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.
A Guitar, A Cello, and the Day that Changed Music
November 23, 1936 was a good day for recorded music. Two men, an ocean apart, sat before a microphone and began to play. One was a cello prodigy who had performed for the Queen of Spain. The other played guitar and was a regular in the juke joints of the Mississippi Delta.
On that day 85 years ago, Pablo Casals and Robert Johnson both made recordings that would change music history.
This episode originally aired on NPR in 2011.
A Wrench in the Works
Every day, we go about our lives doing thousands of routine, mundane tasks. And sometimes, we make mistakes. Human error. It happens all the time. It just doesn’t always happen in a nuclear missile silo. This story was produced in collaboration with This American Life.
My Iron Lung
In the first half of the 20th century, the disease known as poliomyelitis panicked Americans. Just like COVID today, polio stopped ordinary life in its tracks. Tens of thousands were paralyzed when the virus attacked their nervous systems. Many were left unable to walk. In the worst cases, people’s breathing muscles stopped working, and they were placed in an iron lung, a large machine that fit their entire bodies from the neck down.
Vaccines brought an end to the epidemic in the 1950s, and gradually, iron lungs became obsolete. The last ones were manufactured in the late ‘60s. Today, there are two people in America who still use an iron lung. One of them is Martha Lillard. This is her story.
This story has support from the National Endowment for the Humanities and listeners like you. Music from Blue Dot Sessions, Epidemic Sounds, and the song “Iron Lung” by Taylor Phelan and the Canes. This week’s sponsors include Uncommon Good, go to uncommongoods.com/diaries for 15% off.
When Borders Move
Ever since Texas became a state, the Rio Grande has been the border between the U.S. and Mexico. But rivers can move — and that’s exactly what happened in 1864, when torrential rains caused it to jump its banks and go south. Suddenly the border was in a different place, and Texas had gained 700 acres of land called the Chamizal, named after a plant that grew in the area.
The Chamizal was a thorn in the side of U.S.–Mexico relations for a century until Sept. 25, 1964, when the U.S. finally gave part of the land back to Mexico. But by that time, roughly 5,000 people had moved to the area and made it their home. This is their story.
This story was supported by the National Endowment for the Humanities and listeners like you. To support our work, go to www.radiodiaries.org/donate.
This episode has support from Article Furniture. Get $50 your first purchase of $100 or more by going to www.article.com/diaries.
The Two Lives of Asa Carter
Asa Carter and Forrest Carter couldn’t have been more different. But they shared a secret.
The Education of Little Tree, by Forrest Carter, is an iconic best-selling book, with a message about living in harmony with nature, and compassion for people of all kinds. But the story behind the book is very different. It begins with the most infamous racist political speech in American history.
This week on the podcast, the true story of the untrue story of The Education of Little Tree.
This story originally aired on This American Life in 2014.
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.