Virginia Prescott

Host, Word of Mouth

Virginia Prescott invites listeners to take a break from breaking news and explore a world of under-reported stories on New Hampshire Public Radio as the host of Word of Mouth, a daily radio program and podcast. Prior to joining NHPR, she was editor, producer, and director for NPR programs On Point and Here & Now, and directed interactive media for New York Public Radio.

Throughout her radio career, Virginia has worked to build sustainable independent radio in the developing world and has trained journalists in post-conflict zones from Sierra Leone to the Balkans. She has been honored for her contributions with a Gracie award for her work on Word of Mouth, a Loeb Fellowship at Harvard University, and was a member of the Peabody Award-winning production team for Jazz from Lincoln Center with Ed Bradley. Virginia loves working in public radio, but regrets that so many good outfits go unnoticed.

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Is Sochi Safe?

Jan 21, 2014
©Thomas Dworzak National Geographic

While landing the 2014 Winter Olympic games was a crowning political achievement for Russian President Vladimir Putin, preparations for the Sochi games have not been so triumphant. With just three weeks until opening ceremonies, security officials are actively chasing down members of a terrorist group that has publicly threatened to disrupt the games. The seaside resort town of Sochi and neighboring sites of Olympic events have a long history of anti-government friction. Only a day’s drive from Chechnya, the region borders recently disputed territory with Georgia and was the site of an alleged genocide perpetrated by Russian Tsars in the 19th century. Our guest is writer Brett Forrest, he examined the landscape and geopolitics of the upcoming 2014 games in the January issue of National Geographic magazine.

Wikicommons

Imagine this: a family of six, living for more than 40 years in an isolated tiny cabin on the vast Siberian Taiga. If this were the 19th century, it might not be so far-fetched. But, it was 1978 when four geologists prospecting for iron discovered the Lykovs. Patriarch Karp Lykov and his wife, Akulina, fled the Soviet purges of the 1930s and headed for the forest where they raised their children, completely unaware of WWII, the moon landing, the cold war, or the advent of television.

Hanibaael via Flickr Creative Commons

Fifty years ago this month President Lyndon Baines Johnson signed a nearly $950-million anti-poverty bill into law, creating Head Start, Medicare, Medicaid, and the Economic Opportunity Act. President Johnson envisioned a wealthy country where no child would go unfed or unschooled.  Five decades on, the official poverty rate has dropped, but childhood poverty is on the rise, as is income inequality. With no victory to declare, is it time for another war on poverty? Our guest is Angela Glover Blackwell. She responded to that question in New York Times’ “Room for Debate” series. She is founder and CEO of Policy Link, a national research and action institute which works to improve access and opportunity for people of color and residents of low-income community. 

Archives de la Ville de Montréal via Flickr Creative Commons

On August 28th, 1963, minutes before Martin Luther King Jr. delivered his landmark 'I Have a Dream' speech, gospel singer Mahalia Jackson electrified and moved the crowd with took to the stage and sang two traditional  spirituals. Our guest, Jonathan Rieder says her performance wasn’t intended only to evoke an emotional response, but also, to connect the struggle for civil rights to the fight to abolish slavery more than a century before. Jonathan’s article in The New Yorker,  called “Songs of the Slaves: The Music of M.L.K’s ‘I Have a Dream’" details how traditional black music fueled Dr. King’s ground-breaking  speech.

Taylor Quimby

Like a good music festival, Word of Mouth's Saturday broadcast satisfies your tastes, but also challenges them.  We've got some headliners that you really look forward to hearing - and some unexpected rookies that you might have missed if we didn't put them in the lineup.  And even better, you'll never have to wait in line for a Porta-potty.  So pop in your earbuds or turn up the woofer - here's what's coming up:

  • Rethinking Catholicism:  As part of our month-long series "Rethink 2014", we talk with Father James Martin, editor-at-large of the Jesuit magazine, America, about whether Pope Francis is ushering in a new era for the Catholic Church.
  • From Rocker To Raffi: a conversation with Chris Ballew, frontman for The Presidents of The United States of America, about making children's music under the alias "Caspar Babypants".

Sara Plourde

The centers for disease control and prevention recently reported that doctors don’t adequately warn patients about the dangers of drinking. CDC director Dr. Thomas Frieden said, “there are at least 38 million Americans who have problems with alcohol. For every alcoholic, there are six people who drink too much to the point where it adversely affects their lives”. Our guest is Lance Brendan Young, he argues the problem doesn’t begin in the doctor’s office, but dates back to 1849 when the term “alcoholism” was first described as a chronic, relapsing disease. Lance is assistant professor of communication at Western Illinois University and has researched and written extensively on the language used to frame alcohol abuse. He doesn’t think the condition should be treated as a disease 

Johnhenryf via Flickr Creative Commons

In the words of author Stephen Amidon, “no other figure is the focus of so much passion, controversy, expectation, and disappointment…” regardless of whether it is football or soccer, figure-skating or hockey, watching the world’s top athletes borders on hypnotic… and sometimes stands as proof of our ability to exceed physical human limitations and become something like the gods. That’s the name of long-time sports-lover and novelist Stephen Amidon’s new cultural history of the athlete, detailing sport from the first Olympic Games, to the rise of Lebron James.

Sara Plourde

Since its inception in 1984, the annual TED conference has grown to attract the likes like Bill Clinton, Bill Gates, Jane Goodall and many other big-name speakers . Today, TED talks routinely go viral across social media platforms, and the concept has multiplied into countless international TED Global and regional TEDx events, and even spawned an NPR program, the TED-radio hour.  Despite that undeniable success, our guest Benjamin Bratton spoke at a recent San Diego TEDx event and dared to ask whether the ideas presented at TED really are worth spreading.

via npr.org

The idea of writing a book about writers who drank too much sounds a little like shooting fish in a barrel. The relationship between addiction and creativity remains somewhat mythic…and frequently mimicked. Remarkably talented writers and champion boozers like John Cheever, Ernest Hemingway, F. Scott Fitzgerald and Tennessee Williams drank through successes and failures and kept going even as their creativity crumbled and their lives circled the drain. 

Olivia Laing traveled across the U.S. to follow the paths of six famous literary alcoholics, two of whom ended up suicides, the others dead by middle age. Her new book is called “The Trip to Echo Spring”.

Sara Plourde

After years of isolationism, the U.S. rose in the 20th century to become the world’s sole superpower. Today, economic growth is slow, unemployment and income inequality are rising, and political impasses have ground policy initiatives to a halt. America’s status in global manufacturing, education, and innovation is slipping. Many economists project that China is poised to overtake the U.S. as the world’s largest economy. It all sounds pretty bleak…but economist Charles Kenny paints a much rosier picture. In his book The Upside of Down: Why the Rise of the Rest is Good for the West he argues that Americans should stop worrying and learn to love the decline.

courtesy of lapovertydept.org

Los Angeles’ skid row has the nation’s largest concentration of homeless people. For nearly 30 years, this nexus of impoverished shelters and cardboard boxes has also been home to the Los Angeles Poverty Department, an arts and performing arts group comprised of people who live and work on skid row. The other LAPD makes theater about experiences common to people living in poverty – like addiction, incarceration, and the psychology of victimization – for stages all over the world. Their play “Hospital” follows the dysfunction of the American health care system, and is being performed at the Hopkins Center for the Arts on January 17th and 18thJohn Malpede is Founding Artistic Director, and Kevin Michael Key is a performer and Community Coordinator for the group.

Sara Plourde

Scarcity is a kind of great equalizer. Whether it be less sleep, security, time, food, money or whatever a person needs, scarcity hijacks the mind, diminishes intelligence, and lowers resistance to temptation. Eldar Shafir, Professor of Psychology and Public Affairs at Princeton set out to find evidence for what happens to our minds when we have too little – and how scarcity shapes our choices and behaviors.  He's coauthor of the new book is Scarcity: Why Having Too Little Means So Much.

via presidentsrock.com and babypantsmusic.com

The Presidents of The United States of America - the same band responsible for the enigmatic 1995 hit single “Lump”  - is releasing their 6th studio album in February, their first since 2008.  Since then, PUSA’s frontman Chris Ballew has been keeping himself busy making music geared towards an entirely different generation of listeners: the three and four year old set!  Under the alias “Caspar Babypants”, Chris has released 7 albums of children’s music, including a collection of Beatles tunes.  In this interview Chris explains why he started making music for families, how “being a parent is a little like being in a penitentiary in 1887”, and gave us a preview of songs off PUSA’s new record!  

