Edgar B. Herwick III

WGBH's Curiosity Desk

Edgar runs WGBH's Curiosity Desk, where he aims to dig a little deeper (and sometimes askew) into topics in the news and looks for answers to questions posed by the world around us. His radio features can be heard on WGBH's Morning Edition and All Things Considered, and he can also be heard regularly with Jim and Margery on Boston Public Radio. His television features can be seen regularly on Greater Boston. Each Friday, he takes 89.7 listeners back in time with his feature, "This Week in Massachusetts History."  

His radio debut came in second grade when he voiced a public service announcement urging drivers to watch out for "him and his friends" walking to and from school. Given the signal strength of WMBT radio in Shenandoah, Pennsylvania and the population density of his native Schuylkill County, it's possible — though not particularly likely — that someone other than his parents heard it. 

After stints as a bartender, photographer and actor — and a 5-year run at the Philadelphia Museum of Art — he joined the WGBH Radio family in 2007. Over the years at WGBH, Edgar has been something of a utility player — hosting live segments, producing features, specials and live music broadcasts; creating web features; and emceeing live events like the Boston Summer Arts Weekend.

He holds degrees in history and communications from Villanova University in Philadelphia and once lost big on an episode of the TV game show "Jeopardy!" Edgar prefers tea over coffee, late nights over early mornings and the Beatles over the Stones (though he's never understood why the Kinks aren't ever included in that conversation). When not at work, he can most likely be found playing, listening to, reading about or dancing to music. 


11:53 am
Fri October 2, 2015

Meet America's First Woman Astronomer: Maria Mitchell

Maria Mitchell's telescope, at the Smithsonian National Museum of American History.
Credit Dpbsmith / WGBH News

Before Neil deGrasse Tyson, before Carl Sagan, before Edwin Hubble, there was Maria Mitchell.

Read more
2:35 pm
Wed September 30, 2015

Love That Martian Water: Local Pair Plans Move To Mars

The dark, narrow streaks flowing downhill on Mars at sites such as this portion of the Garni Crater are inferred to be formed by seasonal flow of water on modern-day Mars.
Credit NASA

The news this week that NASA has detected flowing water on the surface of Mars hit especially close to home for two local residents. After all, they plan to live there someday.

Read more
1:46 pm
Wed September 23, 2015

A Look At The Taxi/Uber Battle From Inside The Cab

Long time Boston taxi owner-operator Jim Christie, outside his cab in down town Boston.

When you spend a few hours in a cab with Jim Christie, like I recently did, you learn one thing pretty quickly. He sees almost everything, from how many other taxis are in the vicinity to potential fares lurking in the shadows to a quicker path opening up amidst a swell of traffic. 

Christie's keen vision makes perfect sense. After all, when he started driving a cab, Kevin White was in his first term as mayor; John Havelicek was in his prime with the Celtics.

"It was back in the day when we still had uniforms," said Christie, "Waist jacket with a tie and a taxi hat."

Read more
Local News
10:55 am
Thu September 10, 2015

College Students Pack Into Boston Apartments Under Toothless 'No More Than Four' Ordinance

September brings moving day to Brighton.

Audio Pending...

Boston College senior Brandon Dean Daly lived in a house in Brighton last year with a ... few ... of his classmates.

Read more
10:42 am
Fri September 4, 2015

'Force Friday,' In The Form Of 'Star Wars' Toys, Hits Boston

A customer checks out a statue of Darth Vader in Woburn.
Edgar B. Herwick III WGBH News

For as long as there has been "Star Wars," there have been "Star Wars" toys.

Read more
5:34 am
Fri August 28, 2015

Route 128, Once Known As 'Road To Nowhere,' Had A Traffic Jam The Day It Opened

Credit 128 Business Council

You want to talk about ubiquitous?

For commuters, it’s an eternal headache; For meteorologists, a reliable dividing line. Route 128’s even been immortalized in song by the Modern Lovers.

Read more
Local News
5:27 pm
Tue August 25, 2015

Green Line Project Might Be Trimmed, But Not Scrapped, Says Capuano

Credit Mike Deehan/WGBH News

State transit officials are weighing a variety options after new estimates on extending the - MBTA’s Green Line - show the project could wind up costing a billion dollars more than first estimated……. System officials say the ballooning cost now put the project’s future in question…the project has long been a priority for US Congressman Michael Capuano.

