Christopher Blank

News Director

It all started with ghost stories. Dad convinced me that spirits lurked just outside my bedroom door at night. After years of night terrors, I began listening to LPs of spooky tales, memorizing them and acting them out around campfires on those balmy winter nights in South Florida. In this way, other children would suffer as I had.
 
Naturally, this dramatic flair evolved into a prestigious four-year engagement on the high school drama circuit where my mother’s rapturous reviews provoked standing ovations also from my mother.
 
One day, while working part time as a copy clerk at the St. Petersburg Times, an editor asked me why my hair was dyed bright orange. I explained that it was because I was “an actor.” Was my future decided out of pity? Out of concern for my mental health? I cannot read minds. However, the next thing that happened is that I was made a theater critic.
 
For more than a decade, The Commercial Appeal’s readers tolerated my opinions on everything from classical music to ballet. Even WKNO-FM let me create a little club for theatergoers.
 
When this fine radio station went looking for someone to tell stories of the “news” variety, I made the argument that Memphis is a city full of great stories; no other has a richer cultural narrative. The crossroads of America is a crucible of stories from all walks of life. Also, crossroads are known for ghosts and devils, and who doesn’t love those?
 
They totally bought the argument. So now, I’m looking for great stories. What’s yours?

Ways to Connect

Brad Birkedahl

Scotty Moore was one of rock and roll's most famous guitar players, in no small measure because he backed Elvis Presley from the very first record. Moore, 84, died on Tuesday at his home in Nashville. Memphis rockabilly musician Brad Birkedahl breaks down Moore's signature style for us.


Christopher Blank

Most young stage performers yearn for leading roles and top billing on programs. But as a singer and dancer, Justin G. Nelson doesn't hesitate to check the "Ensemble" box on audition forms. This dedicated chorus member became one of the most prolific performers on local stages, and now he's on the road with a touring production of The Wizard of Oz, running at the Orpheum Theatre.  


In the 1960s, Memphis became a recording industry Mecca because of producers like Chips Moman, who died this week at age 79. Moman notched more than 120 hit records on his belt, including Neil Diamond's "Sweet Caroline," B.J. Thomas's "Hooked on a Feeling," and Elvis Presley's mid-career comeback album that included "Suspicious Minds" and "Kentucky Rain." 


Photos by Joe Mazza, Brave Lux.

A Memphis actress returned home from Chicago this week toting one of the city’s top theater awards for Best Supporting Actress in a Play. Cecelia Wingate is a familiar character actress on local stages, but her shiny new Jeff Award went for a role that Wingate says comes naturally – a character loosely based on her.


Forty years ago, when Aretha Franklin, Lou Rawls and Johnnie Taylor were at the top of the R&B charts, Art Gilliam decided to buy an R&B radio station in his hometown. WLOK 1340 AM became the first black-owned station in Memphis. Soon after, Gilliam changed the format to gospel music. He talks with us about what it means to keep a "local" voice on the increasingly corporate airwaves.   


As the Memphis in May International Festival salutes Canada this month, we hear from our northern neighbors about our shared economic interests. Listen to this interview with Consul General Louise Blais based in Atlanta, and then check out some statistics below.


A somber procession began on Sunday in the courtyard of the former Lorraine Motel in Memphis, Tenn., where Martin Luther King Jr. was killed in 1968. Everyone in Memphis knows about that piece of history, but until recently, folks were unaware of a massacre that happened in the same part of town 100 years earlier.

In what is now the South Main Arts District of Memphis, civil rights' history has been written in blood on more than one occasion. The balcony of the Lorraine Motel (now the National Civil Rights Museum) commemorates Dr. Martin Luther King’s death. But no memorials existed for another horrific act of racial violence that erupted here in 1866 – until now.


Christopher Blank/WKNO-FM

Ruma Kumar spent six months researching how Shelby County Schools used $90 million in funding from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. Mostly, it paid for teacher training, evaluations, a streamlined hiring process and crucial data. Results have been varied, but overall promising. A 1-year extension on the grant will preserve this expensive training model for now. But with Shelby County Schools facing a major deficit, the district may have to reconsider the costs of training a better teaching staff.

Thanks to computers and synthesizers, today’s musicians have countless ways to create instrumental sounds. Two Memphis musicians are now planning a concert using one of the first electronic keyboards to replicate real instruments – the Mellotron. Take a listen to this technological marvel of early modern music.


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