Journeys of Discovery with Tom Wilmer

Segments air during Issues & Ideas (Wednesdays from 1 to 2 p.m.)

Tom Wilmer’s Lowell Thomas Award-winning NPR Podcast—recorded live on location across America and around the world—showcases the arts, culture, music, nature, history, science, wine & spirits, brewpubs, and the culinary arts.

We cover nouns and verbs—people, places, things, and action—everything from baseball, to exploring South Pacific atolls, to interviewing the real Santa Claus in the Arctic. Come along!

Thomas Wilmer


Tucked away on a side street in downtown Hot SpringsDeluca’s Pizzeria repeatedly wins rave reviews for their homemade pizzas. Chef and owner, Anthony Valinoti regularly wins accolades including one of Arkansas’s ten best Pizzas and consistently number one in Hot Springs. Join correspondent Tom Wilmer at Deluca’s for a visit with chef Valinoti.

Thomas Wilmer

A two-hour drive from the buzzing metropolis of Chengdu in Southeastern China is Mount Emei, one of the country's four sacred Buddhist Mountains. Mount Emei is home to 11 Taoist Temple complexes dating back more than 1,600 years, with a total of more than 30 Buddhist Temple complexes.

Thomas Wilmer

Judi Gulledge, Executive Director of the Mobile Carnival Association talks with correspondent Tom Wilmer about the past and present of Mobile's Carnival events and takes us on a tour of the Mobile Carnival Museum.

Heavenly Hawaiian Farms

In conjunction with the Kona Coffee Cultural Festival, correspondent Tom Wilmer visits with Dave Bateman, Kona coffee industry expert, lecturer and owner of Heavenly Hawaiian Kona Coffee Farms on the Island of Hawaii.

Located high on a mountainside above Kailua-Kona, Bateman farms estate-grown beans, operates the popular Konalani Coffee Bar and an enticing vacation rental.

Negro Leagues Baseball Museum

Join correspondent Tom Wilmer for a visit with Bob Kendrick, president of the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum in Kansas CityMissouri.

Back in the latter 19th century, African American athletes often played on baseball teams alongside whites. But segregation took an ugly turn in the dawning days of the 20th century and black players were barred through Jim Crow laws.

Thomas Wilmer

Correspondent Tom Wilmer visits with Faith Morris, chief marketing and external affairs officer at the National Civil Rights Museum in Memphis, Tennessee. Morris shares insights about America’s 400-year history of racism and the evolution of the civil rights movement.

KBTX News 3 College Station, Texas

The day-to-day job of law enforcement officers goes largely unappreciated and unnoticed. I recently met and became friends with a Texas State Trooper and his wife while they were on vacation. I asked if he might talk from the heart about his seventeen-year journey as a peace officer stationed in the North Texas Panhandle region.

Center for Biological Diversity

Environmental activist Laiken Jordahl is a borderlands campaigner with the Tuscon, Arizona based Center for Biological Diversity. Jordahl has painfully followed the building of the border wall with Mexico and its attendent ecological damage.

Harley Davidson Museum


Correspondent Tom Wilmer visits with Join Jim Fricke, Curatorial Director at the 130,000 square-foot Harley Davidson Museum in Milwaukee, Wisconsin as he shares highlights of the legendary motorcycle’s 117-year history.


Correspondent Tom Wilmer visits with Oklahoma City-based belly dance instructor Heide Brandes who shares insights about the cultural nuances of the ancient art form. Next up, Wilmer talks with swing dance instructor Marcus Coker based in Fort Smith, Arkansas about the art of swing and the Tango.

Courtesy Evelyn Fredericks

In the midst of the COVID-19 epidemic, most of the places we love to visit are off limits. It is an especially painful time for those of us who depend on immersing in to distinctive travel destinations. What gives my life meaning more than anything else as a travel journalist is helping to shine a light on deserving communities.

Thomas Wilmer

COVID-19 has brought day-to-day interactions and retail commerce to a virtual standstill around the world. The Hopi and Navajo reservations have been particularly hard hit, with tribal villages and businesses shuttered.

The world keeps spinning and the tribal communities continue to function and interact via online and remote vehicles of communications. Hopefully before too long the tribal communities will return to normal and once again welcome visitors and tourists from around the world.

Join correspondent Tom Wilmer for a fascinating conversation with Mike Wolfe, host of American Pickers on the History Channel. Wilmer met up with Wolfe at his home in Leiper’s Fork, Tennessee. Wolfe shares engaging tales of growing up in Eau Claire, Iowa where he started picking treasures found in dumpsters as a six year-old, his quest to create the television show and how the proud denizens of the heartland of America continue to touch his heart.


