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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
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Humanity isn't great at eradicating diseases. But there is one disease that humanity has managed to eradicate: smallpox. Smallpox was around for more than 3,000 years and killed at least 300 million people in the 20th century. Then, by 1980, it was gone. Rahima Banu was the last person in the world to have the deadliest form of smallpox. In 1975, B…
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Most beauty pageants promote the fantasy of the ideal woman. But for 35 years, one contest in New York City celebrated the everyday working girl: Miss Subways. Each month starting in May 1941, a young woman was elected “Miss Subways,” and her face gazed down on transit riders as they rode through the city. Her photo was accompanied by a short bio d…
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This year marks 90 years since Claude Ely wrote "Ain't No Grave Gonna Hold My Body Down." The song was written as Ely was supposed to be on his death bed. Instead, Ely, known as the "Gospel Ranger," went on to inspire the birth of rock & roll. Follow us on X (formerly Twitter) and Instagram @radiodiaries. Learn more about our stories on radiodiarie…
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This month marks 30 years since Nelson Mandela became South Africa's first democratically elected president. However, the story of Mandela's rise to the presidency isn't all that simple. The four years between Mandela’s release from prison and his election to the presidency were some of the most violent in South Africa's history. That's the story y…
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50 years ago, radio broadcaster Studs Terkel published a book called WORKING: People Talk About What They Do All Day, and How They Feel About What They Do. Terkel went around the country with a tape recorder and had conversations with ordinary Americans about their jobs and their reflections on them. The book ended up being an unexpected bestseller…
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Paul Alexander, one of two people in the U.S. still relying on an iron lung to survive, died on March 11, 2024 at the age of 78. Paul contracted polio in 1952 at six years old, and has had to rely on an iron lung — a big metal ventilator that encases the body from the neck to toes — since then. We spoke to Paul a few years ago about his life and th…
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We’re revisiting one of our favorite stories from years ago — with a new twist. Laura Rothenberg spent most of her life knowing she would die young. She had cystic fibrosis, a genetic disorder that affects the lungs. She documented her life in an audio diary, showing her attempt to live the normal life of a nineteen year old college student. Laura …
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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, and Alberta Hunter, artists who transformed Ameri…
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This week, we’re featuring an episode of a podcast we’re big fans of: The Last Archive! The Last Archive tells little known histories and how they affect our modern lives. Today’s story, “Parakeet Panic,” explores when invasive parakeets began to spread in New York City in the 1970s — and the government decided that the solution was to kill them al…
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At the age of 16, he played with the Duke Ellington Orchestra. He went on to make landmark recordings with Charlie Parker, Dizzy Gillespie and Thelonious Monk. He’s considered one of the most important drummers in history — and he would’ve turned 100 years old this week. Max Roach: The Drum Also Waltzes is a new film about the musician by award-win…
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We bring you a lot of stories each year, but we don’t often get to share the work behind them. We recently held an event at WNYC’s The Greene Space in New York City, where our subjects and producers reflected on the challenges, and joys, of telling these untold stories. For the last podcast of the year, we’re bringing you that live show: a behind t…
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Today marks 60 years since the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. There are many photos from that day in 1963, but one image in particular caught people’s attention, spreading in newspapers across the country: a photo of a Secret Service agent jumping onto the back of the presidential limousine during the shooting. Today on the podcast, th…
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Back in 1995, LaMont Dottin was 21 years old and a freshman at Queens College when, one evening, he didn’t come home. His mother went to the local police precinct to try to report him missing, and his name was added to a list of thousands of cases that the NYPD’s Missing Persons Squad was supposed to be investigating. Then his case fell through the…
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The Belvedere Hotel is in the heart of New York City’s theater district. Many of its guests come to see the sights, take in a show. But there are a few dozen people who call the Belvedere home. Decades ago, they came to New York and rented rooms there. As the hotel changed hands over the years, they never left. One of them was Hisako Hasegawa. This…
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Angel Irizarry spent years working as a detective, and in 2021 he set out on a personal investigation to track down an uncle who’d been estranged from his family for decades. But early in his search he made a disappointing discovery: his uncle Cesar had died. So Angel embarked on a new quest, to learn what had become of Cesar during his long absenc…
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Dawn Powell wrote novels about people like herself: outsiders who’d come to New York City in the early twentieth century to make a name for themselves. For a few years, those novels put her at the center of the city’s literary scene. Ernest Hemingway even called her his favorite living writer. When she died of colon cancer in 1965, Powell donated h…
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For more than a century, it was almost impossible to find out much about people buried on Hart Island. But in 2008, that all changed — thanks in large part to a woman named Melinda Hunt. Melinda is a visual artist who has spent more than 30 years documenting America’s largest public cemetery, and advocating for families with loved ones buried there…
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