Frank Morris

National Correspondent and Senior Editor

Frank Morris has supervised the reporters in KCUR's newsroom since 1999. In addition to his managerial duties, Morris files regularly with National Public Radio. He’s covered everything from tornadoes to tax law for the network, in stories spanning eight states. His work has won dozens of awards, including four national Public Radio News Directors awards (PRNDIs) and several regional Edward R. Murrow awards. In 2012 he was honored to be named "Journalist of the Year" by the Heart of America Press Club.

Morris grew up in rural Kansas listening to KHCC, spun records at KJHK throughout college at the University of Kansas, and cut his teeth in journalism as an intern for Kansas Public Radio, in the Kansas statehouse.

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Frank Morris / KCUR 89.3

An ancient battle, an eager teenager and a small iron ball have helped a Kansas archaeologist rediscover a lost Native American city, one that may have been the second largest in what’s now the United States. 

It turns out, the clues to this mystery had been floating around for centuries — right underfoot in Arkansas City, Kansas.

Frank Morris / KCUR 89.3

City leaders say Kansas City can get a new, single-terminal airport at no risk to tax payers.  Burns & McDonnell, one of Kansas City’s big engineering firms, is offering to take on the project at Kansas City International Airport, not just the design but the financing as well. 

Kansas  City Mayor Sly James says the deal would leave the city completely out of the project’s funding.

Frank Morris / KCUR 89.3

On May 4, 2007, an enormous tornado nearly wiped Greensburg, Kansas, off the map. What happened next was almost a laboratory experiment in re-engineering the classic American small town.

Like the towns all around it, Greensburg was in decline before the storm. In a bid to survive, town leaders decided to go green in a big way. Ten years on, the ambitious effort says a lot about the headwinds facing many rural towns. 

Frank Morris / KCUR 89.3

Senator Jerry Moran (R-Kansas) says he hasn’t read the legislation the House passed Thursday to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act. What’s more, he says, it doesn’t matter, because the Senate is going to reboot the whole issue.

Frank Morris / KCUR 89.3

Tuesday voters in south central Kansas will be the first in the nation to decide a congressional race in the age of Trump.

The special election in the Kansas 4th District will replace Mike Pompeo, who now leads the CIA. It’s a district that would, under normal circumstances, be considered a lock for the Republican candidate. But of course, these are not normal times, and resources are flowing into the district from left and right.

Frank Morris / KCUR 89.3

Independence police officer Thomas Wagstaff, who was shot in the head during a robbery Wednesday, may have been hit accidentally by another police officer. 

Jackson County Prosecutor Jean Peters Baker lays blame for Wednesday’s shooting squarely on the men charged with the robbery. Ronar Santiago-Torres and Joseph Wyatt and their alleged accomplices Donald Nussbaum and James McChan face charges in the the robbery at 36th and Delaware in Independence.

“I hold them hold them accountable in every possible way for his injuries, and I will continue to do so,” says Peters Baker.

Some of President Trump's proposed spending cuts would cripple programs that benefit communities full of his rural supporters, but at least in Strong City, Kan., some say they are ready "to bleed a little bit."

Strong City is a former railroad town of about 460 people, less than half the size it was in 1890. Trump's proposed budget aims at killing the program that threw a lifeline to the town's water system.

Frank Morris / KCUR 89.3

There have always been Americans worried about some pending religious, social or natural cataclysm. But, the business of catering to those fears, and helping people prepare to survive the next big calamity, has changed substantially in the age of Donald Trump.

And that change is evident on a particular county road in Kansas, near the center of the continental United States.  Here, what looks like a grassy mound is protected by barbed wire fence and a heavily armed guard. A massive concrete entrance frames big, heavy steel blast doors.

Frank Morris / KCUR 89.3

Of course, Republicans dominate Kansas. They hold all the statewide offices, and control both houses of the Legislature.

Meantime, Kansas Democrats have just elected a younger, and more progressive chairman, John Gibson. Gibson’s a lawyer who was raised on a farm in Missouri, went to MIT, and settled in the countryside northeast of Topeka.  

Frank Morris / KCUR 89.3

The violence and reported racism of a shooting at an Olathe, Kansas, bar that killed one Indian immigrant and wounded another as well as a good Samaritan has left the Indian community in Johnson County shaken and worried about the direction of the United States. But the incident also has strengthened the community's ties to the area. 

