Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Nonprofit radio station provides a unique perspective for Central Appalachia

WMMT 88.7 FM is the 15,000-watt noncommercial community radio station for Appalshop, a nonprofit arts, media, and education center in southeastern Kentucky that has served Appalachian residents since 1969. Anna Clark reports for Columbia Journalism Review that the station, which was launched in 1985, "isn’t your ordinary public radio station. WMMT takes its tagline—'Real People, Real Radio'—seriously. The station is largely powered by 50 volunteer DJs who play and say whatever they wish, barring a scarce few rules about what’s allowed on air. Anybody can come in, go through training and a few supervised on-air segments, and get a regular time slot. The result is an unusually eclectic sound: community elders and 20-somethings, people who prefer to play bluegrass music and people who talk, and people who span the political and religious spectrums. The one common thread is deep roots in the community." (WMMT photo: DJ Jim Webb)

Orange line shows extent of WMMT's primary coverage area
Al Cross, director of the Institute for the Rural Journalism and Community Issues, which publishes The Rural Blog, told Clark, “It serves to be a unifying influence for that region. The counties in the central Appalachian coalfield have always been somewhat isolated from each other because of geography—the mountains. It helps to have media outlets look at things regionally and tell people in Eastern Kentucky, northeast Tennessee, southern Virginia, and southwest West Virginia that they have some things in common.” He said reliable news coverage is even more important now as the region deals with job losses in the coal industry.

Clark writes, "Appalshop was founded by Bill Richardson, a Yale architecture student who studied low-income housing and poverty, and had been struck by his first visit to Appalachia in 1966 for a school project. After graduating, he used a small federal grant to provide young people with video cameras and help them develop a community film workshop. Then, as now, Appalshop documentaries tend to be largely non-narrated, giving space for subjects to tell their own stories. In 1990, one of the workshop’s documentaries, about the fight against strip mining of land without the consent of surface owners, won a duPont award for broadcast journalism."

Cross told Clark he would like to see WMMT reach a wider and more mainstream audience: "They present information and entertainment that isn’t available anywhere else, but a lot of times people forget about the left end of the FM dial." The station is also available online. (Read more)

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