Rob Sivak | WYPR

Rob Sivak

Senior Producer, Midday

Rob Sivak is senior producer of Midday, with host Tom Hall.  Rob joined WYPR in 2015 as senior producer of Hall's previous show, Maryland Morning (which aired its final show on September 16th, 2016).  Before coming to the station, Rob enjoyed a 36-year career at the congressionally funded global broadcaster, Voice of America.  At VOA, he honed his skills as a news and feature reporter, producer, editor and program host.

After reporting stints at VOA's New York City, United Nations and Los Angeles bureaus, Rob spent two decades covering international food, farming and nutrition issues for VOA's 180-million worldwide listeners, and created and hosted several popular VOA science magazines.  At Midday, he continues to pursue his passion for radio and his abiding interests in science, health, technology and politics.

Rob grew up as an ex-pat "oil brat" on the Persian Gulf coast of Saudi Arabia, and studied and traveled widely in the Middle East, Europe and Africa.  He attended Hofstra University in New York and Boston University's School of Public Communications.  Rob and his wife, Caroline Barnes, live in Silver Spring, Maryland, where they've raised three daughters.

Da Capo Press

  In 1939, the SS St. Louis left Hamburg, Germany en route to Havana, Cuba, with more than 900 Jewish Refugees on board, hoping to escape Nazi persecution. Cuba refused to accept the refugees. Then, the United States and Canada refused to accept them, and the ship was forced to return to Europe. Two of the passengers on that ship, Alexander Goldschmidt and his son, Helmut Goldschmidt are the subject of a book by Alexander’s grandson, Martin Goldsmith.

Martin lives in Bethesda, and may be familiar to you as the host of Symphony Hall on Sirius XM radio, and the former host of NPR’s Performance Today. His book is called Alex’s Wake: A Voyage of Betrayal and a Journey of Remembrance. Tom spoke with him about the book in September 2014.

Robert Hruzek // Flickr Creative Commons

On behalf of all of us on the Maryland Morning team, we wish you and yours a very merry Christmas, and all the best in the new year.

We’re foregoing our usual coverage of news and current events on this Christmas morning, in favor of bringing you a little music and poetry of the season.

Paola Kizette Cimenti // Flickr Creative Commons

As we prepare to sit down for our holiday dinners, or graze the buffet at those New Year’s Eve parties next week, it’s a great stroke of luck that today happens to be Smart Nutrition Day here on Maryland Morning, when we check in with the Nutrition Diva, Monica Reinagel.

She’s a licensed nutritionist who blogs at Nutrition Over Easy, and whose weekly podcasts appear on Quick and Dirty Tips. Monica has, over the years, injected all sorts of common sense into our discussion of diet and nutrition.

Today, Monica and Tom talk about the recently published National Health and Nutritional Examination Survey. The dietary study shows that despite the modern-day focus on healthier eating and regular exercise, Americans gain weight faster and more easily than they did 30 years ago.    Monica has an explanation.

Rachel Baye-WYPR

We begin with a conversation with one of our city’s most passionate advocates for young people.  Munir Bahar co-founded the group 300 Men March two years ago to prevent violence on Baltimore’s streets and to help African-American men become more engaged in their communities. 

Then, what’s next for Officer William Porter, and how will lawyers for the State’s Attorney adjust their strategy as they prosecute the other officers accused in the death of Freddie Gray?  David Jaros and Michael Higgenbotham from the University of Baltimore School of Law untangle the legal and social issues facing the defendants and the city. 

Plus, the music of Helicon, the Celtic masters who have performed an annual Winter Solstice concert in Baltimore for the past 30 years. Ahead of their show Saturday (December 19) at Goucher College, we observe our own Maryland Morning tradition by welcoming the band back to the studio to play some tunes.

Baltimore Sun Arts


A beloved holiday tradition here in Baltimore has become a beloved holiday tradition here on Maryland Morning. Helicon joins Tom Hall in the studio once again to share a bit of holiday music. For the 30th year in a row, the esteemed Celtic band will be presenting their annual Winter Solstice concert Saturday afternoon and evening at Goucher College. They are here this morning to give us a little preview.

It appears that the jury is deadlocked in the trial of Officer William Porter, accused in the killing of Freddie Gray.  What does this mean for Porter and for the other five officers charged in Freddie Gray’s death?  We’ll get legal analysis from two experienced lawyers: trial attorney Edward Smith and University of Baltimore law professor David Jaros. 

