Prof K research & writing

Prof. K teaches media history, environmental journalism, media law, and digital imaging at Radford University in the Blue Ridge mountains. His research is located at the intersection of communications and environment in history. He has worked with the traditional media, at the Associated Press, the Baltimore Sun, the Charleston SC Post-Courier, and with columnist Jack Anderson. He has worked as a stringer with the New York Times, Time Magazine and Time-Life Books.  He has also worked with the environmental press, editing publications such as Energy Resources and Technology, Appropriate Technology Times, and Appalachian Voice. He studied history of media and environment at the University of Maryland, earning a PhD in 1993.  His  dissertation involved media coverage of a preventable environmental disaster — the development of Ethyl leaded gasoline and alternative anti-knock additives.  Prof. Kovarik has taught history and writing at the  University of Maryland, Virginia Tech, the University of Western Ontario, the University of Ljubljana, and Unity College.

“The oil industry was born with the silver spoon of subsidy firmly wedged between its little teeth. It was not born in the spirit of free competition that they like to tell you about all the time. So energy is really political, and it was always political from the very beginning…” — Prof. K, From Freedom Fuels, starring Daryl Hannah, Willie Nelson, John Stewart, Homer Simpson, Woody Harrelson and Prof. Kovarik.


prof. Kovarik’s books & projects 

The Forbidden Fuel: A History of Power Alcohol Mass Media and Environmental Conflict (1997) Web Design for Mass Media (out of print) Revolutions in Communication: Media History from Gutenbert to the Digital AgeBrilliant! A history of renewable energy

Writing  (2010-17)

Major research projects

  • A History of Biofuels Research,  Center for Agricultural Bioscience International,  May 2013
  • Henry Ford, Charles Kettering and the Fuel of the Future has inspired  rocks stars and security analysists. What was known about alternatives and why were they discarded?  Society of Automotive Historians, 1998.
  • The Radium Girls were six brave women who sued a dial-painting factory for knowingly exposing them to deadly radium in the 1920s. This is the story of their struggle. It’s also the story of how Walter Lippmann of the New York World helped them, and how the rest of the “yellow” press tried to push them into a strange kind of celebrity. “What would you do if you had a million dollars and only one year left to live?”  Of course, the radium dial companies never gave anything close to one million per worker.  In Mass Media and Environmental Conflict, 1996.
  • Environmental history timeline began as a structural outline for Mass Media and Environmental Conflict but took on a life of its own when placed on the web in the 1990s.  By 2013, the timeline was landing about 1,000 to 2,000 hits per day.
  • Brilliant! A history of sustainable energy  is an exploration of Lewis Mumford’s  historiographic de-linking of fossil fuels from the industrial revolution. As Augusting Mouchot said in 1878: “The time will arrive when the industry of Europe will cease to find those natural resources, so necessary for it. Petroleum springs and coal mines are not inexhaustible but are rapidly diminishing in many places.  Will man, then, return to the power of water and wind? Or will he emigrate where the most powerful source of heat sends its rays to all?  History will show what will come.”
  • The Ethyl Controversy, Ph.D. Dissertation, University of Maryland, 1993. (pdf)   After 17 refinery workers went barking mad from lead poisoning, public health officials demanded answers from Standard Oil and General Motors. They claimed there were no alternatives, although they had patented several dozen. Brave scientists like Alice Hamilton of Harvard and Yendell Henderson of Yale stood up to the industry, demanding that the government take precautions, but they were unable to keep the profitable poison off the market.  (It was finally banned in the US in the late 1970s). Although industry blamed the media for highly sensational accounts of the disaster, a closer look shows that science writers of the 1920s were able to perform their basic responsibility under democratic theory, which was to uncover facts and present a variety of opinions. What they were not able to do was fathom the technological complexities at the base of the controversy.

 Media history research

  • Life in the old print shop,” feature section from Revolutions in Communication.
  • “The Industrial printing revolution,”  feature section from Revolutions in Communication.
  • E.W. Scripps and science: The unconventional ideas behind the founding of the science service and the Scripps Institute of Oceanography,” feature section from Revolutions in Communication.
  • Street Press of the Velvet Revolution,”  feature section from Revolutions in Communication.
  • The confluence of newspapers and the environment in the early 20th century.  Looking at the news coverage of selected public health and conservation issues in the 1899 – 1932 period, we see a striking bipolar distribution, indicating a revival of Progressive era concerns late in the 1920s and the ubiquity of environmental controversy. This is a paper from the 1998 conference of the Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communications.
  • Exploring the Lost History of Environmental Conflict Before Silent Spring. Presentation to the Communication Studies Seminar Series Virginia Tech September 25, 1998.
  • Environmental History Timeline helps remind us of the traditions of reform and the roots of conservation. This was originally a guide for our use when Mark Neuzil and I wrote Mass Media and Environmental Conflict in 1996. Since then it has taken on a life of its own on the web.
  • The editor who tried to stop the Civil War: Hezekiah Niles and the New South describes the efforts of one Baltimore editor to reconcile opposing views in the 1820 – 1833 period. He clearly foresaw civil war and proposed a course of economic development for the South which was, perhaps not surprisingly, adopted after the war by Southern progressives, including Atlanta editor Henry Grady. The paper was published in American Journalism in 1992 and has been slightly updated since then.
  • Niles Weekly Register Encyclopedia of Journalism History, 2006 — Niles’ concept of news embraced the broadest scope of human experience. His Register kept close track of economics, technology, science, medicine, geography, archaeology, the weather, and many stories of human interest. There was, for example, a dog who rescued another dog from a river. There was the case of a blind woman restored to sight, and another of a slave who killed himself rather than be sold at the slave market. Niles printed many items about ballooning and predicted that someday man would build machines to fly (although he doubted that steam engines could propel them).
  • Photo courtesy Rex Wyler.

    Greenpeace Encyclopedia of Science and Technology Communication, 2009 — Greenpeace raised street theater and protest tactics to a new level using global media. The effect, according to Greenpeace co-founder Robert Hunter, was a “mind bomb” – that is, an action that would create a dramatic new impression to replace an old cliché.  The most obvious example of a  “mind bomb” was to overturn the image of heroic whalers to that of heroic ecologists risking their lives to save the gentle giants of the sea.  This approach caught the world’s attention and dramatically changed the political terrain for commercial fishing and whaling operations after Greenpeace’s first whaling protests in June of 1975.

  • A Survey of Central American News Media Hardware, Intercommunication and Development needs: Paper presented to the Eighth Annual Conference on Intercultural and International Communication, Miami, Fla. Feb. 22, 1991. These are the results of a study by the International Center for Foreign Journalists concerning media technology needs in Central America.
  • Dr. North and the Kansas City Milk War, Public Health Advocacy Collides with Main Street Respectability, Paper to The Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communications (AEJMC) 1989. This is about a New York physician and public health expert who used yellow journalism tactics to force pasteurization on the milk industry of Kansas city in the 1920s.


Professional service & Public speaking 

  • SEJ conferences:  New Orleans, Sept. 2013, Chemicals in the environment; Lubbock Texas, October 2012,Reporting wind power tour, book publishing panel; Chattanooga, TN: October 2013, citizen science panel; New Orleans, La: chemical disaster workshop panel.
  •  American Chemical Society conference, Pittsburgh PA, October, panel on the media and Rachel Carson
  • Hollins University Writers Conference:  2012, 2013, 2014, on technology and writing
  • Elderstudy, “Radio Time Machine,” 2011.
  • Co-Chair, SEJ conference, 2008

Interviews 2001-2017

Blog posts  (2010-15)