Historian, author and radio icon Studs Terkel kicked off the public radio project StoryCorps in 2003 by asking, “Where’s the human voice?” His anecdote of an emotionless, humorless, humane-less interaction, saved by the most basic of human sounds, is a powerful commentary on society’s deficiency of human voice.
"Where's the human voice?" The answer is on public radio.
Select StoryCorps segments were recently animated for public television. While the visual cues add color and playfulness to the text, at the heart, Terkel’s commentary is about the human voice, in the human voice. Take away the pictures, and you have the same touching words. Take away his voice, and you’re left with nothing.
StoryCorps has gone on to record thousands of peoples’ voices, permanently archiving each at the Library of Congress. Selected weekly segments air nationally on NPR. With both permanent locations and a mobile unit, StoryCorps seeks out and preserves the histories of everyday people. That makes StoryCorps one of public radio's greatest accomplishments. But it's just one small fulfillment of public radio’s larger promise to inform, enrich, and entertain. Public radio outlets from the national network level down to the smallest, local stations offer listeners a textured collage of human voices, senses of place, and meaningful public discourse.
Some may argue the idea of public radio is an anachronistic relic in our current digitized, multichannel media environment. Still, somehow, public radio thrives. Like Terkel, I believe it’s because there’s nothing more true, more real, or more familiar than the spoken word.
In a time when it’s sexy to throw a prefix on the word “media,” – social media, multimedia, new media – there’s an old medium thriving – public radio. Why? Because public radio delivers not just vox, but vox humana.