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.

 

Ways to Connect

Photo by Brooks Museum

This week, WKNO's Culture Desk takes a look at a chair in the Brooks Museum that could either fetch a pretty penny at an auction or be used to make house guests feel extremely unwelcome. Curator Stanton Thomas explains why this architecturally significant piece of furniture was both loved and hated by its owners.


RCA

Matt Ross-Spang spent nearly a decade as the sound engineer at Sun Studio recording modern bands using vintage techniques pioneered by his idol, Sam Phillips. When producers asked him to remix an album full old Elvis songs, he jumped at the chance. 


Muhammad Mahdi Karim

The Shelby County Health Department has confirmed the third case of the Zika virus in the Mid-South, though more infections are suspected due to vacationers returning from the Caribbean and Central America. Click this story for more.


Caroline Bauman/Chalkbeat

On this week's Mid-south Education report, school closings may save money, but they also affect communities in unexpected ways. Chalkbeat Tennessee community editor Caroline Bauman  explains why two recent closings could have long-term repercussions for Shelby County Schools.


On today's Culture Desk, Brooks Museum curator Stanton Thomas talks about this "Moon and Moss" vase from Newcomb Pottery in New Orleans. Though these vases ceased to be made in 1940, the H. Sophie Newcomb Memorial College continued to exist until 2005, when Hurricane Katrina forced Tulane University to dissolve the school during its rebuilding process. Listen below for more.


Christopher Blank/WKNO-FM

Vincent Astor didn't like smoky bars. But in the 1970s, that's where Memphis' gay community met up. He knew that to create a more tolerant city, he'd first have to be out and outspoken himself. Thus began his decades-long activism in the local gay rights movement. Along the way, he stashed away thousands of cultural documents, which are now available for viewing at the Benjamin L. Hooks Central Library.

  

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." 


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