Sarah Fenske | St. Louis Public Radio

Sarah Fenske

“St. Louis On The Air” Host/Producer

Sarah Fenske joined St. Louis Public Radio as host of St. Louis on the Air in July 2019. Before that, she spent twenty years in newspapers, working as a reporter, columnist and editor in Cleveland, Houston, Phoenix, Los Angeles and St. Louis.

She won the Livingston Award for Young Journalists for her work in Phoenix exposing corruption at the local housing authority. She also won numerous awards for column writing, including multiple first place wins from the Arizona Press Club, the Association of Women in Journalism (the Clarion Awards) and the National Society of Newspaper Columnists.

From 2015 to July 2019, Sarah was editor in chief of St. Louis' alt-weekly, the Riverfront Times. She and her husband, John, are raising their two young daughters and ill-behaved border terrier in Lafayette Square.

Ways to Connect

January 23, 2020 Fran Caradonna
Emily Woodbury | St. Louis Public Radio

In 1990, Fran Caradonna and her then-husband upended St. Louis’ beer scene by starting a distributorship. They wanted to give local drinkers a choice beyond Anheuser-Busch — and, when Schlafly Beer was founded a year later, the Caradonnas’ company naturally became its distributor.

They helped introduce St. Louis to many new craft beer brands, helping to shake up what once felt like a near-monopoly for A-B. And, after the Caradonnas sold their company to Major Brands, they started a craft brewery of their own: O’Fallon Brewery, which they also later sold.   

January 14, 2020 Miranda Popkey
Evie Hemphill | St. Louis Public Radio

Miranda Popkey is a California native, and much of her debut novel, “Topics of Conversation,” is set in the state. But the novel has a St. Louis origin story. It’s while she was in the MFA program at Washington University that she wrote much of it. And it’s at Wash U that she realized it could be, and was, a novel.

On Tuesday’s St. Louis on the Air, Popkey joined us to discuss her novel. 

The novel’s focus on ideas over plot — and its sometimes “unlikeable narrator” — have drawn pushback from some readers, she acknowledged.  

January 6, 2020 Dave Greteman
Emily Woodbury | St. Louis Public Radio

Getting drunk at dinner is sooo 2010. Some of the area’s most buzz-worthy bars are now focused on drinks that won’t get you buzzed. That includes Elmwood.

At this one-year-old Maplewood hotspot, the roster of booze-free cocktails (called “zero proof”) is just as interesting and complex as that of their liquor-fueled cousins. The restaurant is also serving drinks it calls “low proof,” offering a taste of spirits without condemning you to a raging headache the next morning.

Evie Hemphill | St. Louis Public Radio

U.S. Congressman William Lacy Clay Jr., D-St. Louis, is issuing a dire warning when it comes to President Donald Trump’s actions regarding Iran.

“If we don’t rein in this president’s recklessness, we will commit young men and women to a war zone in the Middle East, and the results will be a catastrophe,” he said Friday on St. Louis on the Air

“I’ve seen this before,” he continued. “And apparently no one in this president’s family has ever served in the military or ever gone to war, so it probably doesn’t faze him. He doesn’t realize what the damage will be to Americans in a war zone. It’s so cavalier.”  

Ron Himes (left) is the founder of the Black Rep, and Ed Smith (right) is the director for the Black Rep's production of "Two Trains Running."
Evie Hemphill | St. Louis Public Radio

In a series of 10 plays, Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright August Wilson chronicled the black experience in 20th-century America. The plays are collectively known as the "Century Cycle,” with each play set in a different decade — nine of them in the same Pittsburgh neighborhood in which Wilson grew up.

As St. Louis’ premier black theater company since 1976, the Black Rep has a long history of performing Wilson’s plays. In fact, it was only the third company in the U.S. to complete the cycle.

January 2, 2020 Jill B. Delston
Evie Hemphill | St. Louis Public Radio

Why do so many physicians require women to have a Pap smear and a pelvic exam before writing a one-year prescription for birth control? Most of us never think about that question. It is what it is.

But Jill B. Delston isn’t like most of us. She’s a professor of philosophy at the University of Missouri-St. Louis. She gets curious about things that we shrug off as the way things are.

Delston’s new book, "Medical Sexism," argues that linking these invasive procedures to birth control access is a form of medical sexism. On Thursday’s St. Louis on the Air, she joined us to discuss her thesis — and argued that physicians need to follow their own guidelines, which hold that Pap smears should only be given every three to five years. 

