Sarah Fenske | KBIA

Sarah Fenske

Sarah Fenske joined St. Louis Public Radio as host of St. Louis on the Air in July 2019. Before that, she spent twenty years in newspapers, working as a reporter, columnist and editor in Cleveland, Houston, Phoenix, Los Angeles and St. Louis.
 
She won the Livingston Award for Young Journalists for her work in Phoenix exposing corruption at the local housing authority. She also won numerous awards for column writing, including multiple first place wins from the Arizona Press Club, the Association of Women in Journalism (the Clarion Awards) and the National Society of Newspaper Columnists.
 
From 2015 to July 2019, Sarah was editor in chief of St. Louis' alt-weekly, the Riverfront Times. She and her husband, John, are raising their two young daughters and ill-behaved border terrier in Lafayette Square.

Bill McClellan has been entertaining and enlightening the readers of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch for 39 years, all but three of them as a columnist. In recent months, even as he battles cancer for a second time, he has continued to file regular dispatches that probe the city’s past and its future with insight and good humor.

McClellan joined us on Tuesday’s St. Louis on the Air to talk about the future of daily newspapers, the columns he’s lived to regret and the reason he continues to write, despite enduring regular chemotherapy treatments. 

“It’s fun. I still have this thin veneer of being a reporter. It’s getting thinner and thinner, admittedly,” he said. “But I can still call people up and say, ‘Why did you do this?’ And I can still go to trials. If I didn’t have this thin veneer of being a reporter, I’d just be another nosy old guy.”

“Soul Train” was on TV. Groovy teachers were teaching “Jonathan Livingston Seagull” to the high school English classes. David Bowie stopped by Kiel Auditorium to promote a little album called “The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars.” Was there a more idyllic time to be a teenager than Creve Coeur in the early 1970s? 

For Jonathan, the protagonist of James Brandon’s new young adult novel “Ziggy, Stardust and Me,” it isn’t quite that simple. Sure, the music is incredible. But Jonathan is gay. And in St. Louis in 1973, that means intense and even painful therapy.

Tuesday’s St. Louis on the Air included a conversation about the novel, which has its hometown launch party Wednesday evening. Brandon, a St. Louis native who makes his fiction debut with “Ziggy, Stardust and Me,” discussed his book as well as his personal journey on the show.

Dr. Benjamin Rush is not yet the subject of a Ken Burns documentary, but he surely ought to be. The Philadelphia physician was a signer of the Declaration of Independence, an anonymous polemicist who helped inspire the Boston Tea Party and the editor of Thomas Paine’s wildly influential “Common Sense.” And, as detailed in a new biography by Stephen Fried, he both treated and became a close friend to several U.S. presidents. He personally brought Thomas Jefferson and John Adams back together after their friendship seemed permanently ended.

On Thursday’s St. Louis on the Air, Fried discussed “Rush: Revolution, Madness, and the Visionary Doctor Who Became a Founding Father.” Published last year, the book is just out in paperback. 

For two and a half years, the city of St. Louis has been exploring the idea of leasing St. Louis Lambert International Airport. An army of consultants has been toiling — largely behind closed doors — to put together a request for qualifications. They hope to attract a private company willing to pay big money up front in hopes of profiting off future airport operations. While other cities have flirted with the idea, the leasing of a major U.S. airport is unprecedented. 

On Wednesday’s St. Louis on the Air, two high-ranking city officials joined the program to discuss the state of the privatization conversation: Paul Payne, the city budget director and chairman of the airport working group, and Linda Martinez, deputy mayor for development.<--break->

In January 2018, the Impossible Burger first arrived in the St. Louis market. The meat-free patty was just like the real thing — it even bled. It became an immediate sensation. But it was soon snapped up by Burger King for its “Impossible Whopper.” After a hugely successful rollout right here in St. Louis, its popularity made the Impossible patties too popular for many locals to obtain. 

But they still had plenty of options. Some have experimented on their own to create tasty meat-free concoctions. Others are turning to more local alternatives. 

On Thursday’s St. Louis on the Air, Todd Boyman, CEO of Hungry Planet, discussed the way demand for the Impossible Burger is driving interest in his products, which include animal-free versions of everything from beef to crab. 

