Three-year-old Mason on his new car.
short: stories that are 00:00–10:00
Studs Terkel, the late oral historian, questions what has happened to “vox humana.”
There’s a restaurant in Albuquerque called Tim’s Place. It’s named after Tim Harris, a young man with Down syndrome who started the business with help from his dad.
A hundred years ago, when a child wrote a note to Santa Claus, it wound up in the “dead letters” room at the post office, never to be delivered. That changed in 1913, because of an enterprising New Yorker named John Gluck.
It was the summer of 1966 when a persistent 17-year-old with a high school radio show near Chicago got the interview of a lifetime. But only a handful of people ever got to hear the conversation, in which Ali epically riffs about fighting on Mars.
When she was a young girl, Rebecca Johnson and her mother took a trip to a department store in Boston, where Rebecca found a book that she begged her mother to buy. What happened next stays with her to this day, 38 years later.
Alice Waters and the Kitchen Sisters pay tribute to an American cooking legend. Marion Cunningham drove a fast Jag and swam daily into her 80s. She was funny and wise and everyone in the food world sought her advice and opinion.
Falcon Lake, right on the Texas-Mexico border, is ranked the best lake in America for bass fishing. But Mexico’s Zeta cartel also likes to use the lake — to smuggle drugs.
If you traveled Florida’s Route 1 in the 1960s, you might have encountered a young, African-American artist, selling a lushly painted oil landscape from his car. They weren’t allowed in galleries — but motels, office buildings and tourists would buy their works.
Ira Glass and his friend Etgar Keret were at the Cindy Sherman show at MoMA when a woman came up to them claiming to be Cindy Sherman. Then she said she wasn’t. Later, against Etgar’s wishes, Ira calls Cindy to clear things up.
Motherhood in war-torn South Africa brings heartache and healing to one family.
Brooke Gladstone tells how her love of science fiction began with the sci-fi author.
Jake Warga chronicles the life and decline of his paternal grandmother. As she grew older, she mistook Warga for his father, who had already died.
Playing around with audio samples taken from pornography films, producer Ed Prosser was struck by how much the moans and groans came to resemble the calls of whales.
The effects of bullying, discussed by an often ignored expert: a young bully himself.
Jaimita Haskell got bumped up into a more advanced high school program, where all the books were brand new and the students listened politely to each other. So she wasn’t pleased when she got dropped back into the chaos of mainstream classes.
The indie rock star Thao Nguyen tells a true story about her sweet, lovely grandma — who you definitely do not want to mess with.
In 1941, two warships from Australia and Germany clashed off the coast of western Australia. Both sank. Despite extensive search efforts, the ships weren’t found until 2008, when psychologists analyzed statements given by surviving crew members.
A story about what happens when natural enemies meet — in an Alcoholics Anonymous program in prison. From David Sedaris’ collection of animal fables.
Three years ago, Ceil Muller’s husband died unexpectedly. In a sound essay, she offers some tips for those who find themselves in such a situation.
Three years ago, Ceil Muller’s husband died unexpectedly. In a sound essay, she offers some tips for those who find themselves in such a situation.
The. This. Though. I. And. An. There. That. Psychologist James Pennebaker explains how the words we think about the least can reveal the most about our relationships.
When Josh Healey enters into a new relationship, he’s got explaining to do at home.
A woman reveals to her boyfriend that she’s not always what she seems.
L. Abdul Kenyatta courts the love of his life and explains the roots of hip-hop to his son.
For the veterans of the Civil War, memories and remembrances were different than for veterans of later wars. Without images or sounds, shared experience was the only evidence that what the veterans remember actually took place.
A story about being a crybaby, from David Sedaris’ book of animal fables.
At the countdown to the New Year, Joe Frank is feeling the weight of time.
Les and Scott GrantSmith’s marriage was on the rocks. They had been together 10 years and had two children, but Les was hiding the fact that she felt trapped in her body.
Tod Machover is recognized as one of the most innovative composers of his generation. He has astounded the world with his avant-garde musical explorations, including an opera staged with robots. He’s also an inventor, changing the way people make music.
Edward R. Murrow reporting from London for American audiences in 1940.
Sarah Vowell tells the story of the Marquis de Lafayette’s triumphant return to America after becoming really, really unpopular in his native France.
