St. Louis on the Air | St. Louis Public Radio

St. Louis on the Air

Noon-1 p.m. and 7-8 p.m. (repeat) Monday-Friday

St. Louis on the Air creates a unique space where guests and listeners can share ideas and opinions with respect and honesty. Whether exploring issues and challenges confronting our region, discussing the latest innovations in science and technology, taking a closer look at our history or talking with authors, artists and musicians, St. Louis on the Air brings you the stories of St. Louis and the people who live, work and create in our region.

The show is hosted by Sarah Fenske and produced by Alex Heuer, Emily WoodburyEvie Hemphill and Lara Hamdan. The engineer is Aaron Doerr and production assistance is provided by Charlie McDonald.

St. Louis on the Air is sponsored by The Hammond Institute for Free Enterprise and Mari de Villa Senior Living.

St. Louis-based writer Sarah Kendzior is the author of the new book, 'Hiding in Plain Sight: The Invention of Donald Trump and the Erosion of America.' | 4/6/20
Flatiron Books

St. Louis-based writer Sarah Kendzior garnered national attention for her reporting and commentary during events in Ferguson in 2014.

Kendzior’s earlier book, “The View from Flyover Country: Dispatches from a Forgotten America,” explored labor issues, racism, gentrification, media bias and other subjects connected to the election of President Donald Trump.

Her new book is “Hiding in Plain Sight: The Invention of Donald Trump and the Erosion of America.” It debuts tomorrow and expands upon Trump’s rise to power since the 1980s.

Dormitory "D" in the men's section of the city's Medium Security Institution.
Ashley Lisenby

As the coronavirus spreads through the penal system, the U.S. Department of Justice has called for federal prisons to release some inmates to home confinement. Elderly or sick inmates who are nonviolent would be safer at home, Attorney General William Barr said in a memo. And releasing them could help alleviate the crowding that can make an outbreak worse.

But the Missouri Department of Corrections' inmates are not seeing similar paths to release. Despite advocacy from the ACLU of Missouri and other groups, the state prison system has made no moves to reduce its population. 

On Monday’s St. Louis on the Air, Sara Baker, policy director for the ACLU of Missouri, explained that there’s a national bipartisan movement to get inmates who are most at risk moved to home detention. Yet in Missouri, she said: “We absolutely are not seeing that happen at the state level. It appears to be sort of a game of wait and see.”  

Cate Blanchett as Phyllis Schlafly
FX Networks

This interview will be on “St. Louis on the Air” over the noon hour Thursday. This story will be updated after the show. You can listen live.

In her soon-to-premiere FX limited series “Mrs. America,” creator and showrunner Dahvi Waller introduces viewers to the late St. Louis native Phyllis Schlafly (1924-2016) in unprecedented, full-color fashion.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that health care workers interacting with a coronavirus patient wear a heavy-duty mask called an N95 respirator.
michael_swan | Flickr

At the St. Louis hospital where Emma Crocker works as a registered nurse, only employees working in areas with confirmed COVID-19 patients, like the emergency room and the ICU, were given N95 masks from the hospital’s collection. 

“The CDC, when they first came out, recommended the use of N95 masks for every health care worker, but we know that there’s a shortage — there’s a limited supply, which is actually what’s hindering us the most right now,” said Crocker.

N95 masks are in short supply across the country, and the hospital said they were conserving their supply.

Rebecca Clark

Christian Frommelt started swing dancing in 2007, and his hobby turned into a full-time job in 2014. With the coronavirus outbreak, he’s had to find a new way to reach audiences around the St. Louis area while practicing social distancing. 

During the swing era, from the 1920s to the 1940s, dancing was a way for people to feel a release during tough times. Across the U.S., people continue to dance to swing. But with the COVID-19 outbreak, today's dancers are missing out on that release.

St. Louis on the Air logo
St. Louis on the Air

This interview will be on “St. Louis on the Air” over the noon hour Tuesday. This story will be updated after the show. You can listen live.

