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Audio Feature

Lisa Rodriguez / KCUR 89.3

Standing on the I-70 exit ramp at Independence Avenue on a cool fall morning is a thin guy, possibly in his late 30s or early 40s, his face weathered by the sun. He’s standing next to a backpack and holding a cardboard sign that says “anything helps.”

Further south, on the western edge of the Country Club Plaza a man in his 50’s wearing a tie-dye shirt carries a sign that says, “Broke as F---.”

MR King Images

Kansas City songwriter Amanda Fish has just proclaimed herself "Free." That's the title song on her newly released sophomore album, after 2015's "Down in the Dirt."

The record reflects Fish's literal and philosophical growth. The older sister of another Kansas City singer, Samantha Fish (who has a few more records to her credit), Amanda started playing music at 18 but set that aside to earn a living. By age 25, she was working as a security guard and unhappy, so she quit to go into music full time.

Despite recent rainfall, more than half of Missouri is still in a drought, hitting hard at one of the state’s key economic engines: agriculture.

Missouri hay — the primary feed for livestock — has hit its lowest production levels in 30 years, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Ideally, each acre of pasture produces two tons of hay a year, which would be two of those large circular rolls often seen in farm fields. In 1988, the average acre in Missouri only yielded 1.2 tons, and this year it’s been 1.5 tons.

Alex Smith / KCUR 89.3

It’s late summer, and the drone of insects is a sound that Lonnie Kessler has come to dread. A similar chirping means he’s minutes away from another seizure.

“It sounds like a thousand crickets all at once in my head. And so that really alerts me this is going to happen right now,” Kessler said. “And then I lose consciousness.”

Gary Smith has worked at the grain elevator at Okaw Farmer’s Co-op in Lovington, Illinois, for 40 years. On his desk sit two computer screens, where he tracks corn and soybean prices online at the Chicago Board of Trade.

As he explained, trade moves fast: “Just bam bam bam, and within a few seconds it could change a nickel or a dime against your favor.”

Anne Kniggendorf / KCUR 89.3

What if the atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima in 1945 failed to detonate?

A writer and an artist ask that question at the Truman Library and Museum as part of Kansas City’s Open Spaces arts festival, which has a roomy-enough sphere of exhibitions for various thought experiments, both the viewers’ and the artists’. 

Greg Echlin / KCUR 89.3

Kansas City-area officials celebrated in June when the U.S., Canada and Mexico won their combined bid to host the men’s World Cup soccer tournament in 2026. That’s because the city is one of 17 in the U.S. that have a chance at hosting matches.

“Kansas City is probably shining as much as it can and we still have so much room to grow,” Kansas City, Missouri, Mayor Sly James said June 14.

Samuel King / KCUR 89.3

Certain affordable housing projects in Missouri have until Oct. 31 to take advantage in $140 million in tax credits. But nonprofits and developers are concerned the state board charged with approving the tax credits won’t act in time.

Peggy Lowe / KCUR 89.3

When Josh Collins first got the letter from Bank of America more than two months ago, he thought it was a scam.

The letter wasn’t on the glossy paper typical of what he’d seen during his two decades with the bank. And it asked him some unusual questions, like if he had international accounts.

Back in 2012, one of the major employers in Montrose, Colorado, a sawmill, was in receivership and on the brink of collapse. At the time, local media reported that the cost of logging timber had become prohibitively expensive, and the log yard was nearly empty.  

These days, logs are stacked high next to a humming mill. Production is up 20 percent from even just 2016.

William Burkle Photography

A legitimate rock star is leading a life of quiet anonymity in Johnson County.

As front man for the abrasive rock band Sevendust, Lajon Witherspoon has spent decades cultivating a rebellious image. When he’s not on stage, though, he embraces tranquil suburban domesticity.

“I've been wanting to be a part of this Kansas City lifestyle for a long time,” he insists. “I don't think people know that I even lived here.”

Elle Moxley / KCUR 89.3

DeLaSalle Education Center has long been the last resort of Kansas City teens who haven’t succeeded anywhere else.

“Back in 1993 when I went, this school for bad kids,” Christina Boyd remembers. “If you had behavioral issues, if you fell behind too far in school, if you were a teen mother, you went to De La Salle when no one else wanted you in the school district.”

Kansas City, Missouri, Police Department

Starting in the mid-1990s, Capt. Dan Cummings worked as an undercover cop going after meth suppliers in his hometown of Independence, Missouri.

He had grown up seeing what meth could do, so for him the work was personal.

“When I was a kid, a cousin brought a bag of this white powder in and said, ‘Man, hey, you gotta try this stuff. Man, you can go forever,’” Cummings says. “He did. He’s now passed on.”

Michelle Tyrene Johnson / KCUR 89.3

Some restaurants just have a corner on the market for a particular dish.

In this case, that would be Kitty’s Café and its pork tenderloin sandwich. The longtime Kansas City establishment is on 31st Street, just east of Martini Corner and just west of the longtime non-profit Operation Breakthrough on Troost Ave.

It's more diner than restaurant, with six stools tightly together at the counter tops. Outside, there's some patio seating, but Kitty’s is not a destination-stop kind of place. Most of the orders are take-out and you can only pay with cash.

