Mountain News & World Report: James Still on His Life & Work; Swapping Seeds in Appalachia; Fishing on the Clinch

Still Library 5-jpeg

As it is officially springtime here in the mountains, we open this edition of Mountain News & World Report with a story on the 3rd annual Appalachian Seed Swap, held recently in Pikeville, Ky.  The Seed Swap brought folks together from throughout the region to trade heirloom seeds and to learn more in general about homemade food processing techniques, including canning.  WMMT’s Elizabeth Sanders, with Mimi Pickering, brings us this report from the event.

Also in this program: in honor of National Poetry Month, we hear, in his own words, about one of our region’s literary heroes–James Still.  We hear Mr. Still describing his life & work in a profile produced by WMMT’s Rich Kirby, and following that report, we hear Still read his poem “River of Earth” (not to be confused with the novel of the same name).  The reading comes from a recording called Heritage, which features Still’s poetry interwoven with traditional music (click here for more info on the project, which was produced by our own June Appal Records).

And we close the program with a set of stories about fishing on the Clinch River in southwest Virginia.  These stories come from a new oral history project being undertaken by the Clinch River Valley Initiative (CRVI) on life, culture, & history on the Clinch.  CRVI’s Willie Dodson is spearheading the project, and he brings us these stories.

Mountain News & World Report is a bi-weekly production of WMMT, and new episodes air every other Thursday at 6pm on WMMT.  To listen to previous episodes, check out our streaming archives.

Mountain Health Monthly, Program 1: Nutrition


WMMT is excited to have a brand-new, monthly show in our lineup!  Mountain Health Monthly now airs on the 4th Monday of every month, and in it, host Carrie Lee-Hall welcomes guests from throughout the local medical community to talk about health issues important to us here in the mountains.  Carrie is a Family Nurse Practicioner & Nurse Midwife at Mountain Comprehensive Health Corporation, and a graduate of Frontier Nursing University.

In this first broadcast, Carrie welcomes guests Jackie Fraley (a registered dietician from Appalachian Regional Hospital) and Jackson Davis (a Nurse Practicioner student at FNU) to talk about nutrition.  They discuss both some of the challenges we face to proper nutrition here in the coalfields, as well as opportunities & methods by which local folks could adopt healthier diets.  Push “play” to stream the audio above.

SPECIAL NOTE: Tune into a brand-new episode of Mountain Health Monthly this Monday, April 27, at 6 p.m. on WMMT!  This month’s show will discuss autism & autism awareness.  You can stream the broadcast live, from wherever you are, by clicking listen live at right!

Coal Report for April 17, 2015


Walter J. Scheller, CEO of Walter Energy. According to a new report, Scheller received a sizeable pay increase last year even though his coal company’s stock price fell by 90% // photo via

Even though many US coal companies are struggling and taking huge hits in their stock price, coal company CEOs are making even more money.  This according to SNL Energy, which reports that average pay to coal CEOs jumped 19% last year to an average of $4.9 million per executive, even though 2014 saw the coal market decline sharply across the country.  The report said that some companies will pay CEOs more in difficult times to get them to stick around.  As an example, Walter Energy, a coal producer based in Alabama, paid its CEO $6.3 million last year, more than double what he’d been paid the year before, even though Walter’s stock value fell by over 90% in that time, and is under threat of being de-listed from the New York Stock Exchange.  Arch Coal’s CEO also got $7.3 million last year, an raise of $3 million from 2013, even though Arch’s stock value fell by over 60% in that time.

Another central Appalachian coal operator has filed for bankruptcy.  The Lexington Herald-Leader reports that the Xinergy coal company is the latest.  Close to home, Xinergy owns the True Energy surface mining complex in Wise County, Continue reading Coal Report for April 17, 2015

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.

Coal Report for April 10, 2015

memorial at the site of the Upper Big Branch mine near the town of Montcoal, W.V. the explosion at the mine happened 5 years ago this month.

Southern Coal Corporation plans to hire about 100 coal miners soon in our area, the Bristol Herald-Courier reports.  They are reportedly looking for laid-off miners and new employees alike for positions at four surface mines, including two mines in Wise County, Virginia, one in Letcher County, Ky., and another in Raleigh County, West Virginia.  These mines produce both thermal and metallurgical coal.  No timetable was given for the hires in the report.

In other coal news, an eastern Kentucky woman who has never worked at or near a coal mine has been diagnosed with black lung disease, which she says is because she lives near a coal processing plant.  Kentucky Public Radio reports that Emma Burchett of Floyd County is filing a lawsuit against Prater Creek Coal, the company that operates the plant.  She says that coal dust from the processing plant regularly ended up on her property, giving her black lung from constant Continue reading Coal Report for April 10, 2015

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