Audio Features | St. Louis Public Radio

Audio Features

Feature-length audio news reports from St. Louis Public Radio reporters.

Electronic Gambling Machines
David Kovaluk | St. Louis Public Radio

They look like slot machines. They sound like slot machines.

But they aren’t in casinos — which is the only place you are supposed to be able to find slot machines in Missouri. 

Thousands of new gaming devices have been popping up at gas stations, veterans homes, union halls and fraternal lodges across the state. Their growing presence has raised the hackles of state regulators and the traditional gambling industry, which says the machines are draining business from them. 

Sukanya Mani prepares her installation at the Kranzberg Arts Center on Nov. 21, 2019.
Carolina Hidalgo | St. Louis Public Radio

Artists and scientists can often use different lenses to look at the world. 

But Sukanya Mani freely taps into her training in the sciences to inform her work as an artist. She folds and cuts paper into intricate patterns, often crafting abstract designs to represent scientific concepts. 

Much of her work is inspired by science — the way gravity bends light, or the patterns caused by protons when they smash against each other at high velocity.

Illinois Supply and Provisions in Collinsville sold $5 million of recreational marijuana in January. The dispensary accounted for 13.6% of sales in Illinois.
David Kovaluk | St. Louis Public Radio

Illinois becomes the 11th state to legalize the recreational use of marijuana on Jan. 1, six years after Colorado started to allow recreational sales. The cannabis industry grew rapidly in that time, and so did claims about the plant’s properties and effects.

Joseph DiVerdi doesn’t believe those assertions. He should know. DiVerdi is a cannabis researcher and chemistry professor at Colorado State University.

“The hype totally outstripes knowledge,” he said. “The lack of hard data has permitted opinion to run wild and rampant. There are so many things attributed to the cannabis plant that are far beyond what might be considered reasonable.” 

The old Crestwood mall was demolished in 2016, but some signs remain on the property.
Wayne Pratt | St. Louis Public Radio

Developers of the old Crestwood mall site insist work is being done behind the scenes to redevelop the nearly 50-acre property along Watson Road. But right now, it is still a huge patch of dirt and weeds in the center of the south St. Louis County municipality.

The mall has been closed since 2013 and was demolished in 2016.

Missouri Gov. Mike Parson speaks with St. Louis Public Radio in downtown St. Louis on Nov. 14, 2019.
File photo | Carolina Hidalgo | St. Louis Public Radio

Gov. Mike Parson says his biggest success so far as the state’s chief executive is passing legislation that expanded Missouri’s workforce development program and repaired scores of bridges. 

And after roughly a year and a half in office, he says there’s been little disappointment.

Respiratory care students Harry Painter Jr. and Darielle Griffin work with a mannequin to get hands-on training at St. Louis Community College's new healthcare facility on the Forest Park campus. OCt. 24, 2019
Carolina Hidalgo | St. Louis Public Radio

After counting out the last in a series of chest compressions, Harry Painter Jr. sets up a nebulizer and begins piping oxygen into his patient’s lungs.

“Mr. Jones, you scared us there. How are you feeling?” he asks. The lifelike mannequin blinks back. 

Everything around Painter looks exactly as it would in a hospital, but this is a simulation room at St. Louis Community College’s new health care facility on the Forest Park campus.

Monique Hines (left) teaches Janiaya Hubbard and Taniah Woods the basics of music production. November 6, 2019
Chad Davis | St. Louis Public Radio

For the past couple of months, 10-year-old Gregory Boyce, a fifth grader at North Side Community School, has gladly stayed after class — to learn the basics of music production.

Using music production software, Gregory has been experimenting with drum patterns. He hopes to add vocals to the mix soon.

“I like how it’s smooth,” he said of the tune he’s working on. “But sometimes you got to concentrate, and focus.”

That kind of attitude is exactly what the music professionals from Mentors In Motion are looking for.

LaWanda Jackson, in a still from the documentary film "The Voice Within." The film follows a group of women participating in the Prison Performing Arts program. [11/13/19]
Mountaintop Films

Incarcerated people can often feel forgotten by the world outside. 

A documentary film that screens at the St. Louis International Film Festival on Saturday amplifies the voices of women at the prison in Vandalia, Missouri, formally known as the Women’s Eastern Reception, Diagnostic and Correctional Center.

“The Voice Within” follows a group of women as they worked with playwright Stacie Lentz to create a play partly based on their life experiences. They were participants in Prison Performing Arts’ New Plays Initiative. Lentz is also working with men at the Northeast Correctional Center in Bowling Green on an adaptation of Margaret Atwood’s 2016 novel, “Hag-Seed.” 

