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Playlist: Staff Favorites 2014

Compiled By: PRX

Curated Playlist

We've been listening to radio all year long. These stories stuck out.

Love Hurts (part 1)

From Lea Thau | Part of the Strangers series | :00

"I loved this entire series. I love stories where someone shares something so raw and intimate that I think, 'Should they really be saying that on a podcast?'" —Eve

"This tapped into my own experiences of trying to find The One (done!). I love how Lea manages to do this in such an honest, dignified, and listenable way." —Rekha

While doing a story about online dating, Lea gets her heart broken (yet again). Part 1 of four episodes.

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Philip Seymour Hoffman on Happiness

From Blank on Blank | Part of the Blank on Blank series | 07:07

"Learning how to die ... is learning how to live” - Philip Seymour Hoffman.

Can we ever truly be happy? Will the past always creep in and drag us down? Hoffman's words are thought-provoking and eerie considering he died of a drug overdose just two years after this conversation.

Philipseymourhoffman_square_small "Learning how to die ... is learning how to live” - Philip Seymour Hoffman. What is happiness? Can we ever truly be happy? Or does the past always creep in and drag us down? Those are the questions the late Philip Seymour Hoffman pondered during a conversation recorded at the Rubin Museum of Art back in 2012. Hoffman spoke on stage that night with philosopher Simon Critchley. What you hear is thought-provoking and eerie considering Hoffman died of a drug overdose just over two years later. He was 46 and had three children.

A Rainbow of Noise

From marnie chesterton | 08:24

"I loved learning about the science behind different colors of noise in Marnie's piece. The interactive graphic is a welcome distraction." —Lily

There is a rainbow of noise out there - white, pink, brown, blue, purple. We try to recreate a scientifically accurate sonic rainbow and talk to people whose lives are touched by different colors of sound.


Most people know white noise as the static on old analogue TVs, but there’s pink noise, and blue noise and black noise; enough to recreate a scientifically accurate audio rainbow. Marnie Chesterton tells some of the stories of the different kinds of noise: Meet Shelley, who uses pink noise to drown out the constant ringing in her head. Professor Trevor Cox, at the Acoustic Engineering group at Salford explains why engineers need to classify different frequencies this way, and (in the longer version) Cyrus Shahrad, electronic music producer, whose love of brown noise filters through into his work. 

Here I Am and Here Be Danger (Censored)

From Annie McEwen | 11:45

"Simply beautiful." —Erika

An experiment in heartbreak, this piece was workshopped in PRX's first ever Second Ear.

Danger_small Here I Am and Here Be Danger was funded by the Newfoundland and Labrador Arts Council. 

Episode 11: I'm About To Save Your Life

From Criminal | Part of the Criminal series | 19:01

"Host Phoebe Judge deftly blends confusion and compassion as she explores how an odd situation spiraled out of control." —Rekha

In 1977, a mild-mannered aeronautical engineer sideswiped a parked car in Compton, CA. He stopped his car to see the damage, and all of a sudden a man opened his car door, jumped in the car and said, “I’m about to save your life.” What happened next would torture him for the rest of his life.

Criminal_podcast_logo_medium_small In 1977, a mild-mannered aeronautical engineer sideswiped a parked car in Compton, CA. He stopped his car to see the damage, and all of a sudden a man opened his car door, jumped in the car and said, “I’m about to save your life.” What happened next would torture him for the rest of his life.

Life of the Law #46 – One Conjugal Visit

From Life of the Law | Part of the Life of the Law series | 17:48

"I liked that this story encourages us to empathize with people who are in prison, and that it treats sex as a normal part of life instead of avoiding or sensationalizing it." —Eve


How long could your relationship last without a kiss? Without more than a kiss? Could you last a year? Two? What about ten? Twenty? In prison, couples are forced to keep their relationships alive in visiting rooms, with 2 second hugs. One two. Let go. So they write letters and make phone calls. Many break up.

But there’s another option. If you’re married or in a domestic partnership, you might be eligible for something called a family visit, also known as a conjugal visit, or on the inside, a booty call. It means a couple can be together, inside prison, alone or with their children for extended visits. They can have privacy and they can have sex.

Back in the 90’s, 17 states allowed prisoners to have these conjugal visits. But things have changed. Earlier this year, Mississippi and New Mexico both ended conjugal visits in their prisons and today only three states, New York, Washington and California allow inmates to have this kind of intimacy.

I’m standing with Myesha Paul at the gate at San Quentin, the prison just north of San Francisco. Because her husband, Marcello Paul is locked up in a California prison, they still qualify for a conjugal visit and she’s letting me tag along.

