Studs Terkel? Labor Day Celebrates Working People Not Posers

Another Labor Day; another reason for yet another paean to St. Studs Terkel. If you're like me and have had quite enough panegyrics to this poseur, you need to read this piece by Pat Hickey.

Pat Hickey is the genuine article, everything that Terkel pretended to be. Hickey writes with a sharpened pen, unlike Terkel who gained fame by transcribing other people's words. The latest and most stupefyingly saccharine praise of  Terkel came in a Carol Marin column, so cloying that it set Hickey off, producing something that I wish that I had written.

I crossed swords publicly with Terkel a number of years ago when he was deeply offended when WFMT-FM hired Jay Andres as a radio host. Andres was hired from another classical music station in town (considered to be the lesser one) and had has own late show for years on WBBM-AM, featuring popular classical music. The idea that someone like Andres would soil the elite pantheon of WFMT's good taste sent Terkel and a band of like-minded idiots (calling themselves Friends of WFMT)  on a campaign to fire the guy. Terkel (who also was pissed because of some fight with WFMT management over his office accommodations) showed himself to be anything akin to the friend of the "common man," (he liked to call them the "masses") by knifing someone whose tastes could be classified as "common."

Here is what I wrote about the fight when I was on the Sun-Times editorial board.:

A friendly suggestion for WFMT

Caving into pressure from Friends of WFMT, fine arts radio station WFMT has fired broadcaster Jay Andres. Agreeing a year ago to work without a contract because of what he said was the station's promise of long-term security, Andres will soon be out on the street following the Friends' merciless, yearlong campaign of ridicule. And what horrible sin did Andres commit to deserve this abuse? Playing and chitchatting about familiar classical music.

I had thought the station's hiring of this entertaining, knowledgeable and decent man was a good move by a stuffed-shirt station badly in need of a dose of humanity and humility.

But now I see I was wrong. Now that the Friends, a.k.a, the good taste posse, has established the principle that everyone has the right to drive someone off the air and out of a job, I - as a 31-year WFMT listener - will be forming my own group: "Better Friends of WFMT."

Our requirements are simple: Like the Lesser Friends of WFMT, we'll be demanding a seat on the station owner's Radio Committee and insisting on the right to choose who can advertise.

But mostly we will require the firing of the Great Windbag.

That's right, StudsTerkel - the self-proclaimed raconteur, renaissance man and bearer of truth - must be canned.

Just like the Lesser Friends, my Better Friends will have a newsletter featuring repeated shots at the "heavy-handed," "slow-thinking" and "ignorant" Terkel. We'll raise money by mailing the insults to prospective donors around the country. Our telephone hotline will play taped Terkelputdowns. We'll call Terkel every day while he's on the air to remind him that he's an "idiot."

Sure, sure, some people might say: "If you don't like Terkel, just turn him off."

But why should we be any different than the Lesser Friends? Even if we turn him off, he'll still be there, violating our idea of what our radio station should be. His very presence offends.

Ah ha, some will say, a witch-hunt.

Not so. We don't want Terkel fired for his political beliefs. (In fact - and this may qualify me for an appointment at the clinic - I sometimes agree with him.) No, we want him out for basically the same reason that Andres got canned - his style. We're fed up with the Great Poseur's mumbling. We don't like the way he asks questions. (They always contain the answer.) We are made ill by his affectations.

So, just like the Lesser Friends, our conditions of membership will be simple: You must think you know better than anyone else; you must be hostile to ideas of diversity; you must send in your money.

And just like the Lesser Friends, we'll pretend that the meanspiritedness of our campaign reveals nothing about ourselves. We'll continue, just like many of the Lesser Friends, to posture about how much we care about all God's children. Like the Lesser Friends, our membership rolls will contain the names of the town's high priests of political correctness - names like Quentin Young and Leon Despres - whose lifetimes have been devoted to pointing out everyone else's failings of compassion, tolerance and understanding.

After all, why should the people who have put themselves in charge of Chicago's good taste be the only ones allowed to form a lynch mob.

And this:

WFMT may be great station, but it's too stuffy

Better stand back; the city's literati are working themselves into a heat over the assault on Chicago's fine-arts radio station, WFMT-FM, by demon forces.

Friends of WFMT has called for a "massive" petition drive to keep WFMT's owner, Chicago Educational Television Association from "tampering" with the station's "character." Never mind that WFMT is losing listeners, advertisers and money, Friends is apoplectic over CETA's trimming of a fat staff and shift to more profitable recorded commercials.

On the thinnest of evidence, the group insists that CETA is bleeding WFMT financially and will "likely" turn WFMT into a rock 'n' roll station. What's happening, proclaimed one Friend, is "as serious as taking a blowtorch to the Picasso." So appalled is the group that it is going to court to assert the novel proposition that owners of private property (CETA) must turn over control of the property (WFMT) to the "community" (Friends).

Sure, WFMT is a good station; I listen to it almost as much as WUSN-FM, the country music station. And who am I to argue with the assertion that WFMT may be the world's greatest fine arts station? But you can search the world over and not find another station as stuffy.

What other station in Chicago - perhaps the nation's best news town - would find it necessary to bore its listeners with a Saturday afternoon of news from the BBC? What other station would think it more important to tell its morning listeners about a lute recital at the University of Chicago than expressway travel times? (Because, who in Hyde Park needs traffic reports? They're for people who live in places like - gag - Buffalo Grove.)

And there's the station's icon, StudsTerkel, an actor who is inexplicably famous for transcribing others' words. Periodically I tune him in, hoping against hope that this time he might say something that's insightful or not doctrinaire. But this breath of stale air never disappoints; yes, Studs, kids today don't know whom to thank for the 40-hour workweek.

Terkel is the only commentator who still refers to working people as "the masses" - a perfectly patronizing expression for a perfectly pretentious station. No wonder the town's other fine arts station, WNIB, has opened its biggest ratings lead ever over WFMT. WNIB plays as much, or more, good music as WFMT at a sliver of the cost. WNIB is so streamlined that the dog they've bought to keep their announcers company - including the magnificent Jay Andres - can be heard barking on the air.

Such a human touch would be as unacceptable to the sanctimonous Friends as is cost cutting, more popular programming and beg-a-thons. The only thing left, I suppose, is for WFMT to get a bigger hunk of the money that CETA now spends on its other subsidiary - WTTW-Channel 11.

This public television station long has been derided by WFMT types for its "mediocrity." But the smug Friends and their pals at WFMT ought to know this: WTTW contributes more this this community's intellectual and cultural life in a single day than WFMT does in a week. And if we have to pick between WTTW or WFMT, you folks at WFMT should prepare for your new format by dropping by the Czar Bar to check out Big Willy T. & the Watusis.










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  • Let's make today Studs Terkel Day!

    How'd the old saying go.... oh yea... "t'hell with management!"
    Happy Labor Day America

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