Recreational marijuana facility in San Francisco, California in Nov. 2018
File photo | Jaclyn Driscoll | St. Louis Public Radio

Missouri has already approved more than 17,000 patients for its yet-to-be-launched medical marijuana program — a stark contrast to neighboring Illinois, which had fewer than 3,000 patients in the first 10 months. 

Licenses for Missouri’s dispensaries are expected to be awarded by January, and cannabis should be available for medical card holders by spring. 

At their core, Missouri and Illinois programs do the same thing: They allow doctors to certify patients to use cannabis if they have a qualifying condition. But there are significant differences in the details of each law, including who has access, how they’re getting access and how the programs can be changed in the future.

On any given weekday, University of Missouri student Jack Hale is working six to eight hours and dashing to class in between. 

“I wake up a little after five and I do not stop until 11 p.m. most days,” Hale says. Between a full load of classes and two jobs taking up nearly 40 hours a week, he barely gets enough sleep.

Ai Weiwei and museum curator Sabine Eckmann examine "The Odyssey," a massive frieze in his exhibition at the Mildred Lane Kemper Museum. In the foreground is a detail of "Forever Bicycle," a sculpture made from 720 bicycles. [11/8/19]
Jeremy D. Goodwin | St. Louis Public Radio

When does a mirror selfie become high art? 

For artist and political activist Ai Weiwei, it happened in 2008 when he photographed himself inside an elevator. Chinese authorities arrested him to prevent him from testifying in the trial of a fellow activist. 

His now-iconic selfie, “Illumination,” is part of his exhibition at the Mildred Lane Kemper Art Museum in St. Louis. The work ranges from delicate ceramics fashioned with ancient Chinese techniques to a carefully stacked pile of rubble. 

The wide-ranging show reflects Weiwei’s deep interest in honoring the past, while reshaping it into something new. 

St. Louis County Police Chief Jon Belmar speaks with a St. Louis Public Radio reporter at his office in downtown Clayton on Tuesday. Nov. 5, 2019
File photo I Carolina Hidalgo | St. Louis Public Radio

Sgt. Keith Wildhaber’s nearly $20 million jury verdict hit St. Louis County government like a lightning bolt. 

The huge award sparked internal and external scrutiny of one of Missouri’s largest law enforcement agencies about how it treats LGBTQ employees. It’s also prompted a debate about whether Missouri should pass more explicit laws to protect employees from discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity.

Artist Allana Ross and participants of her toxic waste site tours outside of the Bridgeton Landfill in September 2019.
Eli Chen | St. Louis Public Radio

Before a group of young adults embarked on a tour of toxic waste sites in St. Louis, artist Allana Ross asked if anyone wanted a respirator. 

Twice a year since 2017, Ross dresses up as a park ranger and invites people to follow her on a “Toxic Mounds Tour” to locations in St. Louis County that have been contaminated by toxic waste. 

Some stops along the tour are sites where federal officials are cleaning up radioactive waste, like Coldwater Creek in Hazelwood. Others, like the Weldon Spring site in St. Charles, which contains nuclear waste, were converted into parks. 

Wingspan designer and avid birder Elizabeth Hargrave created the game after realizing most of the boardgames she was playing were about subjects she didn't care about, like castles and trains.
Shahla Farzan | St. Louis Public Radio

Board games have come a long way since Monopoly.

Players can spend hours immersed in sophisticated, story-driven games — building civilizations on Mars or battling dungeon monsters.

But one of the most popular games of the year isn’t focused on war or domination; it’s about birds.

In Wingspan, a scientifically accurate game from St. Louis-based publisher Stonemaier Games, players create their own personal aviary. The game has become wildly successful with both hardcore gamers and birders — groups whose interests don’t always overlap.

Samuel Williams helps his two children onto the Jefferson Elementary School morning shuttle bus Friday, March 2, 2018. Williams said since it started in January, the shuttle provides safety and a routine for getting to school.
File Photo | Ryan Delaney | St. Louis Public Radio

It’s not unusual to see several school buses crisscrossing St. Louis neighborhoods early in the morning, each carrying just a few kids.

There’s a chance that soon, students who live in the same neighborhoods but attend different schools, whether KIPP or Confluence charter schools or St. Louis Public Schools, could all pile onto the same bus.

Depending upon whom you ask, there have been somewhere between eight and 350 mass shootings in America so far in 2019. That’s a pretty big range. So why don’t we know the exact number?

