Mountain News & World Report: Ecotourism & Economic Diversification in Elkhorn City, Ky.; a Long-Lost Interview with Arlo Guthrie; ‘Accelerating’ Appalachian Small Businesses


floating on the Russell Fork of the Big Sandy River near Elkhorn City, Ky. // photo by Tim Belcher, found at

According to recent employment figures, in September of 2011, there were about 14,300 coal workers in eastern Kentucky. As of this fall, that number had dropped to just about 5,800. Low natural gas prices, the high cost of mining here in central Appalachia, and emissions regulations at power plants have all played a role in the sharp decline of the coal industry in southeast Kentucky.  And many industry experts are predicting those jobs won’t be coming back, as coal production declines and shifts to other parts of the country and the world.

Given this landscape, many Appalachian communities are trying to find ways to diversify their local economies. One such town is Elkhorn City, Ky., which started this process by looking into its own backyard, to try to figure out how to capitalize on the natural assets the town already had.  To begin this edition of WMMT’s Mountain News & World Report, WMMT’s Kelli Haywood has their story.

Also in this show: we hear an excerpt from a long-lost interview with folk music icon Arlo Guthrie, who sat down with WMMT’s Dee Davis after a performance at what was then known as Clinch Valley College (now UVA-Wise) in 1987. We also hear about Accelerating Appalachia, a program that supports Appalachian small businesses that are specifically centered around the vast natural beauty that exists here in our region. Finally, just in time for Thanksgiving, we close the show with a piece from the Western Folklife Center on a song about… cornbread!

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 November 13, 2015


an old coal tipple in Tacoma, Va.

The trial of Don Blankenship continues. According to the Charleston Gazette-Mail (see links below), as of November 13th, prosecutors were wrapping up their case to jurors that Blankenship should be found guilty of three felony charges related to the Upper Big Branch Disaster, which killed 29 West Virginia miners in 2010. Blankenship is accused of presiding over a conspiracy as CEO of Massey Energy to violate health and safety laws at Massey Mines. He’s also accused of lying to financial regulators and of lying about Massey practices to try to keep company stock from cratering after Upper Big Branch.

Among the prosecution’s witnesses was Bill Ross, a former Massey safety official. Ross told jurors that he warned Blankenship in person in 2009 that Massey’s corporate culture was recklessly unsafe, and could result in a disaster. Blankenship’s defense team has countered by saying that Massey started a so-called ‘hazard elimination program’ around that time in an effort to change the safety culture, and they’ve blamed individual foremen and miners for the large numbers of violations that were happening at Massey mines at the time. But after their meeting, Ross also testified that he Continue reading Coal Report for November 13, 2015

Mountain News & World Report: New Technology & Project-based Learning in East Ky. Schools; Eula Hall & Mountain Healthcare during the ‘War on Poverty’

ARI Promising Practices

In thinking about cutting edge technology and innovative teaching practices, your first thought might not be of rural schools in southeast Kentucky. But thanks to a new program, maybe it should be. Led by the Kentucky Valley Educational Cooperative, 17 school districts are collaborating with a variety of partners in a new program called the Appalachian Renaissance Initiative, or ARI. To begin our latest edition of Mountain News & World Report, WMMT’s Mimi Pickering has this report on how ARI is encouraging local teachers to use project-based learning in their classrooms.

Also in this show, new Kentucky Governor-elect Matt Bevin’s plans to dismantle Kynect–Kentucky’s health insurance exchange developed through the Affordable Care Act–and to either eliminate or scale back Kentucky’s Medicaid expansion have many Kentuckians, perhaps especially those with low incomes, wondering what might happen to their health insurance. Here in the coalfields, the fight for quality local healthcare goes back decades (at least). Back in the 1960’s, residents of Floyd County, Ky. were picketing public officials, demanding that healthcare be recognized as a right, not a privilege.  And at the time, millions of ‘War on Poverty’ dollars were at stake.  In a piece from the WMMT archives that originally aired on this show back in 1993, Maxine Kenny has this story, which incorporates audio from the 1986 Appalshop documentary Mud Creek Clinic.

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.

