Tut Underwood

Reporter, Producer

Tut Underwood is producer of  South Carolina Focus, a weekly news feature. A native of Alabama, Tut graduated from Auburn University with a BA in Speech Communication.  He worked in radio in his hometown before moving to Columbia where he received a Master of Mass Communications degree from the University of South Carolina, and worked for local radio while pursuing his degree.  He also worked in television. He was employed as a public information specialist for USC, and became Director of Public Information and Marketing for the South Carolina State Museum. His hobbies include reading, listening to music in a variety of styles and collecting movies and old time radio programs.

Ways to Connect

Of the various superstitions people are subject to, one only manifests itself up to three times a year: Friday the 13th.

These vats at Columbia microbrewery Hunter Gatherer yield locally crafted beer popular with Midlands beer connoisseurs.
Clay Sears/SC Public Radio

Small scale brewing operations like River Rat and Hunter Gatherer in Columbia are representative of the growing craft beer industry in South Carolina and nationwide. For this story we spoke with Kevin Varner, founder of Hunter Gatherer Brewing, about the laws he helped pass back in 1995 that gave brewers more freedom to run their operations. We also sat down with River Rat brewmaster Drew Walker, who talked about how brewers work to stay on top of such a rapidly changing industry.

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Friday was a special day for lovers of the Southern diet: National Fried Chicken Day!

From her Camden home, Washington Post columnist Kathleen Parker can monitor the goings-on around the world by flipping through the TV news channels and keeping an eye glued to her Post, which she reads daily along with the Wall Street Journal and New York Times.  Parker is one of the most widely-syndicated columnists in America, read in more than 400 media outlets twice a week.  Like her colleagues, she started as a newspaper reporter – in her case, in Charleston – and moved through the ranks of various papers until an editor realized she had a voice “and I have difficulty keeping my voice

As electric cars increase their range, which in new models is around 150 miles between recharges, and offer more variety of models, which is also on the way, they will become even more common, experts say.
mmurphy [CC0 1.0] via Pixabay

Traffic can be pretty noisy, but one component of the nation’s traffic is growing quietly.  The component is the electric car.  Sold by Chevrolet, Nissan, Tesla and other makers, Nissan alone has sold a quarter-million electric vehicles since 2011.    Mac Martin, who sells the electric Leaf model by Nissan, says it’s so quiet the manufacturer actually installed a speaker to project artificial speed-up and slow-down noises so that pedestrians will  be aware of their presence. 

The eastern diamondback rattlesnake is found in South Carolina, along with other venomous species.  Wearing proper clothing and keeping your eyes open when in the woods or hiking on trails can help people avoid being bitten by a snake.
Georgia Wildlife Resources Division via Flickr

With the coming of warm weather, more people are getting outdoors.  It’s a great idea – unless you’re bitten by a snake.  The number of snakebite calls to the Palmetto Poison Center has increased the past two years, to about 200 per year.  It’s probably not because more snakes are out there, but more emergency room doctors are calling the center for advice, because they don’t see that many snakebites, says center Director Dr. Jill Michels. 

A freshly buried sewer line parallels Gills Creek in Forest Acres. Some people and agencies are still recovering from the historic flood of October 2015.
Tut Underwood/SC Public Radio

The aftermath of the October 2015 flood continues to occupy the business of many people and agencies in South Carolina, such as the East Richland County Public Service District (ERCPSD), which operates the sewer system for a section of the county heavily damaged by the flood.  ERCPSD Deputy Director Ed Schooler said the flood changed the route of the system’s pipes, knocking many right out of the ground. 

abstract mental health symbol
GDJ via Pixabay

May is Mental Health Awareness Month, and there is much that most people are not aware of about mental health.  Just more than 43 million Americans experience a mental illness in a given year, including millions of cases of depression, anxiety disorder and Alzheimer’s disease.  USC psychiatrist Dr. Meera Narasimhan says many illnesses are caused by the stresses of everyday life, such as unemployment or divorce, or more jarring experiences such as war.  

