EarthWorms Castings

with Jean Ponzi

Worms, Me & Radio: A Love Story

Across a quarter-century, as of this month, a company of spirit worms has faithfully joined me every week, for just an hour at a time, inviting anyone, anywhere to tune into GREEN ideas, through conversations beamed on airwaves.

In other words, I’ve been hosting “Earthworms” on KDHX for twenty-five years now.
And, like so many other energies flowing from this radio station, the show seems to be a positive influence.

My Dad liked to say, “Stand still long enough and you’re a leader.” This has certainly proven true for me as an advocate of (as I like to say it) eco-LOGICAL awareness and values. And it has been worth the wait: plugging away for all the years that environmental topics have been perceived as hippy-dippy backwater oddball tree-hugging weirdo stuff, which is manifesting now as (much more) mainstream popular-culture stuff.

People caring about Green ideas is a big step forward. Of course there’s much more awareness and action needed, but a milestone in nudging this shift is a good excuse to tell the story.

It was a happy accident that I became a talk show host. I had been volunteering on fledgling FM-88 for a few months, part of an early-morning show team, when Dave Taylor, my great friend, radio mentor and former KDHX station manager, decided a strip of talk shows would be good across the weekday noon hours.

The KDHX mission, a major driver in those early years, was involving women and minorities in radio broadcasting. I was a woman and I could talk, so Dave figured I should host one of those five new talk shows.

I was flattered, and I agreed. A hitch was that I had no idea about talk shows. Johnny Carson was starring in late-night TV, and a couple of radio legends, like Terry Gross on NPR and Paul Harvey in Chicago, had established a talking niche. But this was 1989, way before the wave of call-in talk show mania, or the flood of talking-head pundits overflowed our popular media.

I was also new to environmental subject matter. People listening to “Earthworms” might think I was born with a Green issue burbling from my mouth, but I was totally Green-illiterate until just before I got on KDHX.

It’s true! I was a sophomore in high school in 1970, in Wisconsin, when my own Senator Gaylord Nelson recognized the need for public environmental education and founded the first Earth Day. I have no recollection of this event, whatsoever. Likewise, shortly after I moved to St. Louis, folks about an hour south of here were locked in a fight for their lands and their lives, against the “done deal” Meramec Dam. “Stop the Dam” ads were playing on every Wehrenberg movie screen, and activists (some who are now my friends) were plastering “Meramec Dam” stickers, statewide, onto the bottom of Stop signs. I was totally ignorant of this too.

It wasn’t until 1988, two months before I got involved with KDHX, that I got hip to any local environmental concerns, when I lucked into the job of coordinating a World Environment Day event at the place that’s now my supremely valued employer, the Missouri Botanical Garden.

I began to meet our area’s Green Giants. Francis Scheidigger, the Kirkwood alderman who started a recycling center by standing, day by day at cans he set up in a parking lot, near where now for decades a Recycling Depository bears his name. Roger Pryor, the red-bearded folk-singing ferocious champion of clean air, clean water and open spaces – who teamed with folks including the exceedingly quiet man who became Missouri’s largest private landowner, Leo Drey – to dog legislative protection of our state’s natural treasures. Kay Drey, Leo’s wife, a towering opponent of nuclear energy who’s still one of, if not the leading, citizen expert on nuclear energy issues, nationally. And others: Mary Hall, Wilma Kennell and Louise Green, leaders here of the United Nations Association and the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom. Lewis Green, Louise’s husband, the fierce legal eagle whose lawsuits tirelessly worked to turn rapacious tides – and whose non-profit legacy, the Great Rivers Environmental Law Center, continues this vital work. They came into my life “out of the blue,” my teachers, my Environmental Elders.

When I started hosting Earthworms, incredibly knowledgeable, dedicated folks like these responded to my requests for interviews. They were willing to talk to me – a person who knew next to nothing about what they were trying to accomplish – and they respected what I was inexpertly trying to do, get environmental information out there to the listening public.

I really didn’t know beans about these topics, but I was interested, I took notes as we talked, I researched the issues before I interviewed. I did my best to ask good questions. And I gave my airtime – my precious hour every week – to the issues, the causes and the groups that couldn’t simply buy it, still a priority for my shows today.
I enjoyed a radio conversation recently with Eric and Crystal Stevens, who organically farm LaVista CSA, up in Godfrey Illinois. Among many other lively details, we discussed how they are featured on the cover of a national health magazine as “The New Face of Farming.” We talked soil, economics, family fun, community benefits of local food production – and much more. As these lovely, productive, creative humans were leaving the studio, Eric shared something based on a date we had mentioned, 1997, when The Healthy Planet magazine was first published.

“I was in high school,” he said, “thinking about how I could make a difference in the world. I was listening to ‘Earthworms’ on KDHX and reading The Healthy Planet. I decided I would work for the Earth, as a farmer.”

This story’s moral is that anyone, anytime can flip the Green light on in heart and mind, and do some (maybe a lot of) Green good. Opportunities are unlimited.
Happy Earth Day from Earthworms! I am so grateful to be of service.

Join Jean Ponzi and friends at The Stage at KDHX, Tuesday April 22, for the Earth Day Worm-O-Rama – a LIVE musical-comedy-visual celebration of living on Earth. Free! For details visit www.kdhx.org.