Gabriel Spitzer | KNKX

Gabriel Spitzer

Sound Effect Host and Producer

Gabriel Spitzer is the Host and Senior Producer of Sound Effect, KNKX's "weekly tour of ideas inspired by the place we live." Gabriel was previously KNKX's Science and Health Reporter. He joined KNKX after years covering science, health and the environment at WBEZ in Chicago. There, he created the award-winning mini-show, Clever Apes. Having also lived in Alaska and California, Gabriel feels he’s been closing in on Seattle for some time, and has finally landed on the bullseye.

Gabriel received his Master's of Journalism at the University of California, Berkeley, and his degree in English at Cornell University. He’s been honored with the Kavli Science Journalism Prize from the American Association for the Advancement of Science, and won awards from the Association of Health Care Journalists, the National Association of Black Journalists and Public Radio News Directors, Inc. He lives in West Seattle with his wife Ashley and their two sons, Ezra and Oliver.

Gabriel’s most memorable KNKX moment was: “In just my second week here, I found myself covering the unfolding story of a mass shooting and citywide manhunt. It was a tragic and chaotic day, when the public badly needed someone to sort the facts from the rumors. It made me proud of our profession.”

Ways to Connect

Seattle Public Library


This story originally aired on June 16, 2018.

Real estate. It’s a hot topic in the Northwest right now. A white-hot market like Seattle’s creates winners and losers, depending on which side of the transaction you happen to be on. These days, you’d probably rather be a seller than a buyer.


But back in 1985, when Merlin Rainwater and her husband bought their place, the roles were reversed. They were able to score a little bungalow on the East slope of Capitol Hill for just $50,000.


Courtesy of Mark Goetcheus


This story originally aired on June 16, 2018.

The day that changed Michael Freeman’s life came about 22 years ago.

“I was crushed by an eight-ton truck in a loading dock across the pelvis. They took me out to Madigan and did emergency surgery,” Freeman said.

This story originally aired on June 16, 2018.

Every Tuesday night, St. Paul’s Episcopal church in Seattle opens its doors and invites people living with mental illness and homelessness to come in and create. In the unique art space they can paint, knit, play music or find their own creative pursuits.


The Karen Korn Project was founded by Pastor Kae Eaton and Patricia Swain, in honor of Swain’s daughter Karen. Karen died from suicide in November of 2014, after struggling with mental illness and homelessness herself.

Fifty years ago, astronauts left the first human footprints on the moon. Today, space continues to inspire.
Tim Durkan


This episode is part of the Destination Moon Podcrawl, marking the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon landing. Please check out our partner podcasts, including The Flight Deck, Geekwire, Stuff You Missed in History Class and Radiotopia’s The Truth.   

A group of North Korean defectors sing a hymn at a Lynnwood church during a Sunday-evening service.
Gabriel Spitzer / KNKX


Escaping North Korea is treacherous, and the flow of refugees has slowed to a trickle in recent years, making North Korean defectors a rare breed. But more than two dozen of them are in the Seattle area this week. 

University of Washington

  This story originally aired on May 26, 2018.

Ana Mari Cauce says her relationship with her big brother was pretty typical when they were growing up. 

"Every scar on his body was probably given to him by me," Cauce says, "He had a scar over his mouth where I kicked hime in the mouth -- not on puprose! He was in the front seat, I was in the back seat. He did some kind of name-calling and so I went to kick the back of teh seat, he turned around I caught his tooth."

Our hero, suiting up for the water.
Gabriel Spitzer / KNKX


It’s 1985 — think New Coke and “We Are the World” — and little 8-year-old Gabe is shivering on the tile floor next to Jewish Community Center swimming pool in Canton, Ohio. I’d just wrapped up my “Advanced Beginners” swim class, and was lined up with the other kids awaiting our Red Cross cards. That card would be my ticket to the next class: Intermediate. 

The instructor came down the line and, when she handed me my card, it did not say “Intermediate” — it said “Advanced Beginners.” It appeared I would not be advancing at all. 


I was born into the Love Family, a culty commune that existed in Seattle in the 1970s and '80s. The family had a leader, a patriarch named Love, and 300 to 400 brothers and sisters. Their first names represented the virtues that Love saw in them — Purity, Solidity, Imagination, Devotion — and their last names were all Israel.

I call it a culty commune because "commune" explains why people joined it, and everything positive they left with. "Cult" explains all the things that went wrong, and why it eventually ended.

