Every Friday morning on NPR, the StoryCorps theme music starts to play, a Morning Edition host says, “…and now, it’s time for StoryCorps,” and our audience prepares to smile, laugh or cry with one of the hundreds of thousands of everyday people who have shared their personal stories with loved ones–and the world–through StoryCorps. We are deeply grateful for our partnership with NPR, which ensures that our stories reach millions of listeners every week.

Before StoryCorps was StoryCorps, it was Sound Portraits Productions — a nonprofit radio documentary company created by our founder and president, Dave Isay. From 1988 through 2003, Dave produced groundbreaking radio docs that took listeners into places that had never been reported on before — everywhere from the halls of one of the last flophouses on New York City’s Bowery to the execution chamber in Huntsville, Texas. Sound Portraits Productions’ efforts to shine a light on hidden parts of America led Dave to create StoryCorps in 2003. StoryCorps is  a very simple idea: bring two people together in a sound-proof booth, invite them to have a conversation about their lives, archive the audio of these conversations for posterity at the American Folklife Center at the Library of Congress.

When Dave and the founding team that created StoryCorps started listening to these stories, they knew they had something special. Dave began to pitch Ellen McDonnell, Executive Producer of Morning Edition, about sharing segments of these conversations on air. At first, Ellen passed on the idea because at the time StoryCorps was a New York operation — not a national program. 

According to Ellen McDonnell, in 2004, Dave was on the stage of the Public Radio Program Directors Conference giving the keynote address. He made a startling (at least to Ellen!) declaration announcing to a room packed with public radio leaders that StoryCorps would become a regular Friday morning feature on NPR’s Morning Edition. The problem? This was the first Ellen had heard of the arrangement.

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When Ellen heard the announcement, her initial shock turned into something else. Featuring StoryCorps on NPR had always been part of her plan, even if the timing of the announcement caught her off guard. Ellen reached out to Dave and the first regular StoryCorps segment was broadcast on Morning Edition on May 20, 2005 — the story of Vicky Page and Terrence Hicks. To this day, Ellen maintains a strong relationship with StoryCorps and has continued to champion our work.

For those of you who know Dave, you know that he’s a dreamer, that he thinks big, that he takes risks, and that his energy and his deep belief in the wisdom of everyday people propels the organization and inspires all of us here at StoryCorps. 

And, since that first broadcast in 2005, StoryCorps has grown into a beloved  Friday-morning fixture on Morning Edition. We’ve shared more than a thousand stories over the last 20 years and we hear weekly from fans who tell us how much StoryCorps means to them. NPR conducts a survey of their listeners every year and these are the results of the most recent polling.

After hearing a StoryCorps story…

  • 84% of respondents said they gained a better understanding of others’ experiences and the value of diverse life stories.
  • 81% felt more positive about humanity.
  • 80% gained a better understanding of social issues.
  • 69% reported that their opinions of others were challenged.
  • 50% were motivated to improve society.
  • StoryCorps plays a vital role in fostering empathy between people, bridging divides in communities, and helping to heal a divided nation. 

    In honor of StoryCorps 20th Anniversary, NPR is extending our weekly Morning Edition broadcasts. Every Friday, during the month of September, we’re revisiting some of our favorite participants and getting caught up on their lives since the original broadcast of their story. Hear recent extended broadcasts at the links below: