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.


Word of Mouth Program Page

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For our contribution to the station wide Work Series next week, we have a few segments in store for you. Including an interview with the co-author of a study that looked at what was more likely to increase worker motivation: cash bonuses or salary raises.

We want to know what you think. Which would you prefer? A cash bonus or an equivalent bump in your annual salary? Would a lump sum light your fire more than an increase in your paycheck. Weigh in on the Word of Mouth Listener Line: 603.223.2448

Remember, we reserve the right to use your message on the air. Thanks for listening!

Logan Shannon / NHPR

Not sure how you're going to muster the energy to rake another pile of leaves this weekend? Let us make the chore a little easier by distracting you with a solid hour of public radio encouragement. The Word of Mouth Saturday show is carefully designed to take you on a sound odyssey that's perfect even if you decide to forgo the leaf raking for another day.

On this week's show:

  • Please don't send shoes: Jessica Alexander makes the case for sending money instead of food or clothing when disaster strikes.
  • Why is Sweden so good at pop music? Nolan Feeney outlines the many reasons Sweden is a country of hit makers. We dare you to not get "The Sign" stuck in your head.
  • Talking about death: It's not an easy subject, but a new Showtime series, "Time of Death" approaches the taboo with unflinching realism. Jaweed Kaleem from the Huffington Post, and Miggi Hood, co-executive producer of the series join us to talk about death.
  • The Warren Commission 50 years later. Justice Richard Mosk was a 23-year-old attorney when he became the youngest member of the commission established by President Johnson to investigate the murder of JFK and his assassin. He tells us about the commission and why conspiracy theories can be harmful.

Mike Lavoie, copyright 2013

Here’s a topic guaranteed to get a big laugh…the Constitution.

The national tour of comedian Colin Quinn Unconstitutional, is stopping at The Colonial Theater in Keene this Friday. Quinn, after all, made the Clinton-Lewinsky scandal funny as anchor of Weekend Update on Saturday Night Live, and has now condensed the Constitution’s history into a witty 75-minute one-man play. His new show finds the humor in how the right and the left argue over the meanings and interpretations of the Constitution.

Copyright 2013 JMA/EUMETSAT

Nearly a week has passed since Typhoon Haiyan ripped through the Philippines.  Aid organizations are reporting more than 10,000 dead, though Filipino President Aquino says that number is far overblown. Whatever the number, many more will likely succumb to disease or dehydration as relief slowly pours in to the hardest hit areas. Security is a major concern among officials in areas now teetering towards anarchy. Yesterday, Reuters reported that nearly 30,000 bags of rice were stolen from a government warehouse and rampant looting has turned deadly.   

Americans spring into action after such disasters, emptying their cupboards of old canned goods, medicines and clothing. Jessica Alexander urges you not to. She’s the  author of Chasing Chaos: My Decade In And Out Of Humanitarian Aid. We read her article “Please Don’t Send Your Old Shoes To The Philippines” on and reached her this morning at the UN.

Image Credit: Bettmann/Corbis via

Fifty-years ago, on November 22nd, President John Fitzgerald Kennedy was shot while traveling in his motorcade through Dallas. Kennedy was pronounced dead at 12:30 pm central time that day. By Monday, 45,000 letters of condolence had arrived at the White House. Two months later, nearly 800,000 had arrived -- addressed mostly to Jackie Kennedy and her family. Over the next two years, that number doubled. Handwritten, typed, and cabled, those letters captured the collective grief of the nation and the world and were then filed away for nearly forty six years.

Letters to Jackie, released in 2010, was a compilation of hundreds of those letters by history scholar, UNH professor, author and our guest Ellen Fitzpatrick.

Letters to Jackie: Remembering President Kennedy” is a new documentary based on her book and features a selection from those letters read by movie and theater actors. The special makes its television premiere on TLC this coming Sunday, November 17th.

via The Land of Abba

Two decades have passed since Swedish quartet Ace of Base picked up Abba's mantle. Their single, 'The Sign,' topped U.S. charts and cemented a permanent place on pop playlists for decades to come.

