Tom Williams

Program Director | Access Utah Host

Tom Williams worked as a part-time UPR announcer for a few years and joined Utah Public Radio full-time in 1996.  He is a proud graduate of Uintah High School in Vernal and Utah State University (B. A. in Liberal Arts and Master of Business Administration.)  He grew up in a family that regularly discussed everything from opera to religion to politics. He is interested in just about everything and loves to engage people in conversation, so you could say he has found the perfect job as host “Access Utah” and “Opera Saturday.”  He and his wife Becky, live in Logan.

Ways To Connect

REUTERS/Brian Snyder

On Wednesday’s AU, we’ll be talking again about Race in America. We’ll be responding, of course, to the killing of nine people in the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina, as well as the killing of Walter Scott in North Charleston. These deaths are, tragically, just the latest in a series of recent killings of African Americans.

Michael Nees, Assistant Professor of Psychology at Lafayette College, writing in, says that "self-driving cars are expected to revolutionize the automobile industry. Rapid advances have led to working prototypes faster than most people expected. The anticipated benefits of this emerging technology include safer, faster and more eco-friendly transportation. But, says Nees, we shouldn't ignore the human element of automated driving. Self-driving cars will still need people. He says "we can draw insights from aviation, as many elements of piloting planes already have been taken over by computers." 

The Supreme Court of the United States ruled in landmark case, Obergefell v. Hodges, that Same-Sex marriage is now legal in all 50 states. Today on the program we get your reaction, as well as the opinion of Utah's only openly gay politician, Senator James Dabakis, D-Salt Lake City, and Gay rights activist Derek Kitchen, who was the namesake of the Kitchen v Herbert Case that led to the strike down of Utah's Amendment 3, allowing for same-sex marriage in Utah back in 2013. Later in the program we here from Lynn Wardle, Bruce C. Hafen Professor of Law at Brigham Young University and Clifford Rosky, Professor of Law at University of Utah.

Jack Gruber, USA TODAY

The U.S. Supreme Court has upheld a key provision of the Affordable Care Act, and President Obama says the ACA is "here to stay." What's next for health care in Utah? What does this mean for you? We'll open the phone lines, email and Twitter for your comment or question and we'll look at possible expansion of Medicaid in Utah and related issues on a special edition of Access Utah. Joining us from the Utah Health Policy Project are Medicaid Policy Analyst RyLee Curtis and Randall Serr, Director of Take Care Utah. Also Joining the program are state Senators Brian Shiozawa and Luz Escamilla, along with State Representative Ed Redd. 

It was 2004, and Sean McFate had a mission in Burundi: to keep the president alive and prevent the country from spiraling into genocide, without anyone knowing that the United States was involved. The United States was, of course, involved, but only through McFate's employer, the military contractor DynCorp International. Throughout the world, similar scenarios are playing out daily. The United States can no longer go to war without contractors. Yet we don't know much about the industry's structure, its operations, or where it's heading. Even the U.S. government-the entity that actually pays them-knows relatively little. 

There are many needs in our communities, and there are dedicated individuals and nonprofits working to meet those needs. They sometimes don’t get the recognition they deserve, and you may want to help somehow but don’t know where and how. On Wednesday’s AU we’re opening the phone lines, email and Twitter and giving you the opportunity to spotlight a nonprofit or individual doing good in your community.

Amy Anderson from the Sunshine Terrace Foundation in Logan joins us for the hour and we’ll hear from representatives of Habitat for Humanity and other nonprofits, and we hope to hear from you!

Lance Hayashida, Caltech

Ken Valyear, Lecturer in cognitive neuroscience at Bangor University, writes in the Conversation that “Erik Sorto, 34, has been paralysed from the neck down for the past 13 years. However, thanks to a ground-breaking clinical trial [conducted by scientists at Caltech and USC], he has been able to smoothly drink a bottle of beer using a robotic arm controlled with his mind. He is the first patient to have had a neural prosthetic device implanted in a region of the brain thought to control intentions.” On Tuesday’s AU Ken Valyear will join us from Wales to discuss the latest in robotics and neuroscience.

Matthew LaPlante

Logan attorney Herm Olsen recently spent several weeks in the South Pacific island nation of Palau, helping the legal community there to make a transition to the jury trial system. Palau uses the American judicial system, but until recently they didn't allow for jury trials. Olsen reports to the Logan Herald Journal that "The Palauans were somewhat skeptical about a jury system, They said, 'Why do we need one? We have a judge.' One Palauan said 'I don't want to judge anybody. I don't want to make any decisions about guilt or innocence.'" An upcoming murder trial involving three defendants spurred the chief justice of the Palau Supreme Court to seek help. We'll also talk about the jury system in the U.S. and the ongoing meaning of the Magna Carta.