Congressman Michael Capuano has been fighting for the Green Line extension for his entire career. So he’s taking this latest hitch in stride.

Read more
Curiosity Desk
5:15 pm
Fri August 14, 2015

This Week In History: Frederick Douglass Shines On Nantucket

Frederick Douglass as a young man, circa 1840.
Credit public domain

Frederick Douglass’ story began like millions of other Americans, millions too many.

Douglass’ life is much the same as many enslaved people. As one of the great abolitionist women said, “animals, horses are treated better than enslaved people.”

That’s Beverly Morgan Welch, executive director of the Museum of African American History. Born in Maryland, Douglass was taken from his mother as an infant, and then from his grandmother as a young boy.

Read more
12:24 pm
Fri August 7, 2015

Everything You Never Learned In School About The Mayflower

The Landing of the Mayflower, by Sarony and Major.
Credit Library of Congress

The story of Massachusetts as we know it today began with a group of religious separatists known as the Pilgrims and their ship, the Mayflower — but their story is not exactly the one you learned in school.

Read more
10:35 am
Fri July 31, 2015

How MIT And Technicolor Helped Create Hollywood

Deborah Stoiber shows the three color technicolor film process at the George Eastman House Louis B. Mayer Conservation Center in Chili, N.Y., Thursday April 24, 2008.
Credit AP Photo

We, of course, live in color. But the world that early Hollywood presented was almost exclusively black and white. Chelsea-born Herbert Kalmus, his college buddy Daniel Comstock and gadget guru Burton Westcott wanted to change that. So in 1915 they launched a company, Technicolor, to do just that.

"Kalmus and Comstock went to MIT — Massachusetts Institute of Technology — and that’s where the term 'tech' comes from in Technicolor," said film producer Richard W. Haines, author of "Technicolor Movies: The History of Dye Transfer Printing."

Read more
Local News
11:56 am
Wed July 29, 2015

Explosive Beach Objects-- Just Another Example Of Massachusetts' Charm

Back away from the UXO.
Credit Wikipedia

Speculation ran wild in the days following that Rhode Island beach explosion, and one of the early theories posed that it might have been an old military munition buried in the sand. But just how likely is it that unexploded military artillery would be found on a New England beach?

It’s fairly common, it turns out.

Read more
Local News
3:40 pm
Fri July 24, 2015

The Attack On Orleans: When World War I Hit Cape Cod

The crew of the German WWI U-boat UB 14 stand atio the submarine on the Black Sea in 1918.
Credit Public domain

Nauset Beach on Cape Cod is known for its excellent bass and blues fishing. It's known to surfers as a real destination, and to off-road-vehicle enthusiasts as one of the beaches where — with a permit — you can cruise. Less known are the dramatic events that took place on this 10-mile stretch of coast in the summer of 1918.

Read more
5:29 pm
Tue July 14, 2015

Cambridge Scientist Helped New Horizons With Directions To Pluto

Pluto, right, and its largest moon, Charon, which Scott Kenyon calls a binary planet.
Credit NASA

When I asked Scott Kenyon about his reaction to the news that New Horizons had actually flown by Pluto, his answer wasn't that different from those of the myriad of people I've chatted with about it, from scientists to educators to regular Janes and Joes.

"Well, it's pretty exciting," Kenyon said.

Read more
Local News
9:42 am
Tue July 14, 2015

Former Planet Pluto Is Weirder Than We Thought (UPDATED)

Credit NASA

UPDATE 7/14/15: Looks like we made it. Shortly before 8 a.m. EDT, nine years, five months and 25 days after NASA's New Horizons blasted off the surface of the Earth, it whizzed past Pluto at about 7 miles per second. At least we think it did. 

As is the plan, New Horizons is out of contact with the ground while it does its job, snapping photos and completing a whole host of measurements some 3 billion miles away. Scientists are anxiously awaiting their next contact with the craft, scheduled for shortly before 9 p.m. EDT, when New Horizons is expected to signal scientists that the flyby has been successfully completed and begin transmitting data back.

Richard Binzel, an MIT planetary sciences professor who is on the New Horizons science team, sent WGBH News this statement Tuesday morning by email, shortly after New Horizons began its Pluto flyby:

Breathtaking! There is such a richness in the differences in color and textures on the surface of Pluto that we are going to be challenged for years to come to reach some explanations. For now, it’s a brief celebration and then back to our science team work.

