Jonathan Baker

News Curator

Jonathan Baker recently returned to the High Plains from New York City, where he was the assistant to the editor-in-chief at W. W. Norton & Co. At Norton, Baker worked with a wide variety of authors, including Neil deGrasse Tyson, Michael Lewis and Larry McMurtry. During his time in publishing, Baker worked on books that were shortlisted for a National Book Award and a Booker Prize, and Norton was awarded a Pulitzer Prize in History.

A former professional comedian, Baker has performed all over the United States and appeared on NBC’s Last Comic Standing. He holds an undergraduate degree in English with a History minor from West Texas A&M University and a master’s degree in the humanities from the University of Chicago. At UChicago, Baker focused on American literature but studied a wide range of topics, from architectural history to 19th-century landscape painting to the history of the natural sciences. His master’s thesis was on glaciers and ice age theory in the Victorian Era.

When not curating stories for High Plains Public Radio, Baker writes advertisements for publications like Esquire and Car & Driver. He also writes crime novels. Baker just finished his fourth book, a murder story set on the barren Texas plains.

Baker is the father of a 12-year-old boy, Inigo. They live in Canyon, Texas, in a tiny wooden house, where they watch a lot of cheesy old horror movies.   

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The Texas and Oklahoma panhandles will be experiencing sizzling sunshine and scorching hot temperatures this week, along with hazy skies. The reason? The deserts of Africa appear to be sending their dust in our direction.

According to USA Today, this week's hot haze is due to heavy winds in the Sahara Desert sending dust across an ocean, which is now settling across parts of Texas and the High Plains, and into eastern New Mexico.

Amarillo Globe-News

A legend in the world of High Plains journalism retired this weekend. Jon Mark Beilue’s first byline appeared in the Amarillo Globe-News 37 years ago, and the Groom native has been a steady voice of reason in the Texas Panhandle ever since.

Beilue began his career covering class 5-A football games for what was then the Amarillo Daily News, fresh off his graduation from Texas Tech.

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In the wake of last year’s mass shooting at Texas’s Santa Fe High School, Gov. Greg Abbott released a plan to obviate future shooting by releasing a 40-page plan to keep schools safe.

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The windswept plains of West Texas have some of the highest solar power potential in the United States. Now, the Permian Basin region is taking advantage of that energy in a big way.

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CNBC has released their scorecard on the economic climate in all 50 states, and Texas took the top spot.

The news network ranked states on more than 60 measures of competitiveness, including workforce, quality of life, education, business friendliness and cost of living. Texas ranked number one overall, also ranking first in infrastructure and economy.

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If you grew up on the High Plains, you might have wondered in recent years where all the horny toads have gone.

The horned lizard is the state reptile of Texas, and for decades horned toads were a favorite plaything of High Plains kids. But these days, notes Texas Monthly, horny toads aren’t nearly as prevalent as they once were.

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Oklahoma’s foster care system has been beleaguered by high rates of abuse and neglect for years.

And, as The Tulsa World reports, much of that child abuse is due to Oklahoma’s high levels of meth addiction, with the state’s opioid addiction struggles adding to the problem in recent years.

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The Oklahoma and Texas Panhandles will likely soon suffer under the effects of Donald Trump’s various trade wars.

As The Dallas Morning News reports, the trade war will leave no part of Texas untouched. The Lone Star State has a greater number of exports hit by payback tariffs than any other state.

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The number of earthquakes in Oklahoma of magnitude 4.0 or higher is up significantly for the year 2018. However, the overall frequency of quakes is still on the decline.

As The Tulsa World reports, through the end of June this year, the Sooner State saw almost 100 earthquakes of magnitude 3.0 or higher. But that’s down from almost 150 during the same period last year.

Press Release/Wes Reeves

A group of music lovers announced plans this week to build a privately funded plaza and amphitheater in downtown Amarillo.

The plaza will be named for beloved Amarillo singer-songwriter AJ Swope, who was tragically killed in a car accident five years ago. The group is hoping to secure land near the new multi-purpose event venue now under construction on Buchanan Street.

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Today is our nation’s birthday, and for many across the High Plains, it’s a time to break out the fireworks.

But here on this windy, grassy flatland, those Black Cats and bottle rockets can be deadly to you and your neighbors. With that in mind, here are a few safety tips, courtesy of the National Council on Fireworks Safety.

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A relic from America’s patriotic past arrived in Amarillo this weekend, to stay for good.

As The Amarillo Globe-News reports, the side of the boat deck from the USS Arizona as it arrived at the Happy State Bank Randall County Event Center. During the Pearl Harbor Attack of 1941. The Arizona was bombed by Japanese fighters while docked in Hawaii. The ship exploded and sank, with the loss of almost 1,200 crewmen.

Jonathan Baker

The small town of Canyon, Texas, will swell to the size of a small city this week, as it hosts one of the largest Fourth of July celebrations in the state

As The Amarillo Globe-News reports, the town of just over 13,000 will grow to a population of 40,000 or even 50,000 over the two days of the extravaganza. It all begins on Tuesday night, with an outdoor concert at the First United Bank Center, when the Josh Abbott Band will play.

