Frank Morris

Frank Morris has supervised the reporters in KCUR's newsroom since 1999. In addition to his managerial duties, Morris files regularly with National Public Radio. He’s covered everything from tornadoes to tax law for the network, in stories spanning eight states. His work has won dozens of awards, including four national Public Radio News Directors awards (PRNDIs) and several regional Edward R. Murrow awards. In 2012 he was honored to be named "Journalist of the Year" by the Heart of America Press Club.

Morris grew up in rural Kansas listening to KHCC, spun records at KJHK throughout college at the University of Kansas, and cut his teeth in journalism as an intern for Kansas Public Radio, in the Kansas statehouse.

Looking for a job? How about working way up in the air, in all kinds of weather, with thousands of volts of electricity?

Working on high-voltage lines pays well and doesn't require a degree, but electric utilities are hard-pressed to replace retiring linemen.

If you want to learn about the dedication and character needed to be a lineman, look no farther than a place with a super-abundance of line workers: the International Lineman's Rodeo.

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Americans have been intentionally ramming cars into each other for sport for decades. And at this time of year, fans crowd into county fairs to see battered, souped-up cars bash each other to pieces.

This steel equivalent of blood sport draws a passionate following, and the drivers say it is deeply addicting.

"There's nothing better," says John Green, a demolition derby driver at a recent fair in Franklin County, Kan. "A lot of people say they would do it, but until you get in there and do it you never know the real feeling."

Each year, convicted felons get thousands of weapons from licensed gun dealers. They skirt the mandatory background checks by having people who do qualify fill out the paperwork for them.

Now, the settlement of a lawsuit over a tragic murder-suicide in Kansas has made it easier to sue gun dealers who allow these "straw purchases" with a wink and a nod.

The greeting card industry is struggling to stay relevant in the digital age.

Hallmark has announced that it's closing its distribution center in Enfield, Conn., and cutting 570 jobs there, as it consolidates operations elsewhere.

For decades, the greeting card maker held a reputation as the type of company where good employees had a job for life.

Julie Elliott, Hallmark's PR director, says layoffs, like the ones announced this week, are especially painful.

The Charleston, S.C., shootings have sparked lots of discussion about the Confederate battle flag, but it's not the only symbol of the Confederacy.

Just a few years ago, downtown Hamilton, Mo., looked a lot like a thousand other forgotten, rural towns. Abandoned, forlorn buildings marred the main drag.

But in recent years, an explosively fast-growing startup business in rural north western Missouri has shaken up a staid industry, producing a YouTube star and revitalizing a town with a proud retail history.

In Missouri, two political suicides have stunned the Republican Party. In February, state Auditor Tom Schweich, a leading candidate for the party's nomination for governor, shot himself. Then just last month, his press secretary, Spence Jackson, took his own life. The tragedies have sparked fresh scrutiny of Missouri's increasingly bruising political system.

Schweich launched his campaign for governor with a scathing broadside against the state's Republican Party establishment.

Kansas City has some of the Internet's best service anywhere. Providers there jostle for customers who can now expect broadband that's about 100 times faster than the national average.

But, four years after Google Fiber landed in Kansas City, people are still trying to figure out just what to do with all that speed.

Kansas City's a modest, Midwestern place. Residents are proud of their barbecue and baseball team. But Aaron Deacon says that now there's something else: inexpensive, world-class Internet.

In Oklahoma, a state that largely rode out the recession on a gusher of new-found oil, things may be about to change.

Now it costs more to produce most of Oklahoma's oil than it's worth on the world market. That's triggering a sharp economic reversal, one that some say has the makings of a prolonged downturn.

"Over the last five years, the stars really aligned," says Roy Williams, president of the Greater Oklahoma City Chamber of Commerce. "The community's investment in itself just blossomed, the energy industry blossomed."

Out on Oklahoma's flat prairie, Medford, population about 900, is the kind of place where people give directions from the four-way stop in the middle of town.

It seems pretty sedate, but it's not. "We are shaking all the time," says Dea Mandevill, the city manager. "All the time."

The afternoon I stopped by, Mandevill says two quakes had already rumbled through Medford.

"Light day," she laughs. But, she adds, "the day's not over yet; we still have several more hours."

Mandevill may be laughing it off, but Austin Holland, the state seismologist, isn't.

