of creators who are able to follow their curiosity and tell the stories they care about the most. Show your support for Radiotopia during our Spring Fundraiser. Donate today at https://on.prx.org/3wl9pWn.