Appearing at BGX Live THIS Thursday: Larry Sparks & the Lonesome Ramblers!

larry 2011

Larry Sparks & the Lonesome Ramblers (who were joined by special guest & WMMT DJ Jukebox Charlie, himself a former Lonesome Rambler!) in a 2011 performance at WMMT’s Bluegrass Express Live!

Come out and enjoy a great night of Bluegrass Music at WMMT’s Bluegrass Express Live with Larry Sparks & The Lonesome Ramblers!  The show will take place THIS Thursday, November 12, in the Appalshop Theater!  We’re also excited once again to feature Letcher County’s own Sunrise Ridge as an opening act.

If you’re not acquainted, Larry Sparks is among the most widely-know and respected touring musicians in bluegrass and gospel music today. Larry begin his career in the mid-1960’s as guitarist with the Stanley Brothers and later became lead and vocalist for the Ralph Stanley and The Clinch Mountain Boys. Larry went on to form his own band in 1969 (the lonesome ramblers) He has recorded and toured as a solo artist for over four decades, releasing over 50 albums and delighting countless fans with his soulful vocals and unparalleled musicianship.  He’s been a mainstay at BGX Live, and we’re delighted to welcome him back!

Doors open at 7, and the show begins at 7:30.  Admission is $20 for adults, and $5 for students and children.  To reserve your seat, call WMMT at 606-633-0108, or email [email protected]  As always, the show can be heard live on WMMT (and streaming at, but it’s way more fun to be here in person, in our intimate, 150-seat theater!  Hope to see you Thursday!

Coal Report for November 6, 2015

a coal train near Isom, Ky.  in October of 2015 // blurry photo by WMMT

a coal train near Isom, Ky. in October of 2015 // blurry photo by WMMT

Coal production and employment in eastern Kentucky continues to fall sharply, the Lexington Herald-Leader reports.  In September of 2011, there were about 14,300 coal workers in eastern Kentucky.  Now, there are just about 5,800.  Production in our part of the state also fell by 5.8% in the 3rd quarter of this year.  This was in contrast to western Kentucky, where production actually increased by 3.7%.  This drop in Appalachian coal is affecting the budgets of many local counties, which depended for years on coal severance money to provide essential services.  Letcher County Judge-Executive Jim Ward said that unless things change, some county services could be cut within 60 days.

While the Appalachian coalfield seems to be faring the worst of all the coal-producing regions in the US, the chief executives of several major coal companies think the nationwide downturn in coal won’t be turning around anytime soon.  SNL Energy reports that Nick Deiuliis, CEO of CONSOL Energy, said that there’s been in the U.S. “a significant and permanent shift of market share… from coal to natural gas.”  Peabody Energy CEO Glen Kellow said that largely because Continue reading Coal Report for November 6, 2015

Corporation for Public Broadcasting Awards Journalism Grant to Seven Regional Public Media Stations, Including WMMT

Stickneys Sylvia&Mimi

WMMT is excited to announce that we are one of seven public media stations in Kentucky, Ohio and West Virginia to have been awarded a $445,000 grant from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB) to establish an Ohio River regional journalism collaboration.

The Ohio River Network will produce hard-hitting, high-quality multimedia journalism that examines the region’s economy, energy, environment, agriculture, infrastructure, and health. The CPB grant will support the hiring of eight journalists at the seven partner media outlets for two years; with station support continuing in outlying years.

“CPB is pleased to support this historic collaboration among public media stations in Kentucky, Ohio, and West Virginia,” said Bruce Theriault, CPB senior vice president, journalism and radio. “By working together, these stations can ensure that important stories from this underreported area are told locally, regionally, and nationally. The sum is indeed greater than the parts.”

Louisville Public Media will lead the news operation and house the project’s managing editor and data journalist.  In addition to WMMT/Appalshop, partner radio and television stations are WEKU in Richmond and Lexington, Ky. (radio), WKU in Bowling Green, Ky. (radio and TV), WKMS in Murray, Ky. (radio), West Virginia Public Broadcasting (radio and TV), and WOUB in Athens, Ohio (radio and TV).

“I am convinced that collaborations such as this are the future of journalism,” said Donovan Reynolds, president and general manager, Louisville Public Media. “Working together, we can produce and sustain the quality journalism that is required to identify the serious issues we have in common and the opportunities to build a better future for everyone in our region.”