Frank Morris / KCUR 89.3

In deep-red Kansas, state Democrats threw their most energized annual meeting in years in Topeka on Saturday, largely thanks to the featured speaker: Vermont senator and former presidential hopeful Sen. Bernie Sanders. 

This is a two-part story on immigrants and small town viability. Part one aired on this Weekend Edition Saturday. For the full story, listen to both audio segments.

Like thousands of rural towns across the country, Cawker City, Kan., was built for bygone time.

Resident Linda Clover has spent most of her life in Cawker City, and she loves the place, but it's a shell of the town it used to be.

President Trump's threats to disrupt trade with Mexico aren't just worrying people south of the border.

Each time Trump attacks the North American Free Trade Agreement, known as NAFTA, the executives at a 130 year-old railroad company in Kansas City, Mo., hold their breath. Like a lot of U.S. companies, cross-border trade accounts for a lot of Kansas City Southern's business.

Frank Morris / KCUR 89.3

President Donald Trump’s threats to disrupt trade with Mexico aren’t just concerning people south of the border. Each time Trump attacks the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), the executives at a 130-year-old railroad with headquarters in downtown Kansas City, Missouri, hold their breath. Like a lot of U.S. companies Kansas City Southern depends on cross-border trade.   

Kansas City Southern takes Midwestern corn and auto parts to Mexico, and hauls finished cars, car parts and household appliances like washing machines and refrigerators back.

Frank Morris / KCUR 893

Abortion rights opponents marked the 44th annual demonstration they call the March for Life yesterday in both Washington, and Kansas City.  

Yesterday’s rally in downtown Kansas City drew about 100 people, which was substantial increase from last year. Kansas City author Jack Cashill says the event benefited from the much larger women’s marches last weekend.

“Thanks to them there are many more cameras here today than there otherwise would have been,” said Cashill.

Next week, white nationalists like Jared Taylor will celebrate a moment they've been waiting decades to see, when Donald Trump is inaugurated as the 45th president of the United States. Members of the white nationalist movement were among the first to embrace Trump's candidacy, and they celebrated after his election.

"Jan. 20 reflects a significant defeat for egalitarian orthodoxy," Taylor says.

It's no secret that Donald Trump campaigned as a champion of gun rights, but a Trump administration poses both welcome relief and an immediate problem for the gun industry.

For Larry Cavener, who recently visited a new gun shop called Tactical Advantage in Overland Park, Kan., this election means he can breathe easier.

"This means that we're not gonna be under siege for a few years, and it seems like it has been," Cavener says.

Peggy Lowe / KCUR 89.3

Updated 3:47 p.m., Wednesday

A “huge influx” of advance mail ballots and voters newly registering or changing their registration before the election combined to delay the county’s election results until early Wednesday afternoon, Johnson County Election Commissioner Ronnie Metsker said.

“We were overwhelmed with the turnout of the voters in almost every step of the way in this election,” Metsker said in a telephone interview Wednesday afternoon. “It was almost as unique in Johnson County as it was in other parts of the country.”

United Sates Department of Energy / Flickr-CC

A drive 30 minutes north of Omaha, Nebraska, leads to the Fort Calhoun nuclear power plant. It's full of new equipment. There's a white concrete box building that's still under construction. It's licensed until 2033. But the plant is closing Monday.

Nuclear power is expensive, especially when compared to some of the alternatives, so the U.S. nuclear power industry is shrinking. As more plants go offline, industry leaders are forced to reckon with what critics call a "broken system" for taking plants out of service and storing radioactive waste.

Like most farmers, Mark Nelson, who grows corn, soybeans and wheat near Louisburg, Kan., is getting squeezed. He's paying three times more for seed than he used to, while his corn sells for less than half what it brought four years ago.

"It's a – that's a challenge," Nelson says. "You're not going to be in the black, let's put it that way."

Low commodity prices are rippling up and down the farm-economy food chain — from the farm to the boardroom — and it has many of the huge companies that control farm inputs looking to a new future.

Frank Morris / KCUR 89.3

Salina, Kansas, may seem an unlikely Mecca for environmental activists, but it is — thanks to the Land Institute.

