Mountain News & World Report: Remembering the Miners of Upper Big Branch; Davitt McAteer on Whether Such a Disaster Could Happen Again; a Report from Growing Appalachia

In this edition of WMMT’s Mountain News & World Report, we commemorate the 5th anniversary of the Upper Big Branch disaster, when 29 coal miners were killed in a methane explosion at Massey Energy’s Upper Big Branch Mine in April of 2010.  We start the show with a special audio remembrance of each miner, using biographical information from the Governor’s Independent Investigation into the disaster.

Then, we hear from the man who headed that investigation 5 years ago, J. Davitt McAteer, who was also head of the Mine Safety & Health Administration during the Clinton years.  McAteer recently published an op-ed in the Charleston Gazette warning that not enough has changed in American coal mines to keep another disaster like Upper Big Branch from happening again, and he spoke to WMMT by telephone.  (You can read his op-ed here, or his team’s full report on the disaster here).

Finally, we close the show in a more hopeful vein, with a report from the recent Growing Appalachia conference that brought together a wide range of folks from across southeast Kentucky for a series of workshops & conversations around small-scale farming here in the mountains, energy efficiency, renewables, and more.  You can find out more about the conference here.

Mountain News & World Report is a bi-weekly production of WMMT, and new episodes air every other Thursday at 6pm on WMMT, with a repeat broadcast the following Sunday morning at 10:30.  To listen to previous episodes, check out our streaming archives.

What’s Cookin’ Now: “Kale”-aloo! Fasole! Warmth!


In the March edition of the best live radio cooking show this side of CrummiesWhat’s Cookin’ Now!, hosts Jenny & Jonathan tackle the blues brought on by the long, long winter by taking recipe-inspiration from points far, far South (of us, at least).  Jonathan heads all the way to the Caribbean to make callaloo, a dish that combines greens & sweet potatoes together in a kind of curry sauce.   Jenny (because, as she says, she can’t afford the same degree of travel) travels just to Florida for her dish, which is a vegetarian riff on the concept of Mexican fasole, a sort of hominy stew.  Also in this show: peanut-based cocktails!  Seriously!  Jonathan whips up a warm-weather cocktail knows as the Billy Carter, and you’ll also hear radio-cooking-history in this program with the birth a new drink, the Hal Rogers.

For more on What’s Cookin’ Now, including recipes, photos, essays, and more, check out their always-delightful blog:

To hear past episodes of the show, check out the streaming archives.

PS – There will be a brand-new edition of What’s Cookin’ Now tonight at 6pm!  They’ll make stuff with sorghum!  It’ll be great!  You should listen!  Click “listen live” at right to do so!

Mountain News & World Report: Florence Reece on “Which Side Are You On?”; Women of the Pittston Coal Strike; Local Reaction to a Proposed New Federal Prison in Letcher Co.


Florence Reece

In this edition of WMMT’s Mountain News & World Report, in honor of Women’s History Month, we bring you two stories from the WMMT vault that highlight some of the many ways that women have shaped Appalachian history, particularly the long-running fight for better conditions for local coal miners.  In the first (at 9:28 in the broadcast), we hear Harlan County native Florence Reece describe, in her own words, what led her to write her the now-infamous song, “Which Side Are You On?”, which galvanized the movement to unionize Appalachian coal mines in the 1930’s.  WMMT’s Rich Kirby brings us this story, which originally aired on Mountain News back in 1993.

In the second (at 18:23), we hear a profile of two women who were involved on the front lines of the Pittston Coal strike in southwest Virginia, which began 26 years ago next week, on Apr. 5, 1989.  The UMWA had declared the strike in response to Pittston having slashed the health benefits of workers, retirees, and widows of former miners, and in a story first heard on this show in 1991, WMMT’s Maxine Kenny brings us a series of reflections on the strike from two women who’d taken part.

