Roland Carter and Nicole Bown / Photo courtesy of StoryCorps

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Story Corps

To listen

Tennessee Valley StoryCorps, featuring conversations recorded recently in Chattanooga, will begin airing Tuesday, June 4, on WUTC-FM 88.1. The four-minute segments will run Tuesdays during “Morning Edition,” 6-9 a.m., “Scenic Roots,” 3-4 p.m., and “All Things Considered,” 4-7 p.m. Find out more at

In late March, friends and former Times Free Press colleagues Shawn Ryan and Barry Courter sat across from each other in a darkened recording studio inside an Airstream travel trailer repurposed as the StoryCorps Mobile Booth parked at Miller Park. For about an hour they talked about their shared experiences as music reporters, editors, reviewers for different Southern newspapers as well as simply being music fans.

StoryCorps is the personal history project that airs on National Public Radio, heard here on WUTC-FM 88.1. For the project, two people spend about an hour together asking questions and sharing stories. The Mobile Tour launched back in 2005 and has recorded more than 500,000 stories since.

The stories recorded in Chattanooga, as well as elsewhere around the country, are recorded and, if both parties agree, the recordings are then stored in the StoryCorps archive at the American Folklife Center in the Library of Congress. You can learn more and hear many of the stories at

Each tells the story of the individual or individuals, but collectively they tell the story of a nation. They include sons and daughters or grandchildren digging for family history, individuals discussing such deeply personal things such as learning they have an incurable disease, homosexuality, being raped, unrequited love. Anything and everything, really.

The Mobile Booth was in Chattanooga from March 19 to April 7. Starting Tuesday, selected portions of some of the local conversations will air on WUTC-FM during "Morning Edition," which airs 6-9 a.m., "Scenic Roots," 3-4 p.m. and "All Things Considered," 4-7 p.m.

Here are their thoughts on how their recording session went and how hearing others' stories has affected them.

BARRY COURTER: Shawn, I thought both the process and hearing your stories made for an interesting experience.

SHAWN RYAN: Same here. Talking about music has always been great fun for both of us. And since you have so many years reporting on music for newspapers, you have a ton of laugh-out-loud stories about the antics of musicians and other entertainment types. Some of those stories simply cannot be repeated in a family newspaper, and I'm not sure they'll make the final StoryCorps cut. Too bad. They're good'uns.

BARRY: Between us, I figure we have almost 70 years of experience covering the music industry. Yikes. We've seen a lot of changes, from the demise of eight-tracks, cassettes and vinyl, which is making a slight comeback, to the rise of hip-hop, hair-metal bands, Auto-Tune, big gigantic arena-rock shows to the evolving festival scene. We've seen a lot, and it's cool that StoryCorps gave us a chance to not only relive it but document it so future generations can benefit from our experiences ... right?

SHAWN: Maybe our StoryCorps discussion will lead to our dazzling insights being used on documentaries similar to CNN's "The Seventies," "The Eighties" and "The Nineties." I got sucked into those the other night and was truly stunned. When you walk through those decades step by step, the amount of change in music is staggering. Just take the '80s with the rise of MTV and stars suddenly being made from the strength of video images instead of music (hello, Auto-Tune), and how that fakery led to the image-rejecting grunge of Nirvana and Pearl Jam and the fierce reality of hip-hop and rap. Everything is connected to everything else. And fortunately (or unfortunately), you and I were able to see all that happening in real time.

BARRY: In case readers haven't figured out why we are having this back-to-back discussion in this story, this is essentially how the StoryCorps recording went. Shawn and I sat across from each other talking into microphones. Painless. Fun actually. While our "story" was fun, as it was music-related, some of the others are much heavier.

Dealing with racism. Dealing with death, illness, hate, etc. It is a really cool idea that offers a lot of depth and insight into people and how we are all different and not different.

SHAWN: Very true. Some of the StoryCorps pieces I've heard get me all misty-eyed — not the best situation when you're driving. I hope our StoryCorps conversation made people laugh, but I also hope we passed along some insight into the fact that music — or all forms of entertainment, actually — can touch on profound subjects, too. We've interviewed entertainers whose life stories rip your heart out or offer new perspectives but yeah, we've had a major blast, too.

BARRY: At the StoryCorps wrap party at Songbirds Guitar Museum in April, they played excerpts from a couple of recordings made here. Both were powerful. Local icon Roland Carter, known for his work with African-American composers and traditions, talked about "Lift Every Voice and Sing." His arrangement of the song has been performed around the world for years, but having it performed by the Mormon Tabernacle Choir earlier this year "affirmed what I wanted to get done," he said.

SHAWN: I think we all remember a song that touched us deeply like Roland's works. I look forward to hearing his StoryCorps conversation. In fact, I look forward to hearing all the ones from Chattanooga.

Contact Barry Courter at or 423-757-6354.

Contact Shawn Ryan at

StoryCorps’ impact

Since 2003, StoryCorps has touched the lives of nearly half a million people. Data from the StoryCorps Online Listener Survey was collected from nearly 600 listeners between May 2014 and June 2015, and the StoryCorps Radio Listener Survey was conducted for NPR by Lightspeed GMI research in November 2015.

Here are the results of the two surveys for percentages of listeners who said StoryCorps:

› Increased understanding of people with a disability of serious illness, 96%

› Increased understanding of Latinos, 94%

› Strongly agree that StoryCorps makes them feel connected to people with different backgrounds, 88%

› Reminded listeners of their shared humanity, 81%

› Led listeners to think of people different from themselves as an important part of society, 78%

› Increased understanding of immigrants, 95%

› Increased understanding of African-Americans, 91%

› Helped them see the value in everyone’s life story and experience, 80%

› Humanized social issues, events and policies, 80%

› Became interested in thinking about how society could be improved, 71%

› Made them feel more positive about society, 70%