Pat Duggins

News Director

Pat Duggins is news director for Alabama Public Radio.  If his name or voice is familiar, it could be his twenty five years covering the U.S. space program, including fourteen years on NPR.  Pat’s NASA experience began with the explosion of Space Shuttle Challenger in 1986, and includes 103 missions.  Many NPR listeners recall Pat’s commentary during Weekend Edition Saturday on February 1, 2003 when Shuttle Columbia broke apart and burned up during re-entry.  His expertise was utilized during three hours of live and unscripted coverage with NPR’s Scott Simon.  Pat later wrote two books about NASA, Final Countdown: NASA and the End of the Space Shuttle Program and Trailblazing Mars, both of which have been released as audio books.  Pat has also lectured about the future of the space program at Harvard, and writes about international space efforts for "Modern Weekly" magazine in Shanghai, China.

Duggins experience goes beyond NASA.  Most recently, he led the APR news team on a year long investigation of rural health in Alabama, which was recognized with the 50th annual "Robert F. Kennedy Journalism Award for Radio." The team was honored alongside The New York Times, the Washington Post, ABC-TV, and PBS FRONTLINE. In addition, APR was selected over that year's RFK award laureates to receive the RFK Human Rights Foundation's "John Siegenthaler Prize for Courage in Journalism," the first radio news operation to be  so honored. Duggins and the team also investigated conditions at Alabama prisons which won APR's third national Sigma Delta Chi award from the Society of Professional Journalists. Following the airing of this series and documentary, the U.S. DOJ began an investigation into Alabama prisons, and Governor Kay Ivey enacted a law that stops judges from overruling jury recommendations of life in prison in murder cases, and imposing the death penalty.

APR also covered the 2011 Alabama Tornado outbreak with dawn to dusk rescue and recovery updates. The news crew also provided national and international coverage for the BBC in London, MSNBC, CBC in Canada, and Australia Broadcasting in Sydney and Melbourne.  His efforts, and those of the APR news team, were recognized with back-to-back National Sigma Delta Chi awards from the Society of Professional Journalists.

The Radio Television Digital News Association also honored Pat and the team with three national Edward R. Murrow Awards, including the prestigious prize for overall excellence. The Alabama Associated Press also recognized APR as the "Most Outstanding News Organization" in 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015, 2016, and 2017. And, Duggins' news series on the long-term impact of the Gulf oil spill won APR's first national PRNDI award from the Public Radio News Directors' Association in a decade, as well as a regional Murrow. His documentary "Civil Rights Radio," on the 1963 "children's march" in Birmingham was honored with the international "Silver Radio Award" from the New York Festivals radio competition, and with a "Gabriel Award" from the Catholic Church. 

Pat’s work isn’t limited to radio, with regular appearances on TV.  He also conducts interview/profile segments for "Alabama, Inc." a University of Alabama TV series on business on airs statewide on Alabama Public Television. Pat also co-hosted “Your Vote Counts,” a program featuring college-age voters who critiqued the final debate between Robert Bentley and Ron Sparks in the 2011 race for Alabama Governor. 

Since his arrival at APR, Pat and the team have won more than one hundred awards for excellence in journalism. Duggins is also the recipient of a Suncoast Regional Emmy.

Ways to Connect


The Redstone Arsenal, near Huntsville, is among six finalists to be the headquarters of the "Guardians." Astronauts of the Trump administration’s “U.S. Space Force” will be known by that name. Vice President Pence is celebrating the first birthday of the Space Force by announcing the new name of  its members. Pence made the announcement during a celebratory event Friday tracing the development of the newest branch of the U.S. Air Force. Astronaut Michael Hopkins, aboard the International Space Station, took the oath as the nation’s first “Space Force” guardian.


A city employee of the town of Rainsville, north of Birmingham, is under suspension for allegedly making wine at the city’s sewage plant. The DeKalb County Sheriff's Office says it got an anonymous tip about an alcohol operation at a municipal building in the town of Rainsville on Thursday. Investigators then uncovered what's described as a large illegal winery inside the Rainsville Waste Water Treatment Plant. Photos released by detectives show glass containers, buckets, a fermenting rack, and other equipment commonly used to make wine at home.


State health officials say Alabama will receive almost 20,000 fewer doses of coronavirus vaccine than initially planned. The change will reduce the number of people who can receive an initial dose of the Pfizer vaccine in coming days. Health officials say the reason for the change is unclear. The department says over four thousand people in Alabama have received the first dose of the vaccine. The second shot of the Pfizer product is designed to some three weeks after the first, with immunity expected to occur the following week.


Alabama's unemployment rate dropped to 4.4% in November. That’s a big improvement from earlier in the year but still above last year's level. The preliminary, seasonally adjust rate for last month was better than October's revised rate of 5.7%. But it was still higher than the November 2019 level of 2.7%. A statement from the Alabama Department of Labor says the November rate represents 100,537 unemployed people. Cullman County had the state's lowest unemployment rate, 2.4%. Rural Wilcox County was worst in the state at 10.9%.

The Alabama Department of Public Health isn’t saying which three hospitals got the first shipments of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine for security sake. 