Photo 2 - Myesha Paul waiting at the gate of San Quentin Prison to join her husband on the inside for a conjugal visit.

Myesha is middle aged with short, bleached blond hair and a no-nonsense look in her eye. She’s wearing baggy red sweatpants and a sweatshirt that’s too big. She knows the spoken and unspoken rules to one of these visits. The officers guarding the prison have told another woman who’s come for a visit she has to go back to her car and change before she’ll be allowed inside.

“Her t-shirt is fitting real tight, so yeah, they’re gonna make her change all that,” Myesha says watching the woman walk away. “You go through a lot comin’ up her. It got to the point where I just come up in sweat pants. Baggy sweat pants. Too much of a hassle. I’m not puttin’ on anybody else’s clothes. Leggings are comfortable but they’re not for up in here.”

“Why not,” I ask.

“They’re a little too revealing. They don’t want you to have anything that’s form fitting and although we come with hips and all that, so it’s kinda hard to find that don’t fit around, you know?” Myesha laughs, looking down at her full body. “I just buy some men’s sweat pants and make it work.”

“So when you’re inside, do you bring different clothes to wear for when you’re alone?” I ask.

“Mostly just shorts or comfortable pajamas,” Myesha says. “I don’t usually get dressed.”

Even in California not all prisoners qualify for these intimate visits. Prisoners convicted of a sexual crime or a violent crime against a minor or a member of their family and those serving life sentences are denied conjugal visits. Except for what happens behind closed doors during these officially sanctioned private visits, sex is totally illegal in prison.  That means tens of thousands men and women locked up in prisons throughout in America may never be able to sleep next to their partner or have sex, ever again.

As Myesha waits outside the gate, I ask her to describe the process for going inside the prison for a conjugal visit. Looking at the door stamped VISITOR, Myesha says, “I’m waiting for the family visit coordinator to come. (Officer) Foster. He’ll come and he’ll take me in there,” she says looking past the door into a space where officers will check her belongings. “He’ll get my bags and go through them instead of the metal detector. Then I go through the metal detector. I also go inside and pick out some movies, dominoes, that type of thing. Then he’ll grab my stuff, put it in the trunk, and take me down to see my husband.”

Watching Myesha pass through security, I imagine this prison approved sex will happen someplace prison-like, in a tiny room with a bare mattress. They’ll give them an hour.

Turns out, it’s not like that at all.

After passing through a metal detector Officer Foster helps Myesha carry her duffle bag and personal things to the car. It’s his job to escort the previous visitor out, and turn right back around and drive Myesha, in. One in, one out.

Photo 3 - Myesha Paul loading her weekend clothing, linens and supplies into the officer's car for drive to apartment where Marcello is waiting.

It’s a long drive around the edge of the prison, through a big gated checkpoint and up to a small one-story building surrounded by chain-link fence that’s topped with razor wire. An officer looks down from a watchtower nearby.

Marcello Paul, a big man with dreadlocks, gold capped teeth and a beaming smile walks to the opposite side of the locked gate and waits.

When it’s opened, Marcello and Myesha give each other a quick hug, and help carry the bags and pre-ordered food into the apartment.

While Myesha puts the food into the refrigerator, Marcello gives me a tour of the two-bedroom apartment.

There are cabinets with dishes, cups, bowls and plates, a microwave, sink and stove. There’s a table where Marcello says they say grace and play games. In the living room is a puffy black couch and chair. Marcello says it’s black leather. It’s not really leather, but it’s nice.

There are two bedrooms. The first has a worn double mattress on a metal frame. Marcello says he does a pre-clean to make sure everything is intact and washed, and then two days later, when it’s time to go, he cleans everything again, so it’s just the same as when they came in.

Turning from the first bedroom, is a bathroom with a door on it. That’s no small thing inside prison where toilets are public.

Looking into the spare room, a portable baby crib leans against the wall. Some couples bring their children along on a family visit. Myseha and Marcello don’t have any shared children so they spend their weekends alone.

In the middle of the room is a double bed, metal springs sticking out the edge of the mattress. But it’s the large round wet spot in the middle of the mattress we’re both looking at. Marcello says he’ll turn the mattress over and lay down a lot of blankets on top of the mattress.

Standing with Marcello, looking around, if it weren’t for the two officers standing in the middle of the room, it’d seem like a pretty normal apartment.

The officer tells me it’s time to go. Marcello and Myesha get just 48 hours together in the apartment. Once a month.