Correspondent Tom Wilmer visits with Rob Robinson, musician and owner of Puckett’s Grocery & Restaurant in Leiper’s Fork, Tennessee. Puckett’s has been a community center of sorts in town since 1953. It’s much more than a grocery and eatery—it’s also a rocking live music venue.

Thomas Wilmer

Principal Dr. Ryan Jackson shares with correspondent Tom Wilmer how Tennessee’s Mt Pleasant Arts Innovation Zone preK-12 educational model benefits student’s educational goals by infusing Art into S.T.E.M.

Learning comes alive, as students passionately work on curricular projects ranging from creating NASA-mentored self-sustaining habitats on Mars, to building/selling tiny houses that can result in various trade certifications at completion.

Gone is the “sit and listen” drudgery, replaced by the vibrancy of “think and do”, resulting in kids’ genuine ownership of their educational journeys. 

Click here to listen to Dr. Ryan's TEDX talk

The Dr. Jackson STEAM education show is the 12th in a multi-part series showcasing Nashville’s Big Back Yard--an economic and tourism initiative that encompasses the Natchez Trace National Parkway in Tennessee’s southwest quarter down to the Shoals Region in Northern Alabama.

Visit Belfast

Correspondent Tom Wilmer reports from Edinburgh, Scotland where he visits with Richard Paterson, regarded as one of the world’s foremost blenders of Scotch Whisky. Afterwards Wilmer talks with Daryl McNally at Old Bushmills Distillery, the world’s oldest licensed distillery, located along Northern Ireland’s Antrim Coast, just a wee drive from Belfast.

This show is a repost “best-of-the-best” travel show in celebration of Journeys of Discovery’s 31st anniversary producing on-air and digital media podcasts featured on KCBX and NPR One.

Tom Reed came to Hohenwald, Tennessee back in 1971 as a vanguard member of a commune dubbed "The Farm”. Hundreds of hippies arrived in their vans and more than 80 school busses adorned with banners proclaiming “Out to Save the World”. They purchased 1,750 acres and settled in, and the Farm is still thriving in the Hohenwald, Tennessee countryside.

Thomas Wilmer

Join correspondent Tom Wilmer for a visit with Lee Kennedy, owner of Leiper’s Fork Distillery located on the outskirts of uptown Leiper’s Fork, Tennessee. Kennedy shares insights about producing Tennessee whiskey and bourbon, events at the distillery and the process of growing his elixir’s market distribution.

Visit Franklin

Join correspondent Tom Wilmer in Leiper’s Fork, Tennessee where he visits with two artists, Lisa Fox and David Arms who own galleries in the heart of uptown Leiper’s Fork. The rural community is less than 40 miles from Nashville, but it’s a world apart.

The Art of Leiper’s Fork is the ninth in a series showcasing the Nashville’s Big Back Yard economic initiative—a showcase of rural destinations along the Natchez Trace National Parkway from Leiper’s Fork, down along the Parkway route to Northern Alabama’s Shoals Region.

Thomas Wilmer

Amber Falls Winery and Cellars, situated close to the Natchez Trace National Parkway, is just 17 minutes away from the town of Hohenwald and an hour and a quarter to downtown Nashville. In addition to a tasting room with retail sales and outdoor live-music events scheduled throughout the year, cottages adjacent to the winery are available for overnight stays.

Joe Hendricks Elephants

Correspondent Tom Wilmer visits with outreach manager Todd Montgomery at the Elephant Sanctuary in Hohenwald, Tennessee. Rescued elephants from circuses and zoos across America find peace at the Elephant Sanctuary. Founded in 1995, the sanctuary is not open to the public to ensure a tranquil retirement environment for the elephants.

Fortunately there’s a wonderful educational visitors' center located in downtown Hohenwald. Video displays include the EleCam, providing live-streaming video feed from the elephants’ 2,700-acre habitat—the largest safe haven in North America.

The Elephant Sanctuary podcast show is the seventh in a series showcasing Nashville’s Big Back Yard, an economic and tourism initiative encompassing the Natchez Trace National Parkway in Tennessee’s southwest quarter down to the Shoals Region in Northern Alabama. The town of Hohenwald is located 80 miles southwest from Nashville.

Commodore Hotel Linden, Tennessee

Correspondent Tom Wilmer continues his exploration of Tennessee’s rural communities where modern pioneers invest in and restore historic downtown buildings and along the way infuse new economic life and vitality in the rural communities.

Thomas Wilmer

In the latter decades of the 19th Century, new towns and villages sprung up across Tennessee. Some of the settlers were U.S. citizens relocating from the eastern seaboard, along with European immigrants, all in pursuit of opportunity. Land in rural Tennessee was easily accessible by riverboat, trains and wagons.

German Catholics established the town of Loretto in 1870. Before long Loretto was served by stage and railway. The economy bustled with lumber mills and downtown retail establishments. The Loretto Milling Company opened in 1895 to serve the needs of farmers with feed and fuel and the business is still thriving 125 years later.