All the world’s a stage, Shakespeare instructed us in his beloved romantic comedy “As You Like It.” And in its new production of that very show, Shakespeare Festival St. Louis plans to put that to the test in both the streets of Pagedale, Missouri, and the farmland of Calhoun County, Illinois. Its remix of the classic play, titled “Love at the River’s Edge,” transports audience members across the Mississippi River to examine the urban and rural divide. 

On Tuesday’s St. Louis on the Air, Shakespeare Festival St. Louis executive producer Tom Ridgely discussed the new production along with its director, Kathryn Bentley.

“It’s unusual. This is a whole new ballgame for us, too,” Ridgely said. “But it all goes back to what Shakespeare in the Streets is all about, which is about trying to bring visibility to communities around St. Louis. How we can use theater to bring people together, to bring them across some of those boundaries they’re not used to crossing, and maybe have them listen to the stories of the people who live there, is what Shakespeare in the Streets is all about.”

Fentanyl has become an international scourge. It’s been blamed for a spike in drug overdose deaths in Missouri as well as around the world. It’s both contaminated many recreational drugs and become a substitute for heroin in many American cities. And yet the Chinese factory responsible for manufacturing most of its precursors has received funding and lucrative tax breaks from the Chinese government.

Through years of research, St. Louis journalist Ben Westhoff has become one of the foremost experts into the international fentanyl trade. On Thursday, he joined St. Louis on the Air to talk about his new book, “Fentanyl, Inc.: How Rogue Chemists Are Creating the Deadliest Wave of the Opioid Epidemic.” Westhoff discussed how his investigation followed the drug from its manufacture in China to the streets of St. Louis – and the terrible impact that synthetic, laboratory-made drugs are having on communities around the world.

Lamar Johnson has been in prison for 24 years. A St. Louis jury found him guilty of murder in 1995 – and he’s been serving a life sentence without the possibility of parole ever since. 

St. Louis Circuit Attorney Kim Gardner now says prosecutors in her office engaged in serious misconduct. Saying her Conviction Integrity Unit has found new evidence that Johnson is actually innocent, she sought a new trial.

St. Louis Circuit Judge Elizabeth Hogan denied that request. She says Gardner’s motion came “approximately 24 years” past the deadline. Tricia Bushnell, director of the Midwest Innocence Project, isn’t buying it.

Last week, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch unveiled a new online comment system. Declaring its old Facebook-based model broken, the daily newspaper explained that community moderation and a scoring system for commenters would give greater prominence to readers who “consistently drive positive conversation.”

On Tuesday, Post-Dispatch reader engagement editor Beth O’Malley joined us in studio on St. Louis on the Air to discuss how the new system is working and the difficulties of keeping online conversation civil in an angry age. Lindsay Toler, the digital engagement producer for St. Louis Public Radio, also joined the show. 

As the host of "The Splendid Table," a cookbook editor and food journalist, Francis Lam has explored cuisines from all around the world. That may be one reason he’s not at all disconcerted by St. Louis’ method of slicing bagels as if they were loaves of bread.

“They’re like bagel chips, but not toasted,” he said, laughing, during a conversation with St. Louis on the Air that aired Thursday. “I get it!”

And when you put it that way, really, wasn’t the whole “St. Louis-style" bagel controversy earlier this year just a bit overblown? Lam, a New Jersey native who lives in New York City, certainly thinks so.

Last Friday, the U.S. Attorney’s office dropped a bombshell: a sentencing memo that offered an extraordinary glimpse of an unfiltered Steve Stenger. Captured on federal surveillance, the then-St. Louis County executive revealed himself as profane, vindictive and utterly mercenary.

But for Dr. Sam Page, who replaced Stenger as county executive on the very day that his criminal indictment became public in April, the sentencing memo’s look at the real Steve Stenger was nothing new. Once a Stenger ally, Page soured on his fellow Democrat years before his downfall — and said he wasn’t surprised by the details revealed in the memo.

Updated 4:20 p.m., July 30, with audio of "St. Louis on the Air" host Sarah Fenske’s full interview with State Rep. Bruce Franks Jr.State Rep. Bruce Franks is planning to leave office at the end of the month, capping off an unlikely political tenure that placed the Ferguson activist and rapper firmly into the political spotlight.

Once he departs from the General Assembly, Franks will also leave Missouri. He said it’s a necessary move to deal with anxiety and depression exacerbated by a string of tragedies surrounding his friends and family.