Alex Smith began working in radio as an intern at the National Association of Farm Broadcasters. A few years and a couple of radio jobs later, he became the assistant producer of KCUR's magazine show, KC Currents. In January 2014 he became KCUR's health reporter.
In the jazz world, making it big isn't what it used to be. Record sales are down, instrumentals don't make hit songs, and even Grammy-winners need day jobs. But for those with the right combination of talent, dedication and luck, it's still possible to make a living and good music.
Kansas City, MO – This week, the Royals hosted the Oakland Athletics in a series that resulted in 1 win for the A's and 2 wins for Kansas City. Long-time baseball fans might recognized the A's visit as a kind of homecoming; before the Royals, the A's were Kansas City's home team from mid- 50s to the mid- 60s.
Kansas City musicians Nathan Granner and Jeffrey Rukaman have a new take on the iconic 1955 Frank Sinatra album.
By Alex Smith
Kansas City, MO – Kansas City has seen its fair share of "tribute" bands in the past few years. Midtown bars have hosted sometimes nearly note-for-note renditions of music by Radiohead, U2 and Huey Lewis and the News, to name a few.
Kansas City, MO – Earlier this summer, about 25 Cuban families gathered to honor Father Patrick Tobin, a Catholic Priest who helped them settle in Kansas City almost 50 years ago. As a board member of Catholic Relief Services, Tobin was given the job of helping refugees fleeing the Cuban Revolution. Tobin organized parishes in Kansas City to provide housing, jobs and basic services for the Cubans. Alex Smith spoke with Father Patrick Tobin as well as one of the Cubans who arrived in the early 60s, Maria Rovarosa.
Kansas City, MO – If you grew up in Kansas City anytime since 1980, you probably took a school field trip to Exchange City. At this learning center, grade school students take on the roles of various members of an adult community, like the mayor, banker and radio reporter, to learn how the economy of the "real world" really works.
Valley Falls, Kan. – This coming weekend, E.H. Young Park in Riverside will serve as a showcase not just for Scottish culture, but for feats of strength as well with the the Kansas City Scottish Highland Games.
Kansas City, Mo. – If you've been paying careful attention to the financial crisis in the past few years, or the more recent news of financial reform proposals, you've probably come across the unconventional views of economist and law professor Bill Black. He's recently testified before Congress four times, and he's appeared on Bill Moyer's Journal and in Michael Moore's film Capitalism: A Love Story. He's also been heard as an expert commentator on NPR News and This American Life.
Kansas City, Mo. – Many in the health and pharmaceutical industries believe that the greatest possibilities for indigenous knowledge in mainstream society may come from natural healing remedies. Commonly used herbal remedies like aloe vera for burns, St. John's wort for depression and valerian root for insomnia are proven not just by clinical trials, but by thousands of years of traditional use.
Kansas City, Mo. – Businessman and political boss Tom Pendergast was a major player in Kansas City life for nearly 20 years. Many of the facts of his underground activities during Prohibition have been lost to history.
But new renovations and development in the Crossroads have recently revealed another clue to understanding the man who's been called the Al Capone of the Plains.
Kansas City's Experimental Instrument Orchestra is a folk band, in which the two members craft their own instruments.
Kansas City, MO – Folk music has always relied on a do-it-yourself philosophy. But Kansas City's Experimental Instrument Orchestra takes the idea to new extremes. They not only improvise music, but also create their own instruments. KCUR's Alex Smith recently spoke with EIO band members Amy Farrand and Mark Smeltzer.
Kansas City guitarist Will Matthews has toured and recorded with the Count Basie Orchestra for nearly 15 years, but he's also found time to develop a solo career.
By Alex Smith
Kansas City, MO – In the 1930's, Kansas City may have served as the jazz capital of the world, but today, you rarely hear the swing music of groups like the Count Basie Orchestra. Count Basie died in 1984, but his band continues to play around the world to audiences craving the classic Basie sound.
Lawrence, Kan. – Now that it seems spring may have really begun, farmers and gardeners are making plans to grow food and ornamental plants. But an ambitious new project at the University of Kansas has researchers tilling the soil in hopes of growing medicine. KC Currents' Alex Smith went to Lawrence this week to find out more.
