Republican Budget Cuts Threaten 'Life-Affirming' Public Radio Station in KY

Reporter Katharine Seelye is the latest Times reporter to defend a tiny but "life-affirming" radio station threatened by the Republican budget ax - public radio station WMMT in Whitesburg, Kentucky: "A Regional Radio Voice Threatened From Afar." The story was accompanied by a cutesy sidebar, "88.7 on Appalachia's Dial," describing such original programming as "Holler to the Hood," "which plays hip-hop aimed at the growing prison population in the region." Sounds vital.

Seelye handed the mike over to a lefty from the "private Community Action Council," a "private" group that nonetheless gets 95% of its money from the federal government.

Rich Kirby, a part-time producer for WMMT, the community radio station here, was interviewing two local aid officials the other day about the effect of Washington's proposed budget cuts on this region, in the heart of Appalachia.

"We're in one of the poorest if not the poorest districts in the country," Ricky Baker, of the private Community Action Council, which receives 95 percent of its financing from the federal government, said into the microphone. Without that money, he added, "we'll have people either freeze to death, starve to death or die of a medical condition because they can't get appropriate health care."

Mr. Kirby refrained from chiming in that his own employer, WMMT, is also imperiled by the same budget ax. As lawmakers seek to cut billions of dollars in federal spending, the Republican-controlled House voted in February to end financing for the Corporation for Public Broadcasting in 2013. While President Obama wants to continue financing the corporation, the current budget turmoil has left its long-term fate uncertain.

Seelye cited WMMT as creating "a connective tissue for its far-flung, geographically isolated listeners. It also offers respite from the daily grind," providing sounds that "if not essential, at least life-affirming." She quoted many local supporters, even a competitor, who conveniently said "They fill a void that commercial stations cannot fill." Seelye lamented:

But with the rise of the Tea Party and with anti-earmark, budget-cutting fervor gripping the nation's capital, little of that sentiment is being expressed today, especially by Republicans. Advocates of ending financing for the Corporation for Public Broadcasting argue that government spending must be reined in and directed only toward essential services like national security.

Although WMMT broadcasts no NPR programming, which some critics say has a liberal bias, Mayor Craft said the station still had to battle a perception that it was "anti-coal," which is the local equivalent of liberal. He said that perception was wrong.

Seeley concluded by advocating for funds:

[Rebecca] Winterhoff said she had never donated to public radio because she lived paycheck to paycheck, but she said she intended to start doing so now. Her new station may need it more than ever.