Christopher Blank

News Director

It started with ghost stories, of a sort. The wood floors creaking at night, dad assured me, confirmed the presence of spirits in our home. Years of night terrors followed. Then years of transference. Thank you for attending my slumber party. Let me tell you about the noises, friends... 

Eventually, the joy a child finds in manipulating other children's emotions matures into a high school theater career. In that regard, my teen years were of the traditional, unpopular variety.

One day, a few years after college, an editor at the St. Petersburg Times pulled me aside from my part-time job sorting mail and delivering faxes. "Why is your hair orange?" she asked. "And did I see you unicycling in front of that theater across the street?" Few things a person does in the services of "Art" translate into being taken seriously as a human being. To my surprise -- to my eternal, immeasurable surprise --  this was the start of a career as an arts reporter and critic, first at the Times, then at the Memphis Commercial Appeal and for many magazines, journals and newspapers in between. 

In some ways, radio journalism is a back-to-basics medium; people tell stories, share insights, opinions, beliefs and experiences of the verbal kind. And for all the Tweets and Facebook posts and clickbait headlines that parade so stridently upon our psyches day-to-day, the surest way to convince someone that their house is haunted is simply to turn off the lights and let their ears confirm it.

 

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If the name Richard Halliburton rings a bell, it could be because the bell tower at Rhodes College is dedicated to his memory. Or maybe it's because you're a fan of 20th Century travel writing. In the 1920s and '30s, Halliburton barnstormed the world, climbed mountains and swam treacherous waters. But a new biography by Cathryn J. Prince reveals another side of the famous adventurer -- one he carefully hid from the public.   


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.

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