Photo 6 - Myesha and Marcello Paul stand on the porch of the apartment the day they begin their conjugal visit.

Myesha says they’ve been together 14 years. They met and fell in love while Myesha, a home health care worker, was taking care of Marcello’s mom. Marcello had committed a robbery before they met and gotten away with it. But eventually, it caught up with him and he was sentenced to 10 years. He’s done five of them.

I think about them all weekend.

Monday morning, I go back and meet up with Myesha as she’s coming out. We sit in her car and talk. She says the weekend with Marcello, “was good. It’s always good. Just don’t like going home.”

“Why?” I ask.

“I’m leaving my husband behind,” Myesha says. “We sat outside and played dominoes on Saturday. After that we went in and watched TV, watched movies.” She says they started with The Wire.

She tells me they pulled the bed into the living room so they could lie together while they watched. They cooked burgers and tacos. They listened to music. And sure, she says, they had sex. I ask if they ever have a conjugal visit when they don’t have sex. Myesha pauses, then says, “No. I mean we might have a conjugal visit where we don’t have as much sex as the one before. But no.”

But she says, for her a conjugal visit really isn’t about the sex. It’s about the smaller, quieter things, like Marcello waking her up in the morning, “It feels good,” she says, “because I don’t get that at home. Ya know. At home I’m sleeping by myself, unless my grandbaby or one of my kids wanna sleep with me. But they’re grown. But they still do sleep with me sometimes. But other than that, ya know, I’m waking myself up in the morning, or the alarm clock is waking me up, or my grandson comes and wakes me up. It’s good to have my husband waking me up.

“It’s the nicest thing about being married,” I say, “isn’t it? Waking up?”

“Yeah,” Myesha says, “Together.”

“Not alone,” I say, “You look up and there’s that person.”

“Yeah. I think he watches me through the night,” Myesha says, “ I know he do cause sometimes I wake up and he’s looking at me. And I do the same to him. Sometimes he’s sleeping and he wakes up and I’m watching him.”

While we’re sitting in her car, talking, her cell phone rings. It’s Marcello calling to make sure Myesha gets home safe.

Even though conjugal visits aren’t allowed in most US prisons, in many countries they’re common. Australia, Brazil, Canada, Denmark, Germany, Israel, Russia, Spain, and Saudi Arabia all allow inmates and their partners to have conjugal visits. Mexico considers them a universal privilege and even allows families to move into prisons and live with their imprisoned relative.


All photos courtesy Nancy Mullane.

Edited By: Sally Herships

Produced By: Kaitlin Prest

Advisory Panel Scholar: Hadar Aviram

Music Composed by: Lawrence English

1984 (the year, not the book)

From Benjamen Walker | Part of the Benjamen Walker's Theory of Everything series | 50:51

"A must-listen." —Erika

In 1984 your host was twelve years old, and like George Orwell’s protagonist Winston Smith, he kept a diary, for the citizens of the future.

For this special installment we travel back in time and give this diary a soundtrack. TV commercials, radio spots, movie clips – all sound from 1984 (the year, not the book). Find out what totalitarianism really sounds like.


In 1984 your host was twelve years old, and like George Orwell’s protagonist Winston Smith, he kept a diary, for the citizens of the future.
For this special installment we travel back in time and give this diary a soundtrack. TV commercials, radio spots, movie clips – all sound from 1984 (the year, not the book). Find out what totalitarianism really sounds like.

Nine People, One Bedroom: A Teen's Take on Life In Poverty

From WNYC | Part of the WNYC's Educating on the Edge series | 07:43

"Everyone should listen to this frank discussion of poverty. No frills, no complaints. Just the bare truth. " —Erika

Jairo Gomez never thought he was poor, even though he was one of seven kids and his family lived in a one-bedroom apartment. The cramped quarters made for a loud and sometimes tense home life. When he wasn't at school, Jairo spent most of his time on his skateboard, hanging out with friends. But he didn't always have that freedom.


When Jairo started 10th grade, his mom asked him to stay home from school to watch his younger siblings while she went to work. He failed all of his classes that year.

“I did wrong in making you stay, but I didn't have an option,” his mom said. “At the time I sacrificed you. It was either good grades for you and you’d go to school, or we were going to suffer and lack necessities...it’s a balance.”

Jairo learned that the odds would be stacked against him if he didn't start focusing on his education.

LISTEN to Jairo's intimate first-person account of the very real choices about education and work that kids growing up in poverty have to make every day.