December 19, 2019 Kris Dadant, Dr. Katie Plax, John Amman
Evie Hemphill | St. Louis Public Radio

An estimated 30% of Missouri youth in foster care or group homes are on psychotropic drugs of some sort — nearly twice the national average for kids that age. Many are on multiple drugs. And powerful anti-psychotic drugs have been used to treat conditions like ADHD and conduct disorders, even though the Federal Drug Administration hasn’t approved them for that use.

Two years ago, a class action lawsuit aimed to change the way Missouri foster kids are medicated. Filed by the St. Louis University School of Law Legal Clinics in conjunction with nonprofit children’s advocacy groups and the Morgan, Lewis & Bockius law firm, the suit charged that anti-psychotic medications were being overprescribed, wrongly used and badly monitored. 

December 11, 2019 Brasserie
Evie Hemphill | St. Louis Public Radio

This summer, we got a voicemail message from a listener. She said we talk too much about the newly opened restaurants in the city. She said we don’t spend enough time on the eateries that have stood the test of time.

We realized she had a point. And so on Thursday’s St. Louis on the Air, we put together a dream-team panel to remedy it. St. Louis Post-Dispatch food critic Ian Froeb, Riverfront Times food critic Cheryl Baehr and St. Louis Magazine dining editor George Mahe all joined us in studio for the conversation. 

December 11, 2019 Nicole Galloway
Evie Hemphill | St. Louis Public Radio

St. Louis has the highest sales tax rates in the state of Missouri. Some parts of the city see rates as high as 11.679%. But the revenue doesn’t all go to the government. The areas with the highest tax rates may be as small as a few blocks — with extra taxes incurred by special taxing districts that operate largely without oversight from City Hall.

Missouri State Auditor Nicole Galloway took on the city’s poor oversight of these districts in an audit last month. And, on Wednesday’s St. Louis on the Air, she said she’s referred one of them to law enforcement for investigation.   

Courtesy of the High Low

A newly renovated building is now open in Grand Center. It’s called the High Low. And like many other buildings in Grand Center, it’s focused on the arts.

But unlike many of the others, it’s not a theater or a performance space. Instead, it calls itself a “venue for freedom of expression through spoken and written word.” In other words, it aims to be a literary hub for a city that’s long had an outsized impact on the world of letters.

Like many newer developments in Grand Center, the High Low is a project of the Kranzberg Arts Foundation. On Wednesday’s St. Louis on the Air, foundation executive director Chris Hansen explained the impetus for what he describes as a “labor of love.”  

Courtesy of Webster University

By the mid-1960s, Conrad Hilton’s brief marriage to Zsa Zsa Gabor was decades behind him. The hotel magnate was worth an estimated $100 million, but he tended to be tightfisted with both his ex-wives and his children. 

So how did a pair of St. Louis nuns persuade Hilton to give them more than $1.5 million — $12.6 million in today’s dollars? As Webster University professor emeritus Allen Carl Larson discovered, it took three years of correspondence, a shared faith and a deep mutual respect. And, yes, quite a bit of cajoling. 

“You are a first-class saleslady,” Hilton wrote Sister Francetta Barberis, president of what was then Webster College, in 1961. Indeed she was, as their letters charmingly attest.  

November 22, 2019 Mo Rocca Sarah Fenske
Kara Smith/St. Louis County Library

Maybe you know him from “The Daily Show.” Or maybe "CBS Sunday Morning.” Perhaps you saw him on Broadway (in “The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee”) or heard him on NPR (for “Wait Wait … Don’t Tell Me”). Or maybe you just read his first book, “All the President’s Pets.”

As that long roster of possibilities suggests, Mo Rocca has become a one-man “Jeopardy” category. (And, yes, he’s been on “Jeopardy” — the 2015 celebrity version.) And his new book, “Mobituaries,” has a similar polymathic quality. In it, he celebrates people, places and even things that have been unfairly forgotten or whose deaths didn’t receive the outpouring you might have expected: movie stars, movements, even the humble station wagon. In both the book and the successful podcast of the same name, Rocca aims to right the wrongs. 

Courtesy of Missouri Historical Society via Reedy Press

What does St. Louis’ Robison Park have in common with the Wild West Chimpanzee Show at the St. Louis Zoo? Both no longer exist — and both are depicted in a new book showing off historic photos from the Gateway City. 