In 1946, legendary radio dramatist Norman Corwin was named the first recipient of the “One World Flight” Award. His prize was a four month trip around the world. Corwin used his global journey to produce a series of thirteen radio documentaries for CBS.
David Plant has skin cancer that has begun to metastasize to other parts of his body. So, just before his 81st birthday, he sat down with his stepson to talk about their life.
The tragic inspiration behind the invention of Morse code.
Provincetown hairdresser Dougie Freeman on a recent acquisition at his shop. From WCAI’s collection of pioneering, regional station identifications.
Presidents have been getting code names back to Harry Truman, also known as General. And their family gets them, too. Nancy Reagan? Code name: Rainbow.
Forest Park is the last stop on Chicago’s blue line. Famous for its graveyards, one in particular catches your attention: Showmen’s Rest, a burial place for circus performers.
Fashion Week emerged almost accidentally in New York during World War II.
Artists often wonder if the distractions of the modern world compromise their creativity. Andrew Bird put the theory to the test. “Let’s see what happens when I stop listening to records, move out in the middle of nowhere, and have the space to experiment.”
Hidden away in a castle-like mound on the African savannah lives the termite queen. There, in an impenetrable earthen capsule, she lays a quarter of a billion children.
Billy McCune is one of the most important subjects in the history of documentary photography. In 1950, he was sentenced to die in the electric chair, but a song he wrote on death row caught the ear of the governor, who commuted his sentence.
John Hodgman tells a story about returning to the beach after a very bad year.
Author and Harvard literature professor Stephen Greenblatt explores the 2,000 year-old writings of Lucretius and his “spookily modern” creation tale.
“I felt like I was looking at kind of a new form of comedy,” Steve Martin says of Twitter. “In a strange way, that was talking and response and talking and response.”
Glynn lives in the shadow of his caramel-colored cousin. But he’s fighting back.
“I think that’s one of the beautiful things about Gram Parsons,” says Polly Parsons. “He’s one of the rare artists you can hear his spirit and his sadness in his music.”
In the US, it’s called a line. In Canada, it’s often referred to as a line-up. Pretty much everywhere else, it’s known as a queue. Benjamen Walker’s preoccupation with the subject led him to find a man known as “Dr. Queue,” a queue theorist at MIT.
When an author writes something that’s supposed to be true and readers discover it’s not, things can get ugly fast. But author John D’Agata and his former fact-checker Jim Fingal take the controversial position of defending an author’s right to embellish.
A sit down with a man accused of some of the most horrific acts imaginable, as a warlord with The Lord’s Resistance Army in Northern Uganda.
The photographer Michele Iversen documents strangers in their own homes, without permission. At night she sits in her car, looking in and waiting for the perfect shot.
In 1906, the Bronx Zoo in New York unveiled a new exhibit that would attract thousands of visitors. Inside a cage, in the monkey house, was a man.
A twist on the timeless question: Is it art?
Victoria Claflin Woodhull was many things: a clairvoyant, a businesswoman, an advocate for women’s rights, and a magnet for media scandal. But she is best known as the first woman to run for president, in 1872. From the five-part series Contenders.
An autotune remix of footage from TED talks, Carl Sagan documentaries, Discovery Channel programming, and other things brain. From the Symphony of Science series.
For twenty years, Robert Shields has kept a written record of absolutely everything that has happened to him. For no less than four hours each day, Shields holes himself up in a small office in his home and types – 35 million words and counting.
A five-year-old girl cuts off the hair of her three-year-old sister. A few weeks later, they give their father an explanation of what happened that day.
An exploration of the Gershwin tune, and its many interpretations.
Since the “shot heard round the world” on April 19, 1775, the dates of April 19 and April 20 have been imbued with significance. From Hitler’s birth to the killings at Waco, Columbine, and Oklahoma City, each event echoes or evokes the anniversary of the last.
The tradition of siblings singing together is as old as song.
Joseph Guillotin and Henry Shrapnel became immortal by entering the English language. But when your life is reduced to a single definition, the results can be upsetting.
The story of sisters who, at the ripe old ages of 11 and 14, concocted a prank that put them at the center of the spiritualism movement in 19th century America.