How Jairo’s family has changed:

There are nine of us in my family and we live in a one-bedroom apartment. I share a bunk bed with my sister Judy. I used to think of my family as middle class – we’d go out to eat a lot and I could ask for clothes sometimes. But after my parents split up, my mom had four more kids and that all stopped.

How Jairo calculated his socioeconomic status:

I asked my mom to do the math, and she said right now my family makes $30,000 a year – according to the federal government we’re $15,000 below the poverty line. That kind of scares me. 

Jairo reflects on class difference:

It gets me mad that my mom works so hard. And there are people out there who are just born into it, they make money like nothing, they don’t have to clean houses, wake up early, drain themselves.

Jairo on his future:

I know I should be thinking about going to college when I graduate if I don’t want that life. But I’d have to stay at home to afford it. Nine of us in a one bedroom apartment, no privacy, one bathroom, and toys everywhere—I don’t know if I can make myself do it.


The series is part of American Graduate, a public media initiative addressing the dropout crisis, supported by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.

Southern Flight 242: Bringing My Father Home

From Will Coley | 26:26

When I was seven years old, my father died in a commercial plane crash. It’s a fact I grew up knowing and something I never wanted to look into, until now.


When I was seven years old, my father died in a commercial plane crash. It’s a fact I grew up knowing and something I never wanted to look into, until now.

After I decided to make a radio story about the crash, I often wondered if it was the best choice as my first big project as a new radio producer. It took far longer than I ever expected, in part because it was so personal. But I realized that if I couldn’t answer tough personal questions, how could I expect others to do the same?

The initial kernel of the story idea came back in 1997 when I stumbled on an article in the New York Times about the 20th anniversary of the Southern Flight 242 accident (my family somehow missed being invited). And then in 2012, fifteen years later, I happened to be in Georgia for a conference that was 70 miles from the crash site. The key event in those intervening years was participating in the Transom Story Workshop. In Woods Hole, I learned much of what I needed to tell the story. I learned even more along the way.

Read more on Transo.org 

99% Invisible #130- Holdout (Standard 4:30 version)

From Roman Mars | Part of the 99% Invisible (Standard Length) series | 04:30

"How can you not love a story about a woman who remained steadfast in the face of strong pressure, and whose reasons were not what most of us would assume?" —Rekha


In 1914, the government of New York City took ownership of a Manhattan apartment building belonging to one David Hess. The city used a legal power called eminent domain, allowing governments to seize private property for public use—in this case they wanted to expand the subway system. Hess fought them and lost, and when all was said and done, his building was torn down, and he was left with a triangle shaped piece of property. It was about the size of a large slice of pizza.

hesstriangle[Hess's triangle is still there, at corner of Christopher St and 7th avenue in the west village. Credit: Sam Greenspan]

Later, the city tried to get him to donate his pizza-shaped property so that they could build a sidewalk. He refused again. They built the sidewalk anyway, and in the middle of the sidewalk is Hess’s triangle, with a tile mosaic that reads: “Property of the Hess Estate Which Has Never Been Dedicated For Public Purposes.”

People such as David Hess, who refuse to sell their properties, are called holdouts. Eminent domain generally only comes into play when the government wants private property for public use (though there have been some exceptions).  If it’s a private development that wants your place and you refuse to sell, there’s often not much they can do. In China, where there’s been development boom in recent years, they call their holdout houses “nail houses.”

nailhouse["Nail house" in China Credit: Zhou Shuguang]

Around 2005, a Seattle neighborhood called Ballard started to see unprecedented growth. Condominiums and apartment buildings were sprouting up all over the community which had once been mostly single family homes and small businesses. Around this time, developers offered a woman named Edith Macefield $750,000 dollars for her small house, which was appraised at around $120,000. They wanted to build a shopping mall on the block where Macefield had lived for the last 50 years.

Macefield turned down the money. Developers went forward with the shopping mall anyway. The mall enveloped her house on three sides.

edith house[Edith Macefield's house. Credit: Ben Tesch]

The architects designed the building in such a way that if Mrs. Macefield ever decided to move, they could easily incorporate the space where her had been into the building. The developers eventually increased their offer to one million dollars, plus they offered to find her a similar home somewhere else, and pay for a home health-care work for Macefield who was elderly and in poor health.

Again, Edit Macefield turned them down.

EdithArial[Aerial view of Edith Macefield's house (left of the green crane). Credit: Barry Martin]

The press loved Edith Macefield’s “David and Goliath” story of an old woman versus the big, bad developers. But even though the press was clamoring to talk to Macefield, she wanted nothing to do with talking to them (as evidenced in this CBS segment).