The book, “Scenes of Historic Wonder,” offers context for more than 150 snapshots of a city far different from the one today. Scenes include an 1865 shipwreck, a 1931 World Series victory and the Roosevelt High School Ukulele Club, circa 1935.

On Tuesday’s St. Louis on the Air, author Cameron Collins joined us to discuss the book, co-authored by Jaime Bourassa and published by Reedy Press. This is Collins’ third book of local history, and he said that while the original idea for this one was a book of funny photos, he and his co-author labored to include the good, the bad and ugly.  

November 20, 2019 Jeff Jensen
Evie Hemphill | St. Louis Public Radio

For two years, Jeff Jensen has been the U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of Missouri, serving as the St. Louis area’s top federal law enforcement officer. Jensen’s office handles everything from racketeering cases to civil forfeiture — and, under Jensen, has made violent crime in St. Louis a particular focus.

That direction has come from his bosses in the U.S. Department of Justice, Jensen explained Wednesday on St. Louis on the Air. He said the prosecutors on his staff have seized the mandate. 

Still, the crime rate in St. Louis has remained high.  

November 11, 2019 Josie Grillas and Chris Ottolino
Evie Hemphill | St. Louis Public Radio

Critics of airport privatization believe they are close to having enough signatures to force a public vote on any potential lease.

Since June 2018, a group calling itself STL Not for Sale has been circulating petitions for a ballot initiative requiring any airport lease to be subject to a public vote — that’s even though Mayor Lyda Krewson would prefer to leave the matter to the Board of Aldermen.

On Monday’s St. Louis on the Air, Josie Grillas and Chris Ottolino of STL Not for Sale said they are now working with the union-rights organization Jobs with Justice. The groups are working together to analyze the petitions they’ve gathered and see how close they are to ensuring they have enough signatures to get the issue on the ballot. 

November 7, 2019 Michael-John Voss and Blake Strode
Evie Hemphill | St. Louis Public Radio

Ten years ago, a trio of recent law school graduates formed a nonprofit law firm. They called it ArchCity Defenders. And they had a novel idea: wraparound services, not just legal representation, for the people who needed it most.

On Thursday’s St. Louis on the Air, Michael-John Voss explained that he and his co-founders, Thomas Harvey and John McAnnar, were inspired by the Jesuit tradition at St. Louis University School of Law. After taking classes in public interest law, they found themselves working on projects representing those too poor to afford lawyers.

“We saw the fact that the existing entities that were supposed to serve the indigent population were overburdened and overworked,” he said. “And there was no communication between the civil and criminal organizations that are supposed to serve this population. We thought, ‘There’s got to be a better way to do this.’” 

November 6, 2019 Pianos for People
Emily Woodbury | St. Louis Public Radio

Last month, Tom Townsend died at 60, just two weeks after being diagnosed with a rare, aggressive form of cancer. Just one year before, Townsend had survived being shot in an attempted carjacking. He was a much-loved figure in St. Louis.

One big reason for that was the organization he founded: Pianos for People. A retired advertising executive, Townsend had devoted the final seven years of his life to helping underprivileged students access both free pianos and free lessons in playing them. 

But Pianos for People continues its work. And on Wednesday’s St. Louis on the Air, executive director Matt Brinkmann explained how he’s helping to carry on without Townsend.  

Glynis Brooks is a Harriet Tubman impersonator based in St. Louis.
EMILY WOODBURY | ST. LOUIS PUBLIC RADIO

There’s good reason the U.S. Treasury Department selected Harriet Tubman as the new face of its $20 bill. Tubman lived one of the nation’s most remarkable lives. Born into slavery in Maryland, she escaped by making her way to Pennsylvania — on foot. And then she returned, again and again, to rescue family members and other slaves via the Underground Railroad. 

November 4, 2019 Kenny Kinds, Tina Dybal, Zach Gzehoviak
Evie Hemphill | St. Louis Public Radio

The St. Louis comedy scene is a busy one. Just about any night of the week, you can catch local comedians honing their sets at open mic night, improvising madly on stage with a troupe of their closest friends or battling each other with wit and good humor as local drunks cheer.

For the past three years, a three-day comedy festival has brought those disparate elements together. The Flyover Comedy Festival launched in 2017 and returns to the city’s Grove neighborhood beginning Nov. 7. It’s a showcase for local talent in the scene and also a chance for big names to show off their best stuff.