Rich Hill, Mo. – March is typically when the outdoor planting season starts for Amish and Mennonite farmers in Missouri. But this year, many of these farmers may be exploring ways to farm using more environmentally-conscious methods. KCUR's Alex Smith reports.
Local author Ann Ingalls' new children's book introduces young readers to the legendary pianist Mary Lou Williams.
By Alex Smith
Kansas City, MO – If she were still alive this year, jazz pianist and composer Mary Lou Williams would be 100 years old. Williams was considered by many to be the greatest female jazz instrumentalist of all times. She spent the years between 1929 and 1941 in Kansas City, and was one of the principal architects of the Kansas City swing sound.
Overland Park, KS – This holiday season, some Kansas Citians got an early start on Christmas. The city's Malayalam community, which consists of about 400 families from the Indian state of Kerala, held their annual Christmas party last Saturday at Blue Valley Northwest high school. KCUR's Alex Smith stopped by to find out more about the holiday traditions of one of the world's oldest Christian cultures.
Kansas City, MO – There are a few street corners in Kansas City where you almost always see someone with a sign asking passers-by for money or food. But if you've driven by any of those typical spots in downtown during the past few months, you may have noticed that, instead of panhandlers, the corner is occupied by a cheery worker in a yellow windbreaker waving a sign that reads "Have a Great Day."
Kansas City, MO – Despite the economic climate, homelessness in the Kansas City area is only up slightly this year, according to new data. But 50% of those surveyed, report being homeless for the first time.
Kansas City, MO – The number of homeless in greater Kansas City has increased just slightly in the past year, and fewer homeless people are seeking social services, according to the Homeless Services Coalition.
Homeless Services Coalition Executive Director Brian O'Malley reports that 13,600 homeless people sought social services in 2009, a 2% decrease from last year. But 50% report being homeless for the first time, and O'Malley believes Kansas City is falling behind other cities in dealing with homelessness.
Lawrence, KS – Kansas has been gradually losing population for over a century. But a new study suggests that regionalization, the movement of people from rural to urban areas within Kansas, is actually more significant and pronounced trend.
KC Currents' intern Tim Bridgham spoke with a few Kansas City transplants about why they moved here: Bill Gallo, actually another former KCUR intern, and two of Tim's friends Andrew Pirotte and Jordan Hasty.
When the Majestic Steakhouse in downtown Kansas City shut down in May, Bram Wijnands was forced to look for a new way to spend his Friday and Saturday nights. For the previous 16 years, the Dutch pianist had delivered authentic 1930s KC-style swing and boogie woogie in the cellar which once served as a speakeasy.
Kansas City, MO – Historian Thomas Frank first came to national attention in 2004, when his book What's The Matter With Kansas?, which explores the culture wars in our region, spent 18 weeks on the New York Times Bestseller list. Since that time, the political climate of Kansas has shifted a bit: Democrat Kathleen Sebelius was elected governor (and since left for Washington) and Democrats like Raj Goyle of Wichita have made gains in the statehouse.
Kansas City, MO – As the first major wave of troops return from Iraq, the job market is likely to see a new batch of motivated, young job-seekers. KCUR's Alex Smith recently went to a veteran's job fair and spoke with new veterans. But he found the job market is already flooded with a previous generation of vets with plenty of experience and just as eager to find work.
Independence, MO – Monday was the 61st anniversary of Harry Truman signing executive order 9981, which racial integrated the US military. A forum at the Truman Library used the occasion to draw attention to what some say is a similar civil rights battle. KCUR's Alex Smith went to Independence, Missouri to find out more.
John Brewer talks about his double life of firefighter and jazz / electronica musician.
By Alex Smith
Kansas City, MO – The phrase: "Don't Quit Your Day Job" has been used as a put down for decades. If someone sings badly, that's what they're told. And yet, often it's the day job that provides the inspiration, material, or simply a structured schedule for the art.
Lawrence, KS – Soldiers returning from war often find the shift to civilian life to a be difficult one, but the support of fellow veterans as well government programs like the GI Bill can help ease that transition. The federal government has recently passed a major expansion of GI education benefits and it's likely this new expansion will have a big impact on the lives of vets. Alex Smith traveled to Lawrence, Kansas to talk with Daniel Parker who helped push for the new benefits.