The Land Institute started with the bold idea that for farming to work long-term, farmers have to reverse a fundamental mistake they made 10,000 years ago when they started growing crops that have to be planted annually.

Now, after four decades developing alternative ways of raising grain, the leader and funder of the Land Institute, Wes Jackson, is stepping down – just as the scientific research going on there is ramping up.

Frank Morris / Harvest Public Media

Like most farmers, Mark Nelson, who grows corn, soybeans and wheat near Louisburg, Kansas, is getting squeezed. He’s paying three times more for seed than he used to, while his corn sells for less than half what it brought four years ago.

“It’s a – that’s a challenge,” Nelson says. “You’re not going to be in the black, let’s put it that way.”

Low commodity prices are rippling up and down the farm economy food chain from the farm to the boardroom, and it has many of the huge companies that control farm inputs looking to a new future.

Frank Morris / KCUR 89.3

Hillary Clinton brought her campaign for president to the National Baptist Convention USA in Kansas City, Missouri, on Thursday. The Democratic nominee used gospel verses and personal stories to distinguish herself from Donald Trump.

People attending the convention are almost entirely African-American, conservative, middle-aged and dressed to the nines. In her address, Clinton, a life-long Methodist, quoted scripture to knowing smiles and nods. Some audience members even recited lines along with her. 

Frank Morris / KCUR 89.3

Overland Park, Kansas-based Sprint says it’s set a new record for wireless internet speed in Kansas City, using a technology called three-channel carrier aggregation.

The technology works by bundling data streams, and organizing them to work like one.  Creating one big pipe can handle a lot more information.

Frank Morris / KCUR 89.3

Military installations in Missouri face budget uncertainty, according to U.S. Sen. Claire McCaskill.  McCaskill, a Missouri Democrat who sits on the Armed Services Committee, has been touring bases in across the state this week. She talked with people who maintain B-2 stealth bombers at Whiteman Air Force Base, before making her way to the Honeywell plant in Kansas City, where parts for nuclear weapons are produced. 

She says she’s hearing that uncertainty about the military budget is making it harder to plan ahead.

Laura Spencer / KCUR 89.3

When 10-year-old Caleb Schwab was killed earlier this month while riding the Verrückt waterslide in Kansas City, Kansas, it turned out that neither the state of Kansas nor the federal government had ever inspected it for safety. The accident has sparked a national debate on amusement park regulation.

Two years ago, there was lots of fanfare when the 17-story Verrückt went up at Schlitterbahn water park — in part because it seemed so dangerous. A video broadcast on Good Morning America showed test rafts with sandbag dummies sailing off an early version of the ride. 

Tyler Koonce / Twitter

Rounds of heavy rain fell Friday evening leading to flash flooding in parts of the Kansas City metro area. Up to six inches fell in just two hours on parts of the city, leaving some downtown and Midtown roads impassable.

The National Weather Service issued a flash flood emergency for the immediate downtown Kansas City area. It was the first flash flood emergency ever issued for the Kansas City area by the NWS.

Frank Morris / KCUR 89.3

Earlier this summer, Jeff Blackwood started the process of moving his business to Kansas City, Missouri -- and out of Overland Park, Kansas.  But first, he had something to say.

“I could have just moved and not said anything," Blackwood says. “There’s really no benefit to me in having said anything, but it comes down to conscience.”

Frank Morris / KCUR 89.3

The U.S. Supreme Court transformed the landscape of the abortion debate this summer with a sweeping decision throwing a broad class of abortion restrictions into question, and thrusting Missouri back into the center of the abortion debate.

The Planned Parenthood clinic at Cleaver Boulevard and Troost Avenue in Midtown Kansas City dispenses birth control and provides reproductive health exams, but doesn’t do everything a woman might expect from Planned Parenthood. 

Editor's note: This report contains accounts of rape, violence and other disturbing events.

Sex trafficking wasn't a major concern in the early 1980s, when Beth Jacobs was a teenager. If you were a prostitute, the thinking went, it was your choice.

Jacobs thought that too, right up until she came to, on the lot of a dark truck stop one night. She says she had asked a friendly-seeming man for a ride home that afternoon.

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