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

Richland County meteorologist Ken Aucoin checks the weather several times daily to give accurate reports to county emergency managers.
Tut Underwood/SC Public Radio

Weather is constantly monitored in South Carolina by meteorologists for TV stations and the National Weather Service. But to keep people informed of—and protected from—threatening weather, Richland County has a unique advantage as the only county in the state, and perhaps one of few in the nation, to have its own meteorologist. Ken Aucoin is both the county’s meteorologist and an emergency manager, thus making the county uniquely positioned to respond quickly to bad weather.

Watching the Winds

Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley
Richard Rothwell, via Wikimedia Commons

Frankenstein is a classic of fiction, movies, and other media, and also a Halloween staple. The novel has not been out of print in the two centuries since it was published in 1818. USC English Professor Paula Feldman, an authority on the life of Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley, the author of Frankenstein, talks about the real- life tragedies in Shelley's life that caused her to wish she could bring the dead to life again, and the dreams that inspired the writing of the classic book that is regarded as the first science fiction novel.

A nurse instructs students on the use of IV medications.
Photo courtesy University of South Carolina

Nursing has been described as a virtually recession-proof occupation, one that will always be in demand.  Even so, the heads of nursing departments at both the University of South Carolina and Midlands Technical College decry the critical need for bedside nurses, in spite of the fact that their nursing programs are full.   They cite bedside nursing is physically demanding, and added to 12-hour shifts, night and weekend work and new positions in other areas of nursing as reasons for the shortage.

Mr. and Mrs. Mark Cain sign their wedding certificate before friends at the Columbia Fireflies ball park.
Tut Underwood/ SC Public Radio

A recent wedding at the home of the Columbia Fireflies minor league baseball team would seem unusual to most people, but to a group of University of South Carolina students, it’s just part of a class.  The wedding planning class is included in the curriculum of the Hotel, Restaurant and Tourism Management program, and for at least a decade has had the dual advantage of giving students experience in all the details that go into planning a wedding and providing the bride and groom with a free wedding and honeymoon.  The catch?  They must give the students total control over everything.  But s

Glen Ward
Courtesy of Glen Ward

Humorist and inspirational speaker Glen Ward left a comfortable job at a bank 25 years ago and took a leap of faith into a venture he’d long been doing as a  sideline – public speaking, including both inspirational messages and impressions of well-known personalities.   It worked out, because a quarter century later, he travels the country bringing South Carolina humor to 36 states and counting.  Whether he’s imitating famous Palmetto State politicians such as former U.S.

The South Carolina State Fair's midway rides at night.
Nathan Harper [CC BY-NC-ND 2.0] via Flickr

The South  Carolina State Fair has rolled around every fall since 1869.  Begun on Columbia’s Elmwood Avenue as an agricultural exposition, historian Rodger Stroup and fair manager Gary Goodman say it has kept its agricultural and mechanical roots while expanding through the years at its present location on Rosewood Drive, where it moved in 1914. 

These ladies have the responsibility of judging baked goods at the South Carolina State Fair, and they take their work seriously.
Tut Underwood/ SC Public Radio

(Originally aired in 2016) - Eating cupcakes, pies, cakes, and cookies is a pleasure for most folks, but for judges at the South Carolina State Fair, it’s also a responsibility.  Judges Laurie Aker and Mae Wells say because baking contestants work hard to prepare their entries, they should also be diligent in evaluating each entry to get the fairest (no pun intended) and most accurate result in determining winners.  Here they give their criteria for judging food, and for a judge’s qualifications.      Aker lists some common mistakes made by some cooks, and judge supervisor Brenda Turner tel

Pixabay

In 2015, 753 people took their own lives in South Carolina.  Reducing that number is the goal of the state’s chapter of the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention.  The Foundation holds six "Out of the Darkness" walks around the state each October, in Greenville, Myrtle Beach, Charleston, Columbia, Aiken, and Hilton Head-Bluffton.   In this story we talk with two women who have suffered the suicides of loved ones and have found healing by participating in the walks, discovering that helping others cope with their losses helps them, as well.