The sounds of the city, through the music, noise, and voices of some of its eight million people. In this chapter of The London Chronicles, an audio journey through “fear.”
A Hollywood sound designer demonstrates how it can enhance emotional impact.
A world in which meteorologists have vanished suddenly and without explanation, and people begin to study details of the weather themselves. The first story in a trilogy.
Fifty years ago, in television’s simpler days, all three networks aired a tour of the White House led by the First Lady. A stunning number of Americans tuned in.
After years of ignoring the wailing and screeching of the escalators in the DC Metro, Washington Post music critic Chris Richards began to hear them in a new way.
There’s a famous William Carlos Williams poem. It’s only three lines long, you’ve probably read it, the one about eating the plums in the icebox. It’s possibly the most spoofed poem around. Some regular This American Life contributors get into the act.
Don Henry Ford, a convicted drug smuggler, made millions smuggling marijuana across the Texas border in the 1970s and 80s, even after nearly all his fellow criminals were either dead or in prison. The first story in a three-part profile of Ford.
“In the afterlife, you relive all your experiences, but this time with the events reshuffled into a new order. All the moments that share a quality are grouped together.”
Jack DeJohnette is a drum legend. But he started out on the piano. Inspired by Fats Domino, he’d begun a promising career when he heard Ahmad Jamal’s 1958 album. He was entranced by the drummer, who had a particular way of handling brushes.
Even a building is a living thing. It breathes and it moves, and this movement makes a sound. Les Robertson, the structural engineer of the World Trade Center, says that the people working inside the tower couldn’t feel this movement, but they could hear it.
A complicated answer to a seemingly simple question changes a family’s geometry.
As an information designer, Nick Felton has tabulated thousands of tiny measurements in his life and depicted them in graphs that detail the activities of a particular year. In 2010, his father died and Felton turned his annual report into a full biography.
Recordings of the presidential inaugurations. The first such sound recording was made in 1925 – Calvin Coolidge’s ceremony. It was one of the first electrical recordings, using not acoustical horns, but microphones and amplifiers to to capture audio.
Most people have one. But why do they choose the numbers they do?
Dan Smith and his kitchen sink that sounds like jazz. From WCAI’s collection of pioneering, regional station identifications.
When Jack Hitt was 11, he did the worst thing his Baptist father could have imagined. Neither Jack nor his four siblings will ever forget the punishment.
The incredible story of Ellen and William Craft’s escape from slavery in 1848. This one has it all: cross-dressing, guns, romance, and a riveting end.
A song so sad that George Jones was initially reluctant to record it. Yet it became one of the most popular songs in country music.
Pondering the mysteries of the popular song.
When Shirley Chisholm launched her spirited campaign in 1972, she took on the establishment fully aware of the hopeless odds. From the five-part series Contenders.
Joshua Klein is fascinated by crows. After a long amateur study of their behavior, he came up with a machine that may form a new bond between animal and human.
Dennis Baxter and Bill Whiston are sound designers for TV sporting events. Their job is to draw the audience in and make sports sound as exciting as possible. It sometimes means they fake it. You can download a longer version that aired on BBC Radio 4.
“In case you hadn’t noticed,
it has somehow become uncool
to sound like you know what you’re talking about?
Or believe strongly in what you’re saying?”
Santa grants one last Christmas wish, then closes the case on another year.
David Perez is locked in a jealous tango with his sexy grad student girlfriend. They push each other’s boundaries. Until one night, it all goes too far.
The London Philharmonic Orchestra version of the game’s theme song.
The Vatican conducts a rigorous investigation into whether a boy’s recovery from a flesh-eating bacteria was more than just incredible luck. Plus, an update to the story.
Without all the beeps and chimes, without sonic feedback, all of your modern conveniences would be very hard to use. Electronic things are made to feel mechanical. The sound of an iPhone turning on? Sounds a lot like a vise.
Ameena Matthews thought she’d found love and respect as a lieutenant for a drug ring. Now she’s a violence interrupter, trying to break up patterns that got her involved.
Edwin Booth was a very famous actor. Then his brother shot Abraham Lincoln.
From a phone conversation the comedian had with Jane Borden of Time Out magazine. The tape begins with Gervais explaining why religious views aren’t central to his routine. Blank on Blank is an audio archive of unexpected, forgotten bits of interviews.