Julie Denesha / KCUR 89.3FM

Down a winding road in Swope Park, on the other end of a short walk through the grass, there's an old, abandoned pool where, in the days before penicillin, sick children came for hydrotherapy. In recent weeks it's been re-filled — not with water but with silk flowers, teddy bears and candles for Ebony Patterson’s art installation.

Jeremy Bernfeld / KCUR 89.3 file photo

The Kansas City Royals are on pace to break a team record. It’s not one they’ll be proud of.

In 2005, the team lost 106 games. There are 29 left this season, and whatever the Royals’ record is by then, it may not be the worst in baseball.

This weekend’s series between the Royals and Baltimore Orioles will have a say: Two teams mathematically eliminated only four years after they played each other in the American League Championship Series.

The United States and Mexico announced this week there’s a tentative deal in their renegotiation of the nearly 25-year-old North American Free Trade Agreement, or NAFTA.

A new book, "Eating NAFTA: Trade, Food Policies and the Destruction of Mexico," looks at the connections between the agricultural and food trade policies that the policy has brought about.

Consumers are buying more certified organic fruits and vegetables every year, and in the Midwest and Plains states, much of it is grown on small farms.

To comply with organic rules, some use livestock to provide natural fertilizer. Two separate studies in Iowa are trying to quantify the soil health, yield and, eventually, economic impact of grazing animals on the fields after vegetables are harvested.

Jenny Wheat

When singer/songwriter Kelly Hunt arrived in Kansas City from Memphis three years ago, the relocation came with a surprise: There was already a well-known musician in town who had the same name — or practically the same. Kelley Hunt (who spells her name with just one more e than Kelly Hunt) is the R & B pianist who’s been rocking this region for a few decades.

Now, the newcomer says with a laugh, “I’m ‘Banjo Kelly Hunt’ in these parts.”

Frank Morris / KCUR 89.3

The Colorado Rockies are packed with natural beauty, huge vistas, pretty flowers and adorable critters.

But when I backpacked the 160-mile Collegiate Loop on the Colorado Trail last month, I discovered a great little community of strangers out on the trail. Here are just a few of the notables I met on the trail.

Alex Smith / KCUR

Like many people who can’t afford medical care, Larissa Shively-Vitt of Shawnee, Kansas, has been spending a lot of time online lately, trying to tell her story and raise money through crowdfunding.

Medical expenses are the category most often used on GoFundMe, which is the largest crowdfunding platform. And in recent years, campaigns have snowballed for one particular kind of medical care: gender confirmation surgery.

Harvest season isn’t far away for corn and soybean farmers, whose crops are worth less now than when they planted in the spring due to the United States’ trade war.

“We don't know what to think from one day to the next. It's hard to plan,” said Duane Hund, a farmer in Kansas’ Flint Hills.

Forty percent of farmers polled this summer by Farm Futures said President Donald Trump’s trade policy is permanently damaging U.S. agriculture. The scrambling of global markets is just beginning, Hund said, and pointed to the 1980 Russian grain embargo as an example.

Madelyn Beck / Harvest Public Media

Pesticides are all over, from backyard gardens to cornfields. While their use doesn’t appear to be slowing, concern over drift and the resulting effects on health is driving research — and more worries.

Those concerns are bringing pesticides to a different venue: courtrooms. 

Courtesy of Cris Medina

With professional teams like Sporting KC and the Kansas City Comets, soccer is clearly a popular sport in Kansas City. And there are tons of recreational leagues for adults and kids. But that was not always the case.

Sporting KC

Ike Opara was 26 in 2015, in the prime of his career and facing the possibility of retiring from professional soccer due to a torn Achilles tendon.

“I thought that was it for me,” Opara said.

This year, the defender is one of the major reasons Sporting Kansas City is a MLS Cup contender. Opara is one of a handful of Kansas City professional athletes who have demonstrated that an Achilles injury no longer is considered a career-ender.

Laura Ziegler / KCUR 89.3

The Royal Theater, once called The Fox Theater, opened in Atchison, Kansas, in 1912 as a vaudeville theater. It later showed films on the silent screen, complete with an in house piano player. They added talkies when they came along in the 1920s.

Boxes are piled high in Anne Hickman’s hallway. Family photos peek out from behind the stacks in her one-bedroom Indianapolis apartment.

Esther Honig / Harvest Public Media

Esperanza Yanez can spot a sick cow just by looking at it.

“The head hangs down and they don’t eat,” said Yanez, who immigrated from Mexico two decades ago and has been caring for cattle ever since.

While learning to communicate with animals takes years of patience, Yanez said the true language barrier exists between the dairy workers and the veterinarians who rarely speak Spanish. Medical terminology can be confusing, and to avoid embarrassment, Yanez said she and other workers may feign comprehension.

Michelle Tyrene Johnson / KCUR 89.3

 

Sam Shockley went to school with the black students who eventually desegregated Central High School in Little Rock, Arkansas. So he was more than familiar with the harshness of racism.

When he moved to Kansas City in the 1950s, he experienced a different brand of it.

“Here it was more covert,” Shockley says.

Focus Features

Director Spike Lee’s "BlacKkKlansman," which won the Grand Prix at the Cannes Film Festival in May, is finally opening in theaters nationwide. 

Lee's co-writer is University of Kansas film professor Kevin Willmott, who spoke with KCUR's Central Standard host Gina Kaufmann about the movie, which is based on a true story.

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