Paula and Tom Haniszewski's house on South Charles Street in Belleville on Oct 30. Their home was built in 1880.
Eric Schmid | St Louis Public Radio

BELLEVILLE — Emily Smith is fascinated by older homes. It’s an interest she’s had since she was a child. As an 8-year-old, she carried around a disposable camera in her backpack just to snap pictures of buildings she liked.

“I’ve always had a fascination with old homes and their character, and the craftsmanship and how it’s like basically living in a piece of art,” she said. 

Civil rights attorney Benjamin Crump poses for a photo at St. Louis Public Radio.Oct. 22, 2019
Carolina Hidalgo | St. Louis Public Radio

Civil rights attorney Benjamin Crump remembers being bused to a predominantly white school in Lumberton, North Carolina, in 1979. 

Crump and his white classmates played with each other and were cordial in class. Things were very different during lunch hour, however, when segregation became obvious.

Republican Lee Ann Pitman, left, and Democrat Trish Gunby, right, are running to represent Missouri's 99th House District.
Carolina Hidalgo | St. Louis Public Radio

In the special state House elections, Missouri’s political watchers are focused on a west St. Louis County race between Republican Lee Ann Pitman and Democrat Trish Gunby.

While the outcome of the Pitman-Gunby race won’t make much of a difference in how the Missouri House operates, it could provide a glimpse into St. Louis County’s political future — and how the area may respond to the Republican and Democratic statewide contenders.

Jorge Riopedre, the outgoing CEO and president of Casa de Salud, poses for a portrait in his office on Oct. 23, 2019.
Carolina Hidalgo | St. Louis Public Radio

After nine years as president of the Casa de Salud health clinic in St. Louis, Jorge Riopedre has announced he’s leaving the health center on Nov. 1.

During his tenure, the clinic opened a mental health office and debuted a program to help patients, most of whom are immigrants, find low-cost care at hospitals. It also more than doubled its staff.

Casa de Salud’s board of directors is searching for a new director, and Riopedre has said he doesn’t know what he will do next.

Gerry Marian, who plays the organ at Chase Park Plaza Cinemas, looks at the screen while rehearsing. This weekend, Marian will perform an original live score during showings of "The Phantom of the Opera." Oct. 22, 2019
Carolina Hidalgo | St. Louis Public Radio

On a Thursday evening at the Chase Park Plaza Cinemas, the 7:10 screening of new Disney film “Maleficent: Mistress of Evil” is still a good 20 minutes away. But in a sense, the night’s special feature has already begun. 

Attired neatly in a white sportcoat and dark pants, seated at an electric Conn 652 organ just off to the side of the screen, Gerry Marian plays “One,” from the Broadway musical “A Chorus Line.” 

For these few minutes a night, he pumps life into a vanishing art form. Audience members are still quietly shuffling into the theater, holding popcorn and sodas. Some are paying close attention to the pre-show music. Others chat or look down at their phones. 

Marian’s nametag displays his one-word job title: organist. 

Juliana Paiva (left) and Hugo Trejo (right) dance at Convergence Dance and Body Center. October 19, 2019
Andrea Smith | St. Louis Public Radio

Carmen Guynn has been dancing to Latin music for more than 20 years, and in recent years, she's had a lot more company on the dance floor.

But even though the number of St. Louisans dancing to the music of Latin America is growing, Guynn often finds herself explaining and teaching the different styles of music she focuses on — salsa, merengue and bachata of the Spanish-speaking Caribbean. Sometimes she compares the music to North American styles. 

“Bachata is a dance from the Dominican Republic,” Guynn said. “When people ask me, it’s almost like the blues. It’s kind of sad and lonely, so bachata kind of tells that story.” 

Corinne Ruff | St. Louis Public Radio

Updated Nov. 4 with letter and complete list of signatures.

Mayors of municipalities surrounding St. Louis Lambert International Airport sent a letter Monday to St. Louis Mayor Lyda Krewson asking for a briefing about airport privatization. The letter is signed by the mayors of the following cities: Woodson Terrace, Berkeley, Hazelwood, Edmundson, St. Ann, Overland, St. John, Bridgeton and Breckenridge Hills.

(Scroll down to read the letter.)

Original story from Oct. 23:

On a cool October morning, Woodson Terrace Mayor Lawrence Besmer stands on a construction site eyeing the progress of a new hotel going up off Interstate 70, across from St. Louis Lambert International Airport. 

But Besmer worries that the success of this hotel and another planned for his city of 4,000 residents hinges on what ultimately happens across the street — where officials are discussing whether to lease the airport to a private operator.