Ace of Base also ushered in the so-called 'Swedish Miracle,' an era between 1990 and 2003 when music royalties earned by Sweden from foreign markets were twice as much per capita as royalties paid to songwriters and performers in the U.S. Today, Sweden is the world’s number three music exporter.

Nolan Feeney writes and produces for The Atlantic's entertainment channel, where he asked “Why Is Sweden So Good at Pop Music?”

Fragile Oasis via Flickr Creative Commons

The opening of the U.N.'s climate change summit this past weekend in Poland was overshadowed by Typhoon Haiyan. A Filipino envoy broke down in tears when describing the devastation, and received a standing ovation when he announced that he would fast until a "meaningful outcome is in sight."

An increase in weather-related disasters, fluctuating temperatures and rising sea levels are among the discouraging issues being discussed at the 2-week summit in Warsaw. But, there is some encouraging news…a new report by a Dutch agency found that global greenhouse gas emissions showed signs of slowing in 2012. The slackened pace is not attributed to recession, and has, in fact, occurred as wealth continues to climb among the world’s top CO2 emitters. Fred Pearce is environmental consultant for New Scientist, and breaks down the optimistic report for us. 


Clarinetist and composer Kinan Azmeh was born in Damascus, but now lives in New York, where he wakes up to bad news each day. One of his compositions, “A Sad Morning, Every Morning,” is dedicated to the victims of the Syrian conflict, now in its third year.

Kinan will be performing at the Hopkins Center at Dartmouth tonight along with Sally Pinkas, and the Apple Hill String Quartet in a program called “Playing for Peace.”

Also featured tonight will be works by Joseph Haydn and Mieczyslaw Weinberg and the world premiere of two compositions by the composer Kareem Roustom-- also born in Damascus. Roustom has not been back to Syria since 2008; Azmeh since July 2012 , but the people who are suffering in their war-torn homeland are never far from their hearts or their music. We spoke to Kinan Azmeh and Kareem Routsom from Dartmouth’s studio about homeland.

Rachel via flickr Creative Commons

If you’ve ever avoided a conversation about death, you are not alone. While death scenes are plentiful in movies and on television, witnessing the real, degenerative, disorienting process of death and dying is avoided…unmentionable…a taboo.  A new Showtime series faces that taboo head-on. “Time of Death” follows eight terminally ill people ranging in age from nineteen to seventy-seven over the course of nine months to their final hours and even moments of life.

Reviews and conversations cropping up around the series praise its raw, sometimes agonizing realism and wonder if anyone will watch; if our death denying culture can take such an unflinching look at death? The Huffington Post’s religion reporter Jaweed Kaleem wrote about the series. He’s covers one of HuffPo’s most unusual beats: death.

Also joining us is Miggi Hood co-executive producer for the Showtime series, “Time of Death.”

The Art of Procrastination by John Perry

Feeling guilty about putting off something important?  Can’t seem to finish that daunting task at the top of the to-do-list?  Here’s a philosophy book for you: “The Art of Procrastination: A Guide to Effective Dawdling, Lollygagging and Postponing John Perry is an emeritus professor of philosophy at Stanford University, and an admitted chronic procrastinator.  He wrote the book as a way of avoiding doing something else – a principle he calls “structured procrastination".

Jesse757 via flickr Creative Commons

The assassination of President John F. Kennedy fifty years ago this month, left a country in shock and disbelief and as the years went on, awash in conspiracy theories.  Nearly a thousand books have disputed the central finding of the Warren Commission: that Lee Harvey Oswald acted alone when he shot the president.  Today, almost two-thirds of the American public doubt believe that Oswald, and his assassin, Jack Ruby, were part of a larger conspiracy.  

Richard Mosk was a 23-year-old attorney when he became the youngest member of the commission established by President Johnson to investigate the murder of JFK and his assassin. He’s now associate justice on the California court of appeals. In an article for Stanford magazine, Mosk wrote that he is “apprehensive” about the upcoming anniversary – which will again stir up the conspiracy theories that have shadowed the Warren Commission’s findings for half a century.