The mandolin is a central of many Bluegrass groups. (Mandolin player with the Jeff Austin Band, on stage at the 80/35 music festival in Des Moines, July, 2016.)
Max Goldberg via Flickr [CC BY 2.0}

Bluegrass music has always been popular in South Carolina, but Willie Wells thinks it’s about to break out to a new, mass popularity.  Every Friday night, Wells holds a bluegrass jam at his store, Bill’s Music Shop and Pickin’ Parlor.  Fans and musicians enjoy a performance before getting out their guitars, banjos and fiddles to play country, gospel and bluegrass tunes with each other. 

file photo of water pouring into a drinking glass
StockSnap via Pixabay

May 6-12 is national Drinking Water Week, a time to appreciate the high quality water found throughout most of the Palmetto State.  Jennifer Satterthwaite, communications coordinator for the Columbia Water Works, says while the city has two excellent sources of water, Lake Murray and the Columbia Canal, many people don’t realize that what they use on land, such as use certain fertilizers, automobile oil or pet waste, can find its way via stormwater runoff  into the water supply.  Fortunately, Water Works Superintendent Clint Shealy says the city does more than it’s required to to keep its

Industrial robots on an automobile assembly line.
ISAPUT [CC BY-SA 4.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

Automation has been increasing in the Palmetto State’s factories for a long time, bringing with it fears of job losses for people whose jobs are vulnerable to being replaced by machines.  But Roger Varin of Staubli Robotics, which makes robots for industry, says jobs are changing, but not necessarily vanishing.  In fact, he asserts, automation creates jobs in some areas. 

Healthcare Power of Attorney illustration
James D. Sims [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

May is National Elder Law Month, a time lawyers endeavor to spread the word that their specialty provides legal advocacy, guidance, and services to enhance the lives of seniors and people with disabilities. Columbia elder law attorney Lauren Wasson says there are three basic financial documents that should be in place for every senior citizen: a will, a durable power of attorney and a health care power of attorney, which assigns a trusted person to speak for the elderly client if he/she is unable to speak for him/herself.

Sexaual assault awareness and prevention efforts extend into the military. This T-shirt was on display during a Sexual Assault Awareness and Prevention Month event at Kandahar Airfield in Kandahar province, Afghanistan, April 1, 2013.
U.S. Army photo by Sgt. Ashley Bell

The instance of sexual assault in the United States is growing at a rate that would surprise, even alarm, many people.  According to Shannon Nix, associate director of sexual assault and violence intervention and prevention at the University of South Carolina, one in four women - and one in six men – will be sexually assaulted at some point in their lives.   This high number doesn’t mean more assaults are happening, however.  Nix said it seems that way because more people are reporting it. 

The new Four Paws Animal Clinic recently opened a few blocks from its former location after more than two years of operations in a temporary building while it recovered from the 2015 flood and sought the right place for its new home.
Tut Underwood/SC Public Radio

For some, the so-called “thousand-year rain” and the floods that followed it in October 2015 may seem an event long past, but many are still recovering from the storm’s devastation.  For some businesses in Richland County, the after effects of the floods continue to pose particular difficulties. Take the Four Paws Animal Clinic, which was forced to operate out of a temporary location for more than two years after the flood, when the business' original building bordering Gills Creek was ruined.

North Inlet - Winyah Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve. Aerial view of meandering tidal creeks and extensive pristine marshes in North Inlet Estuary. Vicinity of Georgetown, South Carolina.
NOAA Photo Library/Flickr

Earth Day is held each April to remind people of the importance of caring for our world, according to USC Environmental Health Sciences Professor Joe Jones.  He practices what he preaches, as he regularly takes his students outdoors to pick up trash that has washed into a campus creek from Columbia’s Five Points area, where many students eat and drink.  He tells them that if trash could wash from one part of town to another, it could also get into the Congaree River and thus to the coast, and, ultimately, wash up on the shores of other countries. 

