â€œ2,000 Mainers make their living digging in muddy tidal flats for flesh biting monster worms. People in the know said I should talk to a guy named Werner — he’d been worming for like a million years.â€
-Producer Zachary Barr
Thanks for checking out the NPR Station Showcase with PRX. Iâ€™m your host and curator Aaron Henkin, and each week on this podcast we give a little extra attention to the outstanding and original work thatâ€™s getting produced locally at the hundreds of public radio stations across the country. Zachary Barr is our featured producer this week â€“ heâ€™s currently working at Colorado Public Radio, but a few years ago when he was up in Maine, he happened across a guy with a really cool jobâ€¦ Werner Rhode has been digging for worms on the tidal mud flats of mid-coastal Maine for 30 years. When the tide goes out in the summertime, Werner wanders out into the mudflats early in the morning with his hoe, hip boots, and bucket. Zac tagged along one morning with a portable recording kit (and a borrowed pair of hip waders)â€¦
Howâ€™d you come across Werner the Wormer?
Oh, man this is a long story. I’ll try and make it brief. I was studying at the Salt Institute for Documentary Studies in Portland, Maine. Radio students produce two features while at Salt. My first story was about Hondurans processing sea cucumbers for the Chinese, and the second was a love story about a Russian mail order bride and her local husband. The mail order bride couple had second thoughts, so I had to scramble to find a new story. Bloodworming sounded interesting: 2,000 Mainers make their living digging in muddy tidal flats for flesh biting monster worms. People in the know said I should talk to a guy named Werner — he’d been worming for like a million years.
What was it about his story and his career that spoke to you?
Honestly, I was scrambling and recorded the first person who agreed to talk to me. He’d just gotten back to Maine from out of state and was living in bachelor pad apartment not far from the tidal flats. Turns out, he’d just been divorced by his Russian mail order bride. No lie!
What kind of an experience was it for you to go out worm-digging with him? Were you following him out into the tide with your audio recorder, wearing hip-waders?
Yeah, he lent me an outfit. The mud was…muddy. You got out worming when the tide is out, which on this day meant getting outside before dawn.
Any favorite memory thatâ€™s stuck with you from that day you spent with Werner?
Wormers are defined by how many worms you snag a tide and whether you dig one tide a day or two. Imagine going out for two tides a day — it’s two work shifts a day, beginning exactly twelve hours apart.
Were you tempted to try a career change after meeting Werner?
Of course! I’m your typical grouchy office type who wishes he was a blood worming farmer.
Tell us a little bit about your radio background and how you ended up at Colorado Public Radio, KCFRâ€¦
After going to Salt, I worked at Sound Portraits / StoryCorps in New York. My first day on the job at StoryCorps, I met my new boss and future wife. She’s really pretty and smart. At StoryCorps I was a facilitator in Grand Central and then managed one of the Airstreams that tours around the country. I also worked on a freelance project called Never Coming Home with the amazing photographer Andrew Lichtenstein. The project was about the families of American soldiers killed in Iraq. There’s a book, and you can see pieces online at Slate and MediaStorm.
What kind of work are you doing at KCFR these days?
I help make a daily news interview show called Colorado Matters. I also get out and report features.
You can hear more from Zachary Barr and Colorado Public radio online at The Public Radio Exchange. Thatâ€™s where reporters and producers from around share their work. Log on, write your own reviews, and have a say in what ends up on the radio at www.prx.org.