Smart Talk road trip to the Gettysburg Bluegrass Festival

The Gettysburg Bluegrass Festival takes the stage this weekend in beautiful Adams County. The festival is well-known among music lovers for presenting top-notch Bluegrass music and as a place featuring entertainment for the entire family.

Smart Talk broadcasts from the Granite Hill Camping resort for a look at Pennsylvania’s long legacy of musical storytelling and Bluegrass tradition. There is also a discussion and preview of the new Ken Burns Country Music series.

In the series, PBS filmmaker Ken Burns explores the history of a uniquely American Art form: country music. From its deep and tangled roots in ballads, blues and hymns performed in small settings, to its worldwide popularity, Burns highlights how country music evolved over the course of the 20th century, as it eventually emerged to become “America’s music.” Burn’s series premieres on WITF TV September 15 at 8pm.

Stryker Combat Team Iraq anniversary and Stop blaming mental illness for mass shootings

Pennsylvania’s 28th Infantry Division of the National Guard has a long and storied past. The Division battle lineage dates to military campaigns during the Civil War and to the present-day conflict in Iraq.

The “Iron Division” was also the first, and only, National Guard unit to field the Stryker Combat Vehicle as part of the Army’s reorganization in the early 2000’s.

Ten years ago, the 56th Stryker Brigade Combat Team of the 28th Infantry Division deployed to Iraq for Operation Iraqi Freedom. WITF went along with a journalist embedded in the unit to file reports from the field.

Appearing on Smart Talk is former WITF journalist Scott Detrow to reflect on the anniversary and experience. Detrow is currently a political correspondent for NPR. He covers the 2020 presidential campaign and co-hosts the NPR Politics Podcast.

Retired Col. Marc Ferraro, Former 56th Stryker Brigade Commander, and Maj. Lois Mendoza, Commander 1st Battalion, 108th Field Artillery Regiment, 56th Stryker Brigade Combat Team are also in the studio to share their perspective on the historic deployment.

Also, the recent mass shootings in Ohio and Texas have renewed calls for greater attention on individuals with mental illnesses. Some Pennsylvania lawmakers say that any new gun control efforts must include an investment in mental health treatment and screening.

Mental health professionals, however, say that people with mental illness are being unfairly cast as the perpetrators. They point out that a history of violence and substance abuse are much more accurate predictors of future violence than a mental health diagnosis.

Joining Smart Talk to discuss the issue are Transforming Health reporter Brett Sholtis and Dr. John “Jack” Rozel, MD, Medical Director, Resolve Crisis Services and President, American Association for Emergency Psychiatry.

For more on mental health screening plus a deeper look at the changing tide of healthcare–check out WITF’s Transforming Health. A partnership of WITF, WellSpan Health and Capital Blue Cross.

Franklin & Marshall poll gauges voter satisfaction

The most recent Franklin and Marshall College poll finds that Pennsylvania voters are generally satisfied with how things are going in the state, and their personal lives.

Keystone voters also agree on several key issues; overhaul the state tax framework and get rid of the current property tax system. They also agree on how and who should pay for community police coverage.

Contrast this with how the electorate feels about the direction of the country and there is a little less optimism. The sentiment is split along party lines.

There are a few surprises in the poll results, as well. Like, the approval ratings for President Trump and which Democratic candidates top the survey.

Franklin and Marshall College political analyst and pollster Dr. G. Terry Madonna appears on Monday’s Smart Talk to discuss the poll results and provide perspective.

Election coverage on WITF is supported by the law firm of Saul Ewing Arnstein & Lehr LLP

After weekend shootings: Gun restrictions-what works?/Hate crimes in PA

Many Americans and lawmakers are demanding that something be done to prevent mass shootings like the ones in El Paso, Texas and Dayton, Ohio over the weekend. Thirty-one people died in those two incidents and dozens of others were wounded and injured.

Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf released a statement saying he supports the U.S. Congress to vote and pass legislation that would require universal background checks on all commercial firearm purchases. The bill was approved by the Democratically-controlled House of Representatives earlier this year but hasn’t been voted on in the Republican majority Senate. Pennsylvania Democratic U.S. Senator Bob Casey blames Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell for holding up the vote.

Wolf also said he would like to see a ban on assault-style weapons and more attention paid to white nationalists.

The alleged shooter in El Paso reportedly said he wanted to shoot Latinos.

On Tuesday’s Smart Talk, we’re joined by Dr. Cassandra Crifasi, PhD, with the Johns Hopkins Center for Gun Policy and Research and Chad Lassiter, Executive Director of the Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission.