A vintage microphone.
HutchRock [CC0 1.0] via Pixabay

From his beginnings in radio in Darlington in 1960 (which he lied his way into at the urging of his mother), Woody Windham has become a South Carolina radio icon.  He has enjoyed a long career in Columbia and Charleston, both solo and with his brother Leo.  It would not be too big a stretch to speculate that millions of South Carolinians may have grown up listening to "Woody with the Goodies" on a variety of stations in the Midlands and Lowcountry and beyond. 

American Alligator, Alligator mississippiensis.
National Fish and Wildlife Service

Once-endangered, alligators have made such a comeback under federal and state protection that hunting them is now allowed by the state during a one-month season.   Many have also intruded enough into human space to become tagged as “nuisance alligators,” which must be removed by state or private personnel.  Jay Butfiloski, alligator and fur-bearer expert from the S.C. Dept. of Natural Resources, says a nuisance alligator is simply a gator in a place where someone doesn’t want it to be, whether it’s a private pond or a shopping center parking lot. 

Watchmaker Todd Waites works with tiny parts to get big results in repairing watches at Wristwatch Doc in  Cayce, SC, near Columbia.
Tut Underwood/ SC Public Radio

With competition from cell phones and an attitude of replace-not-repair toward many items, watch repair has become a rarer trade.  There are now fewer watchmakers (or repairers, to us general public types) in the United States than ever before.  Cayce watchmaker John Gawronski says that makes for a greater demand, and his staff is always busy.  He is sought out because not only does he have the skill, but also millions of rare watch parts gathered by buying out retiring watchmakers or jewelers.  There are opportunities for younger watchmakers if they’re willing to work, says Gawronski, and

U.S. Army Bell UH-1D helicopters airlift members of the 2nd Battalion, 14th Infantry Regiment from the Filhol Rubber Plantation area to a new staging area, during Operation "Wahiawa", conducted by the 25th Infantry Division, northeast of Cu Chi.
James K. F. Dung, SFC; U.S. National Archives Catalog:530610

Acclaimed filmmaker Ken Burns’s new documentary The Vietnam War airs this week on SCETV.  As a companion piece, we talked with Vietnam veterans Wade Fulmer and Jim Knight, as well as historian Fritz Hamer, who pointed out that Vietnam was the most unconventional of wars the U.S.

U.S. Marines with Company G, 2d Battalion, 7th Marines, direct a concentration of fire at the enemy during Operation Allen Brook, 8 May 1968.
Official Marine Corps photo 371490, via Wikimedia Common

Acclaimed filmmaker Ken Burns’s new documentary The Vietnam War airs this week on SCETV. In this segment, we continue our talk with historian Fritz Hamer and Palmetto State veterans Jim Knight and Wade Fulmer. Knight recalls many small firefights and one really big one – the TET offensive of February, 1968. Hamer said even though TET was a military disaster for the the North Vietnamese, it was a propaganda bonanza.

The exact nature of the crescent which adorns the corner of the South Carolina state flag has been the subject of debate for years.  Is it a moon, as many people say?  Two state historians say it sure looks like one, but according to the flag's creator, t
Wikimedia Commons [CC0 1.0]

South Carolina is widely acknowledged to have one of the most beautiful state flags in the country.   Created by Col. William Moultrie, the flag features a palmetto tree, which became a beloved icon of the state.  But what about that crescent shape in the corner?  Many people call it a moon but is it really?  

Each of these silver spoons has a story to tell, and Dawn Corley knows them all.
Tut Underwood/ SC Public Radio

Dawn Corley of Charleston began collecting silver as a child under the tutelage of her great aunt.  As her collection grew, so did her expertise, until SCETV’s Beryl Dakers dubbed her the “Charleston Silver Lady,” a nickname which has stuck over the years.  Corley has presented programs on silver for U.S.