Slowly, Macefield warmed to some of the construction workers on the project, especially Barry Martin, the project superintendent who would check in on her occasionally and drop off business cards, telling her to call if she needed anything.

She eventually asked Martin to take her to a hair appointment.

edith and barry[Edith Macefield and Barry Martin on their way to get her hair done. Photo courtesy of Barry Martin]

Soon thereafter, Barry Martin began taking Edith Macefield to all of her appointments—and then, because it was easier to coordinate with his schedule, he started making them.

Spending all of this time together, Martin got to know Macefield well. He learned that she wasn’t mad about the way her community was changing. She wasn’t even mad about the mall they were building more or less on top of her house. On the contrary, she seemed happy to have the company.

Edith 2005[Edith Macefield. Credit: Barry Martin]

Macefield was an avid reader and loved to talk about books, listen to old music (a lot of opera and big-band music, according to Martin) and watch old movies. She was also a writer. Her longest work was a 1,138 page work of fiction entitled, Where Yesterday Began. She paid to have the book published in 1994 under the pen name “Domilini”.

Her Book Cover[Domilini was Edith Macefield's nome de plume. Image courtesy of Barry Martin]

As Martin got to know Macefield, she told him stories about her past that were so incredible that he found them hard to believe. For example, she said that she’d been a spy for the British during World War II, and that she’d been captured spying and spent time in the German concentration camp of Dachau. She also said she’d taken care of a number of war orphans in England after the war with her then-husband, James Macefield.  And on top of all of that, she claimed that Benny Goodman was her cousin and that she had played music with Tommy and Jimmy Dorsey.

Macefield played both saxophone and clarinet.

edith sax[Macefield as a young woman with her saxophone. Photo courtesy of Barry Martin]

Barry Martin eventually became Edith Macefield’s main care-giver — making most of her meals, visiting with her on weekends and even attending to her in the middle of the night if she called and said she needed him. She finally agreed to live-in nurse when she was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, but even then, Martin became her power of attorney—the person whom she put in charge of her final decisions.

Edith Macefield died in her house on June 15, 2008, at age 86.

She left her house to Barry Martin—the construction superintendent who became her friend while simultaneously sandwiching her house between a Trader Joes and an LA Fitness.

After she died, Martin began packing up Macefield’s house and looking for things that would confirm the crazy stories she told about her past. He never found anything about her escaping Dachau or caring for any war orphans. But he did find a Benny Goodman record with a written inscription that said “To my cousin Edith, with love, Benny.” He also found the below correspondence:

benny[Correspondence from Benny Goodman to Edith. Courtesy of Barry Martin]

After people found out that Edith Macefield had  left her house to Barry Martin, there were some who called him an opportunist. Ultimately it’s hard for anyone other than Martin to know what his motivations were, but we did talk to a couple of the healthcare workers who took care of Mrs. Macefield before she died and they both had a very high opinion of him – said that he was there every day when no one else was and that he seemed to care deeply for Macefield.

Martin eventually sold Edith Macefield’s house to an investor who had various plansfor it, none of which have materialized, and recently that same investor asked Martin if he’d be interested in buying it back.

The house is all boarded up now, and no one’s sure what will happen to it, which is sad to some people but Martin says that Macefield didn’t care what happened to the house after she died—that she never really cared about the bigger story that the outside world had created about her. She had her own personal reasons for staying in her house and they had nothing to do with that narrative.

photo 5[Macefield's house in 2014. Credit: Kathy Mulady]

Whatever her reasons were for doing it, she stood her ground. And she became a symbol, whether she wanted to or not. There’s even a tattoo shop in Seattle that does a special tattoo to honor the legacy of Edith Macefield. It’s a picture of her little house, and underneath it—the word “Steadfast”.

Producer Katie Mingle spoke with project superintendent, Barry Martin, journalist Kathy Mulady, and home health-care workers Karen Smith and Cathy Bailey for this story. . Featured image by Flickr user Milo Tobin.

Barry Martin wrote a book about his experience with Edith Macefield called Under One Roof.

Interior Alaska: Frontier Community

From Al Letson | Part of the State of the Re:Union: Season Four series | 53:53

Interior Alaska can be a forbidding place. The region is largely wilderness, covered with expansive stretches of tundra and towering mountain ranges. Winters are long and dark, with just a few hours of sunlight on the shortest days and temperatures that often plunge to -50F. Because of its isolation and climate, the region has long attracted people drawn to the challenges and opportunities of a wild, remote place.