Steve Ehlmann

The exploration of the potential privatization of St. Louis Lambert International Airport continues — request for qualifications submissions from interested companies were due today. 

The city of St. Louis will now begin screening potential bidders to gauge whether they can financially and operationally move forward in the process. But now both St. Charles County and St. Louis County have entered the debate on airport privatization. They want the Port Authority to study regional control of the airport and whether privatization is a good idea. 

Nov. 1, 2019 Laura Burkemper, Phyllis Ellison and Bronwyn Morgan
Lara Hamdan | St. Louis on the Air

The first-ever STL Startup Week begins Nov. 1, celebrating a growing entrepreneurial scene in a city once better known for beer and brick. An integral part of St. Louis’ startup scene: women. A total of 45.2% of local startups are female-owned. That’s more than any other city in the country.

On Friday’s St. Louis on the Air, a trio of movers and shakers discussed the area’s startup success. Phyllis Ellison, vice president of partnerships and program development for Cortex, explained that the area has developed an entire infrastructure to help new companies succeed. 

Children who lose a parent or a sibling make for a surprisingly large group: Researchers believe one in 14 kids in the U.S. will suffer such a devastating loss before they turn 18. Surviving parents or guardians may be left coping with their children’s grief even as they themselves deal with the loss.

Enter Annie’s Hope. Founded in 1997 as the St. Louis Bereavement Center for Young People, the organization seeks to help entire families in their mourning process. It hosts an annual camp, family support groups and other services for those who’ve suffered a loss. 

On Thursday’s St. Louis on the Air, Becky Byrne, founder and executive director, discussed the organization’s work. She was joined by 10-year-old Riley Mitchell and his father, Brandon. When Riley was 4, his mother died suddenly. He was enrolled in a support group soon after, and at 6, began attending the Annie’s Hope camp. 

October 28, 2019 Jeannette Cooperman
Evie Hemphill | St. Louis Public Radio

For more than two decades, Jeannette Cooperman has been one of the most insightful and elegant writers chronicling St. Louis. As a staff writer at the Riverfront Times for a decade, and then for the past 14 years at St. Louis Magazine, she’s explored everything from food to politics to con artists. And she’s done it all with sympathy for the human condition and breathtaking turns of phrase.

Cooperman joined St. Louis on the Air on her final day at St. Louis Magazine. She’s leaving for a job as a staff writer at the Common Reader, a journal of essays housed at Washington University. But first, she fielded compliments from listeners and questions about her remarkable body of work. 

October 18, 2019 Jane Smiley
Derek Shapton

Jane Smiley recently came back to St. Louis for her 50th high school reunion. But unlike many of us, the Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist wasn’t content simply to explore what had changed around town. Smiley also wrote an essay about the city, and her travels here, for The New York Times.

On Friday’s St. Louis on the Air, Smiley discussed her essay, detailing her abiding love for St. Louis, particularly its foliage and its wonderful old houses. 

She said she loved growing up in Webster Groves, where she lived until she was 11. “The wonderful thing about Webster is that it has all different kinds of neighborhoods all kind of smashed together, and so as you’re walking along, you’re seeing all these different houses, all these kinds of people,” she said. “It was a fascinating place to grow up and explore.”

Smiley added that she wasn’t one of those kids who dreamed of fleeing St. Louis for the big city. “I appreciated it even at the time,” she said. 

(L-R) Jennifer Owens, Ning Lun and Luzmila Buechler joined Thursday's "St. Louis on the Air" to talk about Forai's efforts to help connect St. Louisans with refugees.
Lara Hamdan | St. Louis Public Radio

For 10 years, an organization based in Maplewood has helped refugees attain the skills they need to earn an income, often without leaving their homes. It all began when Jennifer Owens and her family hosted some refugees from Nepal for Thanksgiving dinner. Her church had sought American families willing to connect with newcomers for the holiday. Owens was happy to help.

Inspired by her conversation with the single mother at her dinner table, Owens started an effort that would eventually become the nonprofit organization Forai, an acronym for Friends Of Refugees And Immigrants. From humble beginnings, it’s helped dozens of refugee women in St. Louis make friends — and money — through sewing and making jewelry. 