Jerry Jackson/Baltimore Sun/TNS

We begin today with an update on the trial of Officer William Porter.  On this Wednesday morning, a nervous city awaits the jury’s verdict in Officer Porter’s trial on charges of involuntary manslaughter, second degree assault, reckless endangerment, and misconduct in office in the death of Freddie Gray last April. After eight days of testimony, Judge Barry Williams gave the jury his instructions on Monday, after lawyers for Officer Porter and the State’s Attorney made their closing statements in what reporters described as a packed courtroom in courthouse East in downtown Baltimore.  Yesterday afternoon, after about nine hours of deliberation, the jury told Judge Williams that they were deadlocked as to the guilt or innocence of William Porter.  The judge sent them back to deliberate further, and at 5:30 last night, they called it a day.  They are resuming their deliberations this morning.

The Chesapeake Bay Program

We focus on a new report from the Abell Foundation, which says efforts in Maryland to restore the pollution-damaged Chesapeake Bay are being threatened by misguided state clean-up priorities, and inadequate monitoring of the biggest source of the Bay's pollution – agriculture.  Our senior producer Rob Sivak takes a closer look.

And, the Single Carrot Theater has been an anchor on Baltimore’s thespian landscape for almost 10 years.  Tom talks with the company's managing director and artistic director about their current production, the thriving theater scene in Charm City, and what the company is doing to address inequality.

Plus, our theater critic  J. Wynn Rousuck reviews Gifts of the Magi, a musical that combines Americana and the holiday spirit; and Zoey Washington-Sheff shares some tips on winter coat-shopping, holiday party style, and fashion gift ideas for your favorite people.

The Chesapeake Bay Program

A report released in early December by the Abell Foundation -- The Chesapeake Bay and Agricultural Pollution -- concludes that efforts in Maryland to restore the pollution-damaged watershed are being threatened by misguided state clean-up priorities, and by inadequate monitoring of the biggest source of Bay pollution: agriculture.  Maryland Morning senior producer Rob Sivak invited two authors of the report -- Rona Kobella veteran environmental journalist who now writes for the Bay Journal, and Dr. Robert Summers, the former Maryland Secretary of the Environment who works today as senior research scientist with the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Sciences -- and Lynne Hoot, executive director of the 400-member Maryland Grain Producers Association, to discuss whether the state’s farmers are doing everything they can to help clean up the Bay.

The Accountability Index, our monthly series of conversations with reporters at Baltimore Brew continues with a look at Baltimore's sometimes halting efforts to audit major city departments. The Brew's senior investigative reporter, Mark Reutter, joins Tom for a discussion of what the city knows -- and what it doesn’t know -- about how it’s spending our money. 

Then, a conversation with acclaimed actor and writer Anna Deavere Smith. She returned this past weekend to her original hometown of Baltimore to perform her latest one-person play, which takes a penetrating look at the school to prison pipeline.  Tom talks with Anna Deavere Smith about Notes from the Field: Doing Time in Education, the Baltimore Chapter.

And The Everyman Theatre’s dialect coach, Gary Logan, is helping the show's actors master the unique regional accents used in the theater’s latest show, an Irish comedy called Outside Mullingar.   Logan stopped by Studio A to give Tom and Nathan a few tips on how to speak  like an authentic Irishman.  

Anna Deavere Smith Projects, New York, NY 10003

The acclaimed actor and writer Anna Deavere Smith continues to break new ground in political performance art.  In addition to her work in television on shows like The West Wing, Madame Secretary, and Nurse Jackie, she has produced 18 documentary dramas, in which she plays myriad characters through whom we are guided, with trenchant insight, through the complexities of different social issues.

She has taken on challenging subjects like the 1992 riots in Los Angeles, racial integration, and the American health care system. This past weekend, Tom went to Center Stage to see one of two performances of her latest play, called Notes from the Field: Doing Time in Education, The Baltimore Chapter.  It is a masterpiece of storytelling and a provocative call to action to end what is often called the school to prison pipeline. Tom spoke with Anna Deavere Smith on Monday. 

Everyman Theatre

The Everyman Theatre’s latest show is an Irish comedy called Outside Mullingar. The Everyman’s dialect coach, Gary Logan, is helping the actors master the particular regional accent called for in the play. Today, he stopped by Studio A to offer Tom a few tips on sounding authentically Irish.

