Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Making Connections: Community Radio In Appalachia

Making Connections reporter Sylvia Ryerson

By Rachel Beth Rudi, Digital Contributor

This week from the Rural Arts and Culture Map, we bring a story that's floated to us on the airwaves from atop Mayking Peak in Letcher County, Kentucky: a service of Appalshop, WMMT is a radio station broadcasting a wide range of music and news throughout communities in Central Appalachia. The writing of this piece, for instance, is being fueled by volunteer DJ Old Red's early bluegrass and country show, "First Generation Bluegrass." 

One WMMT program, Making Connections: Diversifying our Future shares with its listeners stories and commentary promoting a self-sufficient, multifaceted Appalachia. Making Connections has been posting PlacesStories updates since 2010, giving voice to regional agriculturalists, artists and policy workers and exemplifying just what a group can do with the digital mapping tool. From the "About Us" website:
While coal mining will play a role in the central Appalachian economy for many years to come, the industry continues to mechanize creating a dramatic drop in jobs – it currently represents less than 2% of employment. Analysts also project that recoverable coal reserves in the region could run out in 20 years.
Now is the time to develop a more diversified and sustainable regional economy that supports the current generation of coal miners while creating new jobs in new fields. We have no shortage of strengths to build upon, including our rich cultural traditions, unparalleled natural landscape and strong sense of family and community. To move forward we must honor our past while focusing on a future that provides healthy and productive lives for our children and grandchildren.
Making Connections' coverage frequently highlights Appalachia's especially high rates of residents without high-speed Internet; a recent audio story entitled "Like A Car Sittin' on Bricks – Broadband in Appalachia" was created by Sylvia Ryerson and Mimi Pickering to further examine the problem. Reads the description:
The Federal Communications Commission's Eighth Broadband Progress Report finds approx. 19 million Americans, mostly rural, lack access to high-speed Internet. In Central Appalachia the digital divide is stark: in West Virginia's McDowell and Mingo Counties, upwards of three-quarters of the population do not have access; in East Kentucky over 50% in Leslie and Breathitt Counties are without it. So why is it so hard to get a good connection in the mountains? What will this mean for the future of our communities? And what can we do to change this situation?
An essential part of the answer is that, as with many disputes over political policy, there is significant disagreement between the haves and have-nots in a thing's true worth or function. In this case, access to high-speed Internet is still largely regarded by those who have it as an earned luxury, our heavy reliance on it an addiction by which we're jokingly embarrassed. But as Ms. Ryerson points out, quality Internet service is a vital utility of everyday information dispersal, not a superfluous iPhone app, whether combed for a student's homework assignment or used to relay local safety concerns.

As artists who try to push against traditional, institutionalized limitations on accessibility, education, and diversity of art, and who place our critiques, our manifestoes, and our subversive work onto the Web, "Like A Car Sittin' on Bricks" hits home and keeps this important issue on the table. We highly encourage readers to listen to Ms. Ryerson's reporting (if you are able), and to then expand on this conversation in your own communities. Please also explore Making Connections' other PlaceStories installments, as many fine productions come from these folks.