Tales from the South

Tales from the South was a nationally recognized radio show. During its first year in 2005, shows were recorded in the studio of public radio station KUAR (FM 89.1) in Little Rock (Pulaski County). In 2005, Paula Martin Morell and her business partner and husband at the time, Jason Morell, opened the Starving Artist Café in the Argenta Arts District of North Little Rock (Pulaski County) and later began recording shows there. The café closed in 2014, and the show began recording at various venues in Little Rock and North Little Rock, as well as around Arkansas as part of a touring arts program, before ceasing production in 2016.

On Tales from the South, amateur and professional writers read their own true and often humorous essays about some aspect of their lives in the South. Shows were recorded live every Tuesday night with an audience. After being edited into thirty-minute segments, the shows aired each Thursday evening on KUAR, the Little Rock affiliate of National Public Radio (NPR). The shows also were distributed to YouTube, Stitcher Smart Radio, Public Radio Exchange, and iTunes. They were rebroadcast each week on World Radio Network (WRN) on the WRN English Europe Channel.

Each show usually featured three writers who each read a story of about five to eight minutes. Once a month, the show hosted a special event, the Tin Roof Project, which featured a well-known southerner who read from an original work for about twenty minutes. Guest readers included authors Kevin Brockmeier and P. Allen Smith, film stars Natalie Canerday and Judge Reinhold, and screenwriter Graham Gordy, as well as politicians and artists.

Also part of the show was live music by various southern musicians, including acclaimed blues guitarist Mark Simpson.

In an interview in 2011 for the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, Morell said she never intended to become a radio producer. She was working as an online English professor for St. Leo University in Florida when a colleague in San Francisco, California, asked for her help in getting submissions for a similar show. Plans for that show later fell through, however, and Morell was left with lots of stories. She talked with Ron Breeding and other producers at KUAR about using some of the stories on the radio, and Tales from the South was born soon thereafter.

Morell was responsible for soliciting and editing all submissions for Tales from the South. Often, she grouped her selections so that each show will have a common theme like “life changes,” “childhood memories,” or “coming-of-age” stories. Morell said that she wanted the stories she selects to promote the “distinct Southern art of story-telling rich in language, detail, and voice,” though stories did not have to be set in the South.

In 2013, Morell began taking Tales from the South on the road as part of the Arkansas Arts Council’s “Arts on Tour” program, which promotes the arts around Arkansas. In cooperation with the Writers’ Colony at Dairy Hollow, Morell also taped occasional shows at Main Stage, a performance venue in Eureka Springs (Carroll County). Originally, the show was recorded live each week, but for the summer of 2015, Tales from the South went temporarily on hiatus as Morell moved toward doing shows for a flat fee, rather than for a portion of ticket sales. In February 2016, it was announced that Tales from the South had been acquired by Bourbon & Boots of North Little Rock. However, the last recording of the show occurred in May 2016.

Morell’s work with Tales from the South earned her numerous awards. In 2013, she won the Governors’ Arts Award and an Innovative Community Project Award from the Arkansas Community Development Society. In March 2014, Morell won the Henry Award in the Media Support category from the Arkansas Department of Parks and Tourism. The award honors individuals or organizations who have made a significant contribution in support of Arkansas’s tourism industry through the use of media. In 2013, Tales from the South was a finalist for the annual Stitcher Radio Award. Stitcher is a commercial business that provides live streaming for approximately 20,000 podcasts of sports, talk, and entertainment radio shows. Other nominees for the award included nationally known radio shows such as Snap Judgment and This American Life. In February 2014, Morell began a joint venture with Snap Judgment, a show on NPR that aired some of Tales stories.

Tales from the South was sponsored by the Argenta Arts Foundation and Temenos Publishing Company, with additional support from AY magazine, the William F. Laman Public Library, the Writers’ Colony at Dairy Hollow, the North Little Rock Visitors’ Bureau, and Oxford American magazine. Temenos Publishing also published an annual anthology titled Best of Tales from the South, comprising fifty stories that were featured on the show during the calendar year.

For additional information:
Gamez, Elizabeth. “Truth Be Told.” Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, March 15, 2011, pp. 1E, 6E.

Matthews, Jaman. “Tales from the South: True Grits.” Arkansas Times, April 6, 2011, pp. 14, 17. Online at http://www.arktimes.com/arkansas/tales-from-the-south-true-grits/Content?oid=1626271 (accessed October 5, 2021).

Rod Lorenzen
Butler Center for Arkansas Studies


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