Logan has worked as a voice and dialect coach for a variety of leading U.S. and Canadian theater groups, including The Stratford Shakespeare Festival of Canada, the Folger Theater, the Shakespeare Theater Company, Arena Stage, and the Kennedy Center. Logan's book, The Eloquent Shakespeare: A Pronouncing Dictionary for the Complete Dramatic Works, with Notes to Untie the Modern Tongue is considered essential reading by many of the North American theater companies producing Shakespeare's plays.

New Day Campaign

We turn now to the artist Peter Bruun. His latest work emerged after a terrible tragedy in his family, when their 24 year-old daughter, Elisif, died of a heroin overdose in February, 2014. Peter has developed a project called The New Day Campaign, which uses art to address the stigma surrounding addiction.

The campaign began in October; it includes 15 art exhibitions and 60 public events, several of which are happening over the next few days. One of the exhibitions is at Stevenson University. It’s a multi-pronged installation by Peter Bruun that includes visual art, sound, and light, entitled Elisif’s Story. Dr. Robert Brooner is the Director of Addiction Treatment Services at Johns Hopkins Bayview Medical Center and Professor of Medical Psychology and Psychiatry in the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at The Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine.

We start today with a look at the continuing HIV/AIDS crisis in Baltimore.  The total number of new cases in the city is declining, but transmission rates among young gay black men and transgender individuals are on the rise.  Can the city bring those numbers down?  We’ll ask Dr. Patrick Chaulk of the Baltimore Health Department for an update on the city’s ongoing battle against HIV/AIDS.

Then, we’ll meet the talented local string band, Charm City Junction, who’ll be playing at a CD-release concert in North Baltimore Friday night. The quartet joins us to play some of the Irish and bluegrass tunes on their new CD, and talk about their distinctive musical style.

Plus:  a conversation with Judy Collins, one of the great ladies of American popular music, who performs at the Joseph Meyerhoff Symphony Hall Sunday. She talks with Tom about her long career and her engaging new CD, Strangers Again, a collection of duets with some of the best male singers in the business.


Being diagnosed HIV-positive is no longer the death sentence it once was, but getting treatment to everyone who’s infected, and curbing the spread of the disease are still major challenges in cities like Baltimore. Despite declines in the total number of new AIDS cases in the city, HIV infection rates among certain groups are on the rise.  Looking ahead to next Tuesday's observance of World AIDS Day, Dr. Patrick Chaulk,  the Assistant Commissioner for HIV and STD (Sexually Transmitted Disease) Services in the Baltimore Health Department, joins Tom in the studio to discuss the city's ongoing fight to curb the HIV-AIDS epidemic.

Charm City Junction

Charm City Junction is a local quartet that plays Old-Time, Bluegrass and Irish music.  The band -- made up of Brad Kolodner on banjo, Patrick McAvinue on fiddle, Sean McComiskey on button accordion and Alex Laquement on upright bass -- have just released their first CD, called simply, Charm City Junction. They'll  be performing live at a CD release concert Friday night (11/27/15) at the Friends School in North Baltimore.  This morning, they join Tom in the studio to talk about their music and play us a few tunes.

Judy Collins holds a unique and cherished place in the top echelons of American music. In September, she released a new CD called Strangers Again, a collection of duets with Michael McDonald, Willie Nelson, Don McLean and several others.

Judy Collins will be giving a concert at the Joseph Meyerhoff Symphony Hall in Baltimore on Sunday afternoon (11/29). This morning, she joins Tom on the phone from her home in New York to talk about her life in music, and the collaborations with some of the best male singers in the business that make her new CD such a distinctive musical outing.

 We start today with a conversation with a local Syrian Imam about how the Muslim community is reacting to the heated public debate over recent terror attacks and the surge of refugees fleeing Syria’s civil war.

Then, we’ll talk about the legal and political challenges those Syrian refugees face as they seek safe havens in Europe and the United States, with Ruben Chandrasekar of the International Rescue Committee and David Rocah of the ACLU.

Next, theater critic J Wynn Rousuck has a review of Middletown, a play about a small town and the friendship between a longtime resident and a new arrival.

And -- and just in time for Thanksgiving -- our regular foodie and restaurant owner Sascha Woldhandler joins us to share her scrumptious squash recipes, from butternut squash soup to squash lasagna.