Adam Fagen via flickr Creative Commons

Enjoying the Saturday edition of Word of Mouth is like sipping a hot cup of cocoa on a crisp fall day. Rest assured, this is an indulgent cup of public radio goodness, topped with the whipped cream and sprinkles you've come to expect from the WoM team. So why not take a break from raking those leaves for an hour and curl up with us. On this week's show:

  • Schottenfreude: Need a word to describe your feelings? Perhaps the German language can lend a hand. Ben Schott  joins us to share a few new words that borrow from German to add to your lexicon.
  • Are You Cool? Dan Kois talks about Slate's month long series that investigates what cool is and where the term comes from.
  • WEB BONUS: Virginia's cool quiz with Dan Kois.

Don Hankins via flickr Creative Commons

If you’ve been keeping up on the scope of NSA data harvesting and reports of corporations selling – or losing – your personal data, you may well be:

a) scared out of your wits

b) changing your passwords, securing your routers taking steps to protect your data or 

c) throwing your hands up in the air and surrendering to the new insecurity state. There is also the option of throwing out your smart phone, pulling down the shades, and curling up in a ball.

Adam Penenberg is an editor for PandoDaily, a technology news site and a professor of journalism at New York University. He wrote about hiring hackers to test his own security – and found himself  to be more vulnerable than he thought. 


Richard Pryor changed stand-up. He created comedy with no jokes. Instead, he unleashed a parade of street characters rarely glimpsed by white people and mortifying to middle class African Americans. Pryor wrote that the neighbors, whores and winos he saw growing up around his family’s bars and brothels inspired a lifetime of comedic material.

Pryor’s stand-up was outrageously blunt, fearlessly black and openly angry. His talent ran in tandem with episodes of self-destructive, violent, behavior -- often triggered by drug use – which jeopardized his career and endangered his life. Yet, in movies, Grammy-winning albums, and even a short-lived TV special, Richard Pryor’s unapologetically irreverent comedy crossed over to capture a huge American audience; Brothers Dave and Joe Henry among them. Dave is a screenwriter, Joe is a singer and songwriter and together they’ve written Furious Cool: Richard Pryor and the World That Made Him.

Jean KOULEV via flickr Creative Commons

In 2007, researchers from the University of Texas categorized 237 motivations for humans to have sex. Recently, researchers at the University of Toronto divided the most common into two broad categories: approach motives pursue a positive outcome, like increasing intimacy; avoidance motives aim to avoid conflict or guilt. The Canadian team found that adding the fairly un-sexy drives of duty, resignation and guilt which significantly affect the health of a relationship, and could spell the difference between a happy marriage and a rocky one. Elizabeth Bernstein is a columnist for the Wall Street Journal, where she wrote about the studies published by University of Toronto in October.

The sensation of tickling has baffled great thinkers  since the days of Aristotle, who used human ticklishness to distinguish people from animals. Later, Freud puzzled over the strange mix of pleasure and pain caused by tickling.  

Indeed, we tickle kids or siblings, sometimes affectionately, sometimes edging towards cruelty.  Still unknown is why people laugh when tickled, and why you can’t tickle yourself? Why do some people enjoy tickling and others not? And what is tickling, after all? Contemporary philosopher Aaron Schuster picks up those questions. He’s on the faculty at the Sandberg Institute in Amsterdam and wrote “A Philosophy of Tickling” for Cabinet Magazine.

squirelaraptor via Flickr Creative Commons

Lucifer, Beelzebub, the Prince of Darkness…whatever he's called, some seventy percent of Americans believe in the existence of the Devil. That’s according to a 2007 Gallup Poll, and that number has increased steadily since 1990, when only fifty-five percent believed in evil personified in the form of Satan.

Now, researchers are looking at the implications of belief in “pure evil” on psychological and social behaviors.  Piercarlo Valdesolo is Assistant Professor of Psychology at Claremont Mckenna College and contributor to Scientific American’s “Mind Matters” blog, where we found his article, “The Psychological Power of Satan.” 