And how's the mood at the science team's operations center this morning? Here's Binzel and few of his fellow New Horizons scientists:

What they're reacting to is the best photo yet of the dwarf planet (top), taken late Monday night by New Horizons from about 476,000 miles away and released this morning by NASA. It's just a tease of what's to come. New Horizons' flyby takes it just 7,000 miles from Pluto's surface. Keep in mind, while the photos and data will start coming in this evening, it will take 16 months for New Horizons to transmit the full treasure trove back to scientists here on the ground. 

Original story: After a journey that has lasted the better part of a decade, the answer to "are we there yet" is finally “yes,” for NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft. After a brief glitch over the weekend, all systems are once again go for an historic encounter, 3 billion miles from Earth.

Read more
10:22 am
Fri July 10, 2015

The Day Babe Ruth Arrived In Boston, Met His Wife, And Pitched 7 Innings In A Red Sox Win

Babe Ruth in 1919.
Credit Wikimedia Commons

Lots of people came through Back Bay station here in Boston on July 11, 1914. And, likely, even a few of them stood 6-foot-2 at 215 pounds. But only one would rise to the heights of the 19-year-old who arrived from Baltimore that day.

Read more
1:00 am
Fri July 3, 2015

ZIP Codes Tamed The Postal Service Boom 52 Years Ago

Mr. Zip extols the virtues of the ZIP Code system.

We all have one, we know it by heart, and we share it with our neighbors. But chances are you haven't thought that much about this ubiquitous part of American life — the ZIP code.

Read more
Local News
1:11 pm
Wed July 1, 2015

Boston 2024 And The Olympic Vision of Columbia Point

A view of the Boston skyline from Old Harbor at Columbia Point.

When you take a drive around Columbia Point with Don Walsh, one thing becomes immediately clear: he loves his neighborhood.

“Terrific resource,” he says. “Dorchester Bay, Atlantic Ocean. Right there. Clean beaches, ya know.”

Boston 2024 thought so too— and has targeted Columbia Point as the perfect spot for their Olympic Village.

And for a guy whose beloved neighborhood now finds itself square in Olympic crosshairs, he’s surprisingly open-minded.

Read more
Curiosity Desk
2:33 pm
Wed June 24, 2015

With One Hand And A Lot Of Heart, Pianist Nicholas McCarthy Makes A Name For Himself

Up-and-coming classical musician Nicholas McCarthy stopped by the WGBH studios during a visit to our classical sister station, WCRB.
Credit WGBH/Chiquita Paschal

Growing up outside of London, until he was 14, Nicholas McCarthy figured he would grow up to be a chef.

“Then I saw a friend of mine who played a Beethoven piano sonata ,” he says. “She was a very good pianist and I just absolutely fell in love.”

McCarthy says that’s when he realized that it was what he wanted to do. At the time he thought “I want to be a concert pianist,” he says, “Not taking into consideration that I only had one hand.”

Read more
11:34 am
Mon June 22, 2015

We're Number 1: The Massachusetts Constitution Heralded And Outpaced The U.S. Version

Detail from the Massachusetts Constitution.
Credit Library of Congress

"The end of the institution, maintenance, and administration of government, is to secure the existence of the body politic" — so begins the preamble to the Constitution of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts.

Read more
Local News
10:33 am
Wed June 17, 2015

At South Station: Checkmate While You Wait

Three time US chess champ and certified Grandmaster Larry Christiansen plays 24 games simultaneously at South Station.
WGBH / Edgar B. Herwick III


About 50 people were gathered just after noon Tuesday, right where folks often gather at South Station: near the big electronic board listing departures and arrivals. Only no one was looking at the board. All eyes – and plenty of cell phones – were pointed squarely below it. Why?

Read more
12:00 am
Sat June 13, 2015

News Scraps: Good Stuff That Didn't Make Headlines


The Curiosity Desk's weekly roundup of the stats, facts, tidbits and leftovers that almost slipped through the cracks in the WGBH newsroom.


