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Under the Sea With SpongeBob SquarePants

Also: Visit a historic market in Washington, D.C., that reopened after a fire. And a question from Nigeria about soul singer Wilson Pickett. Transcript of radio broadcast:


Welcome to AMERICAN MOSAIC in VOA Special English.


I'm Doug Johnson. This week on our program, we dive into the popularity of SpongeBob SquarePants.

We also answer a question about soul singer Wilson Pickett.

And here in Washington, we visit the city's oldest public market, which has been rebuilt after a fire.


SpongeBob Turns 10


Ten years ago, the bright yellow, imaginary sea creature named SpongeBob SquarePants appeared on television for the first time. SpongeBob won the hearts of children all over America during the first year of the cartoon series on the Nicklelodeon cable television network. Today, the happy-go-lucky sponge has fans in almost every country on the planet. Steve Ember tells about this popular show.


The creator of "SpongeBob SquarePants," Stephen Hillenburg, says he did not expect the series to last longer than one season, much less ten years.

Hillenburg began his career as an ocean scientist. He began to draw a cartoon about sea creatures as a way to teach students about underwater life. Later, he studied animation drawing at California Institute of the Arts.

Hillenburg took the cartoon idea to officials at the Nickelodeon film and television company. The first show in the "SpongeBob SquarePants" series was broadcast in nineteen ninety-nine.

There is little science left in Stephen Hillenburg's cartoon. SpongeBob lives in a pineapple in the town of Bikini Bottom. His best friend Patrick is a loyal but stupid starfish. Another friend is a squirrel from Texas named Sandy Cheeks. She lives in a glass house, complete with a tree for climbing and growing nuts. When Sandy leaves her house, she wears an astronaut's suit so she can breathe underwater. Bikini Bottom is a crazy, magical world.

Stephen Hillenburg thinks SpongeBob's personality is what made the show so popular. The sponge is honest, child-like, sweet and funny. His love for his work is one of the show's great humor devices.

SpongeBob is a cook at a fast food restaurant. He feels it is an honor to cook Krabby Patties, the restaurant's famous sandwiches.

On one episode, SpongeBob finds one patty so appealing, he will not let anyone eat it.

SPONGEBOB: "In all my years of fry cookery, I have never seen such a lovely group of patties. Especially…you. Such perfection! From your little lettuce hair, to your rosy ketchup cheeks, right down to your mustard smile!"

He names it Patty and treats it like a girlfriend. He takes Patty everywhere until the sandwich starts to smell and his friends protest.

SpongeBob's employer, Mister Krabs, is a crab who cannot part with money. The evil Plankton is Mister Krabs' tiny one-eyed enemy. He owns a competing restaurant and is forever plotting to steal the Krabby Patty secret recipe.

These unusual sea creatures have helped make "SpongeBob SquarePants" the highest rated show on Nickelodeon. It is broadcast in one hundred seventy countries in twenty-five languages. SpongeBob products have earned about eight billion dollars.

The show has some famous viewers, like musician David Bowie and basketball star LeBron James. But "SpongeBob SquarePants" also has a famous and powerful fan. President Obama says he watches the show with his girls, Malia and Sasha.


Eastern Market


Eastern Market in Washington, D.C., is the oldest continually operated fresh food public market in the nation's capital. Its long history almost came to an end two years ago when a major fire burned its South Hall building. Shirley Griffith reports on the newly rebuilt market.



Eastern Market was a beautiful, modern building when it was completed in eighteen seventy-three. It had a high, sharply angled ceiling and many windows lining the walls of its one long, narrow room. These features permitted as much air flow and natural light as possible.

The building was called South Hall. Meat, fish, baked goods and fresh flowers were sold inside. Farmers sold fruits and vegetables outside under a permanent roof. The public market quickly became popular and welcomed shoppers for more than one hundred thirty years. Then on April thirtieth, two thousand seven, a huge fire of unknown cause almost completely destroyed South Hall. Many sellers and buyers wondered if this would end the historic market.

Thomas Calomiris owns Thomas Calomiris and Sons in South Hall. The Greek food business has been in his family for more than sixty years. He remembers getting news of the fire.

THOMAS CALOMIRIS: "Well, our first thought was where we're gonna' work. How we're gonna' get a job. So either, we would have to move, open somewhere else. That's what we were thinking. We thought that that would be it."

But the day after the fire, the mayor of the District of Columbia, Adrian Fenty, took action. He promised to restore South Hall to "its architectural and historical splendor."

The fourteen South Hall business owners moved to a temporary shelter across the street. The farmers market also continued operations.

Two years later, on June twenty-sixth, the new Eastern Market re-opened. Natural light floods in from above where skylights were added along the roofline. An air conditioning system now keeps the Hall cool. And in the winter a heating system will make it warm. There is also a new moveable stage and theater lighting for performances.

The Eastern Market project cost about twenty-two million dollars. Tom Calomiris thinks it was worth it. Business is good he says.

THOMAS CALOMIRIS: "Hey, it's been very good. We're very pleased. So, you know, we're very happy with the work they did. You know, it's a lot nicer and cleaner."


Wilson Pickett


That was "Land of 1000 Dances," one of many successful songs from soul singer Wilson Pickett. Our listener Johnson Okwu Kamalu of Nigeria wants to know more about one of his favorite artists.

Wilson Pickett recorded more than fifty hit songs during his career. His heartfelt, powerful, soulful singing helped establish him as one of the greatest rhythm and blues performers of all time.

Wilson Pickett was born in nineteen forty-one in Prattville, Alabama. Like many rhythm and blues artists of the day, he began his musical career singing in church choirs. Later he sang in musical groups before launching his solo career.

By nineteen sixty-five Wilson Pickett had joined forces with music producer Jerry Wexler. "In the Midnight Hour" became his first number one song. It remains one of his most popular songs.


Wilson Pickett joined the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in nineteen ninety-one. He received a Pioneer Award from the Rhythm and Blues Foundation in nineteen ninety-three. And in nineteen ninety-nine he was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame.

But the successful singer's personal life was as dark as his professional career was bright. He had a painful childhood at the hands of his mother. As an adult he was arrested for several crimes, including carrying a loaded gun and several drug charges. In nineteen ninety-three, he spent one year in jail on a drunk driving charge.

Wilson Pickett stopped performing in two thousand four because of health problems. He died at the age of sixty-four in two thousand six. We leave you with his final number one song. From nineteen seventy one, here is "Don't Knock My Love."



I'm Doug Johnson. I hope you enjoyed our program.

It was written by June Simms and Caty Weaver, who was also our producer.

Join us again next week for AMERICAN MOSAIC, VOA's radio magazine in Special English.