State of the Re:Union
Interior Alaska: Frontier Community

Episode Description:
Interior Alaska can be a forbidding place. The region is largely wilderness, covered with expansive stretches of tundra and towering mountain ranges. Winters are long and dark, with just a few hours of sunlight on the shortest days and temperatures that often plunge to -50F. Because of its isolation and climate, the region has long attracted people drawn to the challenges and opportunities of a wild, remote place. 

In this episode of SOTRU, we’ll meet a number of residents of Fairbanks and the surrounding areas – athletes, journalists, scientists, and activists – who embody the spirit of Interior Alaska through their grit, determination, and iconoclasm. And we’ll explore what it means to live in a frontier community, through the stories of a dog kennel trying to change the culture of sled dog racing, a murder that has long divided the city of Fairbanks, a heated battle over wood burning stoves, and more.

Incue: From PRX and WJCT
Outcue: But first, this news.

News Hole: 1:00-6:00

SEGMENT A (12:29)
Incue: From WJCT in Jacksonville, Florida.
Outcue: Nearly twenty years after it happened. Stay with us.

From September to May, the Alaska Railroad runs one train a week from Anchorage to Fairbanks. The Aurora Winter Train covers some of the most desolate territory in the state: 350 miles of mountains, forests, and snow.

Despite its desolation, those 350 miles are home to some of Alaska’s many backcountry homesteaders, people who live in tiny communities or remote cabins in some of the wildest parts of the state. That’s why the train is “flag stop.” If you stand by the tracks at any point along the way and wave your hands above your head, the train will pause to pick you up. For many people along the route, the train is a lifeline, their main connection to the outside world.

John Schlandelmeier and Zoya DeNure run an unconventional dog-training operation in Delta Junction, AK called Crazy Dog Kennels. Unlike many mushers, who are extremely competitive when it comes to breeding, selecting, and training sled dogs, John and Zoya take a different approach.

They welcome all dogs who need a home, including those who’ve been deemed unfit for racing by other mushers. John and Zoya take those dogs in, rehabilitate them if they’ve experienced neglect or abuse, and then get them back into racing condition.

Both John and Zoya have raced competitively in major races like the Yukon Quest and the Iditarod, but always with ragtag team of adopted dogs. Their hope is not just to be competitive racers, but to change prevailing attitudes about dog treatment and what makes a “good” sled dog.

SEGMENT B (18:59)
Incue: You’re listening to State of the Re:Union. I’m Al Letson.
Outcue: PRX-dot-ORG

On the night of October 11, 1997, a teenager was found, badly beaten, on a street corner in downtown Fairbanks. Nobody saw what happened to 15-year-old John Hartman, but he died the next day from his injuries. Seventeen years later, the investigation into who murdered him continues to divide the city. 

Hartman’s body was discovered at the end of a pretty wild night in Fairbanks. Permanent fund checks had just come in (those are the payments that Alaska residents receive every year based on oil earnings from the state). That meant folks were out having a good time. On top of that, there was a big wedding going on downtown. Two young people with ties to nearby Native villages were getting married, and guests had traveled from all over the region to attend.

But in the days that followed, as the news of Hartman’s murder spread, a dark cloud hung over the wedding. The Fairbanks Police Department had arrested and charged three young Native Alaskans and one white teen with the killing. The four were recent graduates of a predominantly Native high school in town, and all of them had attended the wedding reception that night. 

Three of the young men accused of the murder had juvenile records. But the forth, Marvin Roberts, was an honors student. He’d never been in serious trouble, and his arrest set off alarm bells in Native villages across the Interior. The Native community rallied to his defense, raising money to help cover his legal fees and insisting on his innocence. 

Legal battles continued through 1998. All four men were convicted in 1999, and they’re currently serving sentences ranging from 33 to 79 years. But the controversy surrounding the Hartman case hasn’t gone away. The so-called “Fairbanks Four” still say they’re innocent, even after exhausting all their appeals. And to this day, a sizeable part of the Alaska Native community believes that anti-Native bias and shoddy police work resulted in the convictions. 

This story explores what happened that night back in 1997, traces the growing questions and concerns about the convictions, and probes the lasting effects the Hartman murder has had on the Fairbanks community. 

SEGMENT C (18:59)
Incue: You're listening to State of the Re:Union
Outcue: to bring them back together. (music tail)

Dawn Brashear, a counselor at Woodriver Elementary School in Fairbanks, remembers days when she could actually see smoke drifting through the air in the school’s hallway. There wasn’t a fire, at least not inside the school. The smoke, Brashear said, was coming from two outdoor wood burning boilers located right across the street.

