A woman wearing a sweater on a gray beach glances pensively toward the water
Jane Morse finds St. Pete Beach a peaceful place to reflect upon her past traumas and her future hopes and dreams. [ Times (1996) ]

Our ‘Three Little Words’ podcast follows a family’s secret struggle with AIDS

Twenty five years after the Tampa Bay Times first shared the dramatic tale of Mick and Jane Morse, our five-part series revisits and updates their story and the state of the disease.

In 1996, the then-St. Petersburg Times ran a gripping series by staff writer Roy Peter Clark called Three Little Words. Over 29 days, Clark told the story of Mick and Jane Morse, married with children and hiding what was then a shameful family secret. Mick revealed he'd been living a double life, and one day told Jane, “I have AIDS.” The challenges the Morse faced captivated and sometimes reviled readers, raising awareness of a disease that was still largely a mystery at the time. Now, 25 years later, Times audio producer Austin Fast revisited both the Morse family and the AIDS epidemic in a five-part podcast to examine what has changed — and what remains strikingly similar.

Read more about how Austin Fast adapted and updated Roy Peter Clark's series as a podcast.

Listen to the podcast series

Trailer: ‘Three Little Words’ from the Tampa Bay Times

Jane Morse loved her husband Mick, even though he could be a bit distant. Then Jane's world turned upside down when Mick said three little words. A story that shocked and captivated Tampa Bay Times audiences 25 years ago gets an update, checking in on the Morse family and taking inventory of how AIDS affects America today.

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Chapter 1: Three Little Words

As a terrifying new disease grips the world, Jane Morse’s husband utters three little words she can’t believe: “I have AIDS.” Then, three more words complicate everything: “Keep it secret.”

Explore bonus material from the first episode.

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Chapter 2: Over Troubled Waters

The Morses live in paradise, but Jane is frustrated with her husband Mick. He dotes on their kids and his students, but their marital distance grows even more obvious when surrounded by the sensuality of Brazilian culture.

Explore bonus material from the second episode.

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Chapter 3: War on FRAIDS

Mick finally spills his secret, and Jane worries how she’ll provide for three teenagers alone. When Jane moves to Florida, she discovers a second epidemic just as serious as HIV: the fear of people with AIDS.

Explore bonus material from the third episode.

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Chapter 4: Permission to Live

Jane decides to share their story with a St. Petersburg Times reporter to help other families, sparking passionate responses from readers. While Mick had few medical options in the ‘90s, today’s treatments make HIV practically untransmittable.

Explore bonus material from the fourth episode.

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Chapter 5: Her Father’s Daughter

Jane’s daughter does something her father Mick likely never imagined would be possible. LGBTQ+ rights have shifted dramatically since 1996, but more work remains in the fight against AIDS and its stigma, particularly among people of color and the transgender community.

Explore bonus material from the fifth episode.

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Read the original ‘Three Little Words’ series

Follow Roy Peter Clark's narrative as it originally appeared in the St. Petersburg Times in 1996.

Click here for an archive of each series installment.

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Podcast reported, written and produced by Austin Fast

Original newspaper serial reported and written by Roy Peter Clark, with editing by Richard Bockman

Script supervision and editing by Joshua Gillin and Maria Carrillo

Digital design by Martin Frobisher

Bonus content and archives organized and edited by Martin Frobisher, Austin Fast, Justinian Hatfield, Jennifer Glenfield and Joshua Gillin

Engagement strategy by Rachel Adamson and Joshua Gillin

Music provided by Artlist

Hosting services provided by Acast