Kimya Dawson
Parker Miles Blohm / KNKX

We’ve all said or written stuff we regret. If you’re a musician, once your music is out there it’s hard to undo. Seattle-based songwriter Kimya Dawson has had a long career, and when she looks back on some of her own lyrics, she cringes a little.

Back then, she used some words in her songs that she would never say today. So how do you take it back? Kimya reflects on the evolution in a conversation with Sound Effect host Gabriel Spitzer.

Jamie Sumire Costantino
Parker Miles Blohm / KNKX


Advisory: This story contains disturbing material regarding the exploitation of children. Nothing explicit is included, but listener discretion is advised.

Growing up in New Jersey, Jamie Sumire Costantino had plenty of friends — especially this one girl.

“She was one of my closest friends, and one of my oldest friends,” said Jamie, now a teacher in Seattle. “And she was rather popular. She was somebody that everyone flocked to. She was somebody who often had the gatherings at her home.”

Sara Feigl may not be able to smell the flowers, but she's totally unfazed by stinky port-a-potties.
Gabriel Spitzer / KNKX


It wasn’t until Sara Feigl was 15 years old that she realized something was missing. She was hanging out with her friend, who had just spent $12 on perfume. Feigl told her friend that it was a waste of money to buy water that had been dyed purple.


Feigl’s friend was confused by this. She said that it wasn’t just purple water. The friend told Feigl that the purple water smelled like lavender. Couldn’t she smell it?


Feigl smelled nothing.


Courtesy of James Marx


Krystal Marx is a City Council member in Burien. Her husband James is an Iraq War veteran. They’ve both experienced hardships that never fully left them: in her case, it was poverty and homelessness as a kid; for him, it was combat-related PTSD.

Their relationship, and their healing, began on rival superhero teams.

You won't find a colony of alligators in a sewer like this one. It would be "a completely inhospitable environment in the first place," says founder David Mikkelson.
Sean Havey / The Associated Press

No, Thomas Crapper didn’t invent the modern flushing toilet. Airplanes don’t directly dump “blue ice” and human waste from 30,000 feet. And alligators can’t thrive in a New York City sewer.

These are some of the abundant toilet myths that have circulated across the internet and beyond.

A brand-new toilet set-up at an ecampment near Interstate 90 and Rainier Avenue.
Gabriel Spitzer / KNKX

Mark Lloyd pops his trunk and pulls out his supplies: kitty litter, a small military surplus tent, toilet paper, sanitizer and a 5-gallon plastic bucket, complete with toilet seat.

This is the rudimentary toilet set-up that Mark has been assembling and delivering to homeless encampments for about three years now. He guesses he’s given away between 75 and 100.

“It's something people need, and I can fill it,” he says. “You really can only do good when you provide people a more sanitary situation than they were.”

In 2018, Seattleite Chris Jeckel decided it was time to visit Tokyo. He had just ended a four-year relationship, and he was struggling to find his footing again. Tokyo seemed like the perfect place, he said, to "shake things up."

Jeckel is legally blind, with just a blurry rectangle of vision in his left eye. So, for him, "seeing" Tokyo was more about tapping around the city and letting the experience wash over his senses. In this interview, Jeckel describes his delight at losing himself in the overwhelm of Tokyo — and finding unexpected peace in a quiet moment. 

James and Krystal Marx on patrol together during May Day 2016
Courtesy of James Marx


Krystal Marx is a City Council member in Burien. Her husband James is an Iraq War veteran. They’ve both experienced hardships that never fully left them: in her case, it was poverty and homelessness as a kid; for him, it was combat-related PTSD.

Their relationship, and their healing, began on rival superhero teams.

This photo was taken at a rodeo in Hobbs, New Mexico, where rodeo clown J.J. Harrison fell down in front of a 2,000-pound, charging bull. "I remember thinking this could be the end," he said.
Courtesy of J.J. Harrison

When J.J. Harrison fell down in front of a charging, 2,000-pound bull in Hobbs, New Mexico, everything seemed to slow down.  

"I just remember thinking this could be the end," he said.

It wasn't. And even though Harrison was pretty beat up that day, he was back at it almost immediately. "I got my check and I drove five hours to get to the airport," he said, "because I've got to keep going."

Vietnam war and draft protest
Courtesy of Fred Lonidier


In the mid-1960s, there was a number that loomed large for many American men: 26. That was the cutoff age for the draft. If you were antiwar, or just didn’t fancy going off to combat, it could be a race to stall the process long enough to hit that birthday, before being hauled in front of the draft board.