With fuel oil prices skyrocketing, Woodriver’s neighbors did exactly what residents all over Fairbanks were doing: they decided to heat with wood, a cheaper alternative. Energy costs are so high in Interior Alaska that burning wood is the only way some people manage to survive. Literally. But with the smoke causing terrible problems at the elementary school, Brashear and others began lodging complaints with local and state agencies. They were shocked to learn how weak laws regulating wood burning were and how little officials were willing or able to do.

Woodriver’s pollution problems were especially bad, but they weren’t alone. In 2009, the EPA declared Fairbanks and other parts of the North Star Borough in violation of the Clean Air Act for a kind of pollution called PM2.5. One of the reasons the air is so bad in Fairbanks is a fluke of geography. The city sits in a bowl where frigid winter air (and pollutants) can become trapped, something known as an inversion. But it’s also a matter of local culture: the self-reliant residents of Interior Alaska like the do-it-yourself aspect of chopping and burning wood. Many prefer it to cleaner (and more expensive) alternatives.

The EPA’s announcement in 2009 could have been good news for Woodriver. With the threat of federal sanctions looming if air quality didn’t improve, the state gave Fairbanks authority to draft wood burning regulations, including fines for wood burners who emit too much smoke. But when fiercely independent-minded residents learned of the regulations, they voted to strip the local government of its regulatory and enforcement authority not once but twice, in 2010 and then in 2012, essentially handing the pollution problem back to the state. And leaving Woodriver in its smoky haze.  

Brashear helped organize a group of staff and parents. Parents at other schools organized, too, including Carrie Dershin at Watershed School, where the air was often worse than at Woodriver. A small clean air movement was growing, led largely by concerned parents. Over the course of four long years, they lodged hundreds of complaints, and testified at scores of Borough Assembly meetings.

With the local government unable to take action, state officials began drafting wood burning regulations for Fairbanks, and the battle over wood stoves became even more heated. At least one public comment meeting took on an ugly tone, with people booing and heckling people testifying in support of regulation.

We’ll explore the outcome of these meetings, and how the issue of wood burning stoves has pitted two frontier ideals against each other: self-reliance vs. the importance of being a good neighbor.  

Davyd Betchkal is a “soundscape scientist” at Denali National Park, about 2 hours south of Fairbanks. He’s responsible for monitoring the acoustic environment of the park, which means he treks around the 6 million acre preserve, setting up recording stations that capture the sounds of Denali. Those sounds include chirping Ptarmigans (the AK state bird), bear cubs, thundering avalanches, and --- increasingly -- human traffic. Prop planes overhead. The distant buzz of snow machines.

Even in Denali, a huge natural preserve in one of the least populated states in the nation, human noise is almost inescapable. Betchkal and his colleagues recorded only 36 complete days last year when engine sounds were absent. And it’s Betchkal’s job to think about what implications that might have for the environment.

His field -- soundscape ecology -- is very new, but it considers fascinating questions: do missing voices in an ecological soundscape indicate broader environmental problems? Can noise mask mating calls, cause stress, prevent animals from hearing alarms or other useful survival clues? And what does it say about the state of natural sound ecologies that even a place like Denali is polluted by human noise?

Former bush pilot Colleen Mondor writes a letter to Fairbanks.


Promo Transcript: 

In Fairbanks, Alaska, nearly 20 years ago, what began as a night of fun ended with murder, and four young men in jail. Now a letter to a stranger may change their fate. "It's sad I'm sitting in jail for a crime I didn't commit. It's impacted me and my family and I understand you might have some information about that crime. I'd urge you to get ahold of my lawyer." A Fairbanks mystery, on the next State of the Re:Union."

Interior Alaska: Frontier Community is available on PRX without charge to all public radio stations, and may be aired an unlimited number of times prior to January 31, 2017. The program may be streamed live on station websites but not archived. Excerpting is permitted for promotional purposes only.

State of the Re:Union is presented by WJCT and distributed by PRX.  Major funding for the State of the Re:Union comes from CPB, the Corporation for Public Broadcasting and the Delores Barr Weaver Fund at The Community Foundation for Northeast Florida.

Thanks for your consideration of State of the Re:Union with Al Letson. 