Coral polyps on Molasses Reef, Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary.
Brent Deuel [CC BY 2.0] via Flickr

People picture coral reefs as bursting with color and teeming with a variety of undersea life, which many are. But their number is shrinking, says College of Charleston biologist Phil Dustan, because they are hyper-sensitive to temperature changes, and climate change is warming the ocean to intolerable levels for many reefs. In his 40-plus years of studying reefs, Dustan said, the Florida Keys, for example, have probably lost 90 to 95 percent of their living coral reefs.

Orders in hand, Navy Capt. Marc A. Mitscher, skipper of the USS Hornet (CV-8) chats with Lt. Col. James Doolittle, leader of the Army Air Forces attack group. This group of fliers carried the battle of the Pacific to the heart of the Japanese empire.
U.S. Navy

76 years ago (April 18 1942) 80 brave men did what had never been attempted: they flew army bombers off a U.S. aircraft carrier on their way to bomb Tokyo.  The attack, which has become known to history as the Doolittle Raid, was America’s first strike back at Japan after the infamous sneak attack on Pearl Harbor that brought the United States into World War II.  In this report, Mount Pleasant author James Scott talks about the significance of the raid to the war, and its great psychological effect both on the American and Japanese publics. 

 The cost of raising a child to the age of 17 has been estimated to be about $234,000.  But that figure can easily quadruple for children with special needs.  Donald Bailey knows.  He is a special needs advocate and author whose grown son has autism.   He urges families with special needs members to make a plan for caring for that individual because, as it did with him, the question will eventually come around: what will happen when mom and dad (or other family) are no longer around to care for him/her? 

Jnn 13 [CC BY-SA 3.0] via Wikimedia Commons

"The Star Spangled Banner" is one of the most familiar songs in the United States, and rightly so, since our national anthem is sung or played at so many events, particularly sporting events.  And with so many ball games and other events, there are many opportunities for people to sing or play the anthem.  Each spring, the Columbia Fireflies minor league baseball team holds auditions for people to have a chance to share their musical talents with the public at a Fireflies game during the season.  This week we talk with  - and listen to – a few of the musicians who tried out for the 60-some

Thousands of cells phones are smuggled into South Carolina prisons every year.   Many are confiscated, but the ones which aren't are being used to plan crimes from inside prison walls.
SC Dept of Corrections

Thousands of cell phones are smuggled into South Carolina’s prisons, and those of other states, each year.  This is probably the worst kind of contraband to be smuggled in, say officials, because they are being used to continue some convicts’ careers of crime from behind prison walls.  Murders, drug deals and all kinds of scams are planned and executed from within prisons with these phones, says state Dept. of Corrections Director Brian Stirling.  

This house on Hassel Street in Charleston got a makeover for the popular PBS program "This Old House."
Tut Underwood/SC Public Radio

The popular series "This Old House" has been a fixture on PBS  since 1980.  It has filmed in many locations across the country, and now it has come to South Carolina.  The show recently shot the renovation of a classic single-wide home in Charleston for broadcast beginning this week.  (The series also features the renovation of a second house.)

A law making its way through the state legislature would require the method of executing death row criminals to default to the electric chair in cases where lethal drugs are unavailable to the state.
Photo courtesy S.C. Department of Corrections.

South Carolina has two methods of executing condemned criminals:  lethal injection and electrocution.  But because convicted prisoners are allowed to choose between them, almost all will choose lethal injection (the last electrocution in the state was in 2008).  This presents a problem, according to Brian Stirling, director of the state Department of Corrections.  The state has run out of the drugs used for lethal injections, and the manufacturers refuse to sell the state more for fear of backlash, because the state has no law to shield the companies’ names from public disclosure.  Thus, i

According to Clemson University biologist Peter Adler, two thirds of the approximately 60 mosquito species in South Carolina don't bite humans.  This Aisian Tiger mosquito, however, does.
James Gathany, US Center for Disease Control and Prevention

Mosquitos are among nature’s biggest pests.  Their bites itch, they’re annoying and they can carry diseases.  But surprisingly, says Clemson professor Peter Adler, of the approximately 60 mosquito species that inhabit South Carolina, two-thirds of them DON’T bite humans.  Some are adapted to reptiles, others to birds, and some don’t feed on blood at all.  Of those that do, different things about people attract them:  size, the amount of carbon dioxide they produce, even blood type!  (Type A, you’re lucky.  You’re their least favorite.  Type O, sorry about that.  They love you.)