Sara Plourde

Consider the Giant Panda. Cute, fuzzy, and available for your 24/7 viewing pleasure on the National Zoo’s ‘Panda Cam’. It’s in the top five most popular species for conservation. But what about the endangered species that make your skin crawl, like the St. Lucia Racer Snake, or the Lord Howe Island Stick-Insect? Our guest is Christine Dell'Amore, environment writer and editor for National Geographic News. She asks the uncomfortable question of how do we decide which species to save as part of Nat Geo’s online series called “Last of the Last.”

Recycled Percussion

In 2009 the New Hampshire based “junk rock” band Recycled Percussion successfully made it to the final round of NBC’s show “America’s Got Talent”. For their final performance the four piece band pounded away on assorted junk as water rained down on them and strobe lights flashed in rhythm. After coming in third place in the competition out of 100,ooo acts, Recycled Percussion landed a headlining show in Las Vegas where they’re still going strong. This Thursday the band will finish up a string of homecoming shows at The Music Hall in Portsmouth. Our guest is founding member of Recycled Percussion and Legacy X Justin Spencer.

Last March, the election of Pope Francis was announced with a billow of white smoke. Nine months later, the media remain in a papal haze.  Time Magazine named Pope Francis its person of the year. Francis also topped Esquire's list of 2013's best-dressed men, and Buzzfeed jumped on the papal bandwagon with its list of "The 19 Best Pope Francis Moments of 2013".

wikipedia.org

Throughout the world, hundreds of caves have been discovered containing artifacts and paintings from pre-historic times. The art work found in these caves has provided a glimpse into pre-historic culture, but our guest, anthropological archeologist Margaret Conkey says they only tell part of the story of early man. For her project “Between the Caves” she has pushed archeological research beyond the caves, into the landscapes where Paleolithic people lived and thrived.  

Tom Purves via Flickr Creative Commons

The polar vortex?  Frost-quakes?  Winter Storm "Hercules"?  Winter weather forecasts have had a decidedly apocalyptic ring to them as of late. And yes, it did get pretty darn frigid last week... but how cold was the polar vortex compared to previous cold snaps?  We asked Jason Samenow, Weather Editor for the Washington Post to help us understand the sensationalism inherent in winter weather forecasting.

Taylor Quimby

Word of Mouth's Saturday broadcast is a lot like a well-hosted Golden Globes party, or Sunday afternoon football gathering (except it's on Saturday).  Whether you're just snacking on some fresh veggies, or filling up on buffalo wings, Word of Mouth has a spread everyone can appreciate.  Plus, you're bound to hear something worth sharing at the office - because we have a reputation for inviting the most compelling guests from around the neighborhood.  So bust open a bag of [snack food here] and crack open a [cold beverage of your choice] and check out today's lineup:

DanielSTL via Flickr Creative Commons

It’s about that time in January when you’ve just about had it with “THE BEST ____ OF 2013!” lists… a sure sign that it’s time for awards season. As far as the industry is concerned, the Oscar race begins with the Golden Globe Awards this Sunday night. The ceremony takes place right about the time thousands of members of the Academy of Motions Picture Arts and Sciences are filling out their Oscar ballots - which is exactly what makes the approximately 90 obscure journalists who are members of the Hollywood Foreign Press Association so influential. They alone determine who goes home with a Golden Globe Award…and they are wined, dined and stroked by studios and stars accordingly.

We’re going to talk about predictions and snubs with a pair of our own influencers today…Amy Diaz, editor of the Hippo Press, and NH filmmaker Adam Jones, a voting member of the Director’s Guild of America.

Tony Verna

Watching football this weekend? Well, If you happen to step out of the living room to grab some guacamole and miss a pivotal play, don’t worry – you can bet  the network will play it again (and again) in instant replay.  But it wasn’t always so…  This is the story of how a young and rash CBS producer named Tony Verna invented instant replay in 1963 against tough odds, and revolutionized how we watch sports forever.  It’s told by freelance writer Anna Clark, who wrote about Tony Verna for pacific standard.