Persistence Surveillance Systems originally developed its technology for military use, and now hopes to bring it to St. Louis. This 2013 aerial photo shows the Central West End and Forest Park Southeast neighborhoods in St. Louis. 10/8/19
Paul Sableman | Flickr

Dayton, Ohio-based Persistent Surveillance Systems developed its aerial surveillance system to help the military in Fallujah. The company’s CEO, Ross McNutt, has compared it to “Google Earth, with TiVo capability.” Now a pair of wealthy donors are offering to help St. Louis implement the system and use it for three years without cost. 

McNutt said Tuesday on St. Louis on the Air that he believes the technology could make a big difference in a city that’s struggled with crime.

“We believe this will help major cities reduce their major crime rates dramatically,” he said. “And when you look at the United States, there are two major cities that stand out above all the rest: St. Louis and Baltimore.”

October 4, 2019 Gene Dobbs Bradford Tom Ridgely
Emily Woodbury | St. Louis Public Radio

The late, great jazz composer and bandleader Duke Ellington once said, “Whether it be Shakespeare or jazz, the only thing that counts is the emotional effect on the listener.” 

In the summer of 1956, Ellington found himself seriously digging the bard. Inspired by his encounters with the Stratford Shakespeare Festival while on tour in Stratford, Ontario, he composed a 12-part suite titled “Such Sweet Thunder.” The title comes from “A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” but the title track is actually about “Othello.” This work, suffice it to say, is complicated.

A collaboration among Shakespeare Festival St. Louis, Nine Network of Public Media, Jazz St. Louis and the Big Muddy Dance Company, the new production of “Such Sweet Thunder” incorporates Ellington’s music with Shakespeare’s words. It premiered Thursday in Grand Center. And on Friday, Gene Dobbs Bradford, president and CEO of Jazz St. Louis, and Tom Ridgely, executive producer of Shakespeare Festival St. Louis, shared the story behind this new “Such Sweet Thunder” on St. Louis on the Air

October 1, 2019 Meaghan Winter
Lara Hamdan | St. Louis on the Air

In May 2016, New York-based journalist Meaghan Winter made a trip to Missouri, one that would ultimately inspire her new book. While watching the Republican-dominated state Legislature in Jefferson City push through bills on abortion, guns and voter IDs in a single day, Winter realized just how outmatched Missouri Democrats had become. What was once a purple state had become solidly red — with GOP legislators handily passing legislation that just years before might have been considered extreme. 

Winter’s exploration of the roots of that phenomenon, as well as her prescription to Democrats eager to reverse it, is the subject of “All Politics Is Local: Why Progressives Must Fight for the States.” Before kicking off her book tour, she joined St. Louis on the Air to discuss what she found in her research.

September 30, 2019 Michelle Oberman and Ryan Krull
Sumit Kohli (Michelle Oberman) and St. Louis Public Radio (Ryan Krull)

The discovery of a dead baby in a south St. Louis freezer this summer was one of those macabre stories that had the nation riveted. Adam Smith told KSDK that he was cleaning out the freezer after his mother’s death from cancer when he made the grisly discovery. He said the container holding the tiny corpse had been in the freezer for decades.

The story drew national attention from all the usual suspects, but then everyone moved on. Everyone, that is, except Ryan Krull. The freelance writer and faculty member at the University of Missouri-St. Louis pushed below the surface to get a tale that is, in many ways, even more sad and surprising than the initial discovery. It is the latest Riverfront Times cover story.   

September 25, 2019 Javad Khazaeli and Walter Rice
Evie Hemphill | St. Louis Public Radio

In June 2014, Walter Rice was arrested by Ferguson police for allowing his 2- and 4-year-old sons to urinate outdoors at a city park. The married father of four, a Metro bus driver, had never been in trouble with the law and had chosen a secluded place to let the boys relieve themselves. He nevertheless found himself charged with two counts of parental neglect. His wife was also arrested after their older child attempted to film Rice being taken away by police. Ritania Rice was charged with interfering with an officer, failing to signal and three other low-level offenses.

The case drew widespread outrage after the Rices’ attorney, Javad Khazaeli, detailed their treatment in a lawsuit. But to Khazaeli, one of the most shocking facts was that the officer who arrested the couple, Eddie Boyd, remained employed as a Ferguson cop despite a long history of similar allegations of abusive policing. He has been named in numerous other lawsuits and even cited in the U.S. Department of Justice report into the Ferguson Police Department.

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