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AMERICAN MOSAIC - October 25, 2002: Question About the Electric Guitar / California Man's Unexpected Boat Trip / 2002 MacArthur Fellows - 2002-10-24


Welcome to AMERICAN MOSAIC -- VOA’s radio magazine in Special English.


This is Doug Johnson. On our program today:

We play electric guitar music ...

Tell about prizes given to creative people ...

And report about a man whose short boat trip lasted much longer than he expected.

Richard Van Pham


Richard Van Pham recently returned from a long trip at sea. It lasted for more than three months and almost cost him his life. Shep O’Neal explains.


Richard Van Pham lived on his little sail boat, named the Sea Breeze. In May, he planned to sail from the town of Long Beach in Southern California to the island of Santa Catalina. It was a trip of forty kilometers that should have taken part of a day and one night.

However, during that night, a heavy wind broke the pole that held the boat’s sail. And the small radio on his boat would not work. Mister Pham had little water and almost no food.Slowly, the little boat began to move south with the ocean. Mister Pham saw no other boats and no land. Soon he was without food or water.

Mister Pham often used the boat for fishing. Now, to stay alive, he caught as many fish as possible. He used some of the fish to catch sea birds that came near his boat. He caught several and cooked them. To get water, he trapped rain with his useless sail. Day after day, week after week, the little boat kept moving south.

He later told reporters, “I saw no tree, no people, nothing. I thought it was the end of my life.”

He saw an airplane on September seventeenth. Within two hours, a United States Navy ship arrived. The ship was searching for people carrying illegal drugs. It found Richard Van Pham near the coast of Costa Rica, more than four-thousand kilometers from Long Beach, California.

The sailors on the ship were shocked when they found Mister Pham and his little boat. The crew could not save his boat. But they collected money to pay for an airplane ticket so Mister Pham could return to California.

Richard Van Pham said he was very sorry to lose his boat. It was also his home. When reporters asked him if he would ever go to sea again he said, “Yes, maybe some day… I love the ocean because God made it and gave it to the people. It is beautiful.”

MacArthur Fellows


How would you like to win a lot of money just for doing your job? That happened to twenty-four people in the United States last month. They won awards presented by a group called The MacArthur Foundation. Each winner will receive five-hundred-thousand dollars in unrestricted financial aid over the next five years. Mary Tillotson has more.


The MacArthur Fellowship is a program that honors individual men and women for their creativity. American businessman John MacArthur used his own money to establish the MacArthur Foundation in nineteen-seventy. It began to operate after he died eight years later.

To be considered for the award, a person must be nominated. All nominees must be American citizens or live in the United States. They may not hold elective or appointed office in government.

Each year, several hundred people are appointed to propose nominations. Each nominator is urged to identify men and women who demonstrate great creativity in their work.

A twelve-member committee studies information about those nominated and proposes winners to the foundation’s directors. The foundation does not require or expect reports from individual winners. It also does not ask them how the money will be used.

Six-hundred-thirty-five MacArthur Fellows have been named since the program started in nineteen-eighty-one. Between twenty and thirty winners are named each year.

The twenty-four winners this year work in many different areas. They include scientists, writers, and musicians. Liza Lou of Los Angeles, California is an artist. She creates large, colorful works of art with pieces of glass and other materials. Another MacArthur Fellow is Daniela Rus, a professor at Dartmouth College in New Hampshire. She is a computer scientist who develops robots that change shape to deal with changes in their environment.

Brian Tucker of Palo Alto, California is another winner. Mister Tucker is an earthquake expert. He is president of a not-for-profit group called GeoHazards International. His group works with local officials in developing countries to make their areas safer against earthquakes. Mister Tucker says that being recognized as a MacArthur Fellow will make a huge difference for his company.

Electric Guitar Music


Our VOA listener question this week comes from Vietnam. Long Quang Bui asks about the musical instrument called the electric guitar.

Music experts say the guitar is probably the most popular musical instrument around the world today. It is used to play many different kinds of music.

The electric guitar was one result of efforts by musicians to use electricity to create louder string instruments. They were not able to solve some of the technical problems until the nineteen-thirties. Les Paul was among the first to play an electric guitar. Listen to one of his hit recordings, “Meet Mister Callaghan."


In its early years, music experts debated the idea of the electric guitar being a true instrument. Some claimed it did not produce a real musical sound. But country and jazz musicians defended the music made by the electric guitar.

One of these defenders was jazz man Charlie Christian. Music experts say he created the sound of the electric guitar that led to the modern electric guitar music of today. Listen to a recording of Charlie Christian playing with the Benny Goodman jazz group in nineteen-thirty-nine. The song is “Flying Home.”


One modern electric guitar player who followed Charlie Christian is the world famous blues musician B.B. King. He calls his guitar “Lucille”. We leave you now with B.B. King and Lucille playing their famous recording, “The Thrill Is Gone.”



This is Doug Johnson. I hope you enjoyed our program today. And I hope you will join us again next week for AMERICAN MOSAIC -- VOA’s radio magazine in Special English.

This AMERICAN MOSAIC program was written by George Grow, Nancy Steinbach and Paul Thompson. Our studio engineer was Curtis Bynum. And our producer was Paul Thompson.