The Blazer Experiment

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In 1968, the police department in Menlo Park, California hired a new police chief. His name was Victor Cizanckas and his main goal was to reform the department, which had a strained relationship with the community at the time.

Cizanckas wanted to rebuild trust with the community — and he made a number of changes to improve the department’s image. One of the most ground-breaking and controversial was the new blazer-style uniform he implemented.

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Vox Ex Machina

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In 1939, an astonishing new machine debuted at the New York World’s Fair. It was called the “Voder,” short for “Voice Operating Demonstrator.” It looked sort of like a futuristic church organ.

An operator — known as a “Voderette” — sat at the Voder’s curved wooden console with a giant speaker towering behind her. She faced an expectant audience, placed her hands on a keyboard in front of her, and then played something the world had never really heard before.

A synthesized voice.

At the time, no one knew this talking machine  — and one of its relatives, the vocoder — would go on to help the country win a war.

The Green Book

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The middle of the 20th Century was a golden age for road travel in the United States. Cars had become cheap and spacious enough to carry families comfortably for hundreds of miles. The Interstate Highway System had started to connect the country’s smaller roads in a vast nationwide network. That freedom and mobility, however, was not equally available to everyone.

This was the era of Jim Crow. Some African-American tourists would drive all night instead of trying to find lodging in an unfamiliar or possibly dangerous town. They would pack picnics so they could avoid stopping at restaurants that might refuse to serve them.

But in 1936, a mailman named Victor Hugo Green started a travel guide to make life on the road easier and safer for black motorists.

 

Lights Out

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Back in the summer of 1977, two young DJs named Disco Wiz and Grandmaster Casanova Fly were spinning records for a growing crowd on a busy street corner in the Bronx.

Around 9:30 that night — July 13th — the city experienced a massive blackout, with power failing in all five boroughs. Looting, arson, and rioting happened across the city, but Disco Wiz and Grandmaster Casanova Fly have their own theories about how the blackout influenced the creative life of the Bronx and the birth of hip hop.

Lights Out explores what happened that night.

This story was produced with a grant from In the Dark, a UK-based radio organization. It has since aired on Re:sound, RTE Radio 1, and BBC Radio 4, and was written up by the Guardian’s radio critic.

 

Snowflake

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Well before the early 1500s, when Sir Thomas Moore first coined the term “Utopia,” people have been thinking about how to design their ideal community. Maybe it’s one that doesn’t use money, or one that drops traditional family structures and raises children collectively.

For a community of people on the outskirts of the small Arizona town of Snowflake, “utopia” is just a place where they won’t be physically sick. That’s because everyone in this community is suffering from a controversial medical condition called Multiple Chemical Sensitivity or MCS.

Most scientific studies have not shown a connection between chemical exposures and symptoms, and the American Medical Association does not recognize the illness as an organic, chemical-caused disease.  There is a subset of doctors who believe in MCS and treat it, but most mainstream physicians avoid the diagnosis and may recommend therapy to treat the symptoms, which they believe to be largely psychological. A lot of people with the illness take matters into their own hands, designing their diets, habits, and environments to make themselves feel better.

This MCS utopia in Snowflake is a complicated place. Some doctors would argue it isolates people, pushing them deeper into their illness. But Susan Molloy, the unofficial Mayor of the community, claims that Snowflake is a necessary refuge, and she guards the place fiercely. “All it takes is one family building a gas station out there on the road, and a lot of us would have to move.”

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