Audio Astra: A sparkling grab-bag of eclectic audio stories

January 21, 2022 3:33 am

An array of fascinating podcasts this week includes advice about teens’ cell phone use and screen time. (Getty Images)

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.

School is back in session at KU, so my life is a bit frantic with prepping for the semester. Yet this week presented so much to listen to and even more to write about. Kansas audio creators provided one of my favorite weeks since this column began last year.

There were even more great audio stories that didn’t fit in an already lengthy column. Here are the best of the best: 

Missing Thursday – Bridget Everett – Hembree – We, the House

Streetwise (The Pitch KC), Jan. 14, 2022

Note to reader: My Spotify file contained a few minutes of silence after the intro music, but fast-forward to the content. It’s worth it.

The most recent episode from “The Pitch KC” showcases why an arts and culture magazine is so vital to a metro area like Kansas City. The episode presents three different stories about interesting things happening, all of them in Kansas. 

An audio version of the published profile of Kansan native actor Bridget Everett leads off. The writing is compact and biographical — sprinkled with some of Everett’s quotes, which double as self-deprecating punchlines. We learn about “Somehow Somewhere,” her new HBO series, which will likely be a home-state sensation because it is set in Manhattan, Kansas. The filming was done in Chicago by transplanting store fronts and seeking out limestone façades to recreate the feeling of Manhattan.

The second feature showcases the Kansas City band Hembree, and it’s a great cover of the Talking Heads song “Girlfriend is Better,” which they performed live in Lawrence last summer. The recording embedded in the episode is from a performance at Joshua Tree.

Rounding out the eclectic podcast, editor in chief Brock Wilbur interviews Susan Kander and Warren Ashworth, whose bizarrely conceived book features an unique character: a house in Kansas. In the book We, the House,” the personification of the house chats with an antique painting that hangs on its wall. Wilbur calls the book one of the most striking pieces of media he has encountered recently.

Church of the Resurrection and START spearhead summit on digital health

Up To Date, Jan. 16, 2022

As a father of two kiddos with cell phones, I worry a lot. Intellectually, I consider how their thriving brains are being trained by devices that are essentially designed to cultivate addiction. I am a vibrating puddle of worry as I fuss about whether too much screen time makes them unhappy or emotionally brittle.

And as a teacher at KU, I worry when my students sit quietly at the start of class, staring at their cell phones rather than chatting with the person next to them.

Last fall, I began searching for resources to help me think more intelligently and less reflexively about our kids and their screen time. The incredible resource that I found was curriculum from START, a Kansas City area nonprofit that aims to help parents talk to their kids about screen time in a productive way.

“Curriculum” is the best word to describe the program, featured on this week’s “Up To Date,” because the creators not only make parents smarter but also guide them on how to make their children smarter, too. 

They are, in education speak, “training the trainer.” START is helping create family dialogues and evangelists like me — parents who believe strongly in the program. I have forwarded it to so many friends and family.

Last fall, I began searching for resources to help me think more intelligently and less reflexively about our kids and their screen time. The incredible resource that I found was curriculum from START, a Kansas City area nonprofit that aims to help parents talk to their kids about screen time in a productive way.

– Eric Thomas

The measured and sensible language that is the hallmark of START is shared by creator Tracy Foster, who sits down for the interview.

Foster explains the perils and also opportunities in cell phones being in our children’s hands. She acknowledges the lack of resources that we have as parents. 

“The really interesting thing that caused us to start our organization a few years ago is that we went to those friends a little bit ahead of us to typically have no shortage of advice,” she said. “… What was amazing was the amount of deer in the headlights looks that we got, saying, ‘I don’t know what to do, but do something different.” 

She identifies specific things to be worried about rather than an ever-present, looming dread anytime you are in a room while your child is on their cell phone. For instance she points to late-night use of cell phones and use of cell phones behind closed doors in bedrooms.

“If you are looking for one place to start, I would recommend taking phones out of bedrooms at night,” Foster said. “Our impulse control is lower at night, in the dark, by ourselves. Most of the regrettable things that do happen, happen at night.”

While the podcast publicized a series of in-person sessions that are happening at the Church of the Resurrection in Leawood, the curriculum for START is available online, and that’s where I encountered and learned from it.

TPiH 020 – Tom Sawyer

That Podcast in Hutch, Jan. 13, 2022

Back in the session groove

Chilling in the Statehouse, Jan. 17, 2022

Kansas Legislative Preview

Up To Date, Jan. 14, 2022

Kansas House minority leader Tom Sawyer (Sherman Smith/Kansas Reflector)

Two podcasts this week — one from KCUR and another from the Topeka Capital-Journal — sketch the political motivations and political history behind the issues that will define the 2022 legislative session.

While I would recommend them both for their expertise and broad overviews, I admit they left me a bit cynical. There is so much talk about legislation aimed at appealing to voters. Some legislation is aimed at answering the other party’s political messaging. Other legislation was endorsed by a bloc of politicians years ago, only to find opposition from those same politicians now.

It’s the kind of craven game theory that lawmakers often play. It’s also what makes so many of us loathe politics.

To be clear, this kind of political journalism is vital to framing the debates — and billions of dollars of tax policy — that is coming. But perhaps a bit of humanity could  counter-balance those podcasts?

My recommendation this week would be the most recent episode of “That Guy In Hutch,” in which Jason Probst interviews Tom Sawyer, Kansas House minority leader, about his history, including a couple of funny stories about the origins of Sawyer’s political career.

Sawyer tells the story of his first foray into canvassing as an 18-year-old candidate. When he was knocking on doors, he happened to knock on the door of the precinct man he was running against. The wife of the candidate, an apparently ferocious woman, unexpectedly welcomed his candidacy and eventually supported Sawyer, rather than her own husband.

Sawyer also describes his trips to Topeka as a county clerk advocating for changes to the tax collection process. These visits led him to conclude that “these people are imbeciles” because the legislators were both inattentive to his testimony and ignorant to the details — details Sawyer knew well.

Sawyer also explains how he ended up running for governor of Kansas against Fred Phelps of Westboro Baptist Church, so the Democratic Party could avoid having Phelps, a blowtorch of anti-gay rhetoric, appear at the top of their ticket.

Even competitive hunting can’t stop coyotes from thriving in Kansas

High Plains Public Radio, Jan. 17, 2022

Come for the audio story, but stay for the text story … and the photos … and the hyperlinks.

David Condos of High Plains Public Radio demonstrates his well-rounded journalism chops here with so much great reporting — visual, verbal and audio. His story explains how Americans kill roughly 500,000 coyotes each year, and yet the animals keep expanding their territory, killing livestock and growing in number.

Condos uses this memorable quote from Drew Ricketts, a wildlife specialist at Kansas State University: “People always talk about how if there’s a nuclear war or whatever, there’s going to be cockroaches and rats left. … I always throw coyotes into that. They’ve survived as much persecution as any animal on the face of the earth, and they’ve just expanded in the face of it.”

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.

Our stories may be republished online or in print under Creative Commons license CC BY-NC-ND 4.0. We ask that you edit only for style or to shorten, provide proper attribution and link to our web site. Please see our republishing guidelines for use of photos and graphics.

Eric Thomas
Eric Thomas

Eric Thomas directs the Kansas Scholastic Press Association, a nonprofit that supports student journalism throughout the state. He also teaches visual journalism and photojournalism at the William Allen White School of Journalism and Mass Communication at the University of Kansas in Lawrence. He lives in Leawood with his wife and two children.