War on the Gridiron

From BackStory with the American History Guys | Part of the BackStory with the American History Guys: Favorites series | 07:52

"Football is a game of territory? It's a modern, clock-based game compared to the more sprawling, unstructured baseball? The Carlisle team allowed white audiences to cheer American Indians as they reenact their own struggle to keep their land?? You are blowing my mind, sir." —Eve

The Carlisle Indian Industrial School football team was successful on the field - but not always at dispelling stereotypes. From the BackStory episode "Imagined Nations: Depictions of American Indians."

American-indian-272x300_small Historian David Wallace Adams tells the story of the Carlisle Indian Industrial School football team, who were successful on the field - but not always at dispelling stereotypes. This piece is an excerpt from the BackStory episode "Imagined Nations: Depictions of American Indians."

Not Your Mother's French Music!

From Charles Spira | 53:11

"It's been about 15 years since I was last immersed in the latest French pop. Appreciated the refresher!" —Rekha

Joy_of_french_popular_music_small We have selected the most exciting and engaging recent French Language Songs and bring them to you with a short introduction in English.  The program has been split into three segments to allow for Station identification breaks and other announcements.  Here is the lineup:
Amandine Bourgeois,(France),Envie d'Un Manque de Problemes
Celine Dion,(Canada),Moi Quand Je Pleure
IAM,(France),L'Amour Qu'on Me donne
La Grande Sophie,(France),Sucrer les Fraises
David Parienti,(France),Rien Au-dessus de Nous
Juliette Noureddine,(France),La Petite Robe Noire
Tristan Nihouarn,(France),Des Merveilles
Anouk Aiata,(France),Errer
Detroit,(France), Droit dans le Soleil
Circus,(France),Amour Suicide
Babx,(France),Suzanne aux Yeux Noirs
Barbara Carlotti,(France),J'ai Change
Daphne,(France),Rocambolesque Morocco
Elephant,(France),Collective Mon Amour 

You're Not Alone

From The Truth | 17:50

Are you hearing voices? You're not alone.

You_re_not_alone_small An film without pictures, about a veteran who hears voices.

Performed by Christian Paluck, Carly Monardo, Tom Stephens, Louis Kornfeld, Jon Keller, Kerry Kastin, Nick Mykins, Aina Rapoza, and Ashley Wilson.

With special musical guest Elizabeth Ziman (of Elizabeth and the Catapult), singing "True Love Will Find You in the End" by Daniel Johnston.

Written by Louis Kornfeld and developed collaboratively by The Truth, with dialogue improvised by the actors.

Produced and directed by Jonathan Mitchell. 

Going Black: The Legacy of Philly Soul Radio (One Hour Special)

From Mighty Writers | Part of the Going Black: The Legacy of Philly Soul Radio series | 59:00

In the 1950s, Black radio stations around the country became the pulse of African-American communities, and served as their megaphone during the Civil Rights and Black Power movements.

Georgie_woods_1__small "Going Black: The Legacy of Philly Soul Radio " examines the legacy of Black radio, with a special focus on the legendary WDAS in Philadelphia. The story of Black radio in Philadelphia is actually the story of a music that would have gone undiscovered, of Civil Rights and progress in the African-American community, and of how the radio medium has changed in the last century. The documentary special is hosted by legendary Sound of Philadelphia (TSOP) music producer and Rock and Roll Hall of Famer Kenny Gamble . For more about the program, visit our website: www.mightyradio.org .

Today, a lot of people don't know what the term "Black radio" means. But starting in the 1950s,
Black radio stations around the country became the pulse of African-American communities, and served as their megaphone during the Civil Rights and Black Power movements. Stations like WDAS in Philly, WDIA in Memphis, WWRL and WBLS in NYC, WHUR and WOL in DC, WERD in Atlanta, WVON in Chicago, WLAC in Nashville, WMRY in New Orleans and KWBR in San Francisco featured radio personalities with styles all their own who played records you'd never get to hear on mainstream radio. Beyond being hip radio stations, these were pipelines into the Black community where you'd get the latest news on current events and the Civil Rights Movement — at a time when the mainstream media wasn't covering these stories from a Black perspective.

The documentary features conversations with well-known disc jockeys, radio professionals, record company executives, musicians, journalists and scholars. Listeners will hear first-person accounts of Civil Rights events and rare archival audio of Black radio air checks from the 60s and 70s, including a 1964 interview with Malcolm X, just a few months before his assassination. The documentary also includes a soundtrack featuring R&B, jazz, gospel and soul hits from the 50s through the 80s, especially from the Sound of Philadelphia .

A 1-hour version and 2-hour version of this documentary special are both available, along with a series of short companion non-narrated pieces.