WMMT co-General Manager Elizabeth Sanders added, “We are excited to partner with these outstanding public media stations and to have the opportunity to share the news and stories of our region with a larger audience. Working collaboratively with the Network will strengthen our programming here at WMMT as we will be able to broadcast more broadly about issues affecting us all.”

The group will produce journalism for partner stations and collaborate with national programs, including PBS NewsHour, Frontline, Marketplace, Morning Edition, and All Things Considered, and other public media outlets such as WFPL’s Kentucky Center for Investigative Reporting. The collaboration will produce daily reporting, investigations, long-form narrative pieces, and documentaries.

It’s the 2015 Fall Fund Drive!

ed.’s note: for a list of premiums you can get for donations of certain amounts, scroll to the bottom of the post.  also these words may look familiar to those of y’all on our mailing list–thank you all!

Friends of WMMT:


the infamous Biscuits reading from the handmade, and possibly-even-more-infamous Biscuits & Gravy Cookbook, which can be YOURS for a donation of $70 and up!

I’m going to start out with a statement that may alarm some of you—WMMT is a rare bird.

For those of you shocked, appalled, or both, stay with me here.

In today’s world of 19,000 TV channels, for example, whatever your political persuasion might be, it’s possible to only watch news that you already know you’ll agree with before the show even comes on. Or when it comes to music, whatever your taste, there are internet services like Pandora that can use a sophisticated formula (based on your favorite songs, your eye color, your elbow sharpness, how often you say the word “balderdash,” and/or your favorite kind of hat to wear after Labor Day) to spit out a whole playlist of songs you’ll probably like.

And there’s nothing wrong with that! But paradoxically, sometimes it seems like the more stuff we have access to, the less we actually wind up hearing different perspectives, or finding new kinds of music we didn’t already tell the computer we liked, or sitting down and talking with folks that we may not actually agree with 100% of the time.

Whatever you love about WMMT, to me, this is what makes our station so special: we don’t just represent one kind of music, or one point of view. We are a patchwork quilt made up of an eclectic group of real-live Appalachian people, who volunteer their time to come on the radio and play music they love. Our DJs are grandmothers and grandsons, business owners and musicians, young people, folks who’ve retired, teachers, miners, and so much more.

pick and bow seedtime

students from WMMT’s Passing the Pick & Bow after-school traditional music program performing at our 2015 Seedtime on the Cumberland festival

And our listeners and supporters are just as diverse a group. Some of you donate to keep the good bluegrass coming. Others may dig the rock and roll. Some might listen for the traditional music programs; the eclectic mix on Pine Mountain Mornings; or the public affairs coverage that tries to tell local stories that aren’t being told anyplace else. A lot of us listen for the unique personalities of WMMT programmers—whether it’s Gentle Ben waking us up on Appalachian Mornings, Scott Lucero’s Stay Human Radio easing us into the weekend, Barefoot Nellie & Jukebox Charlie taking requests from their neighbors on Bluegrass Patches, or Rich Kirby giving what amount to history lessons on Deep in Tradition. And still more might listen simply because you can hear stuff on WMMT that you just can’t on any other radio station: sons and their dads on the air together; a Friday night programmer taking requests from a high school reunion because their DJ didn’t show up; a Madison Avenue traffic report; or, of course, a Wednesday afternoon polka.

WMMT is a special thing. But the catch is that we have to keep it on the air somehow. Equipment breaks; our translators fritz out; bill collectors keep insisting (for some reason) that we need to pay them. And for the past 30 years now, this is where you, our listeners, have come in. Thanks to your support during our Fund Drives, we’ve been able to make it for three amazing, improbable, unforgettable decades. It’s been an incredible run. But we’re not ready to end the story just yet.

roy and andy

Andy Shepherd (Bluegrass Country) & Roy Tackett (a/k/a the Blue Warbler, on The Possum Opry), longtime volunteer programmers & right handsome fellers, if we do say so ourselves

We’re trying to raise $30,000 this Fall Fund Drive for our 30th anniversary to keep WMMT on the air, and thriving. Whether you’re near or afar; whether you can spare a lot or just a bit: your support adds up, and it’s the reason we’re still here. If you appreciate what WMMT means to you and want to help us keep it around, we would be honored to hear from you. Donations are tax-deductible, and we’ve enclosed a list of premiums we can send as a thank you for gifts at certain levels (including some neat, exclusive, 30th anniversary swag; see list below!). Just indicate what premium you’d like and send the card our way (and if you have a moment, please also take our listener survey on the back)! You can also donate securely by clicking the green “DONATE” button at right, or you can call your favorite DJ at (888) 396-1208. However you might give, it all goes to the same cause—keeping WMMT alive!

