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

A worker spray paints a shelf as one of many repairs to the home of Rob and Lisa Echols of Columbia. Their home was flooded when the Semmes dam at Fort Jackson failed during the record-setting rains of early October, 2015.
Tut Underwood/SC Public Radio

On the night of the flood, Rob Echols remembers hearing rushing water outside his house. At 5:20 am, he went downstairs and saw two feet of water in his dining room with more quickly rushing in.  He gathered his five children and two dogs, preparing to find higher ground, until he saw the car floating down the driveway.  "So, by that point, we knew we needed to get out of here. And the walls started shakin' and the floors started poppin," he says.

These bees have filled some of the beeswax cells with honey.
Tut Underwood/SC Public Radio

  Beekeepers are proliferating in South Carolina. While for a few it’s a living, for most people it’s a hobby, with home-grown honey as a benefit. Kieth Henry of Ridgeway in Fairfield County is one of thousands of hobbyists in the state.

The Life Pod.
Vincent Kolb-Lubo/SC Public Radio

Engineer Mike Weeks fused two geodesic domes together with the idea of creating a recreational shelter for outdoorsmen. His idea soon evolved into Life Pod, a small shelter containing a bed, toilet, shower, and mini kitchen that can be moved on a jet-ski trailer. When the inventor hooked up to brainstorm with Tom Ledbetter, an associate vice president at Midlands Technical College, the two became excited at the possibilities the Life Pod may offer: shelter for the homeless, victims of natural disasters, minimal housing for fast-moving Millenials, and more.

A glass of iced tea.

  On a warm day, a cold glass of sweet tea, called by some “the house wine of the South,” goes down mighty nicely.  It’s a drink that’s enjoyed all over the region, but nowhere is it appreciated more than in Summerville, which calls itself “the birthplace of sweet tea.”   According to storyteller and tea enthusiast Tim Lowry, the designation stems from an old soldiers’ reunion held in Summerville in 1890.  


These volleyball enthusiasts at Folly Beach are playing on 18 percent less sand than was on the beach prior to the historic floods and high tides of Oct 4, 2015.
Tut Underwood/SC Public Radio

In October of 2015, Hurricane Joaquin tore 18% of the sand from Folly Island.  The tide pulled much of it downstream as well as deeper into the ocean, creating sand bars.  For several areas along the coast in Charleston, there's now less real estate for families to pitch their umbrella, this coming summer.  South Carolina Beach Advocates, a group devoted to the preservation of beaches in the state, has requested beach re-nourishment funds from the federal government two years earlier than it normally would due to erosion. Re-nourishment means bringing in more sand from somewhere else.

Despite the inroads made by technology, friendly personnel are still on hand to check out materials to the public at Richland Library.
Tut Underwood/SC Public Radio

  Technologies such as e-books and the Internet are part of the rapid changes that have caused libraries to rethink their roles and adapt to an evolving society. At USC’s Thomas Cooper Library, 16 million items from the collection were downloaded last year. Over at Richland Library, a complete four-floor renovation will allow new adaptations such as sound recording and video editing spaces, new “makerspaces” to foster creativity and 30 additional meeting spaces. The directors of both libraries comment on the need for libraries to stay relevant in the 21st century, and the actions of these libraries prove that they have indeed done just that.

Food truck at West Columbia's HEMI Food Truck Court.
Tut Underwood/SC Public Radio

    The food truck is an idea whose time has apparently arrived, as more and more of them are seen on lots and at festivals bringing hot (or cold) delicacies to where people gather. A West Columbia entrepreneur has just opened a food truck court to give consumers a wider choice of menus, as well as a place where trucks can gather and know there will be a market for their wares. Meanwhile, a North Charleston fabrication business is contributing to the industry in another way – it’s constructing food trucks out of vintage 1940s and ‘50s trucks, as well as more modern delivery vans.

  A recent survey by WalletHub, a website that helps consumers and small businesses to make better financial decisions, found South Carolina’s tax system to be the third fairest in the nation. While it’s nice to be complimented, two tax experts say the survey may be stretching a bit, and not considering certain factors. S.C. Department of Revenue Executive Director Rick Reames says the state has the highest individual income tax in the South.

What had been Lindsay Langdale's Columbia home October 3, 2015 was a flooded ruin the next day.
Tut Underwood/SC Public Radio

Nearly six months after the catastrophic floods of Oct. 4, 2015, Columbia residents whose homes were ruined are still coping with the aftermath. Lindsay Langdale of the Glenhaven Manor neighborhood revisits the tri-level house that was devastated by the flood, and to which she will not return. Next door, neighbor Mark Rowland also has no plans to come back to the two adjacent houses he owns. But while Rowland has found a new home, Langdale has not, after looking at scores of houses.