A dream of a super radio that would allow one to hear every sound ever made.
A group of very nice ladies from Long Island, except when it comes to groceries. The coupon club waits for the best deals, then pounces, to the horror of grocery store owners with no idea what hit them. Listen to other archive Robert Krulwich stories.
In 1903, Guglielmo Marconi made his historic transatlantic broadcast from Cape Cod. Imagine, on that day, there was only one message traveling in waves in the air.
Lucia Betts is 6. She’s noticed some certain inconsistencies in the Santa story.
Impart as much knowledge as you can to a resident of the 14th century — go!
On the Las Vegas strip, one might begin with the slot machines on a casino floor. And if one were willing to pay admission, an elevator could transport the seeker to more vice and excess upstairs. But what if there were an elevator that went downward?
Like guys shouting over the music to pick up girls at a bar, scientists say urban birds are changing their tune to hear one other above the din.
A crack addict finds Jesus, gets off drugs and rings bells at the Mall of America in Minneapolis. Oh, and he never stops singing, either.
On a summer afternoon, three 10-year-old kids push around a soccer-ball-style sorbet maker and concoct stories to make their task more interesting.
Two sisters, now in their seventies, have preserved the same relationship they had as girls — down to the matching outfits and shared favorites.
For more than 60 years, people in northwest Tennessee have tuned each weekday at noon to a radio program called The Swap Shop. For 20 minutes, listeners call or write offering to buy, sell or trade in a broadcast version of the classified ads.
Milton Reid works as a muralist in one of the largest housing projects in America. Starting at about 50 dollars, he’ll paint a resident’s wall. When he first started, all clients wanted were black and gold panthers, but their tastes have gotten more varied.
Mohammed Naseehu Ali is a native of Ghana, the son of a king. Instead of tribal politics, Ali chose to leave Ghana for the United States and became a musician and writer. But he hasn’t left behind the memories of a song from his childhood.
What began as a promotion for his new album turned into two hours of rare Beatle stories and playing DJ — introducing the music, commercials and weather.
Jim Peacock, a sailor from Sioux Falls, South Dakota, survived the attack because he was still on his way to church. “I could hear some awful explosions,” he remembers, “and here was these planes and they were dropping bombs out there.”
Master of Horror Mick Garris, a former Mexican Mafia hit man and a self-aware hypochondriac on how we’re held captive by others and ourselves.
The frontman for Antony and the Johnsons says everything changed for him when he discovered the Japanese butoh dancer Kazuo Ohno. “I decided he was my art parent. Someone who’s footsteps I would follow in. I would trust him.”
A solo project from Grizzly Bear’s Chris Taylor.
Fried rabbit, barbecued rabbit, rice with rabbit gravy — all standard fare at the Rabbit Hutch Restaurant in Logan, Alabama. But food was only part of the experience.
The people of Lubec, Maine, are met with an unpleasant surprise when an enormous whale washes onto the beachfront of their tiny coastal town. As the 60-ton creature begins to decompose, the town is forced to come up with a plan to get rid of it.
The town of Baudette, Minnesota, sits on the US/Canadian border. It’s home to a now-decommissioned Coast Guard tower built to guide people across and around the Great Lakes. The band Mountain Man helps to tell this story of navigation gone wrong.
Orson Welles and H.G. Wells’ are linked in the public imagination thanks to The War of The Worlds, Wells’ sci-fi novel adapted by Welles in 1938 for radio, causing panic across the US. Two years after the broadcast, the men met for a short conversation.
Steve McGreevy goes to Canada for the Northern Lights. Not to see them, but to hear them. You can do that, with the right equipment. And Steve’s got a van full. He records Natural Radio, the sound of earth’s magnetic field.
The story of Elizabeth Van Lew, known as Crazy Bet. Her odd behavior — freeing her slaves, visiting Yankee POWs in prison — made tongues wag in the Confederate capital. But Richmond society couldn’t begin to guess what was really going on.
Cell phones and laptops rely on a mineral called coltan and growing demand in the west has had ramifications in distant corners of the world. The Democratic Republic of Congo has about 80 percent of the world’s coltan reserves, and that has spawned a corrupt and violent industry. Hear other stories in the “Working” series.