This morning we talk about some of the reactions over the past week by politicians in this country to recent terror attacks by ISIS, the self-styled “Islamic State” group responsible for the November 13th Paris killings, among other atrocities, and their reactions also to the resettlement of Syrian refugees who are fleeing ISIS and the ongoing carnage of the Syrian civil war. The two subjects have become intertwined, and some say confused, in the public debate.  Imam Mohamad Bashar Arafat joins us this morning to discuss how the Muslim community here in Baltimore is reacting to the growing chorus of anti-Syrian-refugee and anti-Muslim rhetoric by U.S. governors, members of Congress and presidential candidates. Imam Arafat is a native of Syria, serving in the 1980s as an imam in Damascus. But he has been living in the US for 26 years. He was Imam of the Islamic Society in Baltimore from 1989 to 1993. He is also president and founder of the Civilizations Exchange & Cooperation Foundation and currently serves as president of the Islamic Affairs Council of Maryland.


More than 4 million refugees have fled the bloody civil war in Syria over the past five years – that's about 10% of all the world’s refugees and displaced people, and a fifth of Syria’s population -- and many of them are still waiting, after arduous escapes and dangerous journeys, to find safe haven in Europe and the United States.  But in the wake of the ISIS attacks in Paris November 13th and growing fears of further terrorism, the welcome mat for Syrian refugees is being pulled away in some places. Joining us in the studio to talk about the situation facing those refugees, the resettlement process and the balance between national security concerns and civil liberties, is David Rocah, Senior Staff Attorney, the American Civil Liberties Union of Maryland, and on the phone with us is Ruben Chandresakar, Executive Director of the Baltimore branch of the International Rescue Committee, one of nine non-profit agencies that manage refugee resettlement in the United States.

Chef Sascha Wolhandler is back with recipes that will inspire you to get creative with squash,  just in time for Thanksgiving.

French authorities say a United Nations-sponsored climate conference will convene as planned in a Paris suburb on November 30, despite last week's deadly terrorist attacks. Delegates from more than 160 countries will be gathering for the 12-day round of talks, whose goal is to reach a new international accord on reducing emissions of planet-warming carbon dioxide and other so-called greenhouse gases.

To find out what's at stake in the Paris climate talks, Maryland Morning senior producer Rob Sivak talks with Bill McKibben, an environmental activist, journalist and author of many books, including “The End of Nature,” the 1989 classic  about our global environmental crisis. He is also the co-founder of, an international network that combats global warming through grassroots political action.  McKibben has been an outspoken critic of the oil and gas industry. In our interview, McKibben calls Exxon-Mobil's alleged support for climate-change denial groups -- despite decades of climate change-confirming research by its own scientists -- "probably the greatest corporate scandal of all time." Exxon-Mobil officials take a different view on their company's website.

José Eduardo Deboni // Flickr Creative Commons

In April of next year, Maryland Morning will celebrate its 10th anniversary here on WYPR. Sheilah Kast, Nathan Sterner and Tom Hall launched the show on April 21, 2006. The theme music of the show for the first few months was composed by Thomas Newman, an acclaimed film composer. It's a piece called Lunch with the King from the 1999 movie, American Beauty. It’s not unusual for shows to use pre-existing music as their themes, but we always knew that at some point, we would want our very own musical identity, composed just for us. In August of 2006, Jack Heyrman, who owns a music production company in Baltimore called Clean Cuts, made a very generous offer to do just that. The composers at Clean Cuts, who create music for commericals, video games, TV shows, movies, and other purposes, were kind enough to offer us several theme songs as possibilities.

Now, as we approach our 10th birthday, we’ve decided to change our theme music, and we’d like to ask your help in choosing a worthy successor to Chris’ great music. Once again, Jack Heyrman was kind enough to help us out. He put us in touch with Rich Isaac, the Creative Director of Original Music at Clean Cuts, who in turn, reached out to the Clean Cuts composing staff. That group includes Chris Kennedy, along with Austin Coughlin and Louis Weeks. They've written five samples of music that can be developed into our new theme song.  On today's show, Rich Isaac joins Tom and our own Nathan Sterner to shed some light on the process that composers at companies like Clean Cuts go through to create musical identities for shows like ours. And we'll play the tunes Clean Cuts composed for us, then ask which one you think should be the new Maryland Morning theme.