Emily Hughes cuddles with one of the  two-to-three dozen friendly felines to be found at the cat cafe in West Columbia.  She finds hanging out with the animals a stress reliever when she can't get home to Eastover to see her own pets.
Tut Underwood/SC Public Radio

Cats are beloved pets by millions, but many people can’t have them because they live where pets aren’t allowed or are subject to other restrictions. However, over the last decade,  a national phenomenon has sprung up to help cat-less cat lovers get their feline fixes: the cat café.  Andres Ortega has opened a cat café in West Columbia, and there are similar cafes in Greenville and Charleston. 

Poison Center operator Kelly Funderburg, a former emergency room nurse, answers a call and looks up information to advise the caller about a potential toxin.
Tut Underwood/ SC Public Radio

A child has drunk sweet-smelling shampoo.  A senior has taken his wife’s prescription by mistake.   A person comes to the emergency room after taking multiple medications at 3 in the morning.  What to do?  The Palmetto Poison Center is on-call 24/7 to help with cases from parents’ worries to questions from doctors unfamiliar with the effects of varying drugs taken together. 

A three-left cluster is an easy way to spot poison ivy.  Naturalist Rudy Mancke said other plants have three-leaf clusters as well, but if you encounter such a plant, the wisest course is to leave it alone.
Tut Underwood/SC Public Radio

Poison ivy is a common plant in South Carolina that can make people miserable for weeks.  Naturalist Rudy Mancke said the vine can both grow on the ground and can climb trees, which it likes to do.  The itch and rash poison ivy (and its cousins, poison oak and the rarer poison sumac) produces can last for two to four weeks, according to University of South Carolina allergist Dr. David Amrol.  He says it sometimes can be tricky to detect the rash’s source, because it doesn’t show up for at least 12 hours, and sometimes four or five days. 

The horn section of the band at Lee Correctional Institution.  Musicians work on original songs to perform with members of DeCoda, a New York-based chamber music group.   The annual week of collaboration is something new for everyone involved.
Tut Underwood/SC Public Radio

Lee Correctional Institution in Bishopville counts numerous musicians among its inmates.  Such is their talent that they have attracted the attention of DeCoda, a New York-based chamber music group.  For four years now, the prison has sponsored a program with the group in which DeCoda comes to work with the prisoners at Lee for a week to write and play music for an annual performance.  

USC's Maxcy College is home to students of many nations.  The International House builds lifelong bridges of friendship and understanding, and prepares many American and foreign students for international careers.
Photo courtesy International House, University of S.C.

The halls of the University of South Carolina’s Maxcy College reflect the voices not only of many students, but of many languages.  Maxcy houses the University’s International House, a living-learning experience for approximately 200 American and international students.  The students derive many benefits from life in International House, from culinary and cultural events to speakers and grant and research opportunities.  Faculty principle Dr.

The inside of David Jones' practice balls are ribbed to give them strength.  The two halves are fused together by friction.
Tut Underwood/SC Public Radio

David Jones and his son Brantley are baseball fans.  Brantley played as a youngster, and was so enthusiastic about batting practice that his older brother, who didn’t like the game, was forced by circumstance to invent a pitching machine so he wouldn’t have to pitch to his brother for hours every day.  That machine, created as a school science project when he was only 11, and Brantley just 9, became the foundation for a business. 

USC Law School's Pro Bono program provides student volunteers for legal services throughout South Carolina.
Tut Underwood/ SC Public Radio

It’s tax season, and many people are working with tax preparers.  But some preparers are giving away their services for free to elderly or low income clients.  They’re tax law students in the Pro Bono program at the University of South Carolina School of Law.  The Pro Bono program provides volunteer services to many causes year round: clerks for pro bono lawyers, research, wills and other areas of the law. 

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