Word of Mouth

Word of Mouth is the sound of new ideas, hosted by Virginia Prescott. Airs at 2 pm Monday through Thursday, weeknights at 9 pm, and noon on Sundays.

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The New Year is just a few days away, but before you pop the champagne, take a moment to reflect. All this week we’re reflecting on some of our favorite conversations and stories of 2016, and we're wrapping it up with a bang.

He's built a storytelling empire on radio, podcasts, television and film.  But...can he dance?

We'll revisit my conversation with Ira Glass about his stage show "Three Acts, Two Dancers, One Radio Host" .

Plus, a surprisingly touching story about urinary incontinence. And the little known story of Bessie Stringfield, an African American woman who crossed the country eight times during the 1930s and 40s, on a motorcycle.

The New Year is a time to look ahead, but this week we’re looking back. Today a selection of our favorite stories and interviews of 2016. First up, we revisit a conversation about the global disappearance industry that plots, facilitates and documents fake deaths - and the investigators who track them down. 

Then, we'll reminisce about some of the strangest school assemblies we endured growing up.

And  Roman Mars of 99% Invisible looks into the origins of those inflatable tube men you see outside of car washes.

The end of the year is a time for reflection, celebration, and for media outlets Best-of Lists and we are no exception. All this week, we’re presenting our favorite stories and interviews of 2016. Today we revisit a conversation with a music critic about how hip hop artists shaped the protest songs of 2016.

Then, an interview that made it to the top of many of our lists, all about a growing movement to get over the shame and secrecy around menstruation.

Plus, a design critic looks at cities through the eyes of a burglar.

Best of '16: Jailhouse Lawyer & Citizen Kahn

Dec 27, 2016

The end of the year is a time for reflection, celebration, and for media outlets--Best-of Lists and we are no exception. All this week, we’re presenting our favorite stories and interviews of 2016. Today we revisit a conversation with Derrick Hamilton, a jail house lawyer who fought the wrongful conviction that put him in jail for 21 years. He explains why he still believes in the power of the law.

Then, the story of Zarif Khan, who migrated to America in the early twentieth century and became prosperous and beloved in his Wyoming town, even though the law prevented his citizenship.

Joe Plocki via Flickr CC / https://flic.kr/p/Dgd7R

California newspapers once wrote that Chinese immigrants had "most of the vices and few of the virtues of the African". Until 1940, Asian Americans earned less than whites...and less than black Americans too. All that changed just a few generations.  Today, how Asian Americans became a "model minority."

Then, from unidentified noises to a story of heartbreaking loss, we scour the audio landscape for sound we can't help but share. Morning Edition host Rick Ganley joins us for the latest installment of Overheard.

Jacob Whittaker via Flickr CC / https://flic.kr/p/5B3PZ8

For addicts in recovery, the holiday season is a kind of Bermuda triangle. Those fizzy days of celebrations and indulgence can leave them feeling excluded. Today,  a literary companion to recovery - just in time for the holidays.

Then, how many times have you heard Mariah Carey's "All I Want For Christmas is You" this holiday season? Each year it returns to the Billboard top 40. We'll hear a musician's case for why it not only deserves the air time, but also a place in the American songbook. 

12.20.16: Prescription Pain Meds & The Seventh Fire

Dec 20, 2016
J. Stephen Conn via Flickr CC / https://flic.kr/p/agvt1z

Since 2011, authorities have attempted to curb the growing opioid epidemic by monitoring prescribers, limiting doses, and cracking down on so-called pill mills. The goal is to limit access to addicts. But what do those restrictions mean for the estimated 25 million Americans who suffer from chronic pain?

Plus, The Seventh Fire - a documentary follows two men through the cycle of poverty, addiction, and crime on a northern Minnesota Indian reservation.  

The Gift Show

Dec 16, 2016

They come with ribbons, they come with tags, they come in packages, boxes and bags. On today’s show it's a seasonal special that's all about gifts. From the bizarre variety featured in the Neiman Marcus fantasy gift catalogue to our own selection of fantasy presents - and try and figure out just what they say about us.

Plus, Chanukah gifts, Native American potlatch traditions, and the pros and cons of so-called smart gifts.

It’s our little gift to all of you.

U.S. Embassy Kyiv Ukraine via Flickr CC / https://flic.kr/p/epy8go

The holidays are fast approaching, and for the procrastinators among us, the online retailer Amazon.com offers a ray hope. But what if the gift you've purchased isn't what it claims to be? Today, the supply and demand chain for counterfeit goods

Then, in the early days of cinema, soundtracks were played live.  A single pianist or orchestra accompanied those early silent films with sometimes written and sometimes improvised, music and sound effects. The Alloy Orchestra keeps that tradition alive by live scoring old silent films using state of the art electronics, and...a rack of junk. 

wiredforlego via Flickr CC / https://flic.kr/p/LQ4PPz

Forty-thousand African Americans died fighting during the Civil War - more than a million enlisted in World War II.  Military service is often seen as emblematic of America's best qualities - but the record shows that, instead of being honored, African American veterans were disproportionately targeted, beaten and lynched throughout American history. Today on the show: America's history of targeting black veterans.