Mary Rose Madden/WYPR

WYPR’s Mary Rose Madden has been examining the Baltimore Police Department’s relationship with the city’s predominantly black population in her special series called On the Watch: Fixing the Fractured Relationship Between Baltimore's Police and Its Communities. The series began in June and will continue over the next several months.  Mary Rose travels with beat cops and patrol officers and roams the city’s neighborhoods, talking with the citizens the police are sworn to protect.  Mary Rose Madden joins Tom to talk about what she’s learned so far.  

Big Brothers Big Sisters

Right after violence spread through our city in April, Big Brothers Big Sisters of the Greater Chesapeake saw an increase of nearly 3,000% in the number of people expressing an interest in becoming a mentor to a local young person.  But the surge in applications did not result in many more mentors actually connecting with kids and changing their lives.  In fact, only a handful of the thousands of men who inquired about becoming a mentor actually followed through on their interests.  We'll hear from a male mentor and his young mentee on the value of their relationship, and Tom talks with Terry Hickey, president and CEO of BBBSGC, about the positive role male mentors play in the lives of the region's young people. 

Amy Davis

Tom begins today with a look at the challenges facing immigrant students at Patterson High School in East Baltimore, where one third of the student body is foreign-born. Many of them have fled war, urban violence and oppression.

Tom is joined by journalist Liz Bowie, who profiles some of these remarkable young people in her Baltimore Sun series called Unsettled Journeys, and Margot Harris, who works with the immigrant students as head of the English for Speakers of Other Languages program at Patterson.

Pedro Ribeiro Simões // Flickr Creative Commons

Sunday was the first day of the 3-month Fall Open Enrollment period for the estimated 300,000 Marylanders who still have no health insurance. Despite a disastrous online debut in 2013, The Maryland Health Benefits Exchange functioned well during the Spring 2015 enrollment period. And the exchange’s executive director, Carolyn Quattrocki, told Maryland Morning producer Rob Sivak Friday that the agency has already begun fixing many of the problems identified by the auditors.

While Maryland gears up to enroll tens of thousands more people into health insurance plans, there are many individuals, in Baltimore and all across the state, who can’t afford private health insurance. They’re the poorest of the poor: the homeless. Providing health coverage and medical care to this underserved and often hard-to-reach population is the mission of Tom's guest this morning. Kevin Lindamood is president and CEO of Health Care for the Homeless, a national network of non profit organizations that’s been doing this work since 1985.

Center Stage

Center Stage is about to undergo a physical transformation. Later this week, the theater will announce specifics about its plan to renovate its Calvert Street home. Many theater fans will tell you that the transformation at Center Stage began in 2011, when Kwame Kwei Armah was appointed the theater’s Artistic Director. His initiatives like the My America Project, and Third Spaces; the Raisin Cycle or his original musical based on the life of Bob Marley are examples of how he has tried to expand the boundaries of what a theater company can be; how it connects to our community, and how it fits into the world at large.

Before the construction begins on the building, Tom thought it would be good to check in with Kwame Kwei Armah, and get a sense of what he’s looking to do as Center Stage enters this new era in its storied history.

Howard County Conservancy

We begin today with a look at the Howard County Conservancy, a 200-acre tract of rolling hills, forest, meadow and streams called Mt. Pleasant Farm, at Woodstock, about a half-hour’s drive west of Baltimore. The Conservancy -- which marked its 25th anniversary last Sunday, introduces young people and adults to environmental stewardship and conservation.

To tell us more about the Conservancy, Tom is joined in the studio by its executive director, Meg Boyd, and by Ann Strozyk, an award-winning environmental educator in the Howard County school system who is based at the Conservancy. On Friday night at 7:00, there’s a Flashlight Hike to check out the nocturnal life at the Conservancy, just in time for Halloween.


Last June, Pope Francis published an extraordinary encyclical on the environment.  For the first time, the leader of the Catholic Church stated that climate change is real, that it’s being caused mainly by human activity, and that it poses a particular threat to the world’s poor.

Like the Pope's call to the faithful to take actions to heal the Earth, followers of Islam and Judaism are also drawing on their religious traditions to confront the challenges of climate change.

We learn of two such faith-driven initiatives as Tom talks with Kori Majeed, the founder of the Web-based environmental group, GreenRamadan, and with Rabbi Arthur Waskow of The Shalom Center in Philadelphia, co-author of a Rabbinic Letter on the Climate Crisis that's been endorsed by more than 400 rabbis since its publication last June.