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

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.

Mary Engelbreit is speaking at BookFest this Saturday.
Mary Engelbreit

Before she became a household name for her internationally acclaimed illustration work, Mary Engelbreit was a typical young adult finding a way to make a living in St. Louis. In her late teens and early 20s, she worked at a local art store and an ad agency — and then landed a job as an editorial artist for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

She was let go during her probation period, she told listeners Wednesday during an interview with St. Louis on the Air. The unceremonious goodbye came after she challenged the fact that men were paid much more than women. 

James Brandon is the author of "Ziggy, Stardust & Me."
Evie Hemphill | St. Louis Public Radio

“Soul Train” was on TV. Groovy teachers were teaching “Jonathan Livingston Seagull” to the high school English classes. David Bowie stopped by Kiel Auditorium to promote a little album called “The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars.” Was there a more idyllic time to be a teenager than Creve Coeur in the early 1970s? 

For Jonathan, the protagonist of James Brandon’s new young adult novel “Ziggy, Stardust and Me,” it isn’t quite that simple. Sure, the music is incredible. But Jonathan is gay. And in St. Louis in 1973, that means intense and even painful therapy.

Tuesday’s St. Louis on the Air included a conversation about the novel, which has its hometown launch party Wednesday evening. Brandon, a St. Louis native who makes his fiction debut with “Ziggy, Stardust and Me,” discussed his book as well as his personal journey on the show.

September 17, 2019 Bill McClellan
Evie Hemphill | St. Louis Public Radio

Bill McClellan has been entertaining and enlightening the readers of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch for 39 years, all but three of them as a columnist. In recent months, even as he battles cancer for a second time, he has continued to file regular dispatches that probe the city’s past and its future with insight and good humor.

McClellan joined us on Tuesday’s St. Louis on the Air to talk about the future of daily newspapers, the columns he’s lived to regret and the reason he continues to write, despite enduring regular chemotherapy treatments. 

“It’s fun. I still have this thin veneer of being a reporter. It’s getting thinner and thinner, admittedly,” he said. “But I can still call people up and say, ‘Why did you do this?’ And I can still go to trials. If I didn’t have this thin veneer of being a reporter, I’d just be another nosy old guy.”

September 12, 2019 Stephen Fried
Evie Hemphill | St. Louis Public Radio

Dr. Benjamin Rush is not yet the subject of a Ken Burns documentary, but he surely ought to be. The Philadelphia physician was a signer of the Declaration of Independence, an anonymous polemicist who helped inspire the Boston Tea Party and the editor of Thomas Paine’s wildly influential “Common Sense.” And, as detailed in a new biography by Stephen Fried, he both treated and became a close friend to several U.S. presidents. He personally brought Thomas Jefferson and John Adams back together after their friendship seemed permanently ended.

On Thursday’s St. Louis on the Air, Fried discussed “Rush: Revolution, Madness, and the Visionary Doctor Who Became a Founding Father.” Published last year, the book is just out in paperback. 

(Sept. 11, 2019) City officials Paul Payne (at left) and Linda Martinez joined Wednesday's talk show to discuss the state of the St. Louis Lambert International Airport privatization process.
Evie Hemphill | St. Louis Public Radio

For two and a half years, the city of St. Louis has been exploring the idea of leasing St. Louis Lambert International Airport. An army of consultants has been toiling — largely behind closed doors — to put together a request for qualifications. They hope to attract a private company willing to pay big money up front in hopes of profiting off future airport operations. While other cities have flirted with the idea, the leasing of a major U.S. airport is unprecedented. 

On Wednesday’s St. Louis on the Air, two high-ranking city officials joined the program to discuss the state of the privatization conversation: Paul Payne, the city budget director and chairman of the airport working group, and Linda Martinez, deputy mayor for development.

September 5, 2019 Chris Bertke and Todd Boyman
Evie Hemphill | St. Louis Public Radio

In January 2018, the Impossible Burger first arrived in the St. Louis market. The meat-free patty was just like the real thing — it even bled. It became an immediate sensation. But it was soon snapped up by Burger King for its “Impossible Whopper.” After a hugely successful rollout right here in St. Louis, its popularity made the Impossible patties too popular for many locals to obtain. 

But they still had plenty of options. Some have experimented on their own to create tasty meat-free concoctions. Others are turning to more local alternatives. 

On Thursday’s St. Louis on the Air, Todd Boyman, CEO of Hungry Planet, discussed the way demand for the Impossible Burger is driving interest in his products, which include animal-free versions of everything from beef to crab. 

September 3, 2019 Kathryn Bentley and Tom Ridgely
Evie Hemphill | St. Louis Public Radio

All the world’s a stage, Shakespeare instructed us in his beloved romantic comedy “As You Like It.” And in its new production of that very show, Shakespeare Festival St. Louis plans to put that to the test in both the streets of Pagedale, Missouri, and the farmland of Calhoun County, Illinois. Its remix of the classic play, titled “Love at the River’s Edge,” transports audience members across the Mississippi River to examine the urban and rural divide. 