But we begin our show this week with a report from an event held on March 12th in Whitesburg by officials from the Federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP).  Following a community “scoping meeting” that the BOP held here in 2013 to gauge local reaction to the idea of building a new federal prison in Letcher County, the process has moved ahead.  An Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) of what it would take to build the prison at two proposed sites in the county has just been released, and at the March 12th event, BoP officials were here in Letcher County to hear what local people think about it.  WMMT’s Tarence Ray brings us this report from the event.

Mountain News & World Report is a bi-weekly production of WMMT, and new episodes air every other Thursday at 6pm on WMMT, with a repeat broadcast the following Sunday morning at 10:30.  To listen to previous episodes, check out our streaming archives.

Coal Report for March 27, 2015

former Kentucky Representative Keith Hall, who is set to face bribery charges in April regarding coal operations he owned in Eastern Kentucky // photo form LRC Public Information

Hard times continue for central Appalachian coal. According to a report from Platts Financial, industry analysts say that 72% of the coal currently being mined in central Appalachia is unprofitable in today’s coal market. In part, we are being affected here by larger forces affecting coal all over the country, including competition from cheap natural gas and a global slump in the coal price. But what’s hurting our region so much is the fact that the so-called easy to reach coal has already been mined, and the seams that are left are more and more expensive to mine, and less and less productive. The report doesn’t say that local production is going to crater overnight because mines aren’t profitable, because many mines stay open that don’t turn a profit, whether it’s to fulfill a contract or because the owner wants to sell. But the report does warn that things don’t seem likely to get better for local coal.

In southwest Virginia, the numbers bear out the difficulties facing Appalachian coal. According to the Bristol Herald-Courier, southwest Virginia is producing just half of the coal it did ten years ago. Back in 2004, southwest Virginia produced 30.2 million tons of coal. But in 2014, that number was down to just 15.3 million. The amount of miners has shrunk as well, but not by as much as you might think—in 2004, it took more than 4,500 employees to mine those 30 million tons. Last year, it took around 3,600 employees to mine half that amount, which means that productivity per Continue reading Coal Report for March 27, 2015

Coming to Bluegrass Express Live on Apr. 2: Gary Brewer and The Tommy Webb Band!

BGX 3-16-15

WMMT is thrilled to announce that the latest in our ongoing Bluegrass Express Live! series will take place on Thursday, April 2nd, when we will welcome Gary Brewer and The Tommy Webb Band back to the Appalshop stage!  Gary (who will be joined by The Kentucky Ramblers) & Tommy are both tremendously talented performers & bandleaders, and we’re honored to have both of their acts here at WMMT for what promises to be an exciting double-bill of hard-driving bluegrass.  Both also have a long history here at the Appalshop; Gary Brewer, along with the late Philip Sexton, put out an album, The 5th Generation, on our very own June Appal Records, and Tommy Webb has performed many times now on WMMT.  We are delighted to have them both back for more!

The show starts at 7:30 p.m. with doors around 7.  Call WMMT at (606) 633-0108 to make your reservation today; tickets are $15 (and you pay at the door; calling in a reservation will reserve your spot).  If you can’t make it in person, you can always tune in the live show on WMMT, but don’t miss out on the chance to see these giants of the contemporary bluegrass scene in person, in our intimate, 150-seat theater–there ain’t a bad seat in the house!

Coal Report for March 20, 2015


Main St. in downtown Lynch, Ky. following a mudslide where water & debris burst from an old coal mine // photo submitted by a facebook user to the Tri-City News at

March has already been a tragic month in Appalachian coal mines.  3 people have been killed at local mines so far this month, including two people in two consecutive days at mines run by Alpha Natural Resources.  The first accident happened on March 8th, when a section of mine roof and rib collapsed underground at the Marshall County Mine in Marshall County, West Virginia.  One miner was killed in the fall and two more were injured.  The mine was recently purchased by Murray Energy, and was known as the McElroy mine until it was sold.  According to SNL Energy, this mine has a recent history of unsafe conditions.  It was given some 315 citations and orders for significant and substantial violations in a recent 12-month period.