Carolyn Mueller, a local author and zookeeper at the Saint Louis Zoo, has explored the trails of Forest Park for more than a decade. While many have walked up the famous Art Hill, Mueller has also taken the paths less traveled. 

A new documentary directed and produced by Aisha Sultan (at right) puts the case of Patty Prewitt (at left) in the spotlight.
Aisha Sultan

This interview will be on “St. Louis on the Air” over the noon hour Wednesday. This story will be updated after the show. You can listen live.

Seventy-year-old Patty Prewitt has been busy making masks lately — like many citizen seamstresses working to help combat COVID-19. Prewitt, though, is sewing them for staff at the women’s prison in Vandalia, Missouri, where she’s serving a life sentence for her husband Bill’s 1984 murder.

In the three and a half decades since that stormy and violent night in Holden, Missouri, Prewitt has consistently maintained that she is innocent, and that her husband’s death came at the hands of an intruder who also raped her.

Prewitt’s case is getting some fresh attention thanks to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch’s Aisha Sultan. She just released the film “33 and Counting” via the newspaper’s website

The 38-minute documentary digs into the wildly contrasting accounts of the crime as well as what Prewitt and her children and grandchildren have endured — and been fighting for — since her 1985 conviction.

The Sichuan takins enjoying a bubble party at the St. Louis Zoo.
St. Louis Zoo

Things have been pretty quiet lately at one of the region’s most visited attractions — the St. Louis Zoo. On March 17, it closed its doors to the public to help prevent the spread of COVID-19. 

While the organization is operating under unusual circumstances and with limited staff, zoo fun continues on its social media feeds. Their #BringTheStlZooToYou initiative involves photos and videos of the zoo’s residents from its animal care teams. 

Since the Humane Society of Missouri implemented a curbside pickup model (March 25), it's coordinated more than 150 adoptions.
Humane Society of Missouri

The current coronavirus pandemic has left many homebound — mostly around family, addictive snacks and pets. What’s a true virtual work meeting if a pet doesn’t end up making an appearance?

For those without pets, this might be the ideal time to add a new member to the household. Pets provide something for a family or an individual to care for and can be a source of fun and pleasurable activity. And during frightening times, they create a sense of constancy and comfort. 

The Humane Society of Missouri has adjusted its efforts to connect people with furry companions. While its shelter doors are closed to comply with the region’s efforts to curb the spread of COVID-19, they’ve implemented a curbside pick-up model.

Michael-John Voss is a co-founder and special projects director with ArchCity Defenders.
Michael-John Voss

In 2015, a cohort of lawyers sued the city of Ferguson to stop municipal court abuses widely publicized after the killing of Michael Brown the previous August.

ArchCity Defenders, the St. Louis University School of Law Legal Clinics and the Campbell Law Firm filed on behalf of Roelif Carter, a Ferguson resident charged with court fees that the suit argued were illegal. In the class-action lawsuit, Carter stood in for nearly 10,000 people harmed by the city’s revenue-generating practices. 

Michael Wolff, at left, and Dave Roland joined the talk show on Wednesday.
St. Louis Public Radio & Dave Roland

All those hypothetical questions we love to debate around issues of privacy, freedom and other civil rights? Many of them feel a lot less theoretical these days.

The spread of coronavirus — and restrictions placed by the government on the public and private sectors in response — has given these questions a greater sense of urgency.

On Wednesday, St. Louis on the Air convened a conversation focused on COVID-19’s implications for government power and its limits as expressed in the U.S.’ founding documents.

St. Louis Red Cross Motor Corps on duty during the 1918 Influenza epidemic.
Library of Congress

In determining the best guidelines for government action during the COVID-19 outbreak, city leaders and officials are looking at how different metros responded during the 1918 flu pandemic. The general consensus is that because St. Louis implemented more extensive quarantine measures, the area had a lower death rate than other cities — like Pittsburgh, Philadelphia and New York City.