Since 2003, StoryCorps has collected and archived more than 50,000 interviews with over 100,000 participants. Each conversation is recorded on a CD to share, and is preserved at the American Folklife Center at the Library of Congress. StoryCorps is one of the largest oral history projects of its kind, and millions listen to their weekly broadcasts on NPR’s Morning Edition. StoryCorps’ mission is “to provide people of all backgrounds and beliefs with the opportunity to record, share and preserve the stories of our lives.”

W. W. Norton and Company

Our guest on Tuesday's AU is Mary Norris, who has spent more than three decades in The New Yorker's copy department. She's out with a new book "Between You & Me: Confessions of a Comma Queen" in which she addresses some of the most common and vexing problems in spelling, punctuation, and usage―comma faults, danglers, "who" vs. "whom," "that" vs. "which," compound words, gender-neutral language―and explains how to handle them. 

Readers of physical books leave traces: marginalia, slips of paper, fingerprints, highlighting, inscriptions. All books have histories, and libraries are not just collections of books and databases, but a medium of long-distance communication with other writers and readers.

"Letter to a Future Lover" is a collection several dozen brief pieces written by Ander Monson in response to library ephemera-with "library" defined broadly, ranging from university institutions to friends' shelves, from a seed library to a KGB prison library-and addressed to readers past, present, and future. 

Sandhill Cranes are some of the best-known, and loved, birds in the United States. Their tall stature and echoing calls combined with their close association with agricultural fields makes them easy to locate and instantly recognizable.  But there is far more to cranes than meets the eye. These magnificent birds have been part of the North American landscape for more than 9 million years. They have also inspired a documentary film "Mating for Life," which focuses on a personal pilgrimage by the filmmaker, Cindy Stillwell, to witness the annual spring migration of the Sandhill cranes. She sees in the birds a metaphor for human transformation. "Mating for Life" is a meditation on nature and art, and poses important questions about our need for both connection and solitude.

On Thursday's AU we'll talk with Cindy Stillwell and crane expert Paul Tebbel, who is the keynote speaker at the Cache Valley Sandhill Crane Festival, Friday and Saturday, June 12 & 13. 

Simon and Schuster

David McCullough, widely-acclaimed as a master of the art of narrative history, joins us for Wednesday’s AU to talk about his latest book, “The Wright Brothers.” McCullough has twice received the Pulitzer Prize, for “Truman” and “John Adams,” and twice received the National Book Award, for “The Path Between the Seas” and “Mornings on Horseback.” His other, widely- praised, books include “1776,” “Brave Companions,” “The Johnstown Flood,” “The Great Bridge,” and “The Greater Journey.” He is the recipient of numerous honors and awards, including the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation’s highest civilian award. David McCullough is also featured as narrator in many documentary films, such as Ken Burns’ Civil War series.

Cedar Fort Press

Utah author John Starley Allen joins us for the hour today. His latest book (from Cedar Fort Press) is "A Splash of Kindness: The Ripple Effect of Compassion, Courage & Character." Allen says that the little things you do make a big difference and small acts of goodness have a ripple effect and eventually change the world. He'll tell true stories of positive change, including stories of Romanian orphans; the great athlete Jesse Owens; and Philo Farnsworth, the inventor of television. 


Mark Klett

Arizona State University Professors Ben Minteer and Stephen Pyne say that from John Muir to David Brower, from the creation of Yellowstone National Park to the Endangered Species Act, environmentalism in America has always had close to its core a preservationist ideal. Generations have been inspired by its ethos—to encircle nature with our protection, to keep it apart, pristine, walled against the march of human development. But Minteer and Pyne say we have to face the facts. Accelerating climate change, rapid urbanization, agricultural and industrial devastation, metastasizing fire regimes, and other quickening anthropogenic forces all attest to the same truth: the earth is now spinning through the age of humans.


Scott Davidson-

Ferguson, Cleveland, Baltimore...Utah.  Officer-involved shootings and incidents continue to happen and to concern us, and Utah has not been immune to these issues. According to the Salt Lake Tribune, the first three homicides of 2015 were officer-involved shootings, and the Deseret News reports that so far this year police in Utah have shot and killed four people and wounded at least one. The Utah Legislature is conducting meetings (expected to continue through the summer) on police training, focusing on use of force and interactions with the mentally ill. Today on AU, we’re joined by state Senator Jim Dabakis, Marina Lowe, ACLU Utah Legislative & Policy Counsel, and Salt Lake City Deputy Chief of Police, Krista Dunn.