Plus, the city that put a bird on it decides to put a tax on it - wage gaps that is. We'll hear how about Portland, Oregon's move to penalize companies that pay executives 100 times more than average workers.

12.13.16: Entanglement & The Glass Universe

Dec 13, 2016
Tinker*Tailor loves Lalka via Flickr CC / https://flic.kr/p/e8PS9m

From Victorian mourning jewelry, to religious sacrifice, to fake weaves, hair is freighted with meaning and one of the most versatile and sought after fibers in the world. Today, the history and logistics behind a billion dollar global hair industry.

Then, much of the information about the universe as we know it - where objects are, what they're made of, how they're classified - was plotted by a group of computers at Harvard University in the mid-19th century, but those computers weren't like any we know today. We'll learn about the women who mapped the universe. 

Global Panorama via Flickr CC / https://flic.kr/p/r2nw3q

Someone suffering from a major depressive episode may have trouble getting out of bed - sleep too much during the day, and then suffer from insomnia at night. Today, an experimental, and counter-intuitive treatment for depression.

Plus, the benefits of being bored. Whether we're sitting quietly for a cup of coffee, or taking a walk without a destination, one author argues that setting aside time to do nothing can make us more creative, and teach us more about who we really are - she even has some handy tips for how foster a bit of boredom.

USFWS Mountain-Prairie via Flickr CC / https://flic.kr/p/qQ2X5H

Walk into a pre-school or elementary school today and you won't find peanut butter, but you'll likely see a few sets of twins ...we'll look at twinning patterns throughout human history, and why the proportion of twins in the population continues to ebb and flow.

And conservation by drone - we'll hear about a program designed to save black-footed ferrets from the plague by air-dropping vaccines.

Crossett Library via Flickr CC / https://flic.kr/p/8NwLSn

When foreign nationals commit a crime in the US, their consulates work to avoid what the majority of UN member states consider to be barbaric: execution. Today, we'll hear what the government south of the border is doing to their nationals off death row.

Frank Maurer via Flickr CC / https://flic.kr/p/83biv

Social media networks have too few people to monitor and shut down the volume of Islamic State propaganda accounts. Today, a Dartmouth professor has created a tool to flag violent, extremist videos and recruitment tools and keep them off social media feeds...still, some companies fear accusations of censorship.

Then, in the early 1800s, America was new - a wide and blank slate for backwoods prophets, reformers and salvation seekers to create their own versions of paradise. Today, from Shakers to radicals to polygamists, a road trip through some of the nearly 200 utopian communities that emerged in the 19th century.

James Vaughan via Flickr CC / https://flic.kr/p/c83XTb

What do McDonalds hamburgers and NPR underwriting have in common? Ray and Joan Kroc.  One, a business tycoon responsible for building a world-wide brand and the other a strong woman with a passion for progressive causes. Today we’re learning about the odd couple pairing of a billionaire-entrepreneur and peace-loving philanthropist.

Plus, a collection of stories follows characters down the slippery slope of technological dependency -  and how to slow it down.

Sarah Joy via flickr Creative Commons / https://flic.kr/p/cNCrSo

The Affordable Care Act, the Supreme Court, the Paris Agreement. The Trump administration is sure to bring lots of changes, among them: White House decor. On today’s show we’ll take a historic tour of how first families have put their stamp on the executive mansion, including President Teddy Roosevelt, who created the west wing.

Also today, we'll speak with NASA's planetary defense officer about teaming up with FEMA, the Air Force and other government agencies for a simulation of what could happen if an asteroid crashed into a densely populated region -- and how they'd respond.

Abbie Rowe [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

The Affordable Care Act, the Supreme Court, the Paris Agreement. The Trump administration is sure to bring lots of changes, among them: White House decor. On today’s show we’ll take a historic tour of how first families have put their stamp on the executive mansion, including President Teddy Roosevelt, who created the west wing.

Plus, the latest installment of the Ten-Minute Writer's Workshop with cartoonist and illustrator Tom Gauld.

Writers on a New England Stage: Mario Batali

Nov 30, 2016
David J. Murray, ClearEyePhoto.com

Today, NHPR and the music hall present Writers on a New England Stage with Mario Batali recorded live at the Music Hall in Portsmouth. Batali is a celebrity chef, entrepreneur, restaurateur, television star and passionate advocate for simple, regional food. He is author, or co-author, of 7 cookbooks on Italian food, wine and culture, one on Spanish specialties, and three of American recipes, including his most recent Big American Cookbook.

Nicholas Wilson via Flickr CC / https://flic.kr/p/dSBvrk

Since Election Day, reports of hate crimes have soared across the nation. While well-documented in the news and on social media, the real numbers could be even higher. Today: why reporting and tracking hate crimes begins - and sometimes ends - with local cops, courts and cultural norms.

Also today, the Feds contemplate a scary scenario: an asteroid hurtling towards greater Los Angeles. We'll speak with NASA's planetary defense officer about teaming up with FEMA, the Air Force and other government agencies for a simulation of what could happen if an asteroid crashed into a densely populated region - and how they'd respond. 