Cullman Regional Medical Center says it will start giving shots today.

Some Alabamians may soon be rolling up their sleeves for the Pfizer coronavirus vaccine.

An advisory panel for the Food and Drug Administration is recommending emergency approval for the inoculations. The agency later gave its full endorsement.

Fifteen Alabama hospitals are equipped with the supercold refrigeration units needed to store the Pfizer vaccine.

Dr. Richard Friend is Dean of the University of Alabama’s College of Community Health Sciences. He said getting the vaccine doesn’t mean just taking one shot.


A Monday meeting may determine whether Alabama resumes allowing bars and restaurants to make curbside alcohol sales.


Alabama has one of the highest rates of inmate deaths from COVID-19.

Forty-three inmates and two staff members have died from the coronavirus since the pandemic began. Figures compiled by The Associated Press and the Marshall Project rank Alabama prisons fourth in the U.S. for the number of COVID-19 deaths per 10,000 inmates.


Customers of Walmart and Sam’s Club can buy home test kits for COVID-19. 

The chain, which operates close to 150 stores in Alabama, said the kits are available online. Walmart and Sam’s Club are offering the kits in partnership with a California-based company. This isn’t the home kit approved by the FDA last month.

Dr. Richard Friend is the Dean of the University of Alabama’s College of Community Health Sciences and said the concern with these kits is how test results are confirmed.


Alabama is among the states hit hardest by food insecurity due to the coronavirus pandemic.

The Associated Press analyzed data from the hunger relief group Feeding America and found that more than 20 percent of the residents of Alabama, Mississippi, Arkansas, and Louisiana are expected to be food insecure by the end of the year. That means they won’t have the ability to put food on their tables.

Alabama League of Women Voters

Outgoing Alabama U.S. Senator Doug Jones may not be moving back to our state just yet. The Democratic lawmaker is reportedly under consideration as U.S. Attorney General in the Biden administration. Jones gained a reputation as a civil rights champion when he successfully prosecuted two of the attackers in the 1963 16th Street Baptist Church bombing in Birmingham. As a U.S. Senator, Jones continues to push for a follow-up COVID-19 financial aid package.


Only about 3% of Alabamians are utilizing smartphone contact tracing technology to alert people that they may have been exposed to COVID-19. An Associated Press analysis finds that new software for alerting people about coronavirus exposure has been slow to catch on. APR reported on this technology back in June. Apple and Google developed the technology which is being praised by security experts for protecting user privacy. Still, only eighteen U.S. states and territories are making the APP available, and adoption remains low.

APR's Pat Duggins

The Crimson Tide and Florida Gators each made their case for a slot in this month’s SEC Championship game in Atlanta. Alabama quarterback Mac Jones passed for nearly four hundred yards for four touchdowns in the Tide’s 55-17 victory over defending CFP National Champions LSU in Baton Rouge.  University of Florida Quarterback Kyle Trask threw four touchdown passes in the Gators’ 31-19 win over Tennessee. The season isn’t over for either team, though. Alabama will play Arkansas next Saturday after COVID-19 delayed that game originally set for this weekend.

The city of Montgomery continues its observance of the 65th anniversary of the arrest of Rosa Parks with a series of events. That includes today, which marks 65 years since the start of the Montgomery Bus Boycott which was prompted by Parks’ arrest. The “Get off the Bus” campaign is sponsoring the “BBQ and Brushes Block Party” today to help revitalize Montgomery’s art and business district. The Rosa Parks Museum is also offering free admission today. A local historical scavenger hunt continues over the weekend. Alabama Public Radio interviewed Dr.


The University of Alabama will resume exit testing for students starting today. Healthcare workers provided free tests for 10 days prior to the Thanksgiving holiday. The goal was to help prevent students from carrying COVID-19 home to their families. A new round of exit tests will be given starting today at the East Campus Storm Shelter.

Dr. Karen Burgess is interim medical director at the UA student health center. She said people are learning how to avoid doing things that spreads the virus.


The Alabama prison system is planning to restore inmate family visits with a video system. The change is being prompted by the COVID-19 pandemic. State corrections officials say they'll roll out the new system next month, which uses video kiosks by appointment. Alabama’s response to the coronavirus in its prisons has drawn criticism. The Southern Poverty Law Center complains that the state has over two hundred elderly inmates who are at a greater risk from COVID-19. The SPLC reiterated its response following last month’s death of sixty seven year old Willie Collins.


Rainy today with up to a 100% percent chance statewide. Upper fifties for the high along the Tennessee Valley, with mid-sixties over much of the rest of the state. Lows in the upper thirties. Rain tapers off a bit for Monday.


Alabama healthcare providers are bracing for a post-holiday surge in coronavirus cases. Infections were already rising before Thanksgiving gatherings. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says symptoms of the coronavirus can appear anywhere from two to fourteen days after exposure. Healthcare providers voiced their concerns on APR over how family Thanksgiving gatherings could turn into COVID super spreader events. APR listeners heard suggestions including having one person in the kitchen serving dinner to limit possible exposure to the virus. Former state health official Dr.