Rebecca Lavoie for NHPR

In German, there's an expression for kicking through piles of leaves, and for the conviction that all large houses must have secret passages. In other words, Germans have expressions for things we don't, and they're pretty great. Just think about the ones we've adopted without thought, like 'Wanderlust.' 

Author Ben Schott’s Miscellanies  and annual almanacs have sold millions and been translated into more than a dozen languages. Now, he’s completed a compendium of compounds to describe the inexpressible. It’s called Schottenfreude: German Words for the Human Condition.

Star Wars: Episode V - The Empire Strikes Back

Spoiler Alert!

If you have not seen “The Empire Strikes Back,” Darth Vader reveals a shocking secret to Luke Skywalker:

"Luke, I am your father."


Now, think back, did that scene completely surprise you, or did someone tell you it was coming? Since the film came out in 1980, we’re pretty sure that we didn’t ruin it for you. Today, however, spoilers flourish on social media where there are no rules for revealing the surprising twists and plot devices in movies or T.V. shows. Chris Klimek has come up with some guidelines for reviewers, he’s a freelance writer and frequent contributor to Slate, The Washington Post, and The Village Voice, where we found his taxonomy and guidelines, “The Four Types of Spoilers and How Reviewers Should Handle Them.”

Larry Darling via flickr Creative Commons

The afternoons are getting darker, the trees are bare, and the furnace is snapping on; it’s November in New England. A time when we shift indoors and enjoy some quiet before the holidays are upon us. It’s also a great time for movies, when the studios trot out their Oscar contenders and the crush of holiday blockbusters have yet to arrive with guns blaring and special effects thrusting. 

Amy Diaz is editor and film critic for The Hippo, she and film consultant and commentator, Garen Daly are with us to talk movies. Specifically what you see between now and Thanksgiving.

In the spirit of thinking about how we eat over what we eat, a team at Cornell University conducted a study to see how we can make the buffet—that most tempting and often fattening arrays of food — into part of a balanced breakfast.

Dr. Andrew Hanks is a researcher for the Cornell Food and Brand Lab.

Logan Shannon / NHPR

The rollout of the Affordable Care Act has been called many things – smooth is not one of them.  Once attention shifted from the government shutdown to the October 1st launch of the website, pundits, reporters, and politicians on both sides of the aisle have condemned glitches and delays as irresponsible and ultimately, unnecessary.  We decided to play a little thought experiment…what if, instead of the government, one of America’s tech giants had been in charge of the site for applying for and purchasing health insurance?  What if instead of, we had “i-healthcare?”  “Or Google Health?”  What if Mark Zuckerberg were asked to spearhead the “Facebook Health Exchange?”

Joining me to speculate on how the rollout might have gone differently is Rob Fleischman, Chief Technology Officer at Xero-Cole, and our regular oracle of all things digital. Also joining us is David Ewalt, senior editor at Forbes who writes about technology, games, space and other geeky stuff.

Gage Skidmore via Flickr Creative Commons

PolitiFact won a Pulitzer Prize for fact-checking statements made by politicians, lobbyists and special interest groups.  Their new venture called PunditFact will cast a wider net to rate the veracity of talking heads, bloggers and columnists…a pretty big job in the blustery airspace of opinion journalism. 

Aaron Sharockman is Deputy Government and Politics Editor for the Tampa Bay Times. He is also a writer and editor for Politifact.

Linus Bohman

Listening to Word of Mouth's Saturday broadcast is like sitting around a campfire and chatting with a bunch of super-smart, super-interesting people.  So go sharpen a stick, grab your bag of marshmallows and pull up a log - here's what's coming up this hour:

  • The Science of Superstition:  Psychologist Stuart Vyse explains the collective power of the Red Sox beards.
  • MORE COWBELL!!!  From Strauss to Def Leppard, writer Lori Rotenberk traces the musical history of the cowbell.
  • A Grimm Cinderella Story:  Author Adam Gidwitz shares the original gruesome version of the classic fairy tale, and explains why Disney has done the Brothers Grimm a disservice.
  • #NoFilter: Brian Ries, social media guru for The Daily Beast, on how a growing number of private dealers are legally selling guns on Instagram
  • WHEN JELLYFISH ATTACK!  They're clogging nuclear reactors, capsizing ships, wiping out fish populations, and causing cerebral hemorrhages... So basically, jellyfish are scarier than sharks.  There, I said it.  Quartz reporter Gwynn Guilford explains.

