What do you remember about October 1988? What if you read this: "Martians have invaded New Jersey." Seeing a clearer picture?
For the last decade, NPR Producer Kerry Thompson has been striking the public media equivalent of a gold mine as she digs through the NPR broadcast archives, one month at a time. She easily finds a wealth of riveting, nostalgic and just plain quirky stories stuck in the black hole of tape-reel abyss. Determined to share these classic pieces of audio with today's listeners, Thompson created a podcast: Playback.
Each month, Playback invites listeners for a ride in the "NPR DeLorean," to revisit the movers, shakers and, yes, one-hit wonders that made news exactly 25 years ago. This month's Playback takes a trip to October 1988: a time when Def Leppard's "Love Bites" topped the charts, scrunchies hit their stride and Lloyd Bentsen famously assured Dan Quayle that he was "no Jack Kennedy."
The podcast begins with a reminder for listeners of a day when the world "came to an end." That month, NPR aired a 50th anniversary tribute to Orson Welles' iconic 1938 radio broadcast, The War of the Worlds. And today marks 75 years since Welles pulled off this "prank" of epic proportion. Now that's what we call an October Surprise.
Playback: October 1988 then goes off the trail and clips into Cowboys on Everest, a Peabody Award-winning piece from NPR's Peter Breslow. Breslow was working as a producer for All Things Considered when he lugged a Sony Pro Walkman cassette machine along for a trek up Mount Everest. Breslow used a lavalier lapel mic (think "helmet-cam," circa 1988) to capture audio, while keeping his hands free to wield ice axes into the North Face of the notorious peak.
Another gem from this month's Playback: In an interview with Fresh Air Host Terry Gross, a young Tom Hanks wonders aloud how long his celebrity might last. He didn't yet know that Big, for which Hanks' would nab his first Oscar, was already on the Academy's radar. Gross, herself, was still early in her own career as host of a nationally distributed news-talk show produced out of Member Station WHYY in Philadelphia.
Fast forward a quarter-century, when a seasoned Hanks speaks again with Gross, this time as his latest film Captain Phillips swirls with Oscar buzz. Together, this pair of conversations offers a glimpse through a rare window into the makings of a storied Hollywood career.
We'll leave you with one final thought about the practicality of dumpster diving in the NPR archives. As our own pop culture Monkey See blogger Linda Holmes once wrote,
It feels redundant, and maybe a bit solipsistic, to study the mechanics of nostalgia too closely. It means watching ourselves watch ourselves and asking why we're doing it.
Broad cultural nostalgia... has... a single aim: escape... When you leave your regular life, Tahiti or Alaska or St. Maarten may be in fashion or may be cheap, but you don't leave to be there so much as you leave to not be here... You need to leave, so you leave.
What's eternal about nostalgia is the same thing that's eternal about travel: It will always happen, not because what's out there is so special that it will pull us out through the windows, but because what's in here is, at least some of the time, so difficult that it will push us out through the door.
So, enjoy the travel back to October 1988. We only hope that the impossibly bad hairstyles don't return with you in your carry on.
Allison Corke is part of the NPR Development team. She was an 80s baby.