Crimson Tide head coach Nick Saban will likely miss this Saturday’s Iron Bowl game against Auburn after testing positive for COVID-19. The University announced the coach’s coronavirus test results today. The CDC recommends that COVID patients isolate for up to 14 days. The annual Iron Bowl game is Saturday. Saban had what turned out to be false positive back in mid-October. Team physician Dr. Jimmy Robinson says the coach’s latest situation appears to be different since he’s showing mild symptoms.


It looks like concern over COVID-19 is impacting holiday travel. The forecast from Triple-A says the number of Americans driving over Thanksgiving will drop by ten percent compared to last year. Healthcare providers also continue warning those who hit the road for the holiday to exercise caution. Dr. Thomas Weide practices at University Medical Center in Tuscaloosa. He says wearing a mask, social distancing, and eating outdoors are good ways to avoid giving the coronavirus to your family.


News outlets are quoting an Associated Press investigation that may point to fake answers on U.S. Census forms in Alabama. The AP obtained text messages from U.S. Census Bureau supervisor in Alabama telling workers how to falsify answers from households answer the once-in-a-decade head count. The text messages are from last month. They reportedly stem from the Bureau’s effort to finish the census count households where it couldn’t be established who lived there after two visits.


Students at the University of Alabama have a deadline for on-campus exit testing before Thanksgiving. Healthcare providers will administer COVID-19 tests today from 8 a.m. to five p.m. at Coleman Coliseum in Tuscaloosa. Tests will be also be given tomorrow from nine a.m. to noon. One hundred and fifty nine students tested positive at all three UA campuses in Tuscaloosa, Birmingham, and Huntsville earlier this month. Dr. Karen Burgess is the interim medical director of the UA student health center. She says everyone needs to get past COVID fatigue and do the right thing.

Alabama Attorney General Steve Marshall is challenging Madison County’s decision to remove a Confederate soldier statue at its courthouse. The AG is arguing the statue’s movement to a Huntsville cemetery violates a 2017 state law called the Alabama Memorial Preservation Act. An Alabama judge stayed the law that protects Confederate monuments after Birmingham put plywood around a statue. The Alabama Supreme Court later stayed that lower court order. The Madison County Commission voted in October to move the monument to Maple Hill Cemetery in Huntsville where Confederate soldiers are buried.


Alabama schoolchildren will return to face-to-face instruction after the Thanksgiving. That’s the preference of the state’s school superintendent. Eric Mackey position comes despite a 50% surge in COVID-19 cases in the state’s schools between November 6th and the 13th. Alabama’s coronavirus outbreak is surging, with the State Hospital Association declaring the pandemic to be “out of control.” main in-person. Mackey says individual schools could switch to all virtual learning as a last resort. This happened temporarily in Alexander City and Marshall County.

APR's Pat Duggins

Fans of the Crimson Tide are planning to see the team play for the first time in two weeks tomorrow.

Alabama is scheduled to play the Kentucky Wildcats after the coronavirus put the Tide’s schedule in turmoil. Last week’s game against LSU was cancelled after an undisclosed number of players for the Tigers tested positive for COVID-19. Alabama was just coming off a bye-week where the team didn’t play.

Head coach Nick Saban said the issue is keeping his players psychologically prepared.


A report from Johns Hopkins is just the latest dose of sobering news regarding the spread of the coronavirus in Alabama. The new statistics say one out of every 342 Alabamians tested positive for the virus last week. That’s a jump of 50% in new COVID cases during the past two weeks. The president of the Alabama Hospital Association says the illness is "out of control" in the state. The main concern appears to be large holiday gatherings, which may spread the virus even more and result in a wave of illness that won't diminish for weeks.

The New York Times and Washington Post are among the newspapers declaring that Democrat Joe Biden defeated President Donald Trump to become the 46th president of the United States. Biden vanquished his Republican foe after a campaign as bitter and divisive as Trump's own presidential term. Victories in "blue wall" northern industrial states propelled Biden to the White House, where he'll confront America's deep health, economic and social ills. A win in Pennsylvania sealed his victory after more than three tension-filled days of counting votes.


An APR news feature

Saturday is noteworthy for different reasons. It depends on who you talk to. For kids in Alabama and around the country, it’s Halloween. For fans of the U.S. space program, it’s something else. It was twenty years ago this Saturday that a three person crew blasted off for the first mission aboard the International Space Station. Men and women from the United States, Russia, Europe, Japan and other nations have been there ever since.

If you want to know about it’s like to be on the International Space Station, you can always ask John Herrington.

An APR news special report.

A note to our readers, this documentary contains content of an adult nature. Parents may want to consider whether it's appropriate for all ages.

“My friend Becca took to me the hospital, but I hadn’t told the hospital what had happened to me,” Dixie Shannon said. She lives in Central Alabama.


The Moundville Archeological Park continues its Native American Festival today. The guest list includes the first Native American to fly in space. Former NASA astronaut John Herrington is a member of the Chickasaw Nation. He flew aboard Space Shuttle Discovery in 2002 and helped install part of the International Space Station’s spinelike truss. Herrington says his work on the orbiting outpost builds on the efforts of other Native Americans who constructed the Empire State Building and other New York City skyscrapers in the 1930’s.