Flooded dunes on Sullivan's Island before Hurricane Irma hit the Carolina coast.
Victoria Hansen/SC Public Radio

Tourists are attracted to Charleston not just for its history, but also for its beautiful ocean views and beach access. But the ocean’s rising levels also pose a major threat to coastal cities like Charleston, especially when they combine with large rain events like the hurricanes the city has weathered over past years. Since 2014, Charleston’s streets have been flooded consistently more often, from 11 days in 2014, to 38 days in 2015 and 50 days in 2016. 

A telltale red hourglass shape identifies the black widow spider, a native of South Carolina.
Shenrich91 [CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons

People who leave their shoes on the porch to air out would do well to shake and inspect them before putting them back on, especially if left out overnight.  According to naturalists Rudy Mancke and Chick Gaddy, black widow spiders love to shelter there.   And even in the driest closets, attics or basements, brown recluses may lurk.  These are potentially deadly spiders that have rightly earned fearsome reputations.   

Prior to May, 2017, about 500 pelican nests, and those of other seabirds, were established on Crab Bank near Charlestons Shem Creek.
Courtesy SC Dept. of Natural Resouces.

Last spring, there were approximately 500 pelican nests on Crab Bank, a sandbar near Charleston’s Shem Creek where pelicans and other seabirds have safely bred for years.  Erosion has gradually reduced the area of Crab Bank, but a storm and high tides in May combined to nearly obliterate the breeding ground.  Now only about 45 pelican nests remain, with no nests left of the roughly 1000 terns that also nested on the bank. 

The world's hottest pepper- the Carolina Reaper, grown in Fort Mill.
Tut Underwood/ SC Public Radio

Many people distinguish themselves in the worlds of sports, entertainment, writing and other endeavors.  Ed Currie of Fort Mill has distinguished himself in a much hotter manner:  he holds the Guinness world record for the hottest pepper on earth, his self-developed Carolina Reaper.  He grows many varieties of peppers for the food industry, but it’s the Reaper that makes some hot-sauce aficionados rethink how tough they are.  In addition to setting people’s insides on fire, however, Currie says the pepper has other uses in the paint, medical and defense industries.

Bicycle racers from around the world fly through the air as part of the BMX World Championships held recently in Rock Hill.
Tut Underwood/SC Public Radio

Rock Hill has enjoyed a growing reputation as an amateur sports Mecca, and the city recently proved it by hosting the BMX (bicycle motocross) world championship competitions.  Men, women and children came from across the globe to compete, and the event drew 3700 riders and 20,000 spectators from 48 countries. 

May 20, 2012, eclipse viewing at Arches National Park, Utah.
NPS/Neal Herbert

People across the nation are anxiously awaiting the total solar eclipse August 21st. South Carolinians are among them, as the Palmetto State will be one of the best places in the United States to view the event.  The 65-mile wide path of totality, or area of total eclipse, will pass through Greenville, Columbia and parts of Charleston.  Lawn chairs and sun block will help people to enjoy this once-in-a-lifetime event.  But two Midlands ophthalmologists remind us that the most essential  element to viewing the eclipse is proper eye protection.  The sun’s rays can burn the retinas of unprotected eyes and produce legal blindness.  Today we get good tips on safely watching the eclipse.

Nile [CC0 1.0] via Pixabay

Much of South Carolina will experience heavy traffic on and around Aug. 21. That’s the day the much-anticipated total solar eclipse will pass through the state in a 65-mile wide path from Greenville to Charleston.   Many law enforcement officers will have their hands full that day with traffic both from locals and the many visitors the state expects, some say up to a million people statewide. 

Mariah Williams helped test a new Braille guide to the Aug. 21 eclipse written by educators from the College of Charleston.
Tut Underwood/SC Public Radio

Millions of people nationwide are anticipating the total solar eclipse on Aug. 21. It will be a spectacle to behold, but some people can’t behold it: the blind. For this reason, College of Charleston geology professor Cassandra Runyon, along with fellow C of C geologist Cynthia Hall and a colleague in  Pennsylvania, developed a braille guide to the eclipse for blind and visually impaired people who want to know more about the event and what it entails.  They were aided by blind College of Charleston recent graduate Mariah Williams, who helped "field test" the book, which was printed by NASA.  Five thousand copies have been printed and distributed to libraries, schools for the blind and other service organizations nationally.