Senator Bob Casey and Online Casino Gambling Launches in PA

Pennsylvania Democratic U.S. Senator Bob Casey joins Smart Talk to share his thoughts on the two mass shootings that took place in El Paso, Texas, and Dayton, Ohio, over the weekend. Casey is calling for the Senate to be called back into session to, at the very least, address proposed legislation that would require universal background checks on all commercial gun purchases.
Also, people across the state can now gamble online from home.

Pennsylvania began offering online casino-style gambling on July 15 after months of product testing by the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board.

Parx Casino outside Philadelphia and Penn National’s Hollywood Casino near Hershey launched their online gambling sites in July as part of a three-day test monitored by state regulators.

Online gambling may reach audiences that don’t typically visit casinos. Online gaming is similar to video games that younger generations are accustomed to using at home, so it may attract a new audience.

Pennsylvania joins only three other states in legalizing online casino gambling: Nevada, New Jersey and Delaware.

Other states with online gambling have seen increased overall gambling revenue, but the majority of that revenue still comes from brick-and-mortar casinos.

Pennsylvania is already second in the country for commercial casino revenue, behind Nevada, at $3.2 billion last year, according to the American Gaming Association.

This gambling expansion raises concerns, however. How will gambling addicts be affected by online casinos? Who will benefit from the revenue? How will brick-and-mortar casino businesses be affected?

Joining Smart Talk to discuss how online gambling will affect Pennsylvania’s casino industry are Eric Raskin, managing editor of USBets, Brett Smiley, sports better and editor of SportsHandle, and Doug Harbach, spokesperson for the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board.

If you or someone you know is experiencing problematic gambling, call the PA Gambling Addiction 24-hour hotline at 1-800-GAMBLER. You can also search online for a gambling addiction participating provider, text or chat with CCGP’s 24-hour chatline, or request voluntary self exclusion from gaming activities.

Astronaut Scott Altman/Novelist Catherine Chung

What to look for on Smart Talk, Tuesday, July 9, 2019:

WITF’s “Summer of Space” commemorates the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon landing and man’s first steps on the moon in July, 1969. There are many programs on WITF, 89.5 FM and WITF-TV devoted to the historic event and the nation’s space program.

With that in mind, when an astronaut comes to town, Smart Talk wants to have a conversation with him.

Astronaut Scott Altman will be in Harrisburg Wednesday night (Paxtang Municipal Building, 3423 Derry Street from 6-7:30 p.m. Sponsored by Friends of Kline Library and Dauphin County Library Association) to discuss his four space shuttle flights, the space program, the significance of the Apollo 11 mission and even his role in one of the iconic scenes in the film Top Gun.

The former U.S. Navy Captain, test pilot, engineer and astronaut appears on Tuesday’s Smart Talk.

Also, there is a lot happening at WITF this summer in commemoration of the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon landing.

Join WITF and Messiah Lifeways for a FREE sneak preview of the film 8 DAYS: TO THE MOON AND BACK and participate in a community conversation about it on Tuesday, July 9 at 6 p.m. at Hostetter Enrichment Center located on the campus of Messiah Lifeways in Mechanicsburg. The event is moderated by retired WITF Senior Vice President and current Senior Advisor Mike Greenwald, who witnessed and reported the launch of Apollo 11 at Cape Kennedy, Florida. The event is free and open to the public however, advance registration is preferred. Register Here!

Also on Smart Talk, author Catherine Chung discusses her much anticipated latest novel The Tenth Muse. The historical novel details a trailblazing mathematician who unearths her family story and its roots in World War II. Chung is set to appear at the Midtown Scholar Bookstore on Friday, July 12 at 7 p.m.

Forest conservation and Presidential candidate Joe Sestak

What to look for on Smart Talk, Monday, July 8, 2019: 

Pennsylvania has more than two million acres of state forest land. The forests provide economic, social and ecological benefits to the state.  The state forests are considered a resource for recreation, plant and animal habitat, water and air purification and aesthetic beauty.

However, forests face several challenges to remain healthy including development, climate change, invasive species and fire.

At the same time, most forest land is owned and controlled by private property owners.

How forests are conserved, maintained and managed will have a great impact on their future and consequently the health of the ecosystem, plants, animal, waterways and the air we breathe.

Monday’s Smart Talk explores the health of Pennsylvania’s forests and what’s being done to ensure their future.