Since the fall of 2015, Columbia College has celebrated the centennial of the nearly-one-year teaching residence at the Midlands women’s college of one of the giants in American art – Georgia O’Keefe.  Jackie Adams, the college’s art gallery coordinator, notes the importance of that year.  That was the year that her style changed, from one influenced by her New York teachers to the direction that would win her worldwide acclaim.  Columbia artist Judy Hubbard, who mounted an O’Keefe-themed exhibit at the college’s gallery, believes that O’Keefe’s “isolation” in Columbia gave her the space to

Bobby Richardson of Sumter has lived a life studded with diamonds – baseball diamonds, that is.  After a distinctive 12-year career with the New York Yankees in their 1950's – 60's prime – a time in which he set some records that still stand – he returned to South Carolina and coached at both the University of South Carolina and Coastal Carolina University, as well as a stint at Virginia’s Liberty University.  In this segment of South Carolina Focus, Richardson recalls how he chose to sign with the Yankees, his biggest thrill in baseball, and an exhibition game that built up the Gamecocks’

treet musician Matthew Dickinson plays his hammered dulcimer on a bright Saturday morning at the Soda City Market on Columbia's Main Street.
Tut Underwood/SC Public Radio

  Many elements go into the quality of life of a city: business, the arts, education, outdoor activities and more. In Columbia, a longtime Saturday morning ritual gives residents and visitors alike a chance to stroll down Main Street and purchase food from peanuts to Mexican to fresh fudge; enjoy street musicians playing instruments from violins to horns to dulcimers; or shop for jewelry and other goods.

Dog walkers meet and greet one another, and sights, sounds and smells mingle to produce an experience to remember, or to look forward to. Either way, people keep returning to keep the event popular and part of the life of the Midlands.

Temporary location of Forest Lake Fabrics, near Columbia, SC, two doors down from the original location, which is under repair.
Tut Underwood/SC Public Radio

Many small businesses were heavily damaged by the catastrophic flood that hit Columbia in October 2015.  Working through a mass of forms from insurance companies, FEMA, the Small Business Administration and others, some are beginning to dig their way out toward recovery.

  Forest Lake Fabrics is one of these.  Founded 52 years ago in the old Forest Lake Shopping Center by the grandfather of present owner Michael Marsha, it has been in its current location on Forest Drive for more than two decades.

lisafx/123RF Stock Photo

  For some survivors of the “thousand-year-flood” that drenched South Carolina in October 2015, loss or damage to homes, furnishings and vehicles were not all they suffered. Mental or emotional scars accompanied the loss of housing and possessions.

A Myrtle Beach Motel sign
Tut Underwood/SC Public Radio

  With the end of summer and the onset of fall and winter, people return from summer vacations to their normal routines. Though logic might suggest that a summer destination like Myrtle Beach may all but shut down in the winter, a local vacation promoter and a restaurateur paint a different scene. While one set of visitors to the Grand Strand does leave, others take their places. As we discover in this week’s South Carolina Focus, the audience for Myrtle Beach’s attractions doesn’t disappear in winter, it morphs into a different group with different expectations of the noted beach town’s amenities.

Robert Smalls
Mathew Brady via Wikimedia Commons

  This edition of South Carolina Focus looks at Robert Smalls, who, despite his name, was a large figure in black history in South Carolina. Born a slave in Beaufort, Smalls became a hero during the Civil War (to the Union) when he stole a Confederate ship and steamed his family and those of other slaves to freedom. Two historians tell us that after the war he returned to South Carolina where he was elected to the state legislature, and later to the United States Senate. Throughout his legislative career, Smalls had a hand in laws that improved education, advanced women’s rights and secured Parris Island as a military base, which it remains today.

Some houses in Gadsden were damaged beyond repair and are being demolished.
Tut Underwood/SC Public Radio

[Updated 03-17-16]

Problems still linger for residents in many of the areas hit hard by October’s “thousand year flood” in South Carolina. Richland County, located in the Midlands of the state, has held a series of community input meetings in locations such as Gadsden, Eastover and the capital city of Columbia, to gather information on what needs still exist.

FEMA Disaster Assistance Interview

  The United Way maintains a one-stop phone number, 211, to help flood survivors who still have unmet needs to connect with a list of local volunteer organizations. As FEMA disaster recovery centers have closed, the local groups remain to permanently help people with relief from any emergency.

  Paleontologist Dave Cicimurri digs up fossils 34.5 million years old, not in some wilderness spot, but almost in downtown Aiken. The ancient sharks, rays, barracudas and more tell him not only that the area was once the bottom of the ocean, but the very sediment they’re buried in contains information about the environment of past eras. This information, in turn, may point to where the environment is headed in the far-flung future.

Marjory Wentworth
Andrew Allen/marjorywentworth.net

  Not every state has a poet laureate, but Charleston’s Marjory Wentworth is South Carolina’s. She’s written numerous books and hundreds of poems, at various times humorous, romantic and serious. She serves not only as an advocate for the arts in the Palmetto State, but can occasionally speak for the state’s soul, as when she was called upon for a poem to mark the occasion of the slayings of the Emmanuel Nine. Her poem “Holy City” was not only featured on the front page of the Charleston Post and Courier, but the BBC recorded her reciting it, for inclusion in its covering of the story. That was a solemn occasion, but Wentworth also discusses the joy of writing, and why she can’t live without it.