Americans increasingly see decently fast Internet as more like a functioning sewer line than a luxury.

And a number of cities are trying to get into the Internet provider business, but laws in 19 states hamper those efforts. President Obama announced this week that he wants to lift those restrictions, and supporters of what is known as municipal broadband can't wait.

A Catholic bishop normally governs pretty much unchecked in his diocese — only the pope can dislodge a bishop. And each time Catholics celebrate Mass in Kansas City, Mo., they pray for Bishop Robert Finn, right after they pray for Pope Francis.

But some Catholics here, like David Biersmith, a Eucharistic minister, refuse to go along.

"When the priest says that, you know, you're supposed say it with him, but I just leave that out," Biersmith says. "I just don't say it. Because he's not my bishop, as far as I'm concerned."

It's prairie chicken mating season!

Still, it's tough being a lesser prairie chicken these days. This type of grouse once spanned an enormous area, though now they survive mainly in pockets of Oklahoma and Kansas. Their numbers are plummeting; in 2012, the population dropped by half.

But after they were recently listed as a threatened species by the U.S. government, complaints of federal overreach and lawsuits have followed.

A spinal injury left Iraq War veteran Tomas Young paralyzed below the waist in 2004. Further medical complications a few years later made him quadriplegic.

Although Young had enlisted two days after the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, he became an outspoken anti-war activist.

The news of Hostess' return to Emporia, Kan., sparked an ecstatic response in this beleaguered town — even though there will be only half as many jobs.

The new company, formed when investors bought Hostess' snack cake business, has hired longtime snack cake production veterans Pat Chambers and her husband, Bob, to help get the bakery here running again. Pat lost her job at the Hostess plant when it closed last November. Now, she sits beaming on her front porch, wearing a dirty Hostess work shirt.

On a normal day, Kansas City, Mo., processes more than 70 million gallons of raw sewage. This sewage used to be a nuisance, but Kansas City, and a lot of municipalities around the country, are now turning it into a resource for city farmers hard up for fertilizer.

After the sewage has been processed at a treatment plant, it's piped out to Birmingham Farm on the north side of the Missouri River.

After a dozen years at war, an estimated 2 million active-duty service members will have returned home by the end of 2013. Some reintegrate without much struggle, but for others it's not so easy. The psychological wounds of war can sometimes prove to be just as fatal as the physical ones.

For injured veterans such as Tomas Young, life is a daily struggle. But this Iraq War veteran, who says his physical and emotional pain is unbearable, has decided to end his life.

At War

Two rapid-fire snowstorms belted Kansas with more than 2 feet of snow this week. They caused thousands of accidents and all kinds of hardships — but they also produced very broad smiles from some quarters.

That's because in a place as dry as Kansas has been lately, a blizzard can be a blessing for farmers and ranchers.

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After one of the driest summers on record, recent rains have helped in some parts of the country. But overall, the drought has still intensified. The latest tracking classifies more than a fifth of the contiguous United States in "extreme or exceptional" drought, the worst ratings.

In some parts of the Lower Midwest, water-starved crops have collapsed, but the farmers have not. Farmers across the country are surviving, and many are even thriving. This year, despite the dismal season, farmers stand to make exceptionally good money, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Many people in Missouri are still backing GOP Rep. Todd Akin — some more strongly than before — after his controversial remarks about rape and pregnancy.

Akin was polling ahead of the incumbent, Democrat Claire McCaskill, in the U.S. Senate race in Missouri, but his support fractured into several distinct camps after his comment that women's bodies can block pregnancy in cases of "legitimate rape." (He has since apologized.)

Drought has set in early and hard across the Midwest, parching the Arkansas River basin. The river trickling out of the mountains is dry before it reaches some of the major agricultural uses downstream. And the drought is torching crops, sapping tourism and threatening supplies of drinking water.

Cassville, Mo., is a little town on the edge of the Ozark Mountains. During the Civil War, the Confederate state Legislature convened here. Tuesday, the Republican presidential caucus was the big draw. Most of the rest of the state holds its caucuses today.

Confusion On Caucus Night

The first caucus was a messy process. More than 250 people showed up, most planning to vote directly for the candidates. That was not to be.

Part of a series

Thanks to high commodity prices and surging productivity, U.S. farmers earned a net income of nearly $98 billion last year — a record, according to the Food and Agricultural Policy Research Institute.