“I believe that singing is the key to long life, a good figure, a stable temperament, increased intelligence, new friends, super self-confidence, heightened sexual attractiveness and a better sense of humor,” Eno says.
Joanna Blum gave birth to a son who weighed 2 pounds, 11 ounces. He lived about 10 minutes. Ashley Hutcheson, a photographer, was there to document his birth.
In 1988, Deborah Luster’s mother was murdered by a contract killer. To cope, Luster turned to photography — in prisons. “The perspective was that everyone is a whole person, that they’re not just the sum of their worst acts or even their best acts.”
Bernard, 86, has been alone since the death of his partner. He charts his life story and inner struggle in South London during a time when sex between men was illegal.
The CIA enlists a cat as a listening device in its fight against the Soviets. The plan fails.
Two sleepovers occurring on the same night in Philadelphia. Hillary Frank hangs out with the girls, Jonathan Menjivar goes to the boy’s house down the street.
The idea is simple: if we all shared a second, neutral language, people of all different cultures could communicate freely and easily, and it would foster international understanding and peace. This is the idea behind the invention of Esperanto.
Just after World War II ended, US soldiers smuggled the Third Reich’s top scientists and engineers to an island fort just a few miles from downtown Boston — to find out what they knew and what they could do for America in the Cold War.
At 17, Janesse Nieves tries to get her father to kick his heroin habit.
An elegant dress belonging to Elna Baker’s grandmother becomes an oddly powerful talisman for her struggles with weight, her Mormon faith and trying out new identities.
In a five-part series, Scott Carrier profiles the people of Ciudad Juarez — a city on the border with few rules, rampant poverty and a police force that can’t be trusted.
When Daniel Sosa turned 18, his father kicked him out of the house for being gay. Daniel describes the night he was forced to leave and his desire to return home.
Video game designer Ian Bogost hates games like Farmville. So he created a parody, Cow Clicker. But rather than be taken as a joke, the game took on a life of its own.
David Sedaris reflects on being an American in France during the war with Iraq.
For the celebrity chef, the song “96 Tears” was a gateway drug to sex, drugs and rock n’ roll, not to mention a narcotic-fueled roadtrip and a dead stripper.
From 1977, a home recording of 5-year-old Sofia Coppola, interviewed by her father, Oscar winner Francis Ford Coppola.
Wow. Once left out of a 1965 concert recording, this version of Ray Charles’ “Georgia on My Mind” is slowed to a breathtaking crawl.
A perfect “sonic ID” for the station that serves the Cape & Islands. From WCAI’s collection of pioneering, regional station identifications.
The reporter takes a trip to Somerville, Massachusetts, on a January day and finds neighbors shoveling their problems back and forth. “Everybody’s got to pahk somewhere and, on the calendar, spring is two months away.”
We consume paper by the ton, but most of us never think about where it comes from or how it’s made. The reporter tries to make his own, using a recipe he found in poetry.
The fight happened a long time ago when they were still in school. But for both Tom and Eric Hoebbel, the fight was a defining event — the kind of family story that gets trotted out for new acquaintances because it seems to convey something important.
The Major League Baseball hearing on Capitol Hill took a brief and peculiar detour from steroids to a discussion of linguistics. It focused on the phrase “it is what it is” and whether it means the same thing as “that’s the truth.”
“I mean, you’re a teacher, Taylor.
Be honest. What do you make?
You want to know what I make?”
What it’s like to be a 6’7″ tall American in Peshawar, Pakistan, in 2001 — at a pro-Taliban “Death to America” rally where Osama bin Laden is considered a hero.
Charles Gaulperin is a Santeria priest and the owner of Botanica El Congo Manuel, a religious shop in a strip mall in Hollywood. The reporter goes to witness a sacred ceremony that involves the sacrifice of a hen and a sick man in New York.
Pasquale Spensieri spends his days driving around Brooklyn looking for dull blades. At the age of 70, he’s one of the last traveling grinders in New York City.
Sean Lennon interviews his mother, Yoko Ono.
When the Marines of the 3rd Battalion, 5th Regiment deployed to Afghanistan, they left behind families who were desperate for information and grew frightened as the death toll grew. For 25 families, the news they received was the worst possible.