“It would just be nice to know what’s going on,” he said. “We can’t plan without knowing what they’re doing. So, it’s hard.”

Reginald Petty poses for a portrait at his home in East St. Louis on Oct. 14, 2019
Carolina Hidalgo | St. Louis Public Radio

EAST ST. LOUIS — Reginald Petty knows the stereotypes of East St. Louis well. A native of the city, he has heard the way many people talk about it.

“'Oh, it’s a high crime rate,'” he said. “'Don’t go to East St. Louis. Be careful.'”

He admits the city has its issues but said crime rates don’t define the city. Petty prefers to focus on East St. Louis’ positive narratives as a city rich with black cultural heritage. After all, he says, the “City of Champions” produced famous athletes, musicians and other celebrities

Kevin Cox landed a million-dollar fellowship designed to promote diversity in science. Sept. 2019.
Donald Danforth Plant Science Center

Kevin Cox Jr., 28, asked a lot of questions as a child. He wanted to know how and why things came to be. 

The plant biologist, a Florissant native, figured his curiosity would take him into the medical field, but at the end of his sophomore year at the University of Missouri-St. Louis, he found a new interest: microbes.

Eventually, his inquisitive nature paid off. In September, he landed a $1.4 million fellowship from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute. The money will fund his work as a plant science fellow at the Donald Danforth Plant Science Center.

Protesters marched through downtown St. Louis on Sunday to protest ongoing U.S. Supreme Court cases that could leave LGBTQ workers in Missouri with few laws protecting them against discrimination.
Andrea Smith | St. Louis Public Radio

It’s a brisk Sunday morning, and nearly 100 people are singing hymns at the steps of St. Louis City Hall. The congregation waves rainbow and transgender pride flags and hoists picket signs that demand civil rights for LGBTQ workers.

Among the protesters is Beth Gombos, who says they’re "terrified" by the possible outcomes of three ongoing U.S Supreme Court cases.

The court could rule next year that federal civil rights law doesn’t prevent employers from firing people for being gay, bisexual or transgender. If the court decides against the employees in the cases, Missouri’s estimated 180,000 LGBTQ adults would be left with little recourse against discrimination in the workplace. 

Midwestern Farm Runoff Creates Headache For Louisiana Shrimpers

Oct 17, 2019
Shrimper Thomas Olander inspects one of the nets on his boat. Olander says the dead zone in the Gulf of Mexico makes shrimping tougher. 10/16/19
Travis Lux | New Orleans Public Radio

It’s only midmorning, but shrimper Thomas Olander is already calling it quits for the day in a small bayou in St. Mary Parish, on the central Louisiana coast.

There aren’t enough shrimp out there — especially the highly sought-after jumbo shrimp that fetch the highest prices at the market.

“It's just not worth it,” Olander said, of his morning burning fuel, supplies and time.

The Missouri River in St. Charles County in September 2019.
Eli Chen | St. Louis Public Radio

When corn and soybean farmer Kenny Reichard stopped plowing some of his fields in northern Missouri in 1982, other farmers told him that it was a terrible decision that would lower his yields. 

“I’ve been told many times that no-till doesn’t work,” said Reichard, 62, who farms north of Brunswick in Chariton County. 

More than three decades later, state programs and agriculture initiatives are trying to encourage farmers to adopt no-till and other practices that reduce fertilizer runoff that contributes to the dead zone in the Gulf of Mexico. While many farmers think such methods are expensive, they’re critical to cleaning up the Mississippi River basin. 

Kathy Howard, who has worked as a sexual assault nurse examiner for decades, shows an unused rape kit. Sept.  27, 2019
Jaclyn Driscoll | St. Louis Public Radio

Missouri has more than 10,000 untested rape kits sitting on shelves in police departments and hospitals — some have been there for decades — but the state is finally set to have a full inventory of those kits by the end of the month. 

Once the inventory is complete, Attorney General Eric Schmitt’s office can move forward with creating an electronic database to not only keep track of the untested kits, but to help prosecute rapists and provide justice for victims. 

Arriel Biggs poses for a portrait at St. Louis Public Radio on Oct. 8, 2019.
Carolina Hidalgo | St. Louis Public Radio

Arriel Biggs always knew she wanted to be an entrepreneur. But the journey to becoming the founder of Young Biz Kidz, an organization that teaches kids to manage money and run their own business, was not an easy.

In 2010, Biggs and her husband found themselves living paycheck to paycheck even though they were both working full-time jobs. Eventually, they sat down and looked over their finances and found that they were not living in a financially responsible way. In order to get back on track, they decided to move their entire family back in with her parents for 18 months.