We couldn’t do this without you, and we wouldn’t want to. Here’s to 30 more great years together on the radio.

-Parker H., co-GM, WMMT.



hats-dogBig, little, or in the middle; whatever you can spare, it all adds up.  If you can contribute at certain levels, though, we will send you stuff in return!  For a donation of:

  • any amount - an attractive WMMT bumper sticker
  • $50 – an attractive WMMT ballcap (see at right; Melvin the dog not included), **OR**
  • $50 – an attractive WMMT tote bag
  • $60 - an incredibly attractive 30th Anniversary WMMT t-shirtdesigned by noted personage Robert Gipe
  • $60 - a CD copy of the newest June Appal Release The Very Day I’m Gone: Songs of Addie Graham, a collection of many different traditional musicians recording songs sung by eastern Kentucky ballad singer Addie Graham (1890-1978), a native of Wolfe County.
  • $70 – an archival print bundle featuring cool stuff from WMMT’s history, including: the infamous Biscuits & Gravy Cookbook (see photo at top of post!), copies of WMMT Program Guides from throughout the years, and hard copies of photos from the annals of WMMT history
  • $88.70 - a WMMT t-shirt **AND** a WMMT tote bag (bundle)
  • $100 – a highly attractive, limited-edition WMMT 30th anniversary hooded sweatshirt  **AND**  the archival print bundle,  **OR**
  • $100 – be a guest DJ on your favorite show
  • $200 – a whole day of broadcasting on WMMT dedicated to a person of your choice

Thank you all, and SO MUCH, for your support. We’ll see you on the radio.

Mountain News & World Report: A New Compilation Explores the Songs of Addie Graham; A ‘Start-up Challenge’ for EKY Entrepreneurs; A Story from Eula Hall


Addie Graham & her grandson Rich Kirby at the 1974 Celebration of Traditional Music at Berea College in Berea, Ky. // Photo Credit: The Berea College Archive

In the latest edition of WMMT’s Mountain News & World Report, we begin with a story on a new album that explores the music and legacy of an eastern Kentucky ballad singer.  Addie Graham (1890-1978) was born in Wolfe County, Kentucky, into a family with a rich singing tradition.  Her repertoire included ballads from the British Isles, songs from the Old Regular & Primitive Baptist traditions, music that originated here in the mountains, and also songs brought by the predominantly African-American workers who built a railroad through Breathitt County when Addie was young.  In 1978, Addie’s grandson Rich Kirby worked with June Appal Records to release a record of Addie’s songs, Been a Long Time Traveling.  Over the years, the album spread widely in traditional music circles, and now, two generations of performers have recorded Addie’s music.  Now, a brand-new compilation, The Very Day I’m Gone: Songs of Addie Graham, has put together some of the many varied interpretations of Addie’s songs all on one record.  The new album (click here to hear sample tracks or to purchase a copy) was also put together by Rich, and features everything from a cappella ballads & hymns to full-on string band numbers.  This radio profile features thoughts from Rich on the project as well as several cuts from the record.

Also in this show, we hear about another ‘Start-up Challenge,’ a competition aimed at helping entrepreneurs and small businesses get established in eastern Kentucky.  The competition, which is open to all eastern Kentucky residents and offers reward money, is being put together by the Kentucky Innovation Network & the University of Pikeville (for details or to sign up, click here).  WMMT’s Mimi Pickering has this report.

And finally, we close the program with a story from a legendary figure in eastern Kentucky health care: Eula Hall.  As the founder of the Mud Creek Clinic in Floyd County, Eula has gained national fame as a fighter for the rights of low-income mountain people. Her life is the subject of a recent book, Mud Creek Medicine: the Life of Eula Hall and the Fight for Appalachia, by Kiran Bhatraju.  In this clip, Eula recounts an episode from her early life that illustrates some of the medical needs she has spent so much of her life working to meet.

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.