This tiny house may be only 400 square feet, but it contains a number of green, sustainable design features.
Tut Underwood/SC Public Radio

Three brand-new houses off busy Two Notch Road in Columbia seem a world away from the road’s heavy traffic.  They’re in a wooded area that a visitor would believe was in a forest miles from any city.  In addition to their unique location, the houses are different because of their size: just 400 square feet.  They’re tiny houses, part of a new back-to-basics movement that is gaining traction across the United States.  Friends Joanne Williams and Priscilla Preston thought up the houses when they met at Quaker meetings, where they talked about simplifying their lives.  They’re renting the tiny

Tut Underwood/SC Public Radio

This Thursday through Sunday, August 4th through 6th, is South Carolina’s annual Tax-free Weekend, and shoppers may save between $2 million and $3 million in sales taxes.  Arthur Dunn of one Columbia Target store says it’s a busier time for his store than Black Friday, and he expects an increase in business over last year.  The weekend is big for small stores, too, like Salty’s Board Shop, where owner Paul Goff expects to sell a lot of khaki pants and other school apparel, plus book bags and skateboards.   

On Aug. 21, a total solar eclipse will be seen along a roughly 70-mile wide path through South Carolina from the Upstate through Greenville and Columbia to Charleston.
NASA/Hinode/XRT, via Wikimedia Commons

This summer’s total solar eclipse is a rare event for the Palmetto State.  Normally a total eclipse doesn’t return to the same spot for close to 400 years, but this will be the second in only 47 years for the folks in Sumter and the surrounding area.  Hap Griffin remembers seeing the last eclipse as an 11-year-old on March 7, 1970.  He said he still recalls how "blown away" he was in the backyard of a friend.   Nearby, the Rev. Joel Osborne climbed a forest tower to take in the awesome celestial  event, and it was a push along his spiritual journey, he said.

Derek W. Black on the Tavis Smiley Show in 2016.
Courtesy PBS/Tavis Smiley Show

In many schools across the nation in the last few decades, concerns over discipline have led to so-called “zero tolerance” policies.  USC law Professor Derek Black says suspension and expulsion rates have doubled under zero tolerance policies in the past 30 years.  Texas educator Dr. Nesa Sasser Hartford believes that the policies are justified in three specific areas – drugs, guns and sexual improprieties.

Inspecting the new troops at Fort Jackson.  They learn the rules quickly- or they'll hear about it.
Tut Underwood/SC Public Radio

Fort Jackson has just celebrated its centennial and, as the nation’s largest army training base, new recruits pour in regularly for basic training.  Though they’re met their first day by a pack of screaming drill sergeants, privates Jose Solis and Wallace Castillo don’t mind.  They’ve come for a purpose: to be trained and to learn to be professionals.   They view the sergeants’ yelling as part of the system, and don’t take it personally.  That’s good, says Drill Sergeant Queshawnia Franklin, because that’s how the system is designed, and after the first few weeks have provided the recruits

Heather and Dave Mann, now on dry land, with Dinghy the Sailing Cat.
Haley Kellner/SC Public Radio

Not many people would sell their homes to go sailing up and down the east coast of the United States and into the Caribbean for six years.  But Heather and Dave Mann, late of Wisconsin and now of Summerville, did just that.   Dave says they did it for the adventure, and they had plenty of those, which Heather recorded in a book about the lessons she learned from the ocean during their voyage aboard their sailboat, the Wild Hair. 

Kudzu failed to deliver on its promise as erosion control, but spread so fast it has become an icon of the South.
Tut Underwood/SC Public Radio

A familiar sight on Southern country roads, and sometimes in towns, is kudzu.  The ubiquitous and fast-growing vine was imported from Asia as a decorative plant in the late 19th century, and promoted during the 1930s and 40s as forage for livestock and control for erosion.  According to Clemson Extension agent Dr. Tim Davis, it didn’t quite work out that way.  The plant, which can grow up to a foot a day, spread rapidly throughout the South.  But Davis and Dr.

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