Thomas Kyle-Milward (center) with his Milk and Scotch teammates at the Columbia County Fair in Oregon in 2014. He was "very insulted" when competitors talked trash about his overalls. But they weren't laughing after he beat them to the finish line.
Courtesy of Thomas Kyle-Milward

Thomas Kyle-Milward wears a tie to work, but deep down he’s still a farm boy.

Kyle-Milward grew up on a small family farm outside Portland, Oregon. The farm had its own rhythm: morning and evening chores, planting, harvest. And every year — the Columbia County Fair.

Kyle-Milward is building a life in urban Tacoma now, but he still makes it out for the fair each summer. And, as he’ll proudly share, he brings along bragging rights as the 2014 wild cow milking champion.

Laura Michalek passing the previous winner in the 1979 Chicago Marathon.
Courtesy of Laura Michalek

Laura Michalek is an auctioneer. She lives in Tacoma and does mostly fundraising work, and she’s been at it for a couple of decades.

But this story is about one of the first times Laura was in the spotlight, and it actually comes way before her auctioneer career.

This all starts in the year 1979. Laura’s in high school in Berwyn, Illinois — just outside Chicago. And she’s running on the cross-country team.

Sound Effect host Gabriel Spitzer and climate scientist Judy Twedt, outside the KNKX studios in Belltown.
Jennifer Wing / KNKX


When most of us see scientific data presented on graphs and spreadsheets, the meaning behind the numbers can get lost pretty fast — even when they are explained by an expert.


One woman whose personal mission is to make this kind of information more accessible is Judy Twedt, a doctoral student at the University of Washington. She is so enthusiastic about communicating scientific information in an understandable way that she wears it for everyone to see.


Courtesy Ben Weber

This story originally aired on April 28, 2018.

Actor Ben Weber has been in movies like Kissing Jessica Stein and television shows like Sex and the City. Most recently he was in a television mini-series called Manhunt: Unabomber. But he also got some attention a few years ago for a video he did starring Ben Weber as Angry Ben Weber.

Credit Carl Badgley

This story originally aired on April 28, 2018.   

Former Seattleite Carl Badgley has some experience with emergencies, having been an army medic and a 9-1-1 operator. But, in search of a simpler, slightly less intense lifestyle, he had moved to be near the beautiful tropical waters off of Kona, Hawaii.

Courtesy Mike Lewis


This story originally aired on April 21, 2018.  

When the print edition of the Seattle Post Intelligencer came to an end in 2009, the reporters who worked for the paper scattered off to other careers. Some picked up other gigs covering news, others went into public relations. Veteran reporter Mike Lewis bought a bar.


Specifically, he bought his bar, a dive called The Streamline Tavern, where he and other reporters used to adjourn to after quitting time at the paper.


Courtesy of Erica C Barnett

This story originally aired on April 21, 2018.    

All of Erica’s heroes liked to drink. Hunter S. Thompson, Molly Ivins … to be an edgy journalist, it seemed like alcohol was part of the job description.

For Erica C. Barnett, alcohol did soon become a thread weaving through her work for magazines and alternative weeklies.

Courtesy of Mike Lewis

This story originally aired on April 21, 2018.    

Years ago, not long after Mike Lewis lost his father, he made a pilgrimage to his dad's favorite bar--a place called The Ranch in Modesto, CA. When he got there, he found something he didn't expect: a stool that had been roped off. 

Gabriel Spitzer / KNKX



By the time Stuart Olsen was 7 years old, he had endured more surgeries than most people experience in a lifetime. The focus of all of this medical attention and effort was on his legs.


“I must have had 11 or 12 surgeries to try and fix my legs,” Olsen said.


Amir Afrasiabi works in computer vision and artificial intelligence.
Gabriel Spitzer / KNKX



Amir Afrasiabi had glasses as a kid. No big deal. But he found he had to constantly get new and more powerful ones, and he still seemed to struggle to see.

Amir would later discover that he had a degenerative eye condition called keratoconus. It would eventually reroute the course of his career and his life.

Doctoral student David Caldwell
Parker Miles Blohm / KNKX



The science of prosthetics has come a long way from the crude wood-and-metal devices of earlier generations. Bioengineers have even developed artificial limbs that can be operated by the user’s mind.

Now, a team at the University of Washington’s Center for Neurotechnology is working to take that one step further: engineering a device — say, a prosthetic arm — that can actually deliver the sensation of touch.

Michael Stravato / Associated Press

Back in the early 1980s, many people in El Salvador wanted an escape from poverty. They were trying to get the government to adopt policies that would redistribute that country’s wealth.

To the United States, these policies looked like communism.