There was also a fatal accident close to home.  Miner David Brummitte of Wise County, Va. was killed on Monday, March 15th at Alpha’s Deep Mine #41 in Dickenson County.  According to MSHA’s preliminary report, Brummitte was a section foreman at the mine, and was killed by a rock fall while performing an inspection.  He became the first miner killed in Continue reading Coal Report for March 20, 2015

Mountain Talk: The 2015 Growing Appalachia Conference


Valerie Horn of Grow Appalachia & the Appal-TREE project (L) and Sister Kathy Curtis of the Floyd Co. Farmers’ Market discuss the upcoming Growing Appalachia conference set for March 21 in Prestonsburg, Ky.

In this edition of WMMT’s Mountain Talk, we hear from a variety of guests involved in local agriculture here in the mountains about the 2015 Growing Appalachia conference, which is set for Saturday, March 21st in Prestonsburg, Ky.  The conference consists of a full day of workshops centered around small-scale mountain farming, energy efficiency, and renewables.  To learn more about it, in this program host Elizabeth Sanders welcomes a diverse group of local guests: Jessie Skaggs, who’s helping to organize the conference; Valerie Horn (of Grow Appalachia & the Appal-TREE project); Sister Kathy Curtis (of the Floyd Co. Farmers’ Market); Hilary Neff (also of Appal-TREE); Mark Walden (of Grow Appalachia); and Jonathan Hootman (part owner of Roundabout Music Company, a new co-operatively owned Whitesburg business).

The conference runs from 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. on the 21st, and will be held at the Jenny Wiley Convention Center in Prestonsburg.  It’s being sponsored by the Big Sandy chapter of Kentuckians for the Commonwealth.  For more information or to sign up, click here.

Mountain Talk is WMMT’s twice-weekly community space for conversation, airing each Monday & Wednesay from 6-7 p.m.  Mountain Talk programs focus on a variety of topics related to life in the mountains: food; community issuesart; health; and more (click any of those links to hear streaming audio of past programs archived by topic).

Mountain News & World Report: Remembering Joe Begley; Looking at Gas Drilling Companies’ ‘Landmen'; a ‘Start-up’ Business Competition in East Ky.

Joe & Gaynell Begley at the C.B. Caudill Store in Blackey, Ky. // photo by Gordon Baer

Joe & Gaynelle Begley at the C.B. Caudill Store in Blackey, Ky. // photo by Gordon Baer

In this edition of WMMT’s Mountain News & World Report, we begin with an audio remembrance of a titanic presence in 20th-century east Kentucky history: Joe Begley.  Joe, who passed away 15 years ago this month, was a tireless activist and community leader in and around the town of Blackey in Letcher County, Ky.  For over three decades, Joe and his wife Gaynell ran the C.B. Caudill Store in Blackey, which was part general store, and part community meeting space.  Together, they fought against what was then a new mining technique known as ‘strip-mining,’ most especially when it was done without landowners’ consent under a legal precedent known as the ‘Broad-Form Deed.’  They also worked in a variety of ways to help people in need in their community, and Joe was invited to the White House twice in recognition of his work and leadership in the mountains.  WMMT Community Correspondent Tarence Ray brings us this profile.

Also in this show: we hear about the latest “Start-Up Challenge” business plan competition that is open exclusively to new entrepreneurs in east Kentucky.  The competition is being sponsored by the University of Pikeville, and WMMT’s Mimi Pickering speaks with Justin Prater of the Kentucky Innovation Network to learn more.  The deadline for entries is April 24: click here for more information.

And finally, we hear a selection from the WMMT series Fractured Appalachia that profiles the land agents who work for natural gas companies and try to secure drilling rights from landowners.  This piece also features some advice for landowners in central Appalachia who might get approached.

Mountain News & World Report is a bi-weekly production of WMMT, and new episodes air every other Thursday at 6pm on WMMT, with a repeat broadcast the following Sunday morning at 10:30.  To listen to previous episodes, check out our streaming archives.