Sara Plourde

Characterized by partisan gridlock, grandstanding and an unwillingness to compromise, the 113th Congress is well on its way to becoming the least productive legislature in American history. Elected officials increasingly hail from the ideological fringes of their respective parties, leaving little room for moderation, dialogue or consensus around even routine issues.  The march to the partisan battlelines -- some argue -- starts long before a candidate is sworn in. It begins during the primary, when extreme views draw audiences and media attention away from the moderate middle. Today, we’re prodding one of New Hampshire’s sacred cows by asking whether it’s time to dramatically reforming the way we do primaries.

Sara Plourde

Teenagers are the most tech-savviest among us with their heads glued to their screens, posting stylized selfies on Instagram and compulsively checking Facebook. Or are they? Our guest Cliff Watson challenged our conceptions about the digitally-driven lives of teens. “Teens aren’t abandoning ‘social,’ he writes in an article for Medium, “they’re just using the word correctly.”

Sara Plourde

Last month the satirical newspaper The Onion issued its final print edition under the typically deadpan headline: “Onion Print Revenues Up 5000%”. Traditional news publications, which have cutback on reporters and budgets, or ceased printing altogether, have found little to laugh about. Today, long-form news stories do not even begin to compete with adorable cat and baby videos, but before we all drink hemlock or stare at the gloomy list of publications on Newspaper Death Watch, there could be a a light at the end of the tunnel. Today, we continue our series “Rethink 2014” with a new approach to long-form journalism with Steve Kandell, long-form editor at Buzzfeed.

mandiberg via flickr Creative Commons

Every day, the internet is inundated with more information, and more data to be to be categorized, organized, scrubbed, and filed away in a timely manner. Millions of miniscule tasks need to be performed each day to keep things running smoothly. Computers can do some of this mind-numbing work; other tasks are done piecemeal by hundreds of thousands of people for almost no money; Amazon Mechanical Turk is a marketplace for this kind of work. Ellen Cushing is staff writer for The East Bay Express, she wrote about the work called “micro-tasking,” which pays a pittance, drawing comparisons to working in a sweatshop.

Credit dhendrix73 via Flickr Creative Commons

There’s something keenly American about riding the rails. We meet kind-hearted hoboes in Steinbeck’s “The Grapes of Wrath,” hear the restless spirit in Woody Guthrie songs and cheer on Chaplin’s little tramp striking out for the Yukon.

Sara Plourde

We’re beginning this new year with “Re-think 2014”, conversations and stories that challenge our assumptions, habits and ways of doing things.

We’re kicking off “Re-think 2014” with Fred Pearce, environment consultant for New Scientist magazine.  His article, “How Beer Money Helped Save a Nation’s Water Supply” appeared in Conservation Magazine. It’s an example of a conglomerate upending the business-as-usual model of pursuing profits no matter the environmental and human costs. In this case – helping to protect an essential natural resource for its own manufacturing, and the people of Columbia.

NASA

China’s lunar rover, Jade Rabbit, landed on the moon to study the satellite’s terrain, geology, and lava flows. What else might it find? Dirty laundry, golf balls, bags of human waste, and an American flag.  There are loads of items left on the moon by NASA’s Apollo missions -- still perfectly preserved because the moon lacks a destructive atmosphere. With a handful of countries announcing plans for future lunar missions, a number of scientists are arguing that moon trash is an archeological treasure that should be preserved and studied by future generations. But with no laws or lunar governing body to protect, say, the first footprint on the moon, some worry that America’s lunar heritage could be destroyed by a new generation of explorers rushing to reach the moon.

Taylor Quimby

Wow.  It's the first Word of Mouth Saturday show of 2014.  It's like one final holiday gift, opened whilst downing the last of the leftover champagne and simultaneously making a resolution to listen to more public radio.  Our Saturday show is the perfect mix of looking back, looking forward, and living in the now.  Cheers!

  • The Food Trends of 2013 and 2014:  From the uber-hyped cronut, to Paula Deen's public meltdown, to the apocalyptic Sriracha shortage, AP Food Editor J.M. Hirsch recalls the flavor of 2013, and makes his culinary predictions for what's to come in the new year.
  • How Should We Live?  Author/philosopher Roman Krznaric peers into the near and ancient past for examples of how people through the ages approached love, work, family, time, money, death, creativity, and more.

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