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AMERICAN MOSAIC - Tony Awards / Route 66 / Snakeheads in the Potomac - 2004-06-04

Broadcast: June 4, 2004


Welcome to AMERICAN MOSAIC, in VOA Special English.


This is Doug Johnson.

On our show this week: music nominated for a Tony Award this Sunday, and a question about Route Sixty-Six. But first, we have a story about some unwelcome wildlife.

Snakeheads in the Potomac

We talked last week about all the noise and dead insects around the eastern United States. The seventeen-year cicadas are out of the ground and back for a visit. Well, this invader is not alone. Steve Ember reports.


Wildlife officials are concerned about the recent discovery of several northern snakeheads. These are fish. But, yes, their head does look like it belongs on a snake. They have been caught in the Potomac River in the area around Washington, D.C.

Snakeheads are freshwater fish native to Asia and parts of Africa. In Asia, they are considered a fine food.

But officials here worry that snakeheads will threaten native fish and other water resources if they become established. They say this could harm local economies that depend on those waters.

Northern snakeheads can grow more than eighty centimeters long. They are able to leave the water and move across wetlands. And they are huge eaters. They eat other fish and frogs. Sometimes they eat birds and small mammals.

The first snakeheads in the area were discovered in small ponds in Maryland two years ago. Officials removed the water or poisoned it as a solution. That is not possible with the Potomac River. The Potomac Conservancy group calls it "the wildest river running through a metropolitan area anywhere in the world."

The Potomac flows more than six-hundred kilometers. It supplies fresh water for most of the four-million people in the Washington area. Birds like great blue herons and bald eagles live along the river. And it is a top fishing area for bass.

Experts believe that snakeheads have gotten into American waters when people bought them but then released them. Officials in Maryland and Florida have found that the fish can reproduce in the wild. But Florida officials say they have found no harm to the local fish population.

Owning a snakehead is illegal in some states. Officials in Maryland and Virginia are urging anyone who catches one to kill it. But some experts say the threat to American waterways is being overstated. They say a bigger threat is pollution.

Route 66


Our listener question this week comes from via e-mail from James Osamene, and he asks about Route Sixty-Six.

This highway was the most traveled road in the United States during the nineteen-twenties and thirties. It stretched from Chicago, Illinois, to the Pacific Ocean in Santa Monica, California. Because it was so heavily traveled, it became known as “the people’s highway."

A businessman in Tulsa, Oklahoma helped create the identity of Route Sixty-Six. Cyrus Avery headed the Oklahoma state highway committee. He also helped plan America’s national system of numbered roads. Mister Avery proposed that a federal road be built from Chicago to Los Angeles along a southwestern path.

The government approved his proposal and named the road in nineteen-twenty-six. Mister Avery also started a special organization to support the road called the U-S Sixty-Six Highway Association. The group gave the road a special name -- “Main Street of America.”

American writer John Steinbeck called Route Sixty-Six the “Mother Road” in his book “The Grapes of Wrath.” Hundreds of thousands of people traveled this Mother Road during the Great Depression of the nineteen-thirties. They left their homes in the middle of the country and traveled west in search of work and a better life.

Route Sixty-six was a flat road. Travelers could use it during any season of the year. This led to an increase in long-distance trucking in the United States. By the nineteen-thirties, trucks were transporting goods on Route Sixty-Six. So were farmers. By the nineteen-forties, military vehicles had also increased traffic on the road.

In nineteen-forty-six, songwriter Bobby Troup drove to Los Angeles along Route Sixty-Six. During the trip, his wife Cynthia suggested that he write a song about the famous road. Bobby Troup wrote the music and most of the words while he and his wife traveled from town to town. When he reached Los Angeles, he performed the song for Nat King Cole, who made it famous. Here is Nat King Cole singing the song “Route Sixty-Six.”


Tony Award Nominees


Hollywood movies have the Academy Awards. Broadway plays have the Tony Awards. The Tonys will be given out this Sunday in New York City. Gwen Outen presents the four nominees for best musical.


One of the shows nominated this year is "Avenue Q.” This is about the secret lives of ... puppets. Another nominee is “Caroline, Or Change," a story about the struggle for civil rights.

The third nominee for best musical is “Wicked.” This is about the witches from the story “The Wizard of Oz.” It includes this song, called “Thank Goodness.”


The Tony Awards are given by the American Theater Wing. That group began as a way for theater people to help during the two world wars. The first Tonys were presented in nineteen-forty-seven. The award is named for Antoinette Perry, "Tony" for short. She was a producer and director.

The awards go to actors, directors, set designers and music composers. Tonys are also given for best dramatic play and best musical play of the year.

The final show nominated for best musical this year is “The Boy from Oz.” It has nothing to do with the Wizard of Oz. It is about the life of the Australian singer Peter Allen. He died of AIDS in nineteen-ninety-two.

We leave you with the Australian actor who plays him, Hugh Jackman, singing the Peter Allen song, “I Go to Rio.”



This is Doug Johnson.

Send your questions about American life to Or write to American Mosaic, VOA Special English, Washington, D.C., two-zero-two-three-seven, USA.

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Our program was written by Cynthia Kirk, Jill Moss and Nancy Steinbach. Caty Weaver was our producer.

I hope you enjoyed AMERICAN MOSAIC. Join us again next week for VOA’s radio magazine in Special English.