MWV Chamber of Commerce via Flickr CC / https://flic.kr/p/DCd9Ju

Yellowstone may be the first national park, but it was New Hampshire's White Mountains that for decades prior captured the imagination of American tourists, scientists, and artists. Today, a portrait of Mount Washington's artistic history.

Plus, from Bob Dylan to Yoko Ono, audiences have long had a fascination with the off-beat or out of tune - so why do we love some bad singers and love to hate others?

Then, America's great repository of world knowledge faces an existential predicament. In a world where information is stored in servers and googled at will, can the Library of Congress really keep up?

11.27.16: Lots of Leftovers

Nov 25, 2016
Ginny via Flickr CC / https://flic.kr/p/4Jo3Sb

Now that the long, stressful, divisive election season is behind us, maybe it's time to talk about something that unites us in pleasure: food. Now, a cultural history of one food that makes everything a little bit better: butter. 

Plus, the resurgence of rainbow sprinkles. Whether you call them jimmies, funfetti or unicorn food, those brightly colored sugary bits that top cupcakes, cookies & ice cream sundaes, are having a bit of a moment. We’ll talk to a food writer from the New York Times about the current funfetti explosion.

IIP Photo Archive via Flickr CC / https://flic.kr/p/AUCETe

From textbooks to westerns, Native American history and culture has often been reduced to stereotypes. Today, we’re breaking down the most pervasive myths about American Indians, including their role as welcoming host at Thanksgiving.

Then, we'll tackle an issue many of us will face when getting together with our families tomorrow:  passive aggression. Plus, the crew revisits the tense dinners of holidays passed.

11.22.16: Hi, Anxiety, A #NoDAPL Map, & Overheard

Nov 22, 2016
Takuya Goro via Flickr CC / https://flic.kr/p/jjTdDi

Feeling anxious or worried is part of being human, but for those suffering from an anxiety disorder, even tackling mundane tasks can be debilitating...and isolating. Today, a look at the condition affecting an estimated 25 million Americans, generalized anxiety disorder, and how to manage it.

Plus, mapping DAPL - as clashes between law enforcement and protestors erupt near the Standing Rock Sioux reservation, a new map offers new perspective on a long-running dispute.

Fake Plastic Alice via Flickr CC / https://flic.kr/p/5L2wa8

Today, voices of Terezin, the Nazi concentration camp used to divert attention from the final solution. We'll hear about how prisoners held under brutal conditions created art and music amid the horrors of the holocaust

Plus, what happens when a protest movement professing all-or-nothing absolutism splits in two? We'll find out how a splinter group of vegan activists toned down their goals and built a powerful machine for change.

In HBO's new series Westworld, a futuristic amusement park is populated with androids who look and sound convincingly human. So in the age of 3D printed organs and advanced artificial intelligence, how close are we to making realistic robots? Today, we compare science fact with science fiction.

Then, whether it's the overuse of like, saying "nuculear", or using the word "literally", figuratively, misuse of language has a way of getting under our skin. A linguist assures us that language is always changing...so loosen up. Today, why dictionaries and grammar sticklers can't stop improper language.

turn off your computer and go outside via Flickr CC / https://flic.kr/p/nPxtL2

In HBO's new series Westworld, a futuristic amusement park is populated with androids who look and sound convincingly human. So in the age of 3D printed organs and advanced artificial intelligence, how close are we to making realistic robots? Today, we compare science fact with science fiction.

Then, Netflix and Amazon Prime make it a breeze to watch their content, but a movie critic worries young people can't easily find films from Hollywood's golden age. Can a new streaming service save classic movies?

Plus National Book Award winner Colson Whitehead shares his creative process with the 10-Minute Writer’s Workshop

Mahdi Abdulrazak via Flickr CC / https://flic.kr/p/5Ri8JW

People tell little white lies all day long, to be polite, avoid confrontation...or just because they seem so harmless. Today, how wearing down our truth telling muscles affects the brain.

Then, a reporter looks at the established legal practice of using race, class and gender to to calculate damages in wrongful death and injury cases - the result? Women and minorities lives are worth less.

Plus, New Hampshire author Jacquelyn Benson talks about feminism, Indiana Jones, and the unconventional romance in her debut novel, The Smoke Hunter.

Potluck? Meh. Try a 'Soup Swap' Instead!

Nov 15, 2016
Yvonne Duivenvoorden via Chronicle Books

Winter is coming. It's getting steadily colder and darker, and the nation is still reeling from a presidential election that pretty well split voters down the middle. It may be a good time for a healing bowl of soup, or better yet, a soup swap. 

Joseph Brent via flickr Creative Commons / https://flic.kr/p/J2ZcxU

The U.S. stands alone in sentencing juvenile offenders to life without possibility of parole. On today’s show, a new report out of Harvard finds the youth prison system costly, ineffective, and destructive.

Also today, we set aside post-election divisions and get tips for bringing good food and good friends together over the winter—and it's not a potluck!  It’s a soup swap!

Virginia talks with Chef Kathy Gunst about cooking and community. Plus, virtuoso mandolinist Joseph Brent talks about his music.

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