In the wake of the recent expiration of key provisions of the Patriot Act, our guest for the hour on Wednesday's AU is Frederick A.O. Schwarz, Jr., former Chief Counsel for the U.S. Senate's Church Committee on Intelligence, and author of the new book: "Democracy in the Dark: The Seduction of Government Secrecy" (The New Press) which explores key questions such as: how much secrecy does good governance require? 

According to the Deseret News National Edition: "In the spring of 2009, California-based writer Sharael Kolberg did the math and estimated that she spent four months of her year using some form of entertainment technology - whether watching TV or surfing the Internet. So Kolberg, 44, proposed a bold plan to her husband, a marketing executive, and their 5-year-old daughter: rid their home of all technology, from TV and phones to the Internet and digital cameras, for one full year. The result is Kolberg's newly released book, 'A Year Unplugged: A Family's Life Without Technology,' 'We went back to the '80s, basically. I got out my record player and typewriter, we used the phone book and paper maps,' Kolberg said. 'It enhanced our relationships with our friends and family. Technology takes that away from us.'"

While the wealthy stay wet in lush high-rise cities, the poor are forced to pay $6.00-plus for a gallon of water, and struggle to find ways north through militarized state lines. That's the frighteningly-plausible future depicted in Paolo Bacigalupi's new novel "The Water Knife." 

Pantheon Press

On Thursday's AU we revisit our conversation with Jennifer Jacquet, author of "Is Shame Necessary? New Uses for an Old Tool."

Robert Sapolsky (author of Monkeyluv) says: "In the age of Anthony Weiner and Miley Cyrus, shame seems an antiquated concept-a quaint tool of conformity-obsessed collectivist societies, replete with scarlet letters and loss of face ..." Jacquet says that in recent years, we as consumers have sought to assuage our guilt about flawed social and environmental practices and policies by, for example, buying organic foods or fair-trade products. Unless nearly everyone participates, however, the impact of individual consumer consciousness is ineffective. 

University of Nevada Press

Former Cache Valley resident Denice Turner has released a new book. “Worthy” is a memoir of loss and the search for acceptance. Raised in a Mormon household, she strives to find her place in the Church, and longs to be worthy of her mother’s love. When her mother dies in a suspicious house fire, Turner is forced to face the stories she has inherited. Contemplating the price of worthiness, she grapples with the mystery of her mother’s death, seeking to understand her mother’s battle with chronic pain.

Torrey House Press

Dave DeWitt is one of the world’s foremost authorities on chile peppers and spicy foods. He is a food historian and an associate professor in the College of Agriculture, Consumer and Environmental Sciences at New Mexico State University, and co-producer of the National Fiery Foods & Barbecue Show. He is author of more than fifty books, mostly on chile peppers and fiery foods, but also including novels, food histories, and a travel guide.

Kay Press

“At All Costs” details the life of Air Force Chief Master Sgt. Richard L. Etchberger, a Pennsylvania native who was among 12 U.S. airmen killed March 11, 1968, when a North Vietnamese Army special forces team scaled a 3,000-foot cliff and attacked their secret radar camp.


Etchberger helped rescue three of his comrades, two of whom were severely wounded, and made it safely aboard an evacuation helicopter himself before being shot through the floor as it lifted off from the mountain, where he helped lead a team that aided the U.S. bombing campaign of North Vietnam. He and two fellow airmen were killed outright. Their bodies and those of nine others were not recovered following the clash. The remains of two have since been identified through DNA testing and returned to their families. Author Matt Proietti, along with Sgt. Erchberger's sons Rich and Cory Etchberger, join us to discuss their father's legacy and receiving the Medal of Honor on his behalf.

National Geographic

"Cars, for Americans, more than anything else represent freedom." So says Matt Hardigree, executive director of, who is featured in National Geographic Channel's new documentary film, "Driving America," which premieres on Memorial Day. The film examines how car culture has changed the way we live, work, travel and socialize; and looks into the future, including potential game changers like Tesla's electric cars. 

Access Utah is presenting a periodic series of conversations on the hotly-debated topic of Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs.) Our last such program, a few months ago, presented the case for GMOs. Wednesday on AU, public interest attorney Steven Druker will present a vigorous case against GMOs. Mr. Druker initiated a lawsuit that, according to him, forced the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to divulge its files on genetically engineered foods.