In his latest piece, Chris Naffziger, who writes about history and architecture for St. Louis Magazine, wrote that while city officials managed to prevent the deaths of thousands during the pandemic of 1918 through 1920, St. Louis’ response to the 1918 Spanish flu pandemic wasn't quite what we've been told.

SLU Professor of Law Rob Gatter will join Tuesday's program.
Rob Gatter

This interview will be on “St. Louis on the Air” over the noon hour Tuesday (April 7). This story will be updated after the show. You can listen live.

About three weeks ago — which feels more like months in coronavirus time — Rob Gatter and his St. Louis University School of Law colleague Ana Santos Rutschman drew attention in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch to what they consider to be Missouri’s problematic use of “informal quarantine.”

Officials’ decision in early March to simply ask, rather than formally order, a suburban St. Louis family to self-quarantine while awaiting COVID-19 test results seems to have backfired. The family’s attorney has said they weren’t told to stay home until after their trips outside the home made headlines.

Gatter is quick to acknowledge that in many cases people do and are abiding by informal quarantine measures, and he notes that the success of public health actions requires a great deal of public cooperation.

But “the current practice of oral requests to self-quarantine accompanied by an oral threat of a formal order is dangerous for several reasons,” he and Santos Rutschman write. They believe that includes the potential for miscommunication, mistakes and mistrust. Court orders, they say, increase transparency and forces health officials to do their homework.

"Self Made" Courtesy of Netflix
Amanda Matlovich | Netflix

Sarah Breedlove’s life was the stuff of binge-worthy TV. Born on a cotton plantation to newly freed slaves in 1867, she toiled as a washerwoman in early 20th-century St. Louis before founding a business empire. After selling products for St. Louis hair-care magnate Annie Malone, she launched a line of her own under her married name, Madam C.J. Walker — and became the richest African American woman in the country. At the time of her death, in 1919, Walker had amassed a fortune of over $7 million in today’s money.

A little over a century later, Madam C.J. Walker’s remarkable life has gotten the Hollywood treatment. The Netflix series “Self Made” tells the story of Walker’s rise and what it portrays as a toxic relationship with Malone, fictionalized as “Addie Monroe.”   

March 30, 2020 The Hill
Sarah Fenske | St. Louis Public Radio

The Hill neighborhood in south St. Louis has long been one of the region’s favorite dining destinations — beloved for its Italian American offerings and family traditions. And two local restaurateurs say the district is managing to hang on, even though the pandemic has put a sudden halt to dining out. 

Chris Saracino, president of the neighborhood association Hill 2000, explained Tuesday on St. Louis on the Air that most of the restaurants in the neighborhood switched to curbside offerings after dining in was prohibited. Also an owner of four restaurants, including Chris’ Pancake & Dining and Bartolino’s Osteria, Saracino said it’s less a business model that pencils out and more a service to customers. 

Frontier Health and Rehabilitation, a nursing home in St. Charles on March 27, 2020.
Carolina Hidalgo | St. Louis Public Radio

Updated at 5 p.m., March 31 with latest number of cases at Frontier Health and Rehabilitation

When dozens of nursing home residents in a Seattle suburb tested positive for COVID-19, people in St. Louis grew worried about their loved ones. 

Michael Allen immediately thought of his aunt, who has schizophrenia and a heart condition, and lives at Frontier Health and Rehabilitation in St. Charles. Allen grew more worried when her nursing home reported that residents there had tested positive.

Nursing homes across the country blocked access to visitors, began screening staff and residents multiple times a day, and are trying to follow guidelines from federal and local authorities.

Teams work on responding to COVID-19 at the St. Louis County Office of Emergency Management in Ballwin on March 13, 2020.
Carolina Hidalgo | St. Louis Public Radio

Medical ethicists are trained to confront ethical questions in medicine, and the novel coronavirus raises quite a few.