On Tuesday’s St. Louis on the Air, Shakespeare Festival St. Louis executive producer Tom Ridgely discussed the new production along with its director, Kathryn Bentley.

“It’s unusual. This is a whole new ballgame for us, too,” Ridgely said. “But it all goes back to what Shakespeare in the Streets is all about, which is about trying to bring visibility to communities around St. Louis. How we can use theater to bring people together, to bring them across some of those boundaries they’re not used to crossing, and maybe have them listen to the stories of the people who live there, is what Shakespeare in the Streets is all about.”

From left, Tricia Bushnell, Mike Jarvis and Ginny Schrappen joined Thursday's program.
Lara Hamdan | St. Louis Public Radio

Lamar Johnson has been in prison for 24 years. A St. Louis jury found him guilty of murder in 1995 – and he’s been serving a life sentence without the possibility of parole ever since. 

St. Louis Circuit Attorney Kim Gardner now says prosecutors in her office engaged in serious misconduct. Saying her Conviction Integrity Unit has found new evidence that Johnson is actually innocent, she sought a new trial.

St. Louis Circuit Judge Elizabeth Hogan denied that request. She says Gardner’s motion came “approximately 24 years” past the deadline. Tricia Bushnell, director of the Midwest Innocence Project, isn’t buying it.

August 29, 2019 Ben Westhoff
Lara Hamdan | St. Louis Public Radio

Fentanyl has become an international scourge. It’s been blamed for a spike in drug overdose deaths in Missouri as well as around the world. It’s both contaminated many recreational drugs and become a substitute for heroin in many American cities. And yet the Chinese factory responsible for manufacturing most of its precursors has received funding and lucrative tax breaks from the Chinese government.

Through years of research, St. Louis journalist Ben Westhoff has become one of the foremost experts into the international fentanyl trade. On Thursday, he joined St. Louis on the Air to talk about his new book, “Fentanyl, Inc.: How Rogue Chemists Are Creating the Deadliest Wave of the Opioid Epidemic.” Westhoff discussed how his investigation followed the drug from its manufacture in China to the streets of St. Louis – and the terrible impact that synthetic, laboratory-made drugs are having on communities around the world.

August 13, 2019 Beth O'Malley Lindsay Toler
Evie Hemphill | St. Louis Public Radio

Last week, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch unveiled a new online comment system. Declaring its old Facebook-based model broken, the daily newspaper explained that community moderation and a scoring system for commenters would give greater prominence to readers who “consistently drive positive conversation.”

On Tuesday, Post-Dispatch reader engagement editor Beth O’Malley joined us in studio on St. Louis on the Air to discuss how the new system is working and the difficulties of keeping online conversation civil in an angry age. Lindsay Toler, the digital engagement producer for St. Louis Public Radio, also joined the show. 

Francis Lam is the host of The Splendid Table.
Melanie Dunea

As the host of "The Splendid Table," a cookbook editor and food journalist, Francis Lam has explored cuisines from all around the world. That may be one reason he’s not at all disconcerted by St. Louis’ method of slicing bagels as if they were loaves of bread.

“They’re like bagel chips, but not toasted,” he said, laughing, during a conversation with St. Louis on the Air that aired Thursday. “I get it!”

And when you put it that way, really, wasn’t the whole “St. Louis-style" bagel controversy earlier this year just a bit overblown? Lam, a New Jersey native who lives in New York City, certainly thinks so.

August 5, 2019 Dr. Sam Page
David Kovaluk | St. Louis Public Radio

Last Friday, the U.S. Attorney’s office dropped a bombshell: a sentencing memo that offered an extraordinary glimpse of an unfiltered Steve Stenger. Captured on federal surveillance, the then-St. Louis County executive revealed himself as profane, vindictive and utterly mercenary.

But for Dr. Sam Page, who replaced Stenger as county executive on the very day that his criminal indictment became public in April, the sentencing memo’s look at the real Steve Stenger was nothing new. Once a Stenger ally, Page soured on his fellow Democrat years before his downfall — and said he wasn’t surprised by the details revealed in the memo.

State Rep. Bruce Franks answers reporter questions outside City Hall on Sept. 29, 2017.
File photo I Carolina Hidalgo | St. Louis Public Radio

Updated 4:20 p.m., July 30, with audio of "St. Louis on the Air" host Sarah Fenske’s full interview with State Rep. Bruce Franks Jr.State Rep. Bruce Franks is planning to leave office at the end of the month, capping off an unlikely political tenure that placed the Ferguson activist and rapper firmly into the political spotlight.

Once he departs from the General Assembly, Franks will also leave Missouri. He said it’s a necessary move to deal with anxiety and depression exacerbated by a string of tragedies surrounding his friends and family.