In the 1930s, Ina Ray Hutton was strutting her stuff as a sexy blonde jazz singer. Decades later, a news reporter looked at one of her albums and felt something was odd: the blonde bombshell, she thought, might have been black.
The right has been enshrined in the Constitution: Anyone accused of a crime has the right to a lawyer. Public defenders are supposed to represent the people who can’t afford lawyers. But they’ve been so overworked and underpaid, the system is in crisis.
There aren’t a lot of people like @maryagneskelley on Twitter. In the past few weeks, she has sent out tweets ranging from: “I love you!!!! Where am I?” to “Hallucinating~*.” Mary lives in a nursing facility and has Alzheimer’s disease.
In an odd pairing of reporter and subject matter, NPR’s sports guy went to New York City’s most in-demand shoe sale, and learns it’s not too far off his beat.
A detailed account of the planning for the operation and a play-by-play of the night the al-Qaida leader was killed, based on the recollections of the Navy SEALs.
NASA is figuring out how to take the next great leap into space. The difficulty is, if we send astronauts to Mars, they might not make it back.
Lisa Bufano is a dancer. She is also a double amputee. Her legs and fingers were amputated when she was 21, after a staph bacteria infection raged through her body.
The iconic villain Darth Vader has it all: heavy breathing, theme music, brute power, and that impenetrable mask. In Vader’s case, the mask shields his humanity.
Some of science’s great ideas were created in homespun ways. To test his ideas on evolution, Charles Darwin and his butler dropped asparagus into a tub. Darwin’s oldest son studied dead pigeons by letting them float upside down in a bowl.
For reasons that remain mostly mysterious, the note we call “B flat” does the oddest things. It aggravates alligators, it lurks in the stairwell of an office building, and it emanates from a supermassive black hole 250 million light years from Earth.
A restaurant in Switzerland offers up a different dining experience: Guests eat in complete darkness and are served by blind or visually handicapped waitstaff.
What would it take to design a yawn so powerful that it would make everyone who saw it yawn back? And a dog can make a person yawn, but the other way around?
TV shows have been bleeping profanity for years when people speak extemporaneously. In recent years, however, scripted shows have been writing profanity in — and then bleeping it out for comedic effect.
Dr. Oliver Sacks called her “Mrs. O’C.” She was Irish. She was old. And she had a problem: One night, while sleeping in her room at a Catholic old people’s home in the Bronx, she was awakened by a voice, a female voice singing Irish ballads.
A deeply sensuous character who speaks to our most basic appetites. He’s always been blue, always been furry, always been voracious. But he didn’t always eat cookies.
A 1965 Syd Barrett song recorded as a demo with Pink Floyd before they had formed.
When country music legend Willie Nelson was a child, he heard a heavenly tune coming through his front door that’s been under his skin ever since.
Roger Ebert is famous for arguing on TV with Gene Siskel. Now that cancer surgeries have left him without the ability to speak, Ebert has found a new voice online.
Nine-year-old Isabelle has Williams syndrome, a genetic disorder that makes her pathologically trusting. She has no social fear. But as Isabelle gets older, the negative side of her trusting nature has begun to play a larger role.
On the morning of Sept. 11, 2001, two fighter pilots were on alert at Otis National Guard Base on Cape Cod. When word of a possible hijacking came, Lt. Col. Dan Nash and Col. Tim Duffy flew at supersonic speed to New York City.
Mark used to hear straight guys in his inner-city neighborhood whisper about his style on the bus. Now, they’re copying his look, trading in their blue jeans, white shirts and Nikes for, “big shiny sunglasses, sparkling necklaces, tight-legged jeans and a cute shirt” — a style once considered gay in his neighborhood.
Betty Ong was a flight attendant on board Flight 11, the first of the two planes to hit the World Trade Center. That morning, Betty’s brother, Harry, was up at 6 a.m. and watching TV. He immediately called his sister, Cathie. The two remember that day and their battle to present the public with the truth about Betty.
For several decades, psychiatrists who work with the dying have been trying to come up with new psychotherapies that can help people cope with the reality of their death. One of these therapies asks the dying to tell the story of their life.
Amanda is gay, her family is Catholic, and they’re having a hard time accepting her.