Ghetto Life 101



“You can do that with radio?!!”

That was my overwhelming response when I first heard “Ghetto Life 101.”  I still feel the same way even after listening to the piece dozens of times.

“Ghetto Life 101” is a high-water mark for radio documentary and the story featured on this edition of the Saltcast — our fiftieth!!

Dave Isay produced the piece in 1993. Dave gave tape decks to two teenage boys — LeAlan Jones and Lloyd Newman — to document their lives on the south side of Chicago. This diary-style production was one of the first in public radio and inspired a slew of other diary documentaries and youth radio programs (see below).

Dave no longer produces docs. Instead, he manages StoryCorps, perhaps the largest oral history project ever undertaken in the United States.

For the 50th Saltcast, Dave spoke briefly with me about Ghetto Life, some of the controversy that surrounded the broadcast, and how LeAland and Lloyd are doing now.

Wish us a “Happy 50th!” will ya?!!



PS — Here are some resources on radio diaries, youth radio, and Dave Isay’s work.



The Life Stories series by Jay Allison are probably the first ever diary-style radio documentaries.

Joe Richman perfected the diary technique with his company Radio Diaries.

And here’s a good diary story on Transom — Not All Bad Things.



Youth Radio Berkeley is the largest youth radio program in the U.S.

Blunt Youth Radio started in the mid-1990’s. In addition to producing a weekly talk show, Blunt teaches radio to incarcerated youth in Portland, Maine.

I’d be remiss if I didn’t include Radio Rookies in New York at WNYC celebrating ten years this year!!

And, I’d be doubly remiss if I left out Youthcast, the youth radio podcast produced by the Public Radio Exchange. PRX also has a nifty list of youth radio programs around the U.S as part of the Generation PRX project.



For many years, Dave’s production company was Sound Portraits. Most if not all of the work he produced can be heard on line.

StoryCorps pieces can be listened to at and on PRX.


  1. One Response to “Ghetto Life 101”

  2. By Emily on May 29, 2012


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