Appearing on Smart Talk to discuss how individuals and state programs can work to conserve Pennsylvania forests are Cindy Adams Dunn, Secretary of the Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, Pennsylvania State Forester Ellen Shultzabarger and Josh Parrish, Director of the Nature Conservancy’s Working Woodlands Program.

Also, Joe Sestak is the 25th Democrat to announce a 2020 presidential campaign. Sestak said he plans to center his presidential campaign around his experience in the military, combating climate change and countering Russia and China’s global influence.

Sestak was the highest-ranking military officer ever elected to Congress when he represented Pennsylvania’s 7th Congressional District from 2007 to 2011, according to his campaign website.

Sestak joins us on Smart Talk to discuss the issues and his priorities as president.

100th anniversary of women’s suffrage and the road ahead for women in politics

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A 1913 Women’s Suffrage March in Washington, D.C. (Photo courtesy of U.S. Information Agency/Public Domain)

What to look for on Smart Talk, Monday, June 24, 2019:

On June 24, 1919, Pennsylvania became the seventh state to ratify the Nineteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which guaranteed women the right to vote.

The constitutional amendment came after decades of protest and activism by women’s groups when President Woodrow Wilson finally called a special congressional session in May 1919. The amendment was ratified later that year, and women began to vote by the presidential election of 1920, the same year the League of Women Voters was established.

In the immediate aftermath of the suffrage movement’s crowning achievement, Congress passed a flurry of new legislation aimed towards women’s issues, and, now 100 years later, women constitute a majority of the American electorate – in every presidential election since 1964, more women have voted than men.

Joining Smart Talk to discuss the historical context of the women’s suffrage movement is Dr. Christina Larocco, Scholarly Programs Manager at the Historical Society of Pennsylvania, and Dr. Louise Stevenson, Professor of History and American Studies at Franklin & Marshall College.

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Dr. Louise Stevenson (L) and Dr. Christina Larocco (R)

For all the advances in women’s rights, women are still significantly underrepresented in elected office, making up less than one-fourth of members in both the U.S. House of Representatives and the U.S. Senate. In Pennsylvania, the disparity is as acute; 24.9 percent of PA legislators are women, and the Commonwealth has never had a female governor.

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Christina Hartman

Appearing on Smart Talk to discuss challenges that face women seeking elected office, as well as broader efforts to promote civic engagement among women, are Lynn Yeakel, President of the Vision 2020 Initiative at Drexel University, Samantha Pearson, President of the Pennsylvania National Organization for Women, and Christina Hartman, a two-time congressional candidate in Central Pennsylvania and political activist.

Smart Talk’s books for summer reading


What to look for on Smart Talk, Monday, June 10, 2019:

A good book is the best sidekick to any summer vacation, whether it’s a beach weekend, family road trip, or faraway escape.

Smart Talk welcomes a panel of area wordsmiths to share their summer book recommendations, from popular new releases to literary classics. We’d also like to hear about a few of the books you’re reading this summer. Call the program at 1-800-729-7532 or email us at

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Catherine Lawrence and Travis Kurowski

Joining Smart Talk are Catherine Lawrence, a writer and owner of the Midtown Scholar Bookstore in Harrisburg and Travis Kurowski, an assistant professor of English and coordinator of creative writing at York College of Pennsylvania.

Reading Lists

Dickinson President Margee Ensign / Being a generalist / Gov. Steve Bullock

What to look for on Smart Talk, June 7, 2019:

Founded in 1783 by Dr. Benjamin Rush, Dickinson College was the first college chartered in the new United States of America. Today, the Carlisle liberal arts institution has just over 2200 students to whom the college seeks to provide a “useful” education. 

Some of Dickinson’s current areas of focus are campus sustainability, student recruitment, and major fundraising. 

Dr. Margee Ensign took office as Dickinson’s 29th president in July 2017. Ensign served previously as President of the American University in Nigeria and is an international political economy scholar whose work focuses on challenges of international development, as well as on the implications of development assistance. 

She joins us on Friday’s Smart Talk to discuss her vision for Dickinson College and her thoughts on current issues facing the higher education landscape. 

Also, a push towards specialization is prevalent in arenas ranging from managing the economy to raising children. In his new book Range: Why Generalists Triumph in a Specialized World, author David Epstein argues that, for successful individuals from Nobel laureates to professional athletes, specialization is the exception, not the rule, and that dabbling and failing can be keys to success. He appears on Smart Talk to discuss these ideas. 

Finally, Montana Governor Steve Bullock is one of 24 candidates seeking the Democratic nomination in the 2020 presidential election. He joins Smart Talk to discuss his positions on the issues and his path to the nomination.