    Many survivors of last month’s floods have gone through great emotional strain from dealing with the many aspects of trying to get their lives back in order. FEMA is offering counseling services at no cost to flood victims who feel overwhelmed, exhausted or unable to cope with the load. Recovery centers across the state have mental health professionals on hand or readily available to victims.

Find the closest disaster recovery center to you: (800) 621- 3362 or fema.gov/disaster-recovery-centers • Register to apply for assistance: DisasterAssistance.gov or call (800) 621-3362 • Disaster assistance for the deaf, hard of hearing or speech impaired: (800) 462-7585 (TTY).  Those who use 711/VRS, call (800) 621-3362.   The toll-free telephone numbers will operate 7 .m. – 10 p.m. seven days a week until further notice.  Survivors may also choose to visit a disaster recover center.  

University of SC students clean up flood debris from Gills Creek, the location of some of the Midlands' worst flooding.
Tut Underwood/SC Public Radio

Just because some of South Carolina’s flood-ravaged roads and bridges have been re-opened and repairs to homes and businesses are in progress does not mean that little remains to be done.  A group of University of South Carolina students tackled one unmet need at Columbia’s Gills Creek the weekend prior to Martin Luther King, Jr. Day.

USGS water level gauge at the Gills Creek in Columbia, SC.
Tut Underwood/SC Public Radio

Of the many agencies that rushed to help victims of October’s floods, one remains largely unknown.  It’s the U.S. Geological Survey, which maintains a network of satellite-connected guages to measure the elevation of rivers and creeks statewide.   This information and more is shared with numerous agencies, and is vital to the National Weather Service, which uses it to make accurate predictions and generate flood warnings and watches when needed. 

File Photo

    As more people receive flood relief from FEMA and the Small Business Administration and few people use the agencies’ disaster recovery centers, the centers are closing around the state. This doesn’t mean that help is going away, however. FEMA spokesman Jim Homstad tells us that as recovery centers close, the task of giving assistance will be taken over by more local and community groups. Flood survivors will still have access to FEMA’s helpline, however.

The Richland County Disaster Recovery Center at the Richland Library, Main Branch, Closes Jan. 13, 2016
SC Public Radio

  As flood victims get their lives back to a semblance of normalcy and no longer utilize FEMA’s disaster recovery centers, they will close as they are no longer needed.  The Richland County Library location of the recovery center on Assembly St. in downtown Columbia will close at 6 p.m. Wednesday, January 13, 2016.  Two other centers in Richland County, and nine others around the state, will remain open until they are no longer needed.

For those registered with FEMA, help and information can still be found at the following:

Elliot New

  For more than 20 years, Elliott and the Untouchables have been entertaining audiences throughout South Carolina and beyond with traditional and original blues music that jumps and swings.  In this edition of South Carolina Focus, Elliot New talks about his passion for this “real” music and how he writes his songs.  He also demonstrates his homemade “diddley bow,” a primitive instrument early bluesmen made from nails, baling wire and broomsticks.  Untouchables bassist J.T. Anderson also comments on what motivates his friend and fellow musician.

  After a warmer than normal December, the National Weather Service has predicted a wetter and cooler than normal winter for South Carolina.  Derrec Becker of S.C. Emergency Management Division cautions that severe weather is possible, and provides a list of simple things people can do to prepare for winter storms.

  In 1942, there were 42 mills in South Carolina, grinding wheat and corn into flour and cornmeal. Now few remain. One, Allen Brothers Milling Company in Columbia, is known for Adluh flour and cornmeal. The family-owned business has survived and thrived by not compromising on quality and diversifying its flour, grits and cornmeal into a line of 25 food products. Its Palmetto State-made products are found throughout the Southeast and up the Atlantic coast, and some are even found in Texas and California.


Checking the progress of a patient at the Turtle Rescue Program of the South Carolina Aquarium.

  In the past year, 38 sick or injured sea turtles have been rescued or rehabilitated at the sea turtle hospital operated by the South Carolina Aquarium in Charleston, the only such facility in the state. In this edition of South Carolina Focus, we follow Turtle Rescue Program Director Kelly Thorvalson on a tour of the facility and learn from her and public relations manager Kate Ditloff about the planned expansion of the facility, which needs more space to handle the increasing number of injured sea turtles being brought to the hospital. The facility has an excellent record of healing injured turtles, but the iconic reptiles still face many problems in a changing environment.

A mandolin built by Frank Sox.
Courtesy SC State Museum

  Frank Sox of Lexington not only enjoys bluegrass music, he also plays bluegrass mandolin. But he goes further than that: he actually builds mandolins, and is nearing his 100th. He talks about his unusual hobby and how he got started. In his woodshop, he also demonstrates how he builds mandolins and tells us why he doesn’t advertise and isn’t worried if his instruments don’t sell: it’s not for the money, it’s a labor of love.