For instance, in China and Italy, there have been reports of hospitals being forced to ration care for COVID-19 patients. This form of rationing care and prioritizing treatment is determined by a hospital’s crisis standards of care guidelines.

The 70 Grand bus stops near St. Louis University in December 2018.
File Photo | Kae Petrin | St. Louis Public Radio

While many people are now working from home due to the spread of coronavirus, other members of the workforce, like grocery store staff, are still required by employers to go out to perform their regular duties and, in some cases, interact with the public. 

And since people need a way to get to those essential jobs, other sectors, such as transit, become inherently essential, too. Metro Transit has significantly decreased its frequency of weekday service and its ridership is down, but some buses and trains are still running.

Jim McKelvey is the co-founder of LaunchCode, a St. Louis-based company celebrating its fifth anniversary this October.

The mobile payment company Square was a game-changer. It slashed the costs of taking credit card payments — allowing small businesses and artisans to get into the game without having to pay sizable percentages of their transactions to processors. In retrospect, it seems like a no-brainer.

But in 2009, it was just an idea — one born of frustration when St. Louis glass blower Jim McKelvey lost a sale after being unable to take a credit card payment. After McKelvey shared his idea of a better way with his former intern, Square was born. (It helped, of course, that the intern in question was Twitter co-founder Jack Dorsey.) 

How Square went from an inkling to an industry disrupter is the subject of McKelvey’s compulsively readable new book, “The Innovation Stack: Building an Unbeatable Business One Crazy Idea at a Time.”    

Rev. Matt Miofsky of The Gathering preaches to an empty church at the McCausland site. The congregation was tuned in, however, to an online worship service.
The Gathering

Over the past few weeks, local sites of worship have had to recalibrate how they serve their congregations during a time when coming together can do more harm than good.

St. Louis County Executive Sam Page and St. Louis Mayor Lyda Krewson announced a 30-day stay-at-home order last weekend. The restrictions require people to remain in their homes whenever possible as part of an ongoing effort to slow the spread of the new coronavirus. There are a number of exceptions to the stay-at-home order, city and county officials said, but religious centers aren’t one of them.

Joan Fisher & Jordan Bauer

Since bars and restaurants are temporarily banned from providing dine-in service across the St. Louis region, many businesses are scrambling to adjust to a rapidly changing environment in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic.

In response, Christina Weaver and Megan Rohall of the Women’s Creative, an entrepreneurial collective, and Jordan Bauer of the Instagram account STLouisGram and the St. Louis guide and coupon book Experience Booklet joined forces to create a Facebook group called #314Together to bring local business and customers together again. 

C-SPAN's national 2020 StudentCam competition partners with local middle and high school students to produce short documentaries about a subject of national importance.

A homework assignment turned into cash and national recognition for some area high schoolers. Clayton High senior Lila Taylor and Kirkwood High junior Zach Baynham were both among the top winners in C-SPAN’s 2020 StudentCam competition.

Since 2006, C-SPAN has invited middle and high school students across the U.S. to produce short documentaries on subjects of national importance. This year, students addressed the theme "What's Your Vision in 2020?” In their submissions, they explored issues they’d want presidential candidates to address during their campaigns.

The Grotto Bridge in Lafayette Park is one of many stunning St. Louis backdrops typically buzzing with weddings during the warmer months of the year.
Evie Hemphill | St. Louis Public Radio

This time of year typically marks the start of wedding season, with venues, vendors and engaged couples all gearing up for major gatherings. Now, many such celebrations have been canceled or postponed in light of the ongoing spread of COVID-19, and those working in the event industry are reeling.

But when the upheaval of coronavirus eventually settles down — and even in the midst of it all, in some cases — St. Louis remains a great city in which to get hitched.

Just ask Carolyn Burke, whose small business aims to make St. Louis a destination for elopement. With courthouses currently closed to nuptials, she’s found a workaround by bringing her officiant credentials and related services straight to wherever couples are located.