Read more
The Curiosity Desk
12:21 pm
Fri June 12, 2015

The Crusty Boston Lawyer Who Helped Shatter McCarthyism: This Week In History

Boston attorney Joseph Nye Welch during the 1954 McCarthy-Army hearings. It was during these hearings that Welch uttered the famous phrase, 'Have you no sense of decency, sir?'
Credit AP Photo


It’s one of the most well-known – and written about chapters in American political history. Less covered, is the strong Massachusetts connection.

Read more
12:00 am
Thu June 11, 2015

Should Boston Police Carry Tasers?

A Taser X26 stun gun is displayed.
Credit AP Photo

The question of whether Boston Police should carry electronic control weapons, commonly known by the brand name Taser, has been renewed after the police shooting earlier this month of Usaamah Rahim in Roslindale.

Read more
Local News
7:50 pm
Wed June 3, 2015

In A Time Of Self Radicalization, The Global Is Local

Clockwise from top left, Tarek Mehanna, Ahmad Abousamra, Dzhokhar Tsarnaev and Tamerlan Tsarnaev.
Credit FBI photos

Tarek Mehanna, the Sudbury man convicted of providing material support to Al Queda; Ahmad Abousamra, the Stoughton man turned social media guru for ISIS, reportedly killed this week in Iraq; the Tsarnaev brothers; and now Usaama Rahim. All unrelated, but all young men from this area accused or convicted of terrorist activities. It’s enough to get you wondering if there is something deeper going on around here.

Read more
7:00 am
Sat May 30, 2015

News Scraps: Good Stuff That Didn't Make Headlines


The Curiosity Desk's weekly roundup of the stats, facts, tidbits and leftovers that almost slipped through the cracks in the WGBH newsroom. 


Despite a fair amount of advanced warning, plenty of folks were taken by surprise when six fighter jets began screaming across the skies over Boston on Tuesday around lunchtime.

Read more
Local News
10:14 am
Fri May 29, 2015

Does Massachusetts Have A Brush Fire Problem? You'd Be Surprised

A fire-prevention sign stands in Myles Standish State Park.
Credit OldPine / Wikimedia Commons

The thing you notice after a few minutes talking with Dave Celino, chief fire warden for the Massachusetts Department of Conservation and Recreation, is that what you or I might call "brush," or "woods," or "forest," he calls "fuel."

"Fuel diameter, fuel type, fuel moisture, fine fuels — there are categories of fuel," Celino said.

When you get to know a little about his work, you start to understand why.

Read more
10:20 am
Tue May 26, 2015

'New England's Dark Day': That Time In 1780 When It Was Night Before Noon

A poem recounting New England's 'Dark Day.'
Credit Brown University Library Digital Repository

May 19, 1780, dawned like a promise. It had been a particularly brutal winter in New England, but spring had finally arrived. In fact, it had been unusually warm for days.

There were fields to plant, goods to manufacture, ships to load and unload. But then, as, Cornell University professor Thomas Campanella explains, things got weird.

Read more
11:23 am
Wed May 20, 2015

Why 'Mad Men' Has No Future On Television

The casts of 'Mad Men,' top, and 'The Brady Bunch.'

More than 3 million people watched the final episode of "Mad Men." Can you guess what nearly twice as many people — some 6.4 million — watched that same night? Two colorized episodes of a 60-year old sitcom, "I Love Lucy," which in its day was a smash hit.

Read more
Local News
5:22 pm
Thu May 14, 2015

Deflategate: Tom Brady, Patriots Go On The Offensive

Tom Brady
Credit AP Photo

New England Patriots ballboy Jim McNally earned the nickname "The Deflator" not because he let air out of footballs, but because he was always trying to lose weight — so said the Patriots Thursday in a near-20,000-word, point-by-point rebuttal of the Wells Report. In it, the Patriots refute everything from the accuracy of the NFL's measurements of the pressure of the footballs to the league's interpretations of text messages between the two Pats employees at the center of the scandal.

Read more
Local News
9:50 am
Wed May 13, 2015

Deflategate: It All Boils Down To Who You Root For

New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady speaks at a news conference in Foxborough, Mass., Thursday, Jan. 22, 2015 as he addresses the issue of the NFL investigation of deflated footballs.
Credit AP Photo

Not all lies are created equal. There are little white lies and big ol’ whoppers. Even the Catholic Church differentiates between a lie of omissions and one of commission. And then there’s the question of who’s doing the telling.

Read more