But, following WWII the local economy and employment started an inexorable decline when the new U.S. Route 43 bypassed the town.

Today, thanks to visionary, risk-taking young people like Mandy and Eric McClaren a new breed is leading Loretto’s economic renaissance. They opened a coffee house in a renovated derelict 1930s commercial building. Even though the McClaren's opened their doors just days before COVID-19 threw them a curve ball, this past fall they started work on a soon to open brewery. Join correspondent Tom Wilmer in Loretto at Mandy and Eric’s Lo-Town Brew to learn the rest of the story.

This show is the sixth in a multi-part series showcasing Nashville’s Big Back Yard--an economic and tourism initiative encompassing a natural watershed region that wends through the Natchez Trace National Parkway in Tennessee’s southwest quarter down to the Shoals Region in Northern Alabama.

Thomas Wilmer

Sixty years after his passing, Frank Lloyd Wright remains America’s seminal architect. Born on the heels of the Civil War, Wright produced residential and commercial projects until his passing in 1959. A game changing commission was Wright’s Rosenbaum residence, built in 1939 in Florence, Alabama.

GMANE music

Join correspondent Tom Wilmer in Florence, Alabama for a conversation with rapper GMANE (a.k.a. Geoffrey Keith Robinson). Music and hip-hop rap have been an integral part of GMANE’s life since he was a kid in rural Alabama.

Making his mark in the 1990s, on the independent Slave Kamp Music label, GMANE’s popularity led him on a European tour to Sweden and Denmark.

Thomas Wilmer

In the third podcast installment exploring Nashville’s Big Back Yard, we’ll stop in at the legendary Muscle Shoals Sound Studios in Sheffield, Alabama. The studio opened in 1969 and was quickly marking up the charts with number one hits by the Rolling Stones, Willie Nelson, Wilson Pickett, Linda Rondstadt, Rod Stewart, Paul Simon and many more legendary recording artists.

Next up is a visit with Sandra Burroughs, executive director of the Alabama Music Hall of Fame in Tuscumbia, Alabama. Burroughs is also mayor of the nearby village of Lexington, Alabama and she couldn’t resist sharing funny anecdotes about her mayoral duties in the town of 850 residents.

Thomas Wilmer

Join correspondent Tom Wilmer in Florence, Alabama for a conversation with two key players in the Shoals’ regional economic development. Afterwards we’ll visit with Rodney Hall, the son of Rick Hall, founder of the legendary Fame Studios. We'll also meet up with Spencer Coats, Hall’s studio manager.

Nashville’s Big Back Yard, an economic and tourism initiative focused on a natural watershed region wending through the Natchez Trace National Parkway, features 12 rural communities. Leiper’s Fork is the northern anchor, not too far from Nashville. The Big Back Yard journey traverses Tennessee’s southwest quarter down into Alabama’s legendary Shoals region—the mother ship of American music.

Discover why the midst of winter is a popular time to visit the Uppper Peninsula town of St. Ignas, Michigan. Tubing, sledding, skating, pond hockey, and snowmobiling are passionate pastimes with the locals and visitors alike.  

This show was originally broadcast January 20, 2018 and is reposted as a “best-of-the-best” podcast in celebration of Journeys of Discovery’s 30th anniversary producing on-air and digital media podcasts featured on KCBX and NPR One.

Throughout the year people come to St. Ignace, Michigan to board the ferry for a holiday on Mackinac Island. others spend a few days vacationing in St. Ignace and exploring nearby destinations such as the legendary Tahquamenon Falls and the Great Lakes Shipwreck Museum just 11 miles north of town.

People from warmer regions often assume "True North" locals hunker down by the fireplace when the "Gales of November" arrive, followed by sub zero temperatures. Actually most locals literally go with the flow and get out on the ice. St. Ignace hosts the annual Fat Tire Bike on the Ice Race, Ice golf competitions and much more.

Come along and join correspondent, Tom Wilmer for a visit with Janet Peterson, Executive Director of the St. Ignace Michigan Chamber of Commerce for a journey of discovery with a special focus on very cool things to do in the wintertime. 

St. Ignace, one of North America’s oldest communities, settled by the French in 1671, is situated in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. The town of 2,400 overlooks the Straits of Mackanac.

Thomas Wilmer


Join correspondent Tom Wilmer on the island of Bora Bora in French Polynesia for a conversation with Christophe Maudet, assistant general manager at the 5-star Intercontinental Bora Bora Resort & Thalasso Spa.  Maudet talks about engaging and empowering island youth and the nuances of life in Tahiti in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic. Antoine Torricella, assistant food and beverage manager at the resort shares cool insights about a unique Tahitian winery.