Families and friends are finding alternative ways to connect in response to stay-at-home orders as a result of the COVID-19 outbreak.
Heathzib | Flickr

Even before the outbreak of COVID-19 forced mass social distancing — keeping friends and family members apart for the sake of their health — many seniors felt isolated, particularly those living in nursing homes and assisted living communities.

For those who were already lonely or isolated, things are likely to get worse in the months ahead, as caregivers find themselves overwhelmed and strained and as social distancing recommendations remain in place. 

Evie Hemphill | St. Louis Public Radio

How has the coronavirus upended the legal profession? What happens when your right to a speedy trial clashes with the government’s cancellation of jury trials? Can an employer require workers deemed non-essential to show up, or face termination?

On Wednesday’s St. Louis on the Air, host Sarah Fenske talked with a panel of legal experts about a variety of issues, including those triggered by the new coronavirus.

Subterranean Books in the Delmar Loop with a sign citing online orders only due to Covid-19
File photo | David Kovaluk | St. Louis Public Radio

A St. Louis-area philanthropic foundation is working to give relief to many of the locally owned businesses and nonprofits financially strained by the coronavirus outbreak. 

The St. Louis Community Foundation has established two grant funds that have raised around $1.4 million combined, according to a press release from the organization. 

An image of several books on a shelf
Evie Hemphill | St. Louis Public Radio

There’s no time quite like the present for escaping into someone else’s story for a bit, and, even in the technology-crazed 21st century, the written word is still the go-to medium for doing so. Books have a distinctive way of engaging hearts and minds for hours on end, providing everything from comfort and knowledge to intrigue and comic relief.

And in the St. Louis region, our local booksellers, librarians and authors are great resources for recommendations of what to read — specifically some top picks for a pandemic.

On Tuesday’s St. Louis on the Air, LuAnn Locke, owner of Afterwords Books in Edwardsville, Illinois, and Jen Ohzourk, regional manager with St. Louis Public Library, talked with host Sarah Fenske and fielded listener requests and suggestions, too.

March 24, 2020 Luz Maria Henriquez
Courtesy of the ACLU of Missouri

One month ago, Luz Maria Henriquez began a new job as executive director of the ACLU of Missouri. And the weeks since have made clear there will be no easing into things. The nation is now in an unprecedented period of economic shutdown and enforced social distancing, even as health care workers grapple with a terrifying pandemic. 

Henriquez joined Tuesday’s St. Louis on the Air to discuss the ACLU’s role during these troubled times. 

“What we’re looking at is, ‘What are public health experts saying is necessary to contain the spread of the virus?’” she said. “We at the ACLU understand that we are part of this larger community, and that there has to be some sort of balancing when our public health experts are saying that ‘if we engage in these particular practices during this time, that will minimize the spread of the virus.’”   

Michael Kinch
Washington University

Many aspects of everyday life and commerce are grinding to a halt during the COVID-19 pandemic, but the online world remains as frenetic as ever. And while virtual tools and social media platforms provide much-needed connections in these isolating times, they’ve also made it easy for harmful misinformation to spread almost as fast as the coronavirus itself.

On Monday’s St. Louis on the Air, we worked to combat some of the false assumptions circulating about the virus. Host Sarah Fenske talked with Michael Kinch, the director of Washington University’s Centers for Research Innovation in Biotechnology and Drug Discovery, and he fielded listener calls in addition to Fenske’s questions.

Ken Burns' new film, "East Lake Meadows: A Public Housing Story," explores the history of a former public housing community in Atlanta.

Documentarian Ken Burns’ latest work, “East Lake Meadows: A Public Housing Story,” explores the history of a former public housing community in Atlanta. It features the stories of residents and raises critical questions about race, poverty and public assistance.

The film premieres Tuesday, March 24, at 7 p.m. on PBS.