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Last week, Oklahoma became the 30th state to legalize medical marijuana.

But, as CBS News reports, gun owners who want to smoke pot for medical reasons may be out of luck. The Federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives has confirmed to a local TV station in the Sooner State that the bureau will stand by a 2011 letter prohibiting any “unlawful user” of a controlled substance from “possessing firearms or ammunition.”

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According to an editorial in The New Yorker this week, Tuesday’s Oklahoma primary elections “show the lasting impression of the teacher walkout.”

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A tradition that's almost a century old in the Texas Panhandle is coming to an end.

As The Amarillo Globe-News reports, the Tri-State Fair's board of directors has decided to end the parade that kicks off the nine-day celebration every year in September.

democracychronicles / Flickr Creative Commons

Voters went to the polls in Oklahoma on Tuesday night, to decide on a medical marijuana law and to decide who the candidates will be in this November’s elections.

As CBS News reports, Sooner voters said yes to State Question 788, making it legal to grow, sell and use marijuana for medicinal purposes.

Roman Leal

Last week, the Texas Panhandle was abuzz about a billboard. The sign didn’t mince words, simply asking “LIBERALS" to "please continue on I-40 until you have left our Great State of Texas.”

In an editorial in The Amarillo Globe-News, Jon Mark Beilue called the sign, “childish and immature, noting that the sign only “add[ed] to the division in the country.”

After the backlash, the sign was promptly taken down.

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Last week, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that states can now collect sales tax from online retailers. New estimates show that the move could be a major boon to the economies of the Texas and Oklahoma panhandles.

Robert Dauffenbach, director of the Center for Economic and Management Research at the University of Oklahoma, told The Oklahoman that he believes the additional sales tax income could amount to over a quarter of a billion dollars a year for the Sooner State.

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Oil drillers in West Texas continue to face a quandary: How much of the natural gas they produce should be burned off?

As The Los Angeles Times noted this month, the problem has pitted producers against each other and set environmentalists and capitalists on a collision course. During the fracking process, extra natural gas is produced along with the oil.

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It appears that the historic raise promised to Oklahoma’s teachers may be in trouble.

As The Guardian reports, despite promises made by state lawmakers to give Oklahoma’s educators a $6,100 a year pay increase, conservative activists in the state are circulating a petition to rescind the tax hikes meant to pay for the raises.

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The Trump Administration is threatening a trade war with its closest allies, and the move could hurt Texas Panhandle businesses.

As The Dallas Morning News reports, the White House has pledged to slap tariffs on imports from the Canada, Mexico, and the European Union, with those entities warning that they plan to respond in kind.

Justin Cozart / Wikimedia Commons

According to a new survey in Amarillo, most residents of the city feel safe.

As The Amarillo Globe-News­ reports, more than 80 percent of the survey’s respondents said they feel “somewhat safe,” “very safe” or “neutral” in Amarillo.

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A number of abortion-rights groups are suing the State of Texas, in an attempt to overturn dozens of laws they say hinder the rights of Texas women.

As The Dallas Morning-News reports, six organizations and one doctor have brought a federal suit against the state, hoping to repeal several laws, including one requiring a 24-hour waiting period between having a sonogram and an abortion, and another that says parents must consent to a minor having an abortion.

US Fish and Wildlife

A fire in northwestern Oklahoma has consumed over 4,000 acres, with the damage stretching into northeastern New Mexico.

As KFOR reports, fire crews struggled to contain the so-called Porter Fire, which began in Cimarron County. The fire was attributed, like most of the recent fires on the High Plains, to “high temperatures and low-relative humidity.”

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The former Chase Tower in downtown Amarillo has a new resident bank and namesake. Going forward, the tallest building between Fort Worth and Denver will now be known as the FirstBank Southwest Tower.

As The Amarillo Globe-News reports, the institution that began as First National Bank of Ochiltree in 1907 will now, 111 years later, have its name stamped on the most prominent structure in the skyline of the largest city on the High Plains.

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The State of Texas has revealed a program that offers incentives to residents who purchase or lease cars that use alternative fuels. This state is offering a $2,500 cash back deal two Texans who decide to buy green automobiles.

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A poet from the Texas Panhandle has brought home one of the most prestigious poetry awards in the American West.

Chera Hammons is the winner of the PEN Southwest Poetry Award for her book, The Traveler’s Guide to Bomb City. Judge Allison Adelle Hedge Coke called Hammons’s book an “astute take on life on the Southern Plains,” adding “we are the better for [this book] being here.”

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Last week, Amarillo unveiled the first historic Route 66 sign along the famed route that traverses the city.

As The Amarillo Globe-News reports, State Sen. Kel Seliger and State Rep. Four Price were on hand to celebrate the sign’s reveal.

Dora Meroney is the president of the Old Route 66 Association of Texas, and she said she hopes to erect signs along the entire 178-mile stretch of the former highway in the panhandle.

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Oklahoma now has the highest incarceration rate in the world, reports to The Tulsa World.

According to a new study, Oklahoma recently overtook Louisiana as the state with the highest per capita number of citizens in prison.

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