Audio Astra: Kansas’ missing lifeguards, middle-of-the-road memories and the ‘evangelical machine’

Prospective lifeguards practice deep-water saves during a certification class at Wichita Northwest High School. (Suzanne Perez/Kansas News Service)

Audio Astra reviews recent audio reporting on Kansas news, including podcasts and radio stories. Eric Thomas directs the Kansas Scholastic Press Association and teaches visual journalism and photojournalism at the University of Kansas.

As summer begins in Kansas, it was a week of listening to stories about swimming, taking a lighter approach to life and slowing down to listen to a deep dive into national issues that splash back on Kansas politics.

First, though, as families across the state celebrated graduations, Matt Lindsey, the president of the Kansas Independent Colleges Association, explained on the Kansas Reflector podcast how enrollment grew at smaller, private colleges during the pandemic.

“Your Local Kansas Swimming Pool Could Cut Its Hours Because Kids Aren’t Taking Lifeguard Jobs”
The Kansas News Service, May 31

Localizing a story that has made national headlines, Suzanne Perez reports on the difficulties of hiring lifeguards as COVID-19 cases fall and summer swimming pools open. Kansas teens, who most often sit in lifeguard stands, are being influenced by national economic forces at this moment: the allure of securing a year-round job rather than a seasonal one, plus the higher pay offered by other employers.

The story presents the interesting theory that because of the disrupted summer schedule of 2020, teens didn’t see their peers working as lifeguards last year, so they are less likely to apply for the job themselves this year.

Employers have many levers to pull to attract workers, whether through flexible hybrid schedules or higher pay. As Perez’s reporting suggests, recruiting workers is fraught. Offer too many incentives and concessions, and your workplace might be tied to those incentives indefinitely. Don’t offer enough perks and you struggle to serve your customers, whether in a restaurant, retail store or swimming pool. Or, perhaps the solution is this: Workers who perform lower wage jobs should indefinitely be paid more because bringing them closer to a living wage is the right thing to do.

It’s just another way the pandemic is asking us to rethink fundamental parts of our economy — in addition to whether we should shake hands with one another again.

“Dan Glickman on Government, Politics and Golf”
KCUR’s Up to Date, June 3

A lighthearted interview on politics? This one is. Dan Glickman, who represented Kansas in the U.S. House of Representatives for 18 years before becoming the secretary of agriculture, chats with host Steve Kraske about his life. The interview promotes Glickman’s book “Laughing at Myself.”

The most striking turn in Glickman’s life story was his pivot from focusing on agricultural issues in Washington to becoming the CEO of the Motion Picture Association of America. Glickman draws some unexpected parallels between the two industries: exports are responsible for the majority of revenue in filmmaking and agriculture, and both industries are deeply concerned with copyright and intellectual property. Glickman makes clear that his time with the MPAA was not all about the red carpet and meetings with Will Smith — it was mostly lobbying Congress.

Kraske asks Glickman to compare his time in the Legislature to the current political atmosphere of bitter animosity, or as Glickman calls it, “constant fighting and bickering.” Glickman remembers how “it was always great to be in the middle of the road” and laments how unlikely compromise is right now.

“How The Evangelical Machine Got Made” and How the Evangelical World Turned on Itself”
The Atlantic, May 13 and May 20

This podcast’s episodes have been deep dives into incredible personal stories from the national politics scene, including how a hunting trip tested the Supreme Court and the family stories that led Filipino nurses to die from COVID-19 at astonishing rates.

This month, an ambitious two-part report hopes to show how evangelicalism became tied to politics and how that union is being tested.

Reporter Emma Green guides us through decades of political and religious maneuvering, mostly through the candid first-person stories of Ralph Reed, the conservative Christian firebrand. There are some incredible turning points here, narrated from Reed’s point of view. Most notably, we sit with Reed inside a movie theater in 2016 as he scrambles to react to the “Access Hollywood” tape featuring then-candidate Donald Trump, whom he had backed.

Green also introduces us to a Christian rapper Lecrae and how the evangelical political movement cast him out. His heartbreaking story is a revealing journey of being embraced by the religious right and then effectively boycotted before finally finding peace in advocating for his own political perspective.

In Kansas, conservative politicians have effectively bonded their party to Christianity as a one-to-one union. Religious-political groups organize legal challenges to abortion, opposition to transgender athletes is voiced as a Christian priority, and Sen. Roger Marshal has said he rests “every decision” on his reading of the bible.

Green’s series reminds us that it hasn’t always been such a tidy connection between the GOP and evangelism — and that it might not be so in the future.

For episodes that can be linked via Spotify, please visit our weekly playlist.

What did we miss? Email [email protected] to let us know of a Kansas-based audio program that would be interesting to Audio Astra readers.