Halloween is a perfect time for ghost stories and fairy-tales. Yes...fairy tales. But not the sanitized stuff of Disney Princesses,  but the grisly, violent, cautionary tales from which they were derived. 

Of course, scary stories are told best by Word of Mouth, so we invited author Adam Gidwitz to share the rather horrible story of “Ashputtle,” or as you might know her, Cinderella. It’s one of the tales from his new book, The Grimm Conclusionthe third volume of delightfully dark, vividly re-told stories originally written by the Brothers Grimm.

Christine Zenino via Flickr Creative Commons

Visitors to Salem, Massachusetts, have a surfeit of choices in Halloween season. They can take a “Tales and Tombstones Trolley Tour,” attend the Zombie Prom, Voodoo Ball, or a performance of “Dracula’s Guest.”

The real terror that coursed through the Massachusetts Bay colony from 1692 to ’93 was not the stuff of a night out with the family. More than two hundred people were accused of witchcraft by their neighbors. Nineteen were hanged. Another was pressed to death. Five women died in prison.  Historian Marilynne Roach examines the lives of individuals swept up in the trials through surviving documents, invoices, and objects. Her new book is called Six Women of Salem: The Untold Story of the Accused and Their Accusers in the Salem Witch Trials.

madlyinlovewithlife via flickr Creative Commons

In early October, one of the largest nuclear reactors in the world was forced to shut down after a swarm of jellyfish flooded and clogged its water cooling pipes. The bloom of jellyfish that devastated Sweden’s Oskarshamn nuclear plant is symptomatic of a global problem. Research out of the University of British Columbia shows a sixty-two percent increase in jellyfish blooms since 1950. Proliferation of the species has been crippling fishing and tourism all over the world and blooms are increasing in frequency, intensity and duration. Gwynn Guilford reported on the proliferation, which appears in large part to be related to the impact of humans on the oceans; her article appeared in Quartz.

Barbara via flickr Creative Commons

There are between 800,000 and 1.2 million moose in North America, but scientists are concerned that their numbers are shrinking – and fast. Moose populations from New Hampshire to Minnesota have been plummeting for years – as much as twenty-five percent each year in some cases – and while there are plenty of theories, nobody’s quite sure why.

Jim Robbins is a freelance writer and regular contributor to the New York Times. He wrote about the moose die-off for the Times’ environment section.

Courtesy Bushor Photography

Since its premiere in 1899, Anton Chekov’s play Uncle Vanya has been adapted for stages all over the world. Originally about a family property in eastern Russia, it’s been re-set in the English lake district in the 1930s, at an abandoned theater on Manhattan’s 42nd Street, and a post-apocalyptic interpretation set in Hawaii after a zombie attack.

Now, Kent Stephens, founding artistic director of Stage Force Productions, is bringing Uncle Vanya to the Maine coast.  Stephen’s relocates the bored, begrudging family members to the banks of the Androscoggin – bringing 21st Century concerns of environment and land policy issues to the fore. Uncle Vanya in Maine opens this Friday, November 1st, and runs until the 10th, at the Star Theater in Kittery, Maine.

For more than four hundred years, the works of William Shakespeare have given us language to describe the human condition. The Bard’s works have been interpreted on countless stages, film and television adaptations, and pulled apart in classrooms and campuses all over the world. As the theses count and analyses dedicated to Shakespeare continue to grow, a few academics question if there’s anything new to say about Shakespeare. That’s also the title of an article by Matthew Reisz, reporter and features writer for the Times of London